Grails

“We’ve been poor forever,” laments Emil Amos from Northwest art-droners Grails. “We’d get some money, and go in to record what we thought was going to be the meat of the record, scrap it all, and then be broke. That’s why we decided to get into home recording.”
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Such woe resulted not in a second-rate solution, but rather an imaginative-sounding record called Burning Off Impurities — Grails’ both beautiful and nightmarish new full length that exhibits the artistic ingenuity of the band, as well as the growing possibilities for musicians springing from the home production revolution. By integrating two historically disparate means of recording (namely tracking in a “real” studio, but mixing “in the box” at home), Grails has managed to spare their bank accounts without sacrificing the quality of their end product.

To Amos, though, it wasn’t an easy answer for an instrumental band. “I think many instrumental bands are shackled to the most hi-fi recording process possible, from beginning to end, because they don’t have that personal sphere of lyrics and message-based art — the elements of word and voice to ‘hide’ their music behind. So many of those bands rely on this heavy-handed production, because they know the average listener is hearing more of them. But we didn’t want to go that way — we wanted our production to be a more lo-fi way. We wanted to bother the complacency of the basic tracks. We tried purposely to obscure things to provide a hallucinatory effect.”

The basic tracks were recorded at Portland’s Type Foundry, a 3,000 sq. ft. warehouse that had accommodated all their previous albums. “It’s pretty much the underground band studio”, he says of their recording environment. “It’s a nice low-key place.” Tracking on Type Foundry’s Trident Series 70 console, the band laid down a solid base, recording all the tracks live, taking advantage of the room tones and natural reverberations allowed by tracking in a wide open warehouse suite.

From there the tracks were taken back to Amos and bandmate William Zakary Riles houses for editing, mixing, and being built into “the fully realized songs.” “I was using Sony Vegas as my platform, and our guitarist was just using Pro Tools LE. We weren’t really focused on allowing the listener to hear instruments, on creating a clean mix. We wanted to create moods.”

Having used Type Foundry’s wondrous array of vintage, and modern, high-end microphones and pres (from Altec 165As to Oktava MC-012s, Brent Averill API 312s and Telefunken V72s and Avalon 737s) to capture their sounds, the band worked totally inside Vegas and Pro Tools LE before handing the tracks off to Jeff Saltzman (“for the heavy post-production phase. He added some additional EQing to clean things up before giving in to Carl Saph for final mastering.”). Still, global mastering tweaks aside, the construction — as in the composition — of Burning Off Impurities can be credited to the freedom the band was given by handling the music, post-tracking, at home — blending in what Amos describes as “amusical components” taken from scratched flexidiscs and field recordings the Grails sampled and added into the punch while working in their bedrooms.

To Amos, this approach embodies the spirit of rock and roll, as it goes against what every recording engineer had ever told him. “The sound of a bunch of guys in some nice studio making an album is super boring to me. Rock music has to integrate with other things,” Amos says defiantly, before offering up a hearty laugh. “Unless you really are as good as The Beatles.”