By Lisa Roy
In producer Scott Humphrey’s mega-home studio, the Chop Shop, Tommy Lee is letting rip on his massive kit. “Tommy typically says, ‘It sounds too normal, make it sound different’ and that’s as far as the instructions go,” says Humphrey. “I’ve tried so many different things with him . . . real dry, real ambient, always trying to find something different. This last experiment was, how big could we get the drums?”
Relying on vintage equipment, unorthodox methods, and his sonic wizard Chris Baseford, Humphrey achieved what may be the biggest, baddest drum sound around.
“On the kick drum we use a [Neumann] FET U47 through a Universal Audio 610 mic pre into a Lang PEQ2 EQ,” Baseford explains. “We also had a Sennheiser 421 on the kick going to a 610 mic pre into a Mercury EQP and then to our secret box, which will remain nameless. We also used a Shure 520 (‘The Green Bullet’) into an old Ampex 350, which is what we reach for when we’re going for something trashy. The kick drumhead we used was Ambassador coated. We left the front with no holes, just a regular head.
“On the toms we used an Audio-Technica AE3000 going into a 610. A few inches back we had an Audio-Technica AT4047 and that was going into a Neve 1073. We put a Pultec EQP1 or 1A3 across the tom as well. We were using the AE3000 to trigger the AT4047 through a Drawmer gate — the AT4047 is gated.
“For the snare we used the Audio-Technica AE5100 and that was going through a Neve 1081 and into an 1176 and also a Pultec MEQ5. We had an AKG D19 going into a 1081 and a Shure SM57 on the bottom snare. We also had a 57 that fed an Ampex 350 . . . the 57 was gated and EQ’d through a Focusrite ISA430 before it hit the 350. That was just to get some ‘gank’ on the snare. The hi-hat was a [AKG] 451 into a 610.
“About four inches above Tommy’s head we had a Coles 4038 feeding an Ampex 351 going to an 1176. Right next to that there’s a RFT bottle mic; the one with interchangeable capsules. It has an M7 capsule on it. The RFT was going into a Manley Vox Box.
“Our room mics were two RFT’s going through 610s as well. They were spread really wide, almost at the side of the kit. The cymbals were B& 4011s going through the dbx 786. All of this is going through the SSL 4000 G+. We recorded everything to an Ampex MM1200 2-inch.”
“It use to be a squash court,” laughs Humphrey of the Chop Shop’s drum room. “I built this room exclusively to record drums in. The drums sit on a round stage that’s elevated about 12 inches and about 10–12 feet in diameter. The room is a combination of cement, brick, and wood.
“Before Tommy came in, we tried placing the drums facing different spots in the room, and did some pretty intense listening. We usually start with walking the low tom around to see where the best bottom end is and from that point try to figure the angle where the bass drum and low tom are the biggest and use that as a starting point.
“Mic position really comes down to how it sounds at the source. If it doesn’t sound good, it doesn’t matter what you do, it’ll never sound good. If it does sound good at the source,
it’s pretty hard to f*ck it up. But all it takes is two of those mics not completely in-phase and the whole thing falls apart.
“On the kick we’re 3–6 inches off with the U47, and the 421 is about the same distance from the front head, but about six inches to the side, off-axis,” reveals Baseford. “The Green Bullet was 12 inches back, up a little higher, facing the center of the front head.
“The AE3000 is 2–3 inches off the top tom head pointing where the stick hits the skin. The AT4047 is about 8–10 inches above the AE3000 pointing at the same spot. You have to spend a lot of time to get the right height so everything is in-phase.
“We had the AE5100 and the D19 on the snare on an X/Y mic bracket so we could get two mics off the same stand. I had the 57 taped to the D19, about 1–2 inches off the top head pointing where the stick hits the skin. We were close-miking the cymbals.”
“Other than some vintage tube EQ’s and compressors, we’re not really doing processing,” muses Humphrey. “We spend so long getting the mic placement just right, not much processing is needed.”
“Very minimal EQ — just a little bit here and there for the most part,” agrees Baseford. “There was no EQ on the toms for example. On the snare I think I might have added a little high-mid, 1 or 2dB.”
“When I first started working with Tommy it was a typical miked drum kit like anyone would do,” reflects Humphrey on how his technique has evolved over 14 years of working together. “It would just be 421s on the toms, although back then I was just doing close mic stuff, I didn’t have a second tom mic. I prefer the sound of a microphone 6–8 inches off the tom rather than the tight mic way of doing it, which is the most drastic difference from the way I record Tommy’s drums now. I think everything else is pretty much the same.”