Red Sparowes

Layered. Intricate. Epic. These are just some of the descriptive terms being tossed around more casually than handshakes in conversations regarding the instrumental post-rock phenomenon Red Sparowes’ grandiose new release Every Red Heart Shines Towards the Red Sun.

Disappointed with the sound of their previous release, 2005’s At The Soundless Dawn, the five-piece band tracked down veteran recording enthusiast Tim Green — a man known for his ability to faithfully capture a band’s natural, live sounds on tape — to focus on recording an album full of nuance and dynamics. So, after hearing Every Heart . . . and falling madly in love with it, we decided to track Mr. Green down for a quick chat regarding the making of what is being touted as one of the past year’s most multi-textural, interesting recordings.

EQ: Tim, in case you didn’t notice, the drums sound huge.

Tim Green: I used the standby: [AKG] D112 for the kick, [Shure] SM57 on the top of the snare. I didn’t even touch the bottom snare. If I have a lot of free tracks, I may use a two mic attack, top and bottom, for the snare; but if I know there’s going to be a lot of overdubs, such as with this project, I’ll usually just mic the top head. Then, when it comes time to mix, I’ll run a feed off the snare through this late ’70s Ibanez UE400 for it’s distortion, bring it back and mix underneath the snare for some saturation.

Though I sometimes like to experiment by using various tube condensers on the toms, this record seemed to call for [Sennheiser] 421s and 441s. For the room, I ended up using two Neumann M582s. We did the basic tracking at Prairie Sun because they have a huge drum room. It’s like a giant old barn! So we tried to take full advantage of the sound of the room. I didn’t even end up using any overheads.

EQ: There are a lot of effects wandering in the peripheral of this album. With so much going on with the other instruments, how did you end up approaching the mix in terms of the drums, to really let them cut through where needed but also sit comfortably with the rest of the action?

TG: Well, when I’m setting up the mix, and I know it’s going to be dense, my first inclination is to give the kick 2–4kHz more attack. Also, I took a sub mix of the kick, snare, and toms and cut out some of the low end. Then ran it through a cheap compressor, like a [Alesis] 3630, which just smashes everything, and then brought that submix up underneath to give those pieces of the kit more punch.

EQ: What did you end using for the guitar tracks? They are incredibly warm. . . .

TG: I have a Neumann U67, modified by Klaus Heyne, that I used. I’m a practitioner of the whole “tube condenser straight to tape” philosophy, sometimes going through a compressor (in this case a Manley Variable Mu) for extra gain. But I found that, for some of the really loud guitar tracks, the signal was hot enough that Coles 4038s were really good at toning down the harshness in the 2–3kHz regions that the Marshalls were building up.

Though I didn’t use it on this album, one of my favorites is the [Neumann] M147. It’s a cheaper version of the 147, but it sounds pretty great. The midrange it brings out makes for some pretty aggressive guitar sounds.

EQ: You’re a big fan of DIY equipment. Is there anything new you’ve put together that you got to put to the test on this album?

TG: No, but I did somewhat recently get to build this API-styled pre from a kit — it has a Millennia amp, a Lindahl input transformer, Solen caps, and a Jensen output transformer — which I had to track down myself. It sounds great, better than those lunchboxes that are out there, in my opinion. I also just finished building a Seventh Circle Audio N72 copy, which has Carnhill input and output transformers and a stepped attenuator.

EQ: Sometimes, building it yourself is definitely the way to go.

TG: It’s certainly a lot cheaper of an alternative. But the resale value is low.

EQ: Alright, back on track. You record exclusively to tape. . . .

TG: Definitely. Not only do I stick with it for the sound, but using Pro Tools screws up my wrist [laughs].

EQ: Any challenges this time around recording to that format?

TG: I’d get a little spaced out since some of the music gets pretty hypnotic — I’d find myself starting to drift, but I just had to focus. The songs are long, but we only did one edit; we had a really nice four minutes, but we still had six to go. We did the edit, and it sounded fine. I don’t know if there was a difference in tape tension or what, but when we got it back to my studio, Louder Studios, it was bordering on disaster. The edit was audible in a really crucial spot. To quickly remedy it, we recorded a guitar bend over another piece of tape, and in mastering we were, luckily, able to cover it up.

EQ: Did you have to rethink any of your standard approaches when working with such a dynamic band? You can hear a pin drop over some of these sections. . . .

TG: Not really, aside from using compression carefully to maintain the dynamic range. You have to be careful not to let it get too quiet. Stuff can get lost, especially in, say, a car stereo.

EQ: So you had to be especially conscious of those elements when listening back to your mixes. . . .

TG: I’m pretty used to my monitors, which are KRK 9000Bs. They’re the same monitors John Galton uses, and since I do a lot of mastering at his place, I got a pair myself so I’d be prepared for what the mixes will sound like when they are first played at his mastering house. The KRKs are a little hyped in the high-mids, but I know how to compensate. But, for perspective, I also listen to playbacks through a pair of [Yamaha] NS 10s and a boombox. It doesn’t really matter what kind of monitors you use as long as you know how they translate to the outside world.

EQ: Was the band heavily involved in the mixing stage?

TG: They were all involved. I always encourage bands to get on board because they know their parts, their overall balance, better than anyone. It’s their record.

EQ: You’re giving the band a lot more credit than some producers would.

TG: The band should always have the final say, because they really have to live with the album. I remember, the second or third time I went into the studio to record one of my projects, reaching for a fader and getting my hand slapped by the engineer. That was one of the first things that led me to start my own studio, and start doing things my way [laughs].