The outfit’s 2002 self-titled debut featured elements familiar to fans of its famous members’ respective bodies of work: guitarist/vocalist and Rancid founder Tim Armstrong’s nasal snarl and love of old-school punk and ska, Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker’s quick-wristed power and precision. Vocalist Rob Aston, meantime, delivered potent punk-rock anger in a searing half-spit, half-shouted rap.
For the 2005 Transplants release, the job of capturing and tracking these disparate parts (and more) once again fell to producer/engineer Dave Carlock, whose other credits range from Blink-182 and Bad Religion to Eric Clapton and Dolly Parton. Between himself and Armstrong, who executive produced Haunted Cities, he knew that there wouldn’t be any problem making this album punk enough.
But the Transplants are about a lot more than Doc Martens and liberty spikes. Having worked with Pogue on a couple of projects for an artist called Cherokee, Carlock knew that when it came to blending the Transplants’ sonic smorgasbord into a cohesive whole, Pogue was the best mixer for the task. After Barker and Armstrong spotted Pogue in a studio when they were there on unrelated projects, the Transplants guys made sure that they brought Pogue on board.
“It was surprising that Tim was a fan of mine,” Pogue says. “It’s sometimes weird knowing that people in certain genres are really listening to what you’re doing. It tells you that we all listen to each other’s music.
“Some people want to separate us as far as genres, but now all of us are out of the closet,” he adds. “Before, when I was coming up, if you listened to hip-hop, you didn’t admit to listening to rock. And if you listened to rock music, you didn’t admit that you listened to hip-hop or per se, ‘black music.’ Now, kids listen to everything.”
For Carlock, the choice was easy. “Neal is an excellent mixer, and he brought a very good outside perspective, which is lacking when you’re doing everything yourself,” Carlock says. “He wasn’t married to all of these songs for all of these months. I knew he would bring that real deep bass and ensure that what was there wouldn’t come off too light.”
So, after the Transplants’ people talked to Pogue’s people, this odd coupling came to be — with impressive results. In a blur of mouse clicks and knob twiddles in March, April, and May of 2005, Pogue put a bass-thumping hip-hop polish on the Transplants mosaic of sparkly oi, dub, and salsa nuggets.
The final product, Pogue says, “is heavy, bottom-heavy, but at the same time, you have the guitar, top-heavy too. I wanted to mix both worlds, keeping that [punk] edge, while keeping the hip-hop bottom, making sure the drums are in your face.”
Pogue adds that he really didn’t concern himself too much with what was happening technically in the tracking, preferring just to listen to what he got and let his ears and instincts be his guide. “They came to me for a certain reason: to add that hip-hop edge,” he says. “I guess I’m pretty much known as the OutKast guy, you know what I mean? I’ve done other things, but it’s OK. Give ‘em what they came to me for.”
Did they get it? Damn straight. “Neal is a real bad man,” Barker declares. “The record is just big, it hits you right in your face — and at the same time, you can hear every little thing crystal-clear.”
The tracking was up to Carlock, who also played keyboards, bass, and sundry other instruments on the record. The whole idea of the Transplants, and that first album, he says, was a “total experiment,” growing out of Armstrong first getting his own Pro Tools rig, and beginning to collaborate with his pal Aston. Pretty much all of the debut was recorded on the Pro Tools setup Armstrong had in his house.
For the follow-up, Carlock says, “We had more of a budget.” The recording schedule included stops not only in Armstrong’s “basement” — notably for the four tracks recorded for Aston’s Warner Bros. project that fell through — but at such locales as Conway Studios, the Steakhouse, Carlock’s own 27 Space, Ameraycan Studios, and an “undisclosed recording location.”
Because of Armstrong’s prolific songwriting (of more than 40 songs written for Haunted Cities, only 12 made the album) and the band’s improvisational nature, Carlock says he didn’t have a lot of time to meticulously plan out any sort of elaborate mic or effects setups at most of these sessions.
“Transplants is not an exercise in engineer thinking, it’s an exercise in engineer survival,” he says with a laugh.
When drums were involved, as in the Conway sessions, Carlock used his typical drum setup. Inside-out kick mic, and then either a far kick mic in the “Andy Johns, Led Zeppelin technique,” 10 feet back from the kick (“to give it a room-ish perspective,” he says), or what he did in this case: using a hotwired Yamaha NS10 woofer as a mic element about two feet away from the kick. “You can capture really low things,” Carlock notes. “It’s a tighter sound, and Tim prefers tight rather than garagey. You can blend it in with a little extra ‘whoomf.’”
He did top and bottom snare, all tops for the toms and cymbals. “I’ll do an individual mic on a ride, and usually end up not using it, but sometimes I’ll blend it in on low, intimate moments,” he says.
Though Carlock tries to be adaptable when it comes to mics — “I usually go more with mic types, rather than specific mics,” he says — he does have a personal collection of favorites, such as the discontinued Electro-Voice ND868 inside kick mic that he takes with him wherever he goes.
For the Transplants, he used 421s and RE 20s — “Nothing too rocket-science,” he says. “I had 421s for the toms, an SM57 for the snare top, and an SM7 for the bottom. Sometimes, for a more top-endy sound, I use a pencil-type condenser mic, and then blend in the bottom mic to get more top end from the snares.” For chinas, he likes ribbon mics or a Sennheiser 409. “To take the edge off the bite of the china,” he says.
Armstrong has a secret, favorite vocal mic that Carlock isn’t comfortable revealing to the public. “It is a condenser mic, I’ll say that much,” he teases. “It sounds great with his voice.” For everybody else’s vocals, including the various guest rappers, he used the Telefunken U47 from his home studio. Only on “Apocalypse Now” did Armstrong use the Telefunken — with some sick distortion,
“What we did was overdrive the [Requisite Audio] preamp, using what they call the Beatles’ ‘Revolution’ effect,” he explains. “There just isn’t time to say, ‘Oh, let me go get my favorite distortion pedal.’”
Armstrong plays two guitars on Haunted Cities: a hollow-body Gretsch — “a rich tone, a great punk-rock guitar,” Carlock says — and a Schechter SG-type solid-body. Most of the guitar tracking was done with a Standel Switchmaster 30 head — “all-tube, Class A, a wonderful handcrafted guitar head,” he purrs. That ran through a couple of 2 x 12 cabs, one with a vintage 30 and a greenback, the other with two Alnico Blue speakers. “That’s very similar to what you’d find in an old Vox cab,” he says. “A classic tone.”
For his main vocal and instrument mic chain, he used Requisite Audio Y7s and a Requisite stereo tube preamp running into a Requisite L1 Tube Limiter.
For the basses, Rancid’s Matt Freeman came in and laid down most of the tracks with his Fender Jazz. The amps? “Ampeg, Ampeg, Ampeg,” Carlock chortles, “with big SVT cabinets.” He adds that he recorded three bass tracks: DI, a straight amp track, and a fuzz track.
He also had some fun with Pro Tools during the tracking, and not just with creating loops. “For breaks and intros, like the intro for “Apocalypse Now,” I do the sound combining I do with Roland modules,” he says. “Sometimes I’ll create soundscapes with Pro Tools, and manipulate and change things around, as if it were a synthesizer. In that break in ‘Gangsters & Thugs,’ I was able to manipulate the drum stuff in a dub way, with lots of delays.”
Turn It ’Til You Hear It
For all the Pro Tooly goodness involved, Carlock’s professionalism is pure old-school: “I always deliver a MIX Prepped Master to mixers to allow them a clear starting point to begin to work their magic,” he says. “It starts things off on the right foot. These days, you’re seeing a lot of craziness when people deliver a session to somebody. There isn’t a lot of engineering discipline out there. It’s like, ‘OK, here’s my 172 tracks!’ That’s like bringing a bag of receipts to your accountant and saying, ‘OK, do my taxes!’”
Even so, when the mixing process began, Pogue guesses the masters were only three-quarters finished. “It was pretty much like General Motors, you know: They’d finish the tracking, come over here and give me a Pro Tools file, and that’s how we would do it.”
Carlock says Pogue was often too efficient with the 80-input SSL J9000 he used to mix the thing at Hollywood’s Paramount Studios. “I thought I was ahead for a while there,” Carlock says, “then he’d get caught up, and he’d call me up, taunting me, like, ‘Hey man, I’m almost done.’ And I’d be like, ‘You need to take Saturday off!’”
That’s not to say that Pogue didn’t face any challenges along the way. “They had a live set of Travis, then they had an electronic set, too — drum machine, loops, what have you,” he says. “Loops on top of live drums will sound like a lot of clutter if you’re not careful.” Pogue’s goal: “Making sure that everything is right there in your face.”
Barker notes that pretty much every song on Haunted Cities has a Pro Tools-captured drum loop running through it, either from his real kit or VDrums, with a full, live drum set playing over the top of it. “To mix that together, and make it sound like one kit, that’s crazy,” Barker gushes. “Everything I wanted to come across on this record came across.”
Though he was happy with the tracks, not everything sounded just so. “Tim’s setup is not perfect, so most of the stuff sounded clanky,” Pogue says. “A lot of high-end, a lot of high mids, but it was kind of cool for that certain song. That’s what makes songs great. That one sound. ‘How’d you get that sound?’ Sometimes you gotta fake it: ‘Oh yeah, we worked that sound,’” he says with a laugh. “‘Some things are just magic, man’.”
To make everything come out right, Pogue just followed his ears. “You can’t really hone in on a frequency. You just have to turn it ’til you hear it, rather than say, ‘Oh, this right here’s 8k, and this has gotta be 10k.’ You can’t approach it like that. Especially with the guitars, because some things are gonna mask other things. It’s all about balance.
“Music to me is in colors,” Pogue says. On his mixing-board tape, he uses different colored pens for different instruments: “I have my drums in black, I have my bass in blue, my keyboards in green, my guitars in orange, my vocals in red, my background vocals in purple. That’s how I see things, in colors. So I approach every song like a painting, and that’s how I paint, just how I hear it.”
He doesn’t normally go in for tons of effects to shade those colors. “I don’t just throw an effect on to throw an effect on. I use effects if it’s needed, if it’s something that’s going to enhance the song.”
Example: On ‘Gangsters and Thugs,’ the last word of the chorus, “Some of my friends sell drugs,” soars off into a sweeping breakdown, courtesy of Pogue’s Yamaha SPX 990 delay set to repeat “drugs-drugs-drugs” on a quarter-note delay.
“If I put something in your face like that, I want you to visualize it,” he says. “With that one word, I want you to feel high. My mixes can be dry until that one moment where I think that something has to come out at you.”
His repertoire of effects — “my trusted friends” — includes a lot of “the older gear,” like the PCM 42 Lexicon for delays. “I’m a Yamaha fan,” he says. “I love the Yamaha SPX II, the Eventide DSP 4000, the DSP Real Chorus for spatial things. I’m into the Eventide D3000. I’m into my micro pitch shift for vocals. Like, I might pitch the left side down a little bit, and pitch my right side up a little bit to offset the pitch, which widens the vocal once I put it on there. I use very light compression. I like the old units like the DVX 160, the VU version, and the DVX 900 series de-essers.
“I’m not into complicated gear,” he stresses. “I like to keep things simple so I can get to them quickly and get back to mixing.”
The SSL J9000 board Pogue used helped him get into that in-the-moment Transplants vibe. “I can automate EQ and inserts, I can automate my sends, do everything right in front of me,” he says. “If you want to do a certain filter, sometimes you don’t want to go to an outboard EQ or some Pro Tools plug-in — you can do it right there on the board.”
When it came to the Haunted Cities mix, Pogue says it wasn’t just about the tech stuff. “I fell in love with it,” he says of the record. “To me it was just the energy. With Travis playing, how they mixed the samples in with the live drums, and Rob’s voice. It made a great mixture. It felt fresh, it felt new.”
Carlock, for his part, is thrilled with the way “the OutKast guy” made the record sound. “Neal really got some of the tracks to open up,” he says. “We gave him a bunch of headaches, but he really gave us his best.”
“It’s like, if you’re painting a car, then the mix is the clear-coat,” says Barker, who clearly needs to lay off the Pimp My Ride reruns. “We gave it to Neal with a matte finish, and he made it like candy. He brought it even more to life.”