It’s an hour before soundcheck at Mountain View’s legendary Shoreline Amphitheatre, just a short stretch down Highway 101 from San Francisco, and guitarist Josh Farro is bristling with enthusiasm. You might feel the same way if your band had spent the last month on the road in the coveted opening slot for No Doubt’s longawaited reunion tour, but at the moment Farro is trying to describe what it was like to track what he feels is Paramore’s best studio album to date in just five weeks. For him, it’s about much more than reliving the obvious adrenaline rush of working so quickly; it’s the sense of freedom the band encountered in making Brand New Eyes [Fueled By Ramen/Atlantic] that seems to resonate the loudest.
“On our past two records, it was usually about producers telling us the right way to do things,” Farro confides, citing the Tennessee quintet’s 2005 hard-rocking debut All We Know Is Falling and the platinumselling follow-up Riot!, “which is cool because I think we needed that at the time. But with this one, we knew exactly what we wanted, so we had to work with a producer who would be really involved but was also willing to lay back and let us do our thing. We ended up recording the first six or seven songs almost all the way through in ten days—we were flying, and we knew we had the right guy to help us do that.”
The studio wizard in question is Rob Cavallo, known for the string of hit albums he’s notched with Green Day, My Chemical Romance, Dave Matthews Band, and many more. Back in late March, when the band arrived at his tricked-out Pro Tools–based home studio in the Hollywood Hills, Cavallo had already committed to hitting the ground at full speed.
“We did one day of pre-production, basically to go over the songs they’d worked out in Nashville four or five weeks before,” Cavallo recalls. “I just talked to them about what they wanted out of their record and what they wanted to hear, and when they got here, I was like, ‘Well, let’s just record. Let’s just go.’”
Right out of the blocks, the five barely-20-somethings raised the roof with “Careful”—a slam-worthy anthem that shimmers with the dual guitar onslaught of Farro and rhythm guitarist Taylor York, together laying down the perfect springboard (with Jeremy Davis on bass and Farro’s brother Zac on drums) for lead singer Hayley Williams to flex her formidable vocal chops. The song so personified the energy that the band was looking to capture, they made it the leadoff cut on the album. Most of all, for Farro and York, it built on the bright, thicksounding guitar tandem that the two had begun fleshing out with Cavallo on last year’s single “Decode” from the Twilight movie soundtrack.
“At Rob’s studio, you have endless possibilities,” York says, referring to the dozens of amplifiers, guitars, and effects pedals, both vintage and minty fresh, that Cavallo has collected over the years. “Before we’d start tracking, we’d go from guitar to guitar and amp to amp, just trying out everything we could.” Even so, York and Farro played most of the parts on Brand New Eyes through their own custom-designed Fender guitars. Farro played a beefed-up Telecaster, and York used a modified Jazzmaster outfitted with a humbucker pickup in the bridge position and a Gibson P-90 pickup at the neck for extra bite. Both tended to favor Marshall amps, in particular a hot-wired 50-watt Plexi that was used on Green Day’s Dookie album and the stalwart JCM800s (including the Slash JCM signature model), although a Hiwatt 100 and an Orange 120-watt amp, both from the 1970s, also found their way onto the sessions.
“Whenever I do lead parts, I like to do a lot of octaves,” Farro says, “so I use the octave setting on my DigiTech Whammy pedal. You can hear it on ‘Turn It Off’—I kind of stole that from Failure and Jimmy Eat World. [Laughs.] I’m also using Robert Keeley’s Katana Boost pedal there, which makes the tone really hot. That also comes in on the dirty channel on one of the [Marshall] 800s for the opening riff of ‘Ignorance,’ which is just really bright and punchy.”
SLOW IT DOWN
Although Farro and York don’t consider themselves gearheads by any stretch, with Cavallo’s help they maintained a wide-open mind for experimentation— an approach that also extends to the songwriting on Brand New Eyes. Diehard fans expecting another wire-to-wire pop-punk workout like Riot! will have to recalibrate slightly. Not that this summer’s punch-heavy single “Ignorance” will disappoint, nor will the brutally uptempo “Brick By Boring Brick,” with Williams belting out flawless high notes with a full-throated strength that belies her spitfire frame. (“Most of the time we used a Shure SM7 on Hayley,” Cavallo notes, “just because she’s really loud and she sounds great on it! I think it’s one of the best rock-and-roll mics you can have, and it’s not even that expensive.”)
But the dreamlike strains of “The Only Exception,” with its acoustic guitars, watery textures, and wistful Zeppelin- meets-Radiohead mood, make the song a central pivot in Paramore’s evolution as a band. “I was just writing in my music room at home on Logic,” Farro recalls, “and I was looking for a slower, chilled-out song. I wrote that and thought, ‘Man, Hayley is really gonna hate this,’ because she’s into the energetic pop songs, and I’m more into the slow emotional stuff like Coldplay. But after I sent it to her, she wrote me back immediately and said she’d already come up with a vocal line. Originally it was just supposed to be a short interlude, but we ended up expanding it into a full song in the studio.”
For the rich, echo-drenched guitar textures that open the song, Farro relied on his Boss DD-20 Giga Delay and Cavallo’s Line 6 Verbzilla. To get the drum kit sounding like it’s hovering near the bottom of an elevator shaft, Cavallo and engineer Doug McKean organized a simple miking scheme where only the room mics were opened up (as Cavallo remembers it, a pair of AKG C 12 A mics, both going through an Aurora Audio GTQ2 MKII mic pre), and a touch of SoundToys EchoBoy was added to the snare.
“That’s really a testament to how talented Doug is,” Cavallo explains, “because he tried to do a different drum sound for Zac that poked out a little more, but the booming room sound that he got the first time was actually superior for the nature of that song. I understand sometimes how it can be scary when you have a big, dark-sounding snare, but that’s one of the advantages that I get to have as a producer because I’m allowed to sit back and look at the whole. I knew what kind of guitar sounds were gonna go on top of it, and what kind of legato-like qualities we were gonna throw in, and that snare was right on.”
SOMETHING BRAND NEW
Like a true old-school rock record, drums on Brand New Eyes were almost always recorded first, with the rest of the band performing scratch tracks that they would overdub later. “Misguided Ghosts,” on the other hand, was a live studio take— another new step for the group, and an almost entirely acoustic song that stands out again for its brooding emotion. For the session, Williams took her place in an iso booth with the door open onto the main room, where the rest of the band was set up in a diamond shape with the room mics open.
“We just set up in the room with two acoustic guitars,” York explains. “Jeremy had a little Hofner bass, and Hayley of course got on a mic and we just did it. It took us a few times to get it the way we wanted it, and then we just tracked it all together in one take. About halfway through the song, Zac starts tapping on a magazine that’s miked. That’s a trick that Rob told us about—it actually ends up having a lot of cool low end.”
Cavallo will readily admit that he has a wealth of recording tricks up his sleeve, but he doesn’t always look to past experience to determine what he’s going to do next. True to form, Brand New Eyes busts through with a lushness of sound and a true sense of being on a sonic journey that’s not only new for Paramore, but for Cavallo as well.
“I think the main thing to know is that when we’re in the studio, we remember what we need to when the situation calls for it,” he says. “The truth is we’re always updating and morphing and changing and trying to find something better. We don’t do the same shit all the time—that’s why we can’t remember what we did two years ago, because we’ve already been through five different things. For me, it’s always about responding to the band first—then you can be free to use all your resources and coloration tools to do the right thing.”
Apple Mac G5 Intel
Digidesign Pro Tools 8, 192 I/O converters, and ICON D-Control console
Neve sidecar with 33114 mic pre/EQs
Live room and monitoring system designed by Allen Sides from Ocean Way Recording, with Genelec 1032As and Dynaudio M1s