The Red. The Hot. The Chili Peppers

It’s been four years. A lot can happen in four years. You can graduate from any decent university in four years. You can get ready for the Olympics or run for president. Or you can write an ambitious, new double-CD set called Stadium Arcadium, the first in four years — which is what engineers Ryan Hewitt and Andrew Scheps got the nod to mix when they were called in to cook up the new Rick Rubin-helmed Red Hot Chili Peppers record at his Hollywood Hills mansion. So EQ caught up with Hewitt and Scheps at The Pass studio in Burbank to discuss Anthony Kiedis’ vocal trickery, the saddest note, and their work on Stadium.
Author:
Publish date:

Ryan, your father David is a recording engineer, right?

RH: Yeah, my father does live recording and TV shows. He ran the Remote Recording Services truck, and he was at the Record Plant in New York. I’ve been working with him since I was 13 years old, more than half my life now, and I’ve been around studios since I was born. Going to work with Dad was like going to the studio and seeing John Lennon and Elton John hanging out, Blue Oyster Cult, all these legends.

Were you actually getting hands-on training at 13?

RH: I was a runner when I was 13, but I was always watching, and he was showing me stuff. I started recording when I was in high school; I had this studio in my back yard. I could do records with my buddy from school. Then I went to college for electrical engineering and did a bunch of recording there, and played in bands, and that’s when I really started to know the studio for real. Then I went to work at Sony Studios in New York, worked with Elliot Scheiner, Michael Brauer, and Jim Scott; did a bunch of freelancing [Blink-182, John Frusciante, Alkaline Trio].

How about you, Andy?

AS: I got interested in live sound when I realized I wasn’t gonna be in a band playing trumpet. I grew up on Long Island, and always wanted to be in bands. My buddies had bands, so I was doing live sound for them, and then somewhere I saw a copy of a recording magazine or something, and said, “That’s what I want to do instead,” and went to the University of Miami. Then after college I worked for New England Digital, in the last heyday of the Synclavier.

What were you studying in Miami?

AS: It was a recording program, so it’s a major in music and a minor in electrical engineering. And like Ryan, I’d spend all my time in the school’s studio; they have an MCI board in a 3,000-seat concert hall with about a 12-second [delay] time, and a freight elevator you could lower the Marshalls down into and stuff. So we did a lot of crazy experimental recording, did demos, which of course we weren’t supposed to do with this equipment. The program was really packed with people who were out here doing well, too.

I was working with New England Digital in ’90–’91, which was right when they started introducing sampling and then hard disk recording. Sound Tools sort of existed, but with the Synclavs — at half a million bucks — you could have 16 tracks.

How many of those did they sell, I wonder?

AS: Enough to keep going longer than they should have. [Laughs.] It’s still around now, people are using it, but now that company’s scaled down to where it should have been. But when I was there it was huge, and I worked for them out here in L.A. and I also based out of London. It was a great time to be doing that, ‘cause only rich, successful people have Synclaviers, so you know you’d get to work with Sting and Benny Anderson and — just all over the place. It was really great.

But I realized that I wasn’t making records, so I came back to L.A. and freelanced some assistant engineering and some Synclav programming.

So what brought you guys together for this Chili Peppers album? Ryan, you’d been working on this record already?

RH: Yeah, I started as the tape-op on this project, because there was no one else involved who knew how to run a tape machine. So I got the call to come in and run the tape machine, and we could do overdubs quickly; they would do, like, a whole day of tracking, and maybe track two or three songs, and then they’d want to do fixes and overdubs at night. Those tracks were done at Rick Rubin’s house in the Laurel Canyon mansion. It was all two-inch; we had two Studer 800s, and pretty much all vintage stuff. That’s pretty much it — and a bunch of compressors. [Laughs].
AS: The thing about the tracking is that they were all in one room, so five feet to Chad’s right is the loudest bass you’ve ever heard, and five feet to his left is a pretty loud guitar rig.

Small room, huh?

AS: I mean, if it were my house, it’d be a nice big room, but if you put a band in, it’s like a little ballroom kind of thing.
RH: It’s probably the size of the average live room like at Cello 2, but they set it up with all the amps close to the drums, like the drum kit was on a riser maybe half the size of this room, and then right next to the riser on one side there’s a guitar amp facing away, and the other side with the bass amps facing away. So there was a good amount of bleed. The room’s pretty dead, so there wasn’t a whole lot of reflection going out; the bleed was mainly the back end of the cabinet, there was a lot of the low end kind of hanging out around the drum kit.

And then Anthony had his own whisper booth to do scratch vocals, right in front of the drum kit. That’s a little isolation booth that’s portable. He just stood in there so he could be isolated. So they were all just physically standing real close together. And I’d say a good 85 percent of the tracks they played were keepers.
AS: At least.
RH:
I’d probably say more like 90 percent.
AS: Ninety percent of the bass, and probably 85 percent of the guitar.
RH: The vast majority of everything was kept — guitar, bass and drums. So what you hear on the record is three guys playing all together, looking at each other. And there are these long breaks sometimes, where it’s like they hit it and there’s a bar of silence, and they’re all just looking at each other, grooving along, and they come in. And it might speed up, it might slow down over the course of that bar, but they are like [snaps fingers]. . . .
AS: Right there.
RH: Right there.
AS: There are very few things done with a click, too, so the tempos are really moving, which is great, natural. It’s great ‘cause they can see each other.

You say most of it was done without a click?

AS: I think there were a few where they would get a click to get the tempo and then they’d turn it off.
RH: There was one where it was on the whole time, but that’s all.
AS: So after 30 seconds, those boys are playing.

You got the sense, then, that these guys were not about wasting time, and that in fact they had a new energy about them, like they really wanted to do something incredible.

RH: Yeah. Rick’s thing was mainly working in preproduction. Like, they had the songs down; they came into the studio, they would play them each a few times, and that was pretty much it. I’m trying to think of the most takes we had . . . I can’t even remember.
AS: Mostly it would be because a form change came up.
RH: Yeah, it was like, “Well, let’s try this instead,” or. . . .
AS: Or it was an alternate drum beat or something. But yeah, the song was the song — two or three takes, you’re done.
RH: But of the songs that made the record, I can honestly say were no more than four or five takes.
AS: But once they decided the way it was gonna be, that was it.

These guys have been playing together so long, they must know each other’s jock size. Tell me some more about Rick Rubin’s role in putting together a Chili Peppers record.

AS: I think his role is actually pretty consistent from record to record. He’s the one guy not playing, so they finish something and he will very honestly just say, “That was great” or “That wasn’t so great, you guys can do it better,” or “I’m getting bored in the chorus, let’s cut it down” or whatever. It’s really a lot about the song structure, as a listener.
RH: I wish I could be there for pre-production. John Frusciante told me a story: We were discussing Rick’s involvement and how they started working together; John told me that when they were doing BloodSugarSexMagik, their first record with Rick, he would come to preproduction and sometimes sit there for three hours and not say a word, and then leave. And John’s like, ”That’s how we knew we were doing good.” [Laughs.] But if he had something to say, he would say it. He’s a man of minimal words in that regard. If something needs to be said, he’ll say it, but he’s not gonna say something just because he’s excited. If he’s honestly excited, he’ll say, “That’s awesome.” But if he’s not feeling it, he’ll be like, “I’m not feeling it.” Or if it’s good, he’ll just say, “Yeah, that was good.”

Just the honesty of that, and his rapport with the band that he creates — no one’s guessing what he’s thinking, because he’s just gonna tell you what he thinks in so many words.
AS: And also there’s no chance of any of it being about anything other than the music. If you get done, and he says, “It’s not happening,” it’s not ’cause, you know, he doesn’t like you anymore [laughs], it’s just that that wasn’t the best take and he thinks you can do it better.

When it came time to do the mixing, I understand that there was some sort of competition among mixers for the honor.

RH: I don’t think the band had a clear idea of who it was they wanted to have mix the record, and it seems to be Rick’s favorite thing to have an A-B comparison of a thing. Like even when we were recording the record, he’d be like, “Make an edit so it goes from this part to this part.” And we’d go, “Okay, here’s A.” “Okay, cool.” “Here’s B.” “I like B. What do you guys think?”
AS: He’d listen to them back-to-back as well. Not “Okay, I like that, I don’t need to hear the other take.” Just “Prove me wrong or prove me right.”
RH: So when it came time to make the record, I think people had different ideas of who it was they wanted to have do it. I was there doing rough mixes all the time, and Andrew was there doing rough mixes all the time, so we would be in the running to do it. And then they had people who’d mixed previous Chili Peppers records, and then people who’d started working with them more recently. And so they decided to have a mix-off, a mix party. And Andrew and I were really familiar with the songs, and really familiar with the band, which was a huge leg up.
AS: I think we also knew exactly what we wanted the songs to sound like, so we didn’t have to put up all the tracks and figure out what it was. We could just start in on the kick drums, if that’s what we felt like starting out on.
RH: So Andrew and I had a definite advantage, a head start.
AS: And we kicked ass, too! [Laughs.]
RH: Yeah, we kicked ass. So we had this mix-off, and we had two days; they would pay for two days of studio time to do this, and we all had the same three songs, and we had to hand them in and . . . wait. At first, Stadium Arcadium was gonna be one record, and I was gonna do that, and then when it became two records, they called up Andrew also, and we’d be like, “All right, let’s tag team and do this.” And initially, we were like, ”Oh, it’ll take two days to mix.” But nope.
AS: No!
RH: [laughs] This thing took a lot longer than anyone had anticipated. That was the other reason that we’re teaming it. Because it’s just taking a long time.

So now at least temporarily you’re working as a team. How are you doing it? Are you each doing individual tracks, or working side-by-side, or trading ideas, or what?

AS: I mean, we talk about stuff all the time — it’s like, “Hey, what was the deal with the guitar on this thing?” because Ryan recorded it. Or “Hey, what’s the vocal arrangement supposed to be?” because I recorded it. But in terms of the mixing, I mean, he’s here, I’m at my studio, and we just, like, “Okay, what song am I mixing next?” And I’d go get the tapes and I’d just mix that song. We haven’t worked on a song together at all.
RH: Well, we’ll trade ideas, like, “Hey, what did you do with the bass on that song? It sounds good.” We’ll trade ideas back and forth about how to make things sound good, so it becomes more coherent in the end.
AS: Surprisingly, the mixes go together. I mean, there’s been no effort at, like, “Oh, make sure you’re listening to the other guy’s mixes.” We just mix what we hear, and then we go through the process of getting it approved by the band. And I think that helps bring it into the middle ground.
RH: It’s the band.
AS: It’s the Chili Peppers.
RH: Same band playing in the same room, same guitars.
AS: We both make them sound like the Chili Peppers.

The Chili Peppers are a very high-profile band, and presumably there are gigantic egos and personalities involved, so it’s interesting to hear that you seemed to have a lot of creative input of your own on this album.

AS: The way the process works is, so far, like, John’s been to my house once. And that’s it.
RH: He’s been here twice.
AS: Nobody comes, and it’s a great thing, actually, because what we do is, we just send mixes, and everybody goes by what they hear. They don’t walk in and say, like, “Hey man, what do you have on the bass?” or “What do you have on the snare?” There’s no distraction at all. They get the CD, they listen to it, and they comment based on what they hear. And it’s brilliant.

What kind of comments do you get?

RH: It runs from, like, “Turn the snare up” to “I don’t like the guitar sound” [laughs], or “We need something more present on the vocals.”
AS: It could be anything. It can be an overall mixing, or it can be really specific, or both. There’s some songs where I’ll have three comments, and it’ll take me two days to get through ‘em, and then there’s some songs I’ve got literally four or five pages of comments, and it takes an hour to get through all that. It just depends on what it is. You know, if it’s “At 2:37 there’s a thing in this guitar that’s gotta come up,” well, you know, just do it. And sometimes it’s [in a spacy voice] “It doesn’t get into the chorus.”
RH: Or “It’s not dropping hard enough” — that was the hardest one for me to overcome. “You know when the thing comes in, and then this part? It’s just not hitting me. Make it kick me in the face.” Then it’s up to us to try to figure out how to interpret that. Or “Make it more blue.” [Laughs.]
AS: I haven’t got anything that vague . . . My favorite one I’ve ever got from a director was “What’s the saddest note you can play?” [Laughs.]
RH:B-minor.
AS: No, not a key, a note! “Play that sad note.” We haven’t gotten anything that crazy.

Meanwhile, in this process, is Rick Rubin commenting as well?

RH: He gets it first. We get it past Rick, make him happy, and then we go to the band. And then we make the band happy, and then we go back to Rick and make sure he’s still happy. And if he’s not so happy, then we go more rounds, and then we go back to the band again for final approval.

So it’s several iterations of, like, calculus, ‘cause you’re just in with the solutions, where you start with what you think is good — you go to one guy, he says, “Fix this, fix this,” you do it again, so you’re getting closer and closer to this ideal mix. And then you take it to the band, and you’re honing it down even more. So you’re really close.
AS: And the focus you’ll keep.
RH: The focus just keeps getting more and more intense on minute details, like John will say, “The third note of my solo, turn it up.” It’s just very microscopic things — “The third bass note on the bridge, turn that one up just a tiny bit.”
AS: They’re also not always commenting on their own stuff; you know, they comment on the song. And we’ve got the luxury of the time to do it, so it’s not like we’ll fix 18 things and have totally screwed up the drums.

What do you do, though, when it’s the delicate issue of one member of the band commenting negatively on somebody else’s playing?

AS: It’s never about the playing.

About the sound, then?

RH: Sometimes the mix will go to the band and Anthony will be like, “Do the guitar licks have to be so loud?” Or sometimes someone will say, “It’s not a band anymore, it sounds like there’s just too much shit flying around. I want to hear it with no overdubs.” And then we’ll start over again with just the ground tracks.

Sometimes it’s just like “I just need to hear this. No one else needs to hear it, but I just want to hear a version of it with no overdubs, because I just want to hear the band playing. So give me two versions, one with no overdubs and one with all the overdubs, and let me hear what’s going on.” And maybe they’ll be “I like this one but I don’t like this one,” and then they’ll talk amongst themselves and figure it out.

On this project, would you say there’s been a minimum of overdubbing? They wanted to retain a live band feel, right?

AS: Yeah. There’s a huge live band feel, and there are very, very few things that aren’t played by the band. They had a couple of percussionists come in, couple of horn players, whatever. But it’s all the band. But then again, sometimes there are 28 tracks of overdubs. But it’s not like it’s a string section and B3 and stuff that doesn’t go with the Chili Peppers. It’ll be 12 of those tracks all going together to create one guitar thing in the second half of the third chorus.

John is responsible for the vast majority of the overdubs. But it also varies from song to song; I just did one song with one overdub — it’s guitar, bass, drums, lead vocal, and one guitar overdub, and that’s the whole song. And there are other songs where it’s like Andrew’s saying, “there could be a 12-part harmony, 12 guitars playing the same part in one little part of the song.” There’s a lot of harmony stuff on the record.

John’s main theme on this record in terms of overdubs was creating sounds. He’ll make several little different sounds — it could be a keyboard, a guitar and a processor part — but all creating one sound, or in one part in the first chorus it’ll be one guitar, and in the second chorus it’ll be three guitars, and then the last chorus will be five guitars, Mellotron, synthesizers. But they’re all creating one sound; you couldn’t say there’s four guitars and synthesizers, etc. — you’d say, “That’s a sound.” And when we’re mixing, sometimes it’ll be too dispersed or we’ll pan it differently than how he heard it, and he’ll say, ”No, that’s one sound, to be treated as one sound; put it over here. And we need more of this and more of that, this is poking out too much, this is EQ’d too bright.” Or “This is not one sound, this is several sounds; it needs to be one sound creating its own vibe over here in this part of the song.”

I met Frusciante when he was doing that series of solo records three years ago.

RH: Yeah, I did most of those with him, too.

He’s a really interesting guy, with so many ideas about sound. Where is he doing all these overdubs? Is he working in his own studio and sending you all this stuff? I mean, is he changing his mind about some of these parts?

RH: Yeah, he’ll call me up and [to Scheps] — you haven’t had to deal with this. [Laughs.] The songs that I’m doing, he’ll call and be like `We need to do an overdub,’ and I’ll just take the tape over to his house, ’cause he’s just down the street. So we’ll take an hour and do an overdub. The first half of the record there was a lot of that; we’d just go over there and do an overdub that he knew earlier he wanted to do but just never got around to, or we’ll go up there and do a treatment with his modular synthesizer; there’s a lot of that on the record, where we’ll take vocal, guitars, and drums and stick it through an old-school analog modular synthesizer.

Or Rick will hear the songs and say, “Hey, we need to try something else. We need something in this part of the song.”

How particular is Anthony Keidis about his vocal sound?

AS: Well, as always, we did a little mic shoot-out, at the beginning of doing the vocals. We put up a 250, put up the C-12, put up the 67, and then we put up the SM 7 Shure, which was used on every record so far. And all the other ones sounded really great, but the SM-7 sounded like the Chili Peppers. But his sound is more dictated by the range he’s in, and the melody, and the song itself. He has so many different personalities that’ll come through, and I don’t think he consciously chooses one. I don’t ever remember a conversation about the sound of the vocal, it was always just more lyric choices and melody stuff, and more arrangement on the chorus, where we were gonna double some things and stuff like that.

But you pop an SM-7 in front of that guy, and that’s Anthony.
RH: And the sound really will come through in the mix when the song is being finished, as to what it’s really gonna sound like. I’m not really doing that much EQ on it. He sounds like he sounds. And Andrew got a great sound when he was recording it, so there’s really not that much to do in the mix other than, like, how are you gonna treat things and where is it gonna be?
AS: There were a couple of songs where he’s singing really quietly where it might have been nice to get him on some different mics. On any other project, I probably would’ve said, “Let’s go get an M 50 and get right up on it,” or something like that. But no, because — it just sounds like him. When we did that shoot-out with the microphones, we saved the SM-7 for last, because we thought that’s our benchmark thing. And it was astounding — it didn’t matter that the low end wasn’t as warm or it wasn’t as crisp as the C-12, it absolutely didn’t matter. It’s just, “that’s Anthony, done.” Anything else we need to do, if we have to compress him a little more or pop him through a tube something, then we do it. But it hasn’t even been an issue; I’ve done very little of that.
RH: Sometimes Rick’ll be like “Put an Aphex on it” [laughs] or whatever.
AS: It’s pretty minimal. I never once wished that we could’ve put something else on it.

I gather that the band wanted a kind of old-school feel on this record. How much thought did you put into using vintage equipment?

AS: It was a choice to mix the record on Neves, which is one of the reasons I ended up at my studio, ‘cause of all the studios that are close now, this is the only really viable Neve mixer that was available and big enough. Also, since we’re coming off tape, you have at least 46 faders you have to fill up on some of these songs, and a lot of times tracks 9 through 18 have 12 things each. We’re melting all over the place, so we need a big board.
RH: I think for both of us, ‘cause we’re using a lot of the same gear, it’s just kind of whatever works. I’m using all kinds of new stuff, like I’ve got all the ToneLux stuff down there, Expressors and Fatsos and all kinds of fun equipment, and just all this new stuff that I’ve been discovering, as well as the Fairchild and the 1176s and all the classic stuff, but it’s whatever you need to make the sound great. Or we’ll both discover all kinds of new gear and it’s like “Hey, did you try this, did you try that?” And I’ll go out and rent one or borrow one.

Did you get any particular directives from Flea about the bass sound?

AS: The thing about Flea is he’s not laying down roots, he’s playing a huge melodic part in every song — a lot of times to the point where John’s not playing any melody. John could be just putting down a wall and Flea is the melodic complement to the vocal. So there’s a lot of treating the bass as an instrument, and not just as a low-end machine. You gotta hear every single note that he’s playing, because he’s playing a lot of notes, and they’re all really important to the song. And I think if you don’t hear the bass clearly, the songs don’t fall apart, but you’re missing a huge part of the song.
RH: What makes mixing this band so hard is that you have three musicians who are all laying down serious stuff, and the balance between them will change from part to part of the song; maybe Chad is doing his thing here and really driving it, and then there’s another part where we’ve taken over and are really pushing a part where John’s really pushing, and then you have the overdub; and to balance those things together, and always make sure that the appropriate person is stepping forward, that’s the hardest part. But everyone’s always doing something cool all the time.
AS: You can hear every note that everybody’s done on every instrument that they’ve done it on, or we’ll delete it.
RH: There are parts that are endearing to people, even to the people who play the overdubs, that will just wind up going away. And they’ll be, like, “You know what? It’s just not helping the song.” And so it goes away — “That was a cool part, but yeah, you take that part away and now you really hear the song, you really hear what’s driving the song in that part,” and you’re not putting superfluous shit on top of it.

How’d you work with Chad Smith on his drum sound?

RH: Chad’s been to the studio more than anyone else, especially at the beginning. But again, we were hired for our sound, and they like our sound, so it’s like we do our thing, and Chad will say, like, “A little more impact,” ”A little more chest,” and “Put a little more level on the cymbals, I’m really getting into that part.”
AS: Chad is such a balanced player that if you start building up the drums and it feels weird, listen to what he did and you will figure out what you’re doing wrong about balancing the kit. You’ll figure out, “Wait a minute, I can’t hear the hi-hat, and that’s why this beat’s not happening.”
RH: Every single thing he plays is so important to the groove. Like you can’t have an imbalance in the kit, which would just ruin the song; you won’t feel the pocket if you don’t have the perfect balance of the kit. It’s like not having a pickup on the A string. But every single thing he plays is important.

Any effects on the drums in the mixing stage?

AS: John’s treated the drums on a couple of songs, and filtered stuff, and every once in a while I’ll sneak something in on the bridge on the overheads or something, just something to change it up a little bit. But for the most part, even with all the overdub stuff we’ve talked about, it sounds like a four-piece band. This record really is just a band in a room playing, so sonically you don’t stray too far from that. It’s the sound of their instruments. It’s like John choosing a guitar and an amp — well, you don’t then go re-amp it and EQ the crap out of it, ‘cause it sounds that way for a reason. And Chad’s the same way, he chooses drums, and how hard he hits ‘em and where he tunes ‘em. That really is as important as choosing a guitar.

It’s a pretty straight-ahead sounding record in a lot of ways. Which is cool.
RH: There are no real room mics, that’s my only gripe about the recording. I’m a drummer also, and when I’m listening to a performance at the drum kit, there are times when it’s appropriate to have it super-tight, really dry-sounding and intimate, and there are times where it should be big and bombastic and fuckin’ John Bonham-sounding, and if you don’t have that on the tape, it’s really hard to fake it and sound good. You can put on a big reverb and shit, but that doesn’t sound like Chad playing in a room and making a record. And it’s really hard to create that when you don’t have that source.

At the same time, you can use some elaborate compression and stuff like that and, provided there’s no major fixes on guitars and basses, you can make that sound happen.

A lot of people seem to find it aggravating trying to get the right effect with compression.

AS: Yeah, I mean, I’m still learning how to use compressors, and still discovering compressors. But I used to try and use them and it always sounded terrible, and now like I kinda get it and use them. But I saw something on one of these message boards, and someone’s talking about mixing with no compression, and as a concept, that’s a cool thing to try and do, absolutely. They’re saying if you can just do rides to be like a compressor . . . but if you’ve got a 15-microsecond attack time and an adaptive release time, how do you wire the fader to mimic that?
RH: Compression is a sound, and every compressor sounds different, and every compressor is gonna treat the sound going through it differently. It’s gonna attack it differently, and bring out different aspects of a performance. There are times when you don’t need compression, and there are times when you need lots of compression. There are times when you can compress the buss and smash it and it sounds good, and there are times when it doesn’t sound good.
AS: Yeah, I think on half my mixes there’s no compressor on the buss at all. Nothing.
RH: Well, maybe a quarter of mine.
AS: By the time it comes out on CD, it’ll all be compressed, but sometimes it just doesn’t need it. And sometimes it’s because I’ve compressed other things to the point where I don’t need it, and sometimes it’s just because it starts sucking the life out of it. Sometimes without it, it just sounds dead and boring.
RH: It can add excitement or make it really boring. Especially with a lot of parallel compression, it’s really fun, where you play it up on aux send and two compressors and bring it back and add it into the uncompressed sound. It’s a really powerful tool. When you still have the original sound source in there so you still have this real thing poking through and then you have artificial height or whatever backing it up, so you can make it sound longer or bigger. . . .
AS: Half of the compressors I use on sends and half of ‘em are on inserts.
RH: Yeah, I did that.
AS: Usually there’s one for drums and stuff, but five or six probably on every song that are just coming back off standard busses.

You like the API 525 compressor. What’s so special about that one?

AS: I don’t completely understand the theory of how it works. It’s a feedback-based compressor, so I’m assuming it’s slightly . . . oh, I’m not even going to guess, I’ll be wrong. But it just doesn’t sound like any other compressor. You cannot adjust the attack time at all, and the release time I don’t think I’ve ever used.
RH: It’s pretty slow.
AS: But it just makes things go pop! Especially guitars and things like that. There’s an input knob, which is what affects the amount of compression, and there’s a tiny little spot where it’s amazing, and if you’re below it or above it, it sounds terrible, absolutely horrible — it’s either doing nothing, or it’s squeezing it so it’s dead. But you find the spot, and all of a sudden it just jumps to life.

So much of what you guys do seems to get back to gut instinct.

AS: Yeah. I mean, we’re both pretty technical, which for me is great because when I can actually find out how something works, I’m better at tweaking it, ‘cause I know what direction it’s gonna go. But it’s all based on the sound in my head that it needs to be. If it keeps getting farther away, you just use another piece of gear. I don’t care how it works, what it does. I’ve had some very random gear searches on this record. I think I need a compressor and I end up with a delay, you know?
RH: It’s fun to have the luxury of time to be able to experiment with stuff and really find the deal. I came up under Michael Bauer, and he’s got like 24 boxes of shit that he can just go “Ah, that doesn’t sound good; that sounds good.” I always have a guitar distortion pedal or something, and I’m always “Let’s try this pedal, let’s try this one,” and you go through more iterations of finding the ideal sound for all this stuff. And then the cool thing about trying out all compressors and pedals is that later on you’ll be like, “Hear that? You know what did that? This did.” And then you plug that in and you have that sound.

Since the new Chili Peppers album was recorded on tape, hiss must’ve reared its ugly head. How’d you deal with that?

AS: For whatever reason, it was set up at +3 on the two-inch, and so for the loud stuff, that’s fine. But there have been a couple of quiet songs where it was pretty noisy. A lot of the stuff was done very quickly — “Okay, now we’re gonna do the loudest song ever in the whole world,” and “Now we’re gonna do the quiet song.” And it’s not like you have time to change the whole setup. But we do a lot of mutes, and you can’t just mute something in the chorus of a quiet song, you have to ride it in; you set your hiss presentation.
RH: It becomes a comfort rather than an annoyance.
AS: Yeah, you treat it like vinyl noise, where it becomes a nice part of the song.
RH: And I’m mixing into half-inch, so everything’s gonna have a uniform level. And when I’m working in Pro Tools, I wind up using the noisiest compressors and the noisiest everything I can to create that vibe, ’cause to me it’s a vibe. It’s this bed, and it becomes this kind of warm, comfortable feeling.