Asphalt Jungle

Mashing rock and electronica together in a way that doesn’t eschew the inherent groove of either discipline, NY’s Asphalt Jungle (a duo made up of the Emmy-award winning team of producer/guitarist Brian Tarquin and multi-instrumentalist/beat master Chris Ingram) came on the scene with their patent hybridized “strings-meets-synths-meets-sampled rhythms” style in the late ’90s, to much critical acclaim — including a Billboard Top 20 Hit for This is Acid Jazz: The Best of Acid Jazz Vol. 2. Since their freshman full-length release in 2002, the pair have gained velocity, releasing track after track from Tarquin’s dedicated (and mighty impressive) studio, aptly-named The Jungle Room.
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Fast-forwarding to the present, the AJ boys are still garnering attention for their recently unveiled masterwork Junglization. Catching up with the twosome at The Jungle Room, we decided to get to the bottom of their newest LP, and see what it’s like blending two vastly different styles in the studio without sounding like a couple of jokers in the end.

EQ: What’s the general workflow of a recording session look like for you guys? I take it you’re working from a programmed beat upwards.
Brian Tarquin: We use the Akai MPC4000 for a basic drum track/tempo, and record the guitar down as a rhythm track. For instance, on “Wicked Jack,” we set up a ’77 Marshall cab with [Celestion] Vintage 30s in the room using a Marshall JCM2000 head, to go for a nasty overdriven sound. We close-miked it with a beyerdynamic M160 between the cone and the edge of the speaker, and far-miked it with a Neumann TLM49 about four feet away, pointing at the center of the cabinet. We ran the M160 through the Trimix Trident console preamp; the TLM49 then ran through the Universal Audio 610. From this point both signal paths went directly to 2"1 tape — the Ampex MM1200 24-track.
Chris Ingram: Once we have a basic song form, the process becomes very trial and error. After this trial and error period, we will record a mixture of digital and analog keyboards directly to Pro Tools via a variety of preamps (UA 610 or a Summit Audio 200B.) We use a mixture of digital and analog keyboards. For example, on the song “Apocalypse” we ran keys (Roland VK-7) through an old Traynor YBA-1 Bass Master head, into the Marshall cab, and close-miking with a Sennheiser 421. From there we get down and dirty with editing the parts until they’re right, all in Pro Tools.
BT: For editing purposes, we work one of two ways. We either sample what we play live into the MPC and then edit it from there — or we actually edit in Pro Tools and arrange the particular instruments in the edit fields.

EQ: So do you cull from sample banks, or do you primarily collect sounds from live instruments/natural sources for your beats? Or is it an integration of both approaches?
BT: It’s an integration of both. We’ll take sample drum sounds and manipulate them into the MPC4000 or E-mu E4XT sampler. We have a large collection of sample libraries we extract from, as well as our own personal libraries we’ve recorded over the years. For instance, we’ve recorded a lot of horn players doing full lines and solos for a live feel. On the song “L Train,” we took our saxophonist, Josh Harris, miked him with an AKG 414 on his tenor sax and had him just start blowing over the basic song structure of the song. This enables us to go back and edit his various parts in Pro Tools to fit the song perfectly. We followed that sample to proceed with his flute parts on that particular song. This gives us maximum flexibility during mixdown.
CI: As far as beats and most parts go, the sound is as important as the groove when looking for useable loops. Ultimately loops will get cut and re-edited into the grooves we want. For example I have a large personal library of drummers I’ve recorded in my studio through the years, using basic drum miking techniques and extensive use of effects. This allows me to have the sounds I need and then use [MOTU] Digital Performer to edit the parts as needed. First all my drums get loaded into my sampler and mapped across the keyboard. This provides complete control over every nuance of the beat. By having the drum parts in front of me I can improvise different techniques used in live performance and apply them to a sequencer mentally. For example, the song “Sensation” from Junglization is basically me playing live and letting the sequencer quantize it. You then find interesting rhythmic bits that you can build from that have a real organic quality to them.

EQ: So let’s say I’m having an existential crisis, and we’re going to pretend that I’m an instrument, how far do I have to go to get to the proverbial grandmother’s house from here? Walk me through some signal paths.
CI: If you’re a keyboard, analog or digital, you’re virtually always going through my Summit Audio TPA200. If you’re a live bass, you can also plan to go through the Empirical Labs Distressor. If you’re a flute or sax, you’re going through an AKG 414 or Audio-Technica 4050, into the Summit or the UA 610. Grandmother’s house is Digital Performer, where all the mixing is done — though I’ll use a Mackie 32-8 Bus console for hearing you.
BT: Here’s one: On “No Gravity” I close-miked a Carvin Legacy cabinet with a Shure SM57 on one speaker and a Sennheiser 421 on another. The 57 went through the UA 610 and the 421 through the Trident. I played an Ibanez 7-String through a Marshall JCM2000 head, sampled into the Akai MPC2000 XL and manipulated the guitar sound to the sequence I programmed. The important thing is, when I did this, I was playing to the drum groove that we created so that all the guitar parts are in time. This worked well with this song because I had done the original track to 90 bpm, but later on I doubled the groove to a drum ’n’ bass feel at 180 bpm. The guitar parts still worked perfectly, because I only doubled the time of the groove.

EQ: Share with me a moment of genius, as if I’ve been low on those lately.
CI: Genius? I am a firm believer in happy accidents. I’ll use my sampler to cut parts up and put them back together in unexpected ways, yielding unexpected results, which then gives you new ideas to build from. On the track “Athena” I ran the entire mix through a flanger and a filter to “shrink” the sound down sonically, and then used that as a sub loop and recorded more live keys on top of that, based on the new texture that sound provided. Again, happy accidents are the key for me — taking chances and really listening. We like to blur the sounds between the guitar and the synths to where you’re not sure which is which.