The Acorn, from left: Jeffrey Malecki, Jeff Debutte, Rolf Klausener, Pat Johnson, Steven Lappano
Photo: Jeff Garneau
No Ghost (Bella Union/Paper Bag)—the new album from Ottawa-based band The Acorn—blends indie folk with occasional jabs of post-punk and is pointedly happier-sounding than previous Acorn efforts thanks to the band''s new approach. “We spent a long time conceptualizing and researching music styles for No Ghost,” says Rolf Klausener, the band''s singer/songwriter/guitarist. “But for the actual recording, it was all about spontaneous sessions and committing to what happened during those sessions.”
For its latest effort, The Acorn, with engineer Jarrett Bartlett, rented an A-frame cottage in northern Quebec and brought along an old Toshiba Satellite laptop computer. The tracks on No Ghost sonically absorbed parts of this beautiful but remote locale—from the walls (literally) to the insects humming along outside. “The cottage''s hardwood floors and wooden walls absolutely affected the sound of the recording,” Klausener says. “There was a ¾-second natural reverb and decay in the room.”
With neighbors that included grasshoppers and other rustling wildlife—some of which can be faintly heard on several tracks—the isolated setting contributed to the band''s focus. “We had no phone, TV, or Internet,” Klausener says, “so it was all about getting up in the morning and working on music.
“For these sessions, we used Cubase SX 3, a slew of fantastic API preamps, and the new Mackie Onyx FireWire board with 12 inputs, which is a lot of ins for us” [Laughs]. The results of these sessions offer far more complex, textural listens than their humble origins might indicate.
A few songs, such as the bed track for “Cobbled From Dust” (see Web Clip 1), were partially recorded on an iZ Technology RADAR system: “RADAR''s A/D converters are top-notch and allowed us to dump to Cubase for additional overdubbing,” Klausener says.
The band recorded the rest of No Ghost in Montreal''s Treatment Room, with Klausener, engineer Kees Dekker, and Bartlett at the helm. The title track (see Web Clip 2) begins with what sounds like a drum/synth loop, but, according to Klausener, “It''s not a loop; it''s a live drum track. Our drummer is amazing. The weird electronic line is me holding an A note on the standard setting of a MicroKorg run through the step filter in Cubase.”
Bartlett also experimented with mic placement to capture the natural, woody reverb of the live room. “Jarrett''s into binaural engineering,” Klausener says. “He set up a tripod in the middle of the live room with a Styrofoam head mounted on it. He drilled holes where the ears would be, fitting small omnidirectional mics within. Then he glued prosthetic ears [pinnae] to the head to approximate a person''s hearing. He uses that as an in-room mic and the sound is startling. It works especially nice on ‘I Made the Law'' [see Web Clip 3 target="_blank"], where you can hear the slap of palm-muted acoustic guitar ringing all over the room. Its contrast with the dryness of the vocals and bass is one of my favorite sonic elements of the track.”
Also startling, perhaps: the band''s choices of mics for these sessions. “We used Shure SM57s and 58s,” Klausener says, “although the strange mic winner for this project was the Shure SM7. I did most of the vocals with it through this old Russian preamp that Jarrett has, which added the nicest warmth. We didn''t need to commit to $3,000 Neumanns for vocals; if it sounds good with a 58, it sounds good with a 58.”
Home base:Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Primary software: Steinberg Cubase SX 3
Favorite mics Shure SM57 and SM58