Toby Wright On Recording Fear Factory

It took industrial-metal stalwarts Fear Factory nearly 15 years to finally enlist the help of one of the heaviest hitting, and thus most befitting, producers in the business — but with Transgression, their newest (and arguably most fully realized) release, the Fear Factory crew and Toby Wright have finally collaborated and bore many, ahem, laborious fruits. Showcasing a significant sonic progression for the band, Transgression benefits from Wright’s penchant for capturing bands at both their most caustic and, dare we say, sensitive — serving as a testament to the production talents that have garnered Wright the ability to work with such genre-defying acts as Alice In Chains and Metallica. Thankfully, we were able to pull Toby aside for a few minutes to hear how to approach real metal in the studio, yet still keep the product fresh.

EQ: As Fear Factory have a long track record and a fairly established sound, did that make coming on board to produce Transgression easier or harder for you?

Toby Wright: Well, they actually told me they wanted to experiment with their sound, and that’s why I went into the project. For example, I really wanted to add some more melody to their vocals while still preserving their live feel and energy, so I started working really hard with Burton [C. Bell], their singer, from the beginning to achieve that.

EQ: Given the change in approach to performing his vocals, what did you end up using mic-wise to capture his clean takes?

TW: I used a Soundelux U95, which was actually a one of a kind, custom-made mic for Layne Staley [Alice In Chains] that we had modded when we were working together. I brought it out of retirement, and it really sounded amazing.

EQ: Were there any other old, good “standards,” in terms of gear selection, that you used from previous sessions? Any “I’m making a metal record and this never fails” standbys?

TW: I don’t really have any “standards” for gear, or for that matter, technique. I don’t like to repeat myself. I’ll even go out of my way, even if I’m after the same kind of sound I’ve gotten before, not to repeat myself from session to session. I’ll try to find a different way around a band because, frankly, it gets boring if you don’t. A great song will only be made better with a great sound, but you’ll never discover those ways of getting great sounds if you get stuck working with what you think is necessarily going to work.

EQ: That’s a very respectable approach to making albums. So, on that note, what did you do different for Fear Factory this time around?

TW: Well, like for Christian [Olde Wolbers, guitar] I started by asking him to use some adjectives to describe what he wanted his guitar tracks to sound like, and when we settled on a concept, I took a technique that I’ve used with a [Shure] SM57 and a [Sennheiser] 421 paired up, and switched the 421 with two [AKG] 451s. I call it the “Boom Array”: a 57 in the middle and two 451s straight across.

EQ: The very industrial, machine-like drum sound of Raymond Herrera is one of the most easily definable aspects of Fear Factory. Did you record e-drums or just trigger the kit and drop in BFDs?

TW: We miked an entire natural kit. It was a tricky situation because you have Raymond, who’s one of the fastest drummers I’ve ever worked with, and you can really risk losing clarity of the individual hits by going the au naturel route. You have to be careful in your mic decisions. We ended up using a 421 and a [AKG] D112 on the kick. For the snare we used both a 57 and a 451 on the top, and a [Sennheiser] MD 441 U pointed up at the bottom.

EQ: And toms?

TW: A 421 on each.

EQ: Overheads?

TW: No overheads; three stereo pairs of [Neumann] U87s placed throughout the room.

EQ: Transgression was all cut to Pro Tools, I take it. I hear it’s your preference. . . .

TW: Yeah, it is. I own five TDM rigs. For me, it’s just easy manipulation. I’ve been using Pro Tools for so long . . . I mean, when you’re arguing with a guitar player about 1dB, that’s going to be gone when you run the tape over the heads 25 times. But with recording digital, it obviously stays there.

EQ: So I take it, given the prominence of the drums in the band, and in the mix, you started the mix from the drums up?

TW: I’ve found that I get lost if I start at the drums. I’ve realized that the drums get so big and, when you’re done, it’s a great drum sound but then the guitars sound don’t sit right, they sound like crap, and you have to start over. Like, with a band like Fear Factory, you know you’re going to want guitars in the very front and drums right behind them. So instead I’ll just throw up the faders and see what I have. I got that guitar and drum good balance going, and that’s pretty much the most important thing.

EQ: How much involvement did you want from the band, or any musicians you’re working with, in the mixing process?

TW: When I’m producing a band from scratch, I’ll have the vision down completely by the time we hit mixing, so if they want to come to the mix, great. If not, that’s okay too, because I know I’ll be able to hit it. I usually start off by myself, and when I have a good vibe going on I’ll invite the band in. But then again, it’s really important to deliver what they’re asking for and not so much what I want. It’s funny, people get really shocked sometimes when I get them exactly what they want, but I’m really just a conduit between their vision and getting it on CD.