Right From The Start

Fink Keeps it Simple for Distance and Time

It’s easy to get carried away when making an album. You might blow your rent check on the newest gadget or feel inspired to triple every guitar line just because you have an unlimited track count. But even the biggest gear nerds—such as Brighton, England-based blokes Fink —will attest that sometimes it’s best to just keep it simple. With their latest release Distance and Time [Ninja Tune], guitarist/vocalist/namesake Fin Greenall (who has produced Amy Winehouse and many others), and cohorts Guy Whittaker (bass) and Time Thornton (drums), spent less than three weeks creating their newest slab of dubbed-out minimal folk. Holed up in The Lookout Studios with Lamb mastermind Andy Barlow, the band got with the program and banged out an album’s worth of tracks in less time than many bands spend getting drum sounds. “On some of the tracks you can hear fire crackling in the background,” Greenall says. “That’s not a cheesy effect. We were huddled around the fireplace when we were tracking, trying to keep warm and play our parts with frozen fingers. We just wanted to get out of there [laughs].”

The warmth of Fink’s tracks has little to do with the proximity of open flames to the performers, Barlow assures. According to the producer, Fink’s sound is all about capturing the most realistic sounds possible and avoiding posthumous processing like the plague. For instance, Greenall’s ever-present nylon-string acoustic, which is outfitted with a Headway “The Snake” under-saddle pickup, wasn’t tracked direct. “A direct acoustic sound is not the sound a perfomer or the audience hears when then are playing,” Barlow says. To create a realistic image of the instrument, Barlow insisted on a miking strategy that mimicked the perspective of both performer and audience: A Neumann U 87 six inches up from the neck, placed where Greenall’s left ear would usually be and another Neumann U 87 straight out from Greenall, in the middle of the room where an audience member may sit. “We did compress in,” Barlow says, “but only slightly. We’d keep a really low ratio on a Summit Audio TLA-100A to keep the transients in check, but that’s all.”

The “fix it in the mix” philosophy, Barlow says, is never an option. For example, on the song “Blue Pancakes,” Whittaker’s Tacoma 6-string bass provided way too much sustain. Rather than killing it digitally during the mix Greenall recalls Barlow taking the MacGyver approach during tracking. “Andy recommended sticking a big sock down on the saddle to dampen it down, resulting in an indie-dub bass sound,” he says. “Initially Guy was mortified at doing that but he started to dig it because it really worked well . . . he could play it a lot harder and the notes would die a lot quicker so he could start pummeling it for the take.”

Greenall further stresses that the key to a great Fink recording is in his bandmates making simple gear choices and not relying on some “magic box” to provide their sounds for them. “The less of a drum kit you have, the more creative you have to get with the few pieces available,” Greenall uses as an example. “Dynamics should be achieved by the artists performance, not by volume draws and automation in Pro Tools.”