Fast As A Shark: These New Puritans Track Beat Pyramid in Six Days

These New Puritans seem to be onto something with their Wu-Tang Claninspired, Sonic Youth-esque, electro/hip-hop/indie/punk mash-ups. However, the Southend-on-Sea U.K.- based foursome—composed of vocalist Jack Barnett, drummer George Barnett, bassist Thomas Hein, and keyboardist Sophie Sleigh-Johnson— were in a precarious financial situation when recording Beat Pyramid, and a shoestring budget forced them to track the album at breakneck speed. Here, veteran producer Gareth Jones [Erasure, Interpol, Depeche Mode] and engineer Jeff Knowler [gUiLLe- MoTs, Goldfrapp] reveal how These New Puritans created a 16-song album in less than a week—and still made their rent payments on time.
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You say that the recording process was quick, brutal, and unrelenting. Please explain.

Jones: We allocated five or six days in Miloco Three: The Square Studio— which is a cheap, yet very functional tracking room in London. We tracked one song the first day, and we had the whole album tracked by day four. We then moved to a smaller, even more inexpensive studio called the Toy Shop—which is really just an isolation booth and a control room—to do all the additional overdubs for two days. To streamline the process, we set up a Universal Audio 6176 channel strip and an RME FireFace 400, and ran everything through those. We’d just switch out the mics, not the front-end. We tracked all the guitars direct into Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig to save time on miking amps. We had to keep the session moving.

Knowler: The band was tracked live—all in the same room, and playing the songs pretty much as if they were in a gig situation. This created a good sense of atmosphere, and kept them fired up. But it also was the fastest way to do things. We’d never get anything done in that time frame if we were tracking instrument-by-instrument.

How did you mic the band during the live sessions so that you got the performances quickly, but didn’t have to spend so much time in the mix correcting or spicing up the signals?

Knowler: The first and most important thing to getting a good performace fast is to fit the band comfortably into one room so that they can make eye contact and maintain visual cues. Actual mic placement is second in the list of priorities. We’d make sure “good” mics were used for the big-picture room sounds. A Neumann U87 was used to record the room, and contact mics, Shure SM57s, and AKG C451 Bs were used all over the drums and cabinets. We didn’t track with any compression—except on the room mic—because it’s difficult to remove, and, as you get a fantastic amount of headroom in today’s DAWs, recording levels don’t need to be right near the red like they used to.

Jones: It’s all about the big picture. It’s not about what the instruments sound like alone. I’m more interested in putting the faders up, and hearing what the band sounds like. So we approached this session knowing that we weren’t going to go for perfect sounds on each instrument.

How did you handle the mix so that you weren’t wasting any time?

Jones: I mixed this record entirely in the box using Apple’s Logic 8. Avoiding the outboard gear saved a lot of time, because I could save and recall my plug-in settings. I used my FireFace 400’s Total Mix as a summing mixer. That way, I was able to route, say, 13 stereo pads into my FireFace, sum them internally, and then route them back into Logic. It makes for a fat sound, and it’s also logical from a workflow perspective. I really enjoyed using gear with full recall ability—like the FireFace— because the process involved making quick decisions, and then coming back and slightly readjusting them. I also use a lot of external DSP with my rig to keep the computer running smoothly. I have a TC PowerCore that I was using with the Sony Oxford Dynamics and Inflator. I have a Waves APA44-M, and a Focusrite Liquid Mix that I was using for its solid-state compressor on the bus, as well as its Fairchild 670 emulation. I mostly used my UAD-1 card—I use its Fairchilds, Pultecs, and 1176s constantly—on the bus and individual channel outputs.

If you had all of the time in the world to work on an album, would you still stay in the digital world?

Jones: I have a lot of experience in tracking to tape, but I have been tracking mostly to a DAW now, and I find it very creative, time saving, and cost effective.

Knowler: We tracked Beat Pyramid to Pro Tools, and I have to say that I love it. Pro Tools has a range of features that make it ideal for tracking, such as multiple playlists and beat detecting. Gareth and I love that tape sound, but time and budget usually dictate that digital is the preferable medium.