Interview extras with Alex Ebert and Matt “Linny” Linesch
So what is it about the styles of vintage pop music that first caught your ear: the songwriting or the production?
Alex: This has been something on my mind and the tip of my tongue for the last six months as I’ve been mixing this album and occasionally referencing some of those artists mentioned, plus some new stuff. It feels like no matter what you hear now, no matter how good it is, it’s not that great once you have the context of Al Green, Nina Simone, or, sure, Joe Cocker, etc. . . [Now] it’s usually this outrageously clean thing that sounds unconvincing to me, because people know too well what they’re doing now and what people supposedly want.
It sounds more like it’s expressing a business transaction rather than creative output.
Alex: Yeah, there’s no chance taking. In order for a lot of pop artists to even hear a song, it has to go through 25 people who already have decided if it’s a hit, they just need to rerecord the vocal. It’s possible a lot of these pop songs are good songs, I just can’t tell because the production is so overblown. The producers are less focused on the songs and more on making it sound hype, like ear candy, so the songs are suffering . . . when you break them down to acoustic guitar, they most likely won’t stand up.
How far do you take studio experiments?
Alex: It’s about capturing those moments, even if they’re not ‘correct,’ because if we’d waited to do it correctly we wouldn’t have used a basketball [to provide the basic beat] in “Life Is Hard” . . . but then it also wouldn’t be the song. That goes back to my feelings on professionalism. Sure, I could say I always love the KM88 at right angles for recording acoustic guitars or something like that, and there are ways we could establish more congruity, but it wouldn’t be adventuresome and that’s what this album is all about. I can’t remember a single setup that was the same as the one previous; it was all a good gleeful rush to record.
Linny: It’s a really fun way of working, because we’re not hung up on trying the most pure sound to work on it later. For Edward Sharpe music, it’s important to capture the energy and emotion, and it’s an opportunity to be a creative engineer and try things, building on experience and knowledge but not being controlled by it. Once we worry about capturing the song we can worry about the technical stuff like the kick competing with the bass.
Alex: My main thought is it’s a great instinct to make something stick out, proper or not. It’s an older take on things. I love those recordings where the tambourine is louder than the vocal; it’s so cool and what we love about older recordings but don’t know it. Today things are mixed in a way that if someone heard that they would think, “Okay, that’s a great demo but when are you going to record that for real?” But listen to the Kinks and you think from a mixing and engineering standpoint it’s the sloppiest shit you ever heard. But if you tightened it up and mixed it “well” you’d destroy it.
It’s great to make things stick out and to make weird choices that bring things that you wouldn’t think of as supposed to be the loudest thing and bring them up. That’s how I do it: I make it too loud and then get in a mastering lab and find that it’s not too loud after all . . . it’s just where it’s supposed to be.
Did the new album benefit greatly from your time mixing at Ocean Way Recording in Hollywood?
Linny: I almost started having my mail delivered there, but they were great; that studio’s amazing. Their console, the echo chamber … it all really gave added body to the songs.
Alex: Nothing was safe from challenge and we’d re-record or shift things around, because if I know a mix isn’t quite great I keep going until I get to a place where it’s just that thing it was meant to be. We were simmering in the album, producing and mixing it to get it right.