Tracking Rooney’s 'Calling The World'

Rooney guitarist Taylor Locke’s head spins right around every time a female walks past his outdoor table in the busy Hollywood eatery he is having an afternoon drink in, but it snaps right back to center—as does his attention—when the matter at hand becomes the recording of Rooney’s second album, Calling The World. Although Rooney’s self-titled debut—a throwback to the poppier side of ’60s and ’70s rock—was simple and infectious, the follow-up was recorded, in its entirety, multiple times.

The first run at Calling The World was with producer Tony Hoffer at Sunset Sound. Rooney’s idea was to make the record like it was 1970—recording in a room all together, live to tape.

“We were more excited by how we were making the record than the actual record we were making,” says Locke. “I don’t dislike the way it sounds. It sounds retro, old, lo-fi, and grainy. It has its charms, but it just wasn’t a competitive-sounding record.”

Starting over, this time with the god of modern-rock producers, Howard Benson, the meticulous approach of the second Calling The World sessions was the exact opposite of the previous experience.

“Benson has this very elaborate guitar-layering strategy where all the guitar parts are broken down into different sounds,” explains Locke. “You play a part for only four bars. Then, you retune and double the part. You play the next four bars, and then retune and double that. When you get to the end of the song, you dial in a new guitar sound, and do the same thing—again and again—until there are anywhere from six to 20 perfectly-tuned guitar layers per song.”

But this very mechanical approach ultimately went against the playful and carefree nature of Rooney. So, next up to the production podium was John Fields (Switchfoot, Soul Asylum, Mandy Moore), who approached the band as a fan, and offered to track a song for free. Documenting ideas quickly in GarageBand—starting only with a programmed MIDI drum track, and then adding guitar, bass, and synth lines—the band moved the demo tracks from Locke’s and Rooney vocalist/guitarist Robert Schwartzman’s makeshift bedroom studios to Fields’ Pro Tools-equipped home facility to cut vocals. The vocal sessions were so successful that, although the instruments were deemed scratch tracks, the Rooney guys decided to use the vocal tracks as “finals.” To do this, click tracks had to be laid down to match the vocal performances so that the rest of the instruments could be recorded. Ultimately, the band shot over to the late Jeff Porcaro’s Seedy Underbelly studios to track drums, and then to the Dust Brother’s studio—The Boat—to cut the guitars, bass, and keys.

It was at The Boat where Rooney discovered the signature of Calling The World—Locke’s and Schwartzman’s killer ’70s-styled guitar tones. Locke, wielding a veritable arsenal of Gibsons (a Les Paul Special, Junior, and Standard; a vintage SG; and an ES-330 and ES-335) ran simultaneously through a Vox AC30 and a plexi Marshall half-stack. Schwartzman—a strict Fender proponent—ran his vintage Jazzmaster and a Telecaster through a ’57 tweed Twin and a ’52 Deluxe. Both sets of amps were miked with a Shure SM57 right on the grille, and a Royer R-121 ribbon mic placed approximately 12 inches back, and pointed directly at the cone.

“Fields pulled up the two faders, and we immediately noticed the ribbon was very warm and thick, while the SM57 had a bright midrange that was very in-your-face,” says Locke. “When we submixed those two tracks down to one, we ended up using about an 80/20 split in favor of the SM57s. We didn’t want too much low end—just enough to round out the tone, and produce that warm ’70s guitar sound.”

Moving out of The Boat and into their respective home studios, all the members of Rooney were still able to communicate with Fields for the duration of the sessions—regardless of whether they were physically in the same place or not. The band would record last-minute additions to their compositions on GarageBand, and email the tracks to Fields, who would print a new mix, and send it back to the group for approval.

“Fields is attached to iChat nearly 24/7,” says Locke. “He lives in a computer. We cut the new tracks in three weeks, lived with his mixes for another couple of weeks, made our notes, and then we booked two days at Encore’s Studio A in Burbank—the big SSL J 9000 room—for the final mixes. Well, we were basically using the SSL for monitoring from Pro Tools, because Fields output a stereo mix from his Power Mac G5. We mixed the whole record in two days. The entire process was a much better way to work than how we were doing things before.

Fields really showed us there’s a very savvy, modern, and efficient way of making an album, and making it sound good.”