Ryan Hewitt Makes Tonelux 'Float'

Irish American punk powerhouse Flogging Molly recently completed "Float," their fourth full-length studio album, with the help of producer/engineer Ryan Hewitt. Hewitt got the gig on the heels of recent work with producer Rick Rubin and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Although anyone else would cite Hewitt's uncanny knack for getting the right sound, a consequence of his childhood immersion in the recording industry (son and heir apparent to the recording industry's legendary Dave Hewitt), and years of study and apprenticeship, the thirty-something engineer humbly shifted at least some of the credit for Float's amazing sonic texture to his bank of modular Tonelux mic pres, EQs and compressors.

Hewitt recorded the L.A.-based seven-piece band at Grouse Lodge Studios, inspirationally nestled among the rolling green hills of ol' Ireland.

Because they planned to track the whole band on an ambitious schedule of one song a day, Hewitt brought 32 channels of Tonelux MP1 mic pres and six channels of Tonelux EQ4P proportional-Q four-band equalizers. From this Tonelux input stage, Ryan ran signal through the console before its final destination in Pro Tools|HD.

Hewitt said that the all-discrete Tonelux MP1 (recently re-released as the MP1a, with the addition of an output level control) has a sound all its own, but expressed some frustration in trying to describe it. "It's not like 'this version of a Neve' or 'that version of an API.' It has a depth and clarity. The only words I have to describe it are words that have already been used! Suffice it to say, the Tonelux MP1 actually sounds better than the raw sound in the room."

With the exception of guitar cabinets, for which there simply weren't enough inputs, Hewitt ran everything - vocals, backing vocals, acoustic guitar, banjo, fiddle, accordion, concertina, mandolin, and drums - through the MP1s.

When the raw sound wasn't quite where he wanted it to be sonically, and when mic choice or placement couldn't correct the issue, Hewitt turned to his Tonelux EQ4Ps. The EQ4P implements Tonelux designer Paul Wolff's parametric "proportional-Q" functionality, which increases the band's Q (narrows width) with increasing cuts or boosts. "For subtle EQing, you get a nice wide Q," Hewitt explained. "When you need to really dig in, you get a tight, surgical Q. The top shelving gives a beautiful sheen and the bottom is as thick as you like. Apart from all that, I think the most important thing about the EQ4P is that it does exactly what I expect it to do. I imagine the sonic change, and the EQ4P makes it happen; No messing around."

Hewitt wasn't the only one taken with Tonelux. "When the band came in for the first playback," Hewitt recalled, "they were absolutely floored. This is a band that has recorded three previous studio albums, and many of the members have been recording since the late 1980s. They couldn't believe how much detail we were capturing... the depth... the clarity."

Hewitt mixed Float on a Neve 8078 at The Pass Studios in Los Angeles, with generous Tonelux EQ4P and TXC compressor inserts. The TXC helped define Float's tremendous bass sound, through Hewitt's creative use of its unique "tilt" side chain, Wolff's ingenious variable blend of feedback and feed-forward topologies, and zero-latency wet/dry mix. "There's no other compressor out there with so many meaningful and musically useful parameters," said Hewitt. "All it takes is the turn of a knob or the flick of a switch and you have a sound that's perfect. And the TXC is the only way to get it!"

Hewitt's use of Tonelux processors goes back to the origin of Wolff's idea to create fully-modular, high-quality components that allow users to custom build their own small-frame, big-sound consoles. He explained: "Paul is an old friend of my dad's, and I met him when I was 12. We stayed in touch - he's such a fun guy - and I always run into him at AES. I called him a while back to ask some questions about his API-designed products, and he described his idea for Tonelux. I was happy to help beta test some of his early designs, and, in all honesty, I think those pieces helped get me my Chili Peppers mix job!"