The big system was really to keep everyone enthusiastic. In some studios, listening through headphones, things can start to sound dull pretty quickly. But when you hit them with the big rig, it’s like, “Wow!” It’s enough to get them re-energized and go back in to cut another track right away.
I even went so far as to bring my own furniture in — huge Indian rugs and lots of cool lamps — to help set an atmosphere. I also brought in some of my backline: a beautiful Gretsch drum set and some truly wonderful vintage amps (Vox AC-30 and an old Fender Tweed Deluxe). I get great tones out of those amps. We ran a 1964 Fender Strat with the Vox and the Tweed, an amazing tonal combination. For some tracks, we used an old Martin O18 and a newer Les Paul, run through the same amp configuration. In addition, we used a new Asher lap steel guitar for the slide performances.
Capturing Nathaniel’s vocals properly could be tricky, but I ended up using a Shure Beta 58A for most of the vocals. Though we were going for a sound not unlike Bob Dylan’s Time out of Mind, on which I had used a Sony C37A for Bob’s vocals, I was afraid that, as the band was tracking together in this room, the C37A might pick up too much “band sound” and bleed into the vocals — which is something I really wanted to avoid. With the 58A, there was hardly any “leakage”; and when I ran it through a bunch of Neve pres and into a couple of choice tube compressors, the vocals came out really big, really warm. The way I looked at it, we just needed to capture a clear, isolated vocal — we could color the sound with the pres and the outboard effects.
I approached the tracking sessions the same way I always have by employing an ethic, a tactic I think is immensely beneficial to bands of this ilk: Don’t isolate the musicians, isolate the amps. If you put everyone in the same room, in a circle around the drummer, you foster eye contact and communication — which allows for really strong takes.
For Nathaniel’s project, I isolated all the amps by placing them in various closets throughout the house. All the musicians could hear what they were playing, exactly how they wanted to hear it, by just running them through their own separate headphone mixes (with those integrated Pioneer and Marantz amps from the ’70s that have built-in receivers). Therefore each musician had his own volume and tone control for total independence. It was like they were each playing to an amazing record — tailored to their personal preferences — and it really helped them throughout the tracking process.