Though much has been made of Miike Snow’s mysterious blogosphere coup—highly trafficked remixes of artists such as Vampire Weekend and Peter Bjorn and John with no trace of prior productions—the recipe for the catchy, euphoric pop amalgam that is their self-titled debut LP is deceptively simple. Take two Grammy-winning Swedes and a prolific American songwriter, toss them into a 400-year-old home that once served as residence to Swedish King Gustav II’s mistress, and give them only a handful of sessions to come up with a finished set of songs. Nothing more, nothing less. Or at least that’s what they want you to believe.
“The process of making this album more or less just happened,” says Pontus Winnberg, one-third of Miike Snow and one-half of Bloodshy & Avant, the production duo responsible for co-writing and producing Britney Spear’s crossover hit “Toxic,” among other platinum gems by the likes of Madonna and Kylie Minogue. “Nothing was really planned.”
All in all, Winnberg, Christian Karlsson (aka Bloodshy), and Andrew Wyatt (formerly of Black Beetle and Fires of Rome, as well as a coproducer alongside Mark Ronson on Daniel Merriweather’s latest album) wrote 13 songs together. Eleven of them ended up on Miike Snow (Downtown), while two were used as B-sides. It’s a stellar batting average that the group attributes to consistent experimentation and jamming, albeit with a trimmed-down set of gear.
Winnberg and Karlsson’s studio is built up around an API 1608 console, classic API EQs, compressors, and preamps, and a combination of vintage and modern day analog monsters such as the Roland System 100 and System 700, and the Analog Solutions Vostok. Modeled after the pin-matrix look and feel of the old EMS Putney, the Vostok played a huge part in the creation of the bounding, arpeggiated synth lines that can be heard in songs like “Black & Blue,” “In Search Of,” and “Animal,” but with a slight twist.
“All control is based on control voltage/gate protocols, as used in the old analog synths and signal processors,” Winnberg says. “It’s transferred from the computer into MIDI, then the MIDI data goes into a converter to transform it into the CV/Gate format. It’s all voltage-controlled, which makes it much easier to sum control signals. For example, you can have a voltage varying between 0 and 10 volts to control whatever you want it to control, like oscillator pitch or filter cutoff. Then you can bring in something else, like an LFO generating between 0 and 10 volts. The two get added together so now you have an oscillator or filter being controlled by the original control source and the LFO. There are so many possibilities, it’s a way more organic control process than MIDI.”
All the filter sweeps are done manually while the pattern is being played back and recorded into an audio file. The best takes are then comped together in Logic, producing wellarticulated sections that are tightly sequenced yet highly stylized. The consistent use of this production tactic gives the album’s electronic moments an organic feel that matches up well with the piano balladry provided by Wyatt. Miike Snow’s studio is also filled with esoteric instruments like the Viggen Debutant (an organ preferred by the group for its low-end tones), the Ondes Martenot, and the Analog Systems French Connection (the Martenotbased controller) that were widely used on the album.
Elsewhere, Winnberg and Karlsson dip into their pop toolkit, implementing tricks normally reserved for big room house-music productions. On “In Search Of,” the piano and synth lines are matched up with the entire rhythm track to create a pulsating dancefloor effect.
“First you take the piano line, reverse it, then place it right up to the next note so you get the swelling sound,” says Winnberg of the process. “Then you place that effected piano over the top of the regular piano. But that’s just one step. We also use the sidechain on our SSL XLogic bus compressor. We send the kick into the sidechain, which makes the whole mix bounce to the kick. You can more or less throw anything in there and it will ride the level as if it were the source sound.”
It would be remiss to call Miike Snow a collection of happy accidents, especially given the résumés of the artists involved, but Winnberg is quick to downplay their studio prowess, modestly chalking up their success to being in the right place at the right time with the right gear at their fingertips.
“We try and change the concept of how we make music as much as possible,” he says. “Just to maintain that energy and move forward. If you were to look at it from an engineer’s angle, we probably do everything wrong!”