For Minus the Bear’s fourth album, OMNI [Dangerbird], the Seattle-based band decided to work with an outside producer for the first time. The band started shaping tracks in demo form in mid-2008, and by April 2009, they began recording with Grammy Award-winning producer Joe Chiccarelli (White Stripes, My Morning Jacket) at Seattle’s Avast! Recording. Here, Minus the Bear keyboardist/engineer Alex Rose talks about songwriting toys, guitar-sampling experiments and guitar tones, vocal signal chains, and his top five must-have pieces of gear and software.
Could you pick a song on OMNI and explain the step-by-step process of creating it, from writing to recording to mixing?
?The first song on OMNI, "My Time" was written based around a [Suzuki] Omnichord idea that Dave [Knudson] came up with late in the writing process. We often like to find new toys for each new writing cycle to keep things fresh, and this was one of Dave's acquisitions. It was one of the last songs we finished before going into pre-production with Joe C. and came together very quickly. It's also the first MTB song where Dave doesn't play guitar. It was just so fun-sounding that we knew early on it was going to make the record.??
When we hit the studio (Avast! Recording in Seattle), we all were intent on OMNI being an album with more of a live feel. We all played together and virtually all of the basics ended up in the final mix. After each take, Joe would make sonic and musical suggestions and dive into everyone's sounds, going so far as to have us kick in pedals at certain times and make it so that the basics sounded finished! Once everything was sonically in place, we'd do a few more final takes, and those were usually the ones. Most of the delays and effects on the guitars and keys were there from the beginning.
??The Omnichord was run through Dave's two-amp setup that was used throughout the album, alternating between a Mesa/Boogie Lone Star, a Verellen (boutique amp company from Seattle), and a Fender Showman and Twin Reverb. Also, all the drum loops you hear come from the built-in loops in the Omnichord run through the amps. The intro was acheived by running the Omnichord beat into a [Dunlop] Cry Baby and into a [Line 6] DL4 that was set to stereo ping-pong. This was also a live performance of modifying the effects. As the wah pedal was pushed down further, the delay time was increased until it got to just the right chaotic point the band enters. Backwards samples of the beat are used later in the song.??
Did you try any recording experiments on the album? ?
"Animal Backwards" was basically an experiment, based on backwards samples of the song before it, "Into the Mirror." Dave uses three guitar samples that can either be flipped around and made double speed and pitch (or both) with the DL-4 pedals. One day at practice, we just went for it, and when "Into the Mirror" ended, we started jamming on the backwards samples. I really pushed for the idea of making it into a complete song because I wanted to hear what MTB's version of a "club banger" would be.
??Even though this song is electronic sounding, Erin [Tate] played the [Roland] V-Drums kit live as well. Joe was adamant about getting the band feel even on this track. The arpeggio keys come from a [Korg] microKorg that was really hard to get synched with the track, but the result sounds very cool. We were all hanging out in the lounge and suddenly heard the bombastic acoustic drums through the wall and everyone got very excited to hear the result.?
We finished the recording before the lyrics were finished and Jake told me one of the lines he had come up with, "She is a wolf looking through my window," and we both took that idea and wrote separate songs and the results are combined in a mash-up of independently written ideas. The whole thing sounds like madness and ended up being one of my favorites.? ?
What are five pieces of gear or software you couldn’t live without??
Clavia Nord Lead 2X keyboard
M-Audio Axiom Pro MIDI controller keyboard
?Propellerhead Reason software
Apple Logic software
?Line 6 M13 Stompbox Modeler??
Personally, I use the Nord Lead 2X and Reason the most (they were what previous keyboardist Matt Bayles used, and I stuck with that system) and lately have been getting very into Logic and MainStage. All of that was run through a Line 6 M13 for delays and reverbs. I don't own these yet, but we got a hold of a Rhodes and Roland Juno-60 and String Machine, and those were really fun to use on the record.?
?There are some interesting guitar tones on the album, such as the solo on “Summer Angel.” How did you record that one??
The solo was done live during tracking using the two-amp technique (Mesa and Verellen) with the Cry Baby and a line boost from the Z.Vex Box of Rock pedal. For the choruses of that song, Dave flips back and forth between the amps to give a tremolo effect.? ?
What’s your signal chain for vocals, and how do you record and treat leads versus background vocals??
We had a lot of setups for vocals, both in the studio and at home for some backups. In the studio, we used a combination of mics: UM 57, Blue Kiwi, and this other mic that Jake and I can't remember, quite a bit. Definitely processed them with EQ and compression on the way into the Pro Tools|HD. He used the Pultec EQs on the vocal while mixing.??
For some of the backup vocals (and a couple leads), we had some home sessions on our own using a couple LE rigs. At Jake's house we used the [Neumann Gefell] UM 57 through a Neve 1272 and the Manley ELOP limiter through an Apogee Mini-Me. At my place, I did a few vocals in my bedroom using an SM58 and a [Universal Audio] LA-610. Some of the backing and lead vocals for "The Thief," "Animal Backwards" and "Hold Me Down" were done this way. At the time I was thinking I was doing scratch vocals, and they ended up on the record! I was horrified at first but I've grown to love them.?
Do you consider mixing more of a performance/real-time activity, something to be done mainly through programming automation moves, or both??
A lot of the mixing and effect ideas were done during tracking. Joe brought an onslaught of gear for the initial tracking sessions and we got very far into the sounds from the very start. Mixing, I was at first surprised to find out, was a somewhat less intense. We used the SSL with automation at Electrokitty Studios (we also did some of the final vocals and overdubs there) to mix and mixed to half-inch and mastered from those tapes.
[Photo credit: David Belisl]