Kevin Buckley in his studio. Credit: Kevin buckley
The creative spark comes in many ways. For renowned fiddler Kevin Buckley, it started innocently enough with a project recorded on a Tascam 424 mkII 4-track cassette machine in his parents' basement and ended up as New Sense (Dren Records, 2007), a full-length CD recorded in Adobe Audition that blended power pop and Americana rock and was released under the moniker Grace Basement. Buckley played all the instruments on the project.
In 2005 the family home in St. Louis was bought out by Lambert Airport for a runway expansion. After his parents moved out, Buckley squatted in the abandoned house — which had at that point become airport property — for three months while working on the recordings. He then found an apartment in the city and finished the CD there and at his parents' new house.
During the songwriting and preproduction phases, Buckley moved from the original 4-track cassette machine to a Tascam TSR-8 reel-to-reel. When that recorder died, he switched full-time to Adobe Audition, on which he recorded the CD's “keeper” tracks. “I'm not an analog snob, but I could hear a difference,” he said of comparing the analog and computer-recorded tracks. “However, recording is also a matter of utility, so I opted to use the computer. To make up for the potential loss in fidelity, I started collecting better outboard gear: a Sytek MPX-4Aii preamp; a couple of Shure SM57s, Oktava MC319s, and MK012s; and a Marshall MXL V69 tube mic, the latter of which I tried to use on most things. The signal then ran through my Alesis Studio 24 [console] into my M-Audio Delta 1010 [sound card] — nothing to write home about, but good enough to record a rock record.”
Once he'd switched to Audition, Buckley still tried to keep an analog mind-set. Most of the songs on New Sense are the original tracks, written and recorded spontaneously. “I didn't use any triggers or samples; all the instrumentation is live and fairly unprocessed — lots of doubling and panning techniques. ‘Santa Fe’ in particular is probably the best recording on the album. I started with a click track and an acoustic guitar and built it up from there. The only thing that comes close to sampling is at the end of ‘She's a Dream,’ where I used some mellotron samples to give the end a nice psychedelic swell. All the other strings I played myself, incorporating a ‘fake string quartet’ technique I've developed using two violins and two violas.”
When he finished tracking, Buckley took the files to Matt DeWine at Pieholden Suite Sounds in Champaign, Illinois. The studio is owned by Jay Bennett (of Wilco fame) and houses a collection of vintage gear, much of which was used on Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Nonesuch, 2002). DeWine ran Buckley's multitrack files through an analog tape machine and selected analog outboard gear. “All that reamplification served to color and tighten up the sound and give the record a lot more warmth,” says Buckley. “Matt and I both saw that process as another creative stage, besides just being a way to clean up the frequencies. When you record solo, it's easy to get lost in what you're doing. Having a second party is crucial for editing and creative input.
“I attempted to record with a certain level of integrity for the performances,” Buckley says of the project overall. “It's important to put limits on yourself when technology allows you to do nearly everything.”
Home base: St. Louis, Missouri
Multitracks used: Adobe Audition, Tascam TSR-8, Tascam 424 mkII
Favorite piece of gear: Sytek MPX-4Aii mic pre
Web site: www.myspace.com/gracebasement