EQ Web Exclusive Interview Extras: of Montreal
By Tony Ware
The November 2010 issue of EQ profiles of Montreal’s False Priest, which is built around a hybrid mix of vintage instruments and soft synths. Here, of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes and engineer Greg Koller share additional insights on musical references, arranging and mastering.
Kevin Barnes on clicking with producer Jon Brion:
The whole thing about finding the right producer is having someone who understands your references. If I said, “James Brown drums” or “Marvin Gaye drums” or “Al Green drums” or whatever it would be, [Jon] would know. Jon is an absolute music fanatic, and he has the most incredible music memory of anyone I ever met. In a way, people can take advantage of him because he’s so much fun…he’s the ultimate party favor because you put him in front of a piano and you have the best sing-along ever, because he can play every song you ever want to hear. There were a lot of times where we would start talking about something, something we both really love and both were kind of passionate about, and he’d go to the piano and we’d talk about the arrangements. We’re both chord-progression weirdos; we’re both freaks about chord progressions. It’s something that most people who write songs don’t seem to care that much about. We were talking about the obvious, Brian Wilson, and the way he would structure his songs. He would have little twists that made the thing special. Or some of the Motown songs. We'd be talking about something like “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing,” and talking about the verse, and be almost in tears talking about how beautiful it was; what a sophisticated and beautiful chord progression it had.
Kevin Barnes discusses string arrangements:
The string arrangements were done by a friend of mine, K. Ishibashi. We were on tour in Europe doing some summer festivals and we happened to play a show with Regina Spektor, and he was playing violin with her. We were talking backstage, and found out he was an of Montreal fan. He was like, “If you ever need strings on anything, I have a little home studio back in New York. It’s not super-slick production or anything, but I have pretty good results.” I was like, “Cool.” The first thing we did together was "Casualty of You." I just sent him the piano and the voice and the bass and the drums, whatever I had done, and just said, “Go to town. Do whatever you want.” He’s amazing, because he’s not going to do something generic. He’s extremely excited and interested in composing as well, and coming from a different place than myself, because he’s classically trained and understands music theory backwards and forwards. He understands why these certain composers are exciting and great. I might hear it and think, “Oh, cool, I like this one thing this certain person does,” but I wouldn’t really be able to put it in words and say why it’s special or cutting-edge. He was able to, with a little bit of direction, create something so far beyond my wildest imagination. I never would have been able to do that myself with any number of vintage strings plug-ins. "Casualty of You" and "Around the Way" are just amazing to me. He has totally transformed them and brought them to this magical place that I would really want them to go but wouldn’t have been able to bring them there myself.
Engineer Greg Koller on working at Oean Way and mastering with Alan Yoshida:
John and I are very fond of Studio B at Ocean Way; it’s probably our favorite room in town, because it’s a [Bill] Putnam [designed] room. We love it particularly for the incredible live room, and the control room monitoring system mains sound very good. Also there are the classic echo chambers; we make a lot of use of those. And having our mastering engineer, Alan Yoshida, across the hall from Studio B doesn’t hurt. He’s a big part of the sound of the [of Montreal] record, too.
He likes to get the flow of the record, to master it all together, still doing all his his level rides by hand. He built a custom console, with custom JVC convertors. He can make things loud, but he only does it when someone requests it, and he does it tastefully. He’ll listen, he likes to hear a record all the way down, what the sequencing is, what the spacing and levels are, because he tries to preserve dynamics. He definitely can open up stuff and make it sound bigger and better than what’s given to him. And if he doesn’t like the mix, he’ll be very vocal about it.