Studio report: Tides From Nebula – Safehaven (drums and bass)

16.03.2016

Sometimes it’s good to be a layman. Sometimes it’s good not to know. Occasionally it’s refreshing to enter given situation only with will of observation and learning. It gives the excitement of a new experience and allows you to encounter an interesting adventure.

Warning. If you don’t play in a band, don’t work in a music studio or the priest didn’t inflict upon you an atonement of memorizing by heart all of last year’s subscription of “Audio Technology” magazine, this text may contain vocabulary, which can be confusing and recondite. Don’t worry though, it’s not about difficult words. It’s about feeling and getting into the atmosphere of the recording process of Tides From Nebula’s latest album “Safehaven”. Here is how it all went down.

Drums and bass

1st of February, 2016 (Monday)

Winter, no snow, grey sky, cold wind. Warsaw district of Gocławek. Rows of detached houses, calm streets, urban railway running alongside the buildings. This is the location of Nebula Studio, in other words Tides From Nebula’s headquarters and music studio set up by the band members – Maciej Karbowski (guitar) and Thomas “Stołek” Stołowski (drums). Here, the band’s new album will be recorded. Here, we will be meeting for the next two weeks.

First day of February is the first day of recording or actually preparations for it. It’s a day when all the gear is about to be set up and room preparations are taking place. The studio is divided into two parts. On the ground floor there is a live room, so a room in which speakers generate guitar sound, which is being recorded by the microphones placed by them. On the first floor, there is the control room, where musicians play their parts on the instruments, record them on the computer, listen to what comes out of the speakers in the live room and make necessary corrections. In order to show you the range of necessary preperations let me just secretly tell you, that before the recordings the control room looked like this.

reżyserka przed

When I get to the studio, everyone is already there. Maciek, Stołek and also Przemek (bass) and Adam (guitar). They are organizing the space, setting up all the gear.

Przemek: What else is there to be installed?
Maciek: Everything. We have to make the full signal.

Signal, so the connection between the live room and control room. To explain it simply, the whole setup looks as follows: the sound source, guitar with effects, is in the control room on the first floor. Microphones below in the live room record the sounds generated by the guitar and send it via cable up to the control room. In it there are other elements shaping the sound, like mic preamps (I told you it’d be hard) and a converter, a device changing analog sound into digital sound (no pain no gain, chaps). The digital sound enters the computer and audio editing software and right at the end of this puzzle there are monitors, or speakers allowing the band members to listen to the generated/recorded sounds and a mixing table to control the listening process.

Stol

For the recording session, the guys prepared eight electric guitars and three basses. Seven of them are their own: two Gibsons (Gibson Les Paul and Gibson SG), four Fenders (Jazz Bass, two models of Fender Telecaster and Fender Jazzmaster) as well as Mayones Patriot bass. Four others are rented: a 40-year old Rickenbacker bass, two Les Paul Gibsons and a Fender Stratocaster. All of it is prepared so that they could have a bigger palette of sounds to choose from, because every guitar has different characteristics. Before recordings all of the guitars have been restored by a luthier and sets of new strings have been bought.

But wait a second, I’m talking about guitars all the time, but what about drums? The drums were recorded a week earlier in the Custom34 Studio in the city of Gdańsk. I’m asking how it went.

Adam: “Very good. It’s the best recorded drums we’ve ever done”.
Stołek: “I recorded everything in five days, on average eight hours a day. We chose Custom Studio, because they have very good equipment and an incredible amount of gear. Before entering the studio we knew what we wanted to achieve, that is why during the recordings I was often changing snare drums or cymbals. We were also trying out many microphones and different kick drums. Set changeover happened basically with every song and there were times, where I was changing cymbals even within one song”.

Stołek w Custom Studio
Gear used by Stołek at Custom34 Studio during the drums recording session

Gdańsk was very hospitable and fruitful, but in Warsaw the preparation battle is still ongoing. Adam is driving around the city and collecting the gear: amps and guitars, mainly from friends, but also some music shops were very helpful. Similarly as with the drums, during the recording of guitars, the band want to search and choose the best possible sound. Due to excellent acoustics and the nobility of the room, the vocals will be recorded in the plenary hall of the Polish Parliament. Yep, that was an unexpected post-rock-political joke.

This recording session is different from the previous ones, because the band is doing everything at their own studio, so they are not as limited with time as before. The time is not limitless though, as by the middle of February they have a set deadline for the tracks to be sent for mixing to Australia. Why Down Under? Because the mixing will be done by a very talented producer Forrester Savell, who is responsible for sound of such bands as Karnivool, Dead Letter Circus, The Butterfly Effect or I Am Giant.

But wait again, how is it with the sound eventually? One is made during the recordings and then the other one during the mixes?

Adam: “A sound consists of a musician, recording and mix. A musician is responsible for the operational technique being applied on the instrument. The recording quality decides how many possibilities of adding or modifying of the recorded sound the mixing engineer has. The fuller and better the guitar recording and the thought process that goes into it, the more possibilities there are at the mixing and track modification stage. With this album we want to make all of the elements on our side as good as humanely possible, so that it could allow us to achieve the sound we are aiming at”.

So what are you aiming at?

Adam: “At the power of our live sound”.

Promising, very promising.

Decisions and actions ongoing. The control room is filling up with gear. In the meantime, ordinary life flows and in between it there are our conversations. Przemek talks about the striking realness of his last dream about a terrorist act in which his family died. Maciek, still adjusting the speaker levels, joins us in the chat and we smoothly move onto the subjects of awareness of death, life fulfilment, survival instinct and the state of mind of a person wanting to commit suicide. And right there in the middle of it the door bursts open and Stołek enters loudly declaring: “For fuck’s sake, we don’t have this bloody cable!”

Back to earth. No cable, no converter working. Telephones, questions, possible solutions. The cable is found, but on the other end of the city. Where is Adam, when he can come back, how fast can he go there and pick it up?

It becomes obvious that today no recording will happen, as there are still too many things to take care of.

I ask Maciek did they learn everything about what is needed for the recordings and organization of the studio by themselves.

Maciek: “Basically yes, but we still don’t know anything”.

This is an important sentence. Please remember it for the distant future, so that when listening to “Safehaven” you will keep in mind that it was recorded by a band which doesn’t know anything yet. And also for the near future, when it will turn out, that Nebula Studio has been constructed by two persons based on pdf files and YouTube videos. We shall return to that in the next part.

3rd of February (Wednesday)

First day of bass recording. Studio is ready and raring.

studio dzien

Cables set up, amps heated up, all set to press record and go. First to be recorded is a song which is the last one on the album, because…

Przemek: “Technically this song is the most difficult one. This is the first song we composed for this album. Actually, the second track I will be recording is the second song we made for the album, so maybe I subconsciously want to record the songs which I know the longest”.

Stołek: “I had it the other way around with drums. I started from the easiest song in order to get into the studio and feel the whole vibe. But then because I was using the 24 inch kick drum in this song and it suited two other tracks, I recorded them after the first song, so my recording order was decided by the technical conditions. Otherwise, I would have to change the whole set with every song”.

The first parts of the recording are starting, together with the first opinions about the sound. I like listening to them talking about the sounds. In the TFN dictionary they have shapes, textures, colors, they bite, peck, attack, are fat, bright, feel as under the soft quilt. “Here is calm surface of lake water and there is dusty dirt. This bass line has no butter at the bottom and this effect gives too much slaughter. Let’s be careful for those sounds not to eat one another. I don’t like that this overdrive wheezes as if a metal rod hitting the fence. Wait, I think we got it now. Pure evil. Now it’s tearing the soul apart”.

The band members are sharing opinions about the sounds and Maciek is adjusting the settings and turning notes into physical matter. It’s the middle of the day, but the room is dim and filled with lamplight.

Adam: “We are planning to record ever day from 10AM to 6PM with an intentional shift towards the evening, so that there could be a moody vibe”.

While observing the session, I start to realize the quantity of all the usually invisible details, which are important at the time of recording: is the microphone placed close or far away from the speaker, in what exact place with regard to the speaker is it positioned, because placed two cm to the right or left it will sound different. Shall this part be played with guitar pick or fingers. And if with fingers, then shall they be put in the middle or closer to the fret. The bass is recorded both through the amplifiers as well as on clean signal without any distortion, so that the mix engineer could choose the version more suitable to him. He will be able to use either the distorted version of the recored track or the clean one and run the latter through his own amplifiers. The tracks must be sent to Australia by February 14th, so that the album could be mixed by the end of the month.

Adam: “We are open to Forrester’s suggestions and propositions. That is also why we hire him. After all he is suppose to make the album of my life”.

A smile, which accompanies his last sentence, contains a large portion of expectations. I will fully understand them at the end of the recording process. We will get back to that. For now, the magic spells are upon us.

“Wait, destructive interference just occurred” (so the sounds cancel each other out)

“It seems there is a latency here” (short period of delay between when an audio signal enters /recorded part/ and when it emerges from a system /listened part/. If there is a latency, it seems that the record part was played not in tune with the rhythm)

“Don’t turn it up so much, because it’s peaking at the sum” (so the signal is too strong and it automatically overdrives itself)

And in between it all there is normal life. Fags, coffees, lunches, tomato soup, baked beans, Ernie, Stołek’s dog, dislocating a leg, girlfriend’s birthday, mum’s nameday (yeah, in Poland we have come up with one more excuse to get shit faced). Every break is a brief moment of chat not about music, it’s time to get some relaxation and refreshment of thoughts.

But it doesn’t last too long and after half an hour accompanied by the limping Ernie (poor boy) we return to the control room. Another track, another red button pressed. “The Lifter” – rich in layers, expanded, growing, spacious. While listening to this song and soaking into this album with different parts of it, I am thinking how I will take it in as a whole once it’s all done and finished.

It’s the end of the given part. Przemek asks the remaining members what they think about the sound. Common discussions about the sound will take place during the recording of the track of each instrument.

Adam: “We are a very democratic band. We don’t enforce anything on each other. Both the composing and recording are done as long as all four of us are satisfied with them. Of course we do differ at times. For example, now we have different opinions on which song should be released as a first single, but eventually we do reach a compromise and if there are any differences, we vote. If the votes are 2:2, then we talk and convince each other until it becomes 3:1. Sometimes when there is a stalemate we start the discussion once again and try to look for a totally new solution, which would please everyone or at least create the majority of opinions”.

Applause to concord and understanding, but as in every long relationship, from time to time it’s good to use some gadget to make the atmosphere a little bit spicy. Some like the whip and a slap, but TFN like to wrap things up.

szalik

What for? To suppress the resonance of strings. Why scarf? Because there was no professional frotte band nearby.

Maciek: “Ok, Przemo, try to nail it at one time”.

Long part, everybody sinks into the sounds. The sun went down, the world outside the window turned dark, the control room is filled with the moody light of the lamps. Przemek’s bass lines are flowing in between the rays of evening light, everyone feels, that something special is waving in the air.

Recording stops. A moment of silence. Then again the wall of sounds. Everyone dives into the music again. Sounds good, but is it all to the rhythm? Przemek nailed it. Almost. One small overdub.

Przemek: “This bass recording session is different, than the previous ones, because I am using a different guitar, which forces me to play in a new style, and eventually gives a new sound. That also created the new approach to the recordings, more precise and more conscious. The fact we entered the studio knowing exactly what we want to achieve also played a big part in it. Of course that awareness of our goal doesn’t close or finishes the creative process. If during the recordings some new ideas or sounds come up and they are better than those from the demo version, we will definitely use them”.

I can’t be with the boys everyday, but I am constantly updated on what is happening and how the works are ongoing. For two days the bass recordings were as smooth as the Irish butter, but then all of a sudden the butter got rancid and the boys found themselves in a jam. Ampeg SVT Classic, an electronic device that takes energy from a power supply and controls the output to match the input signal shape but with a larger amplitude, in other words an amplifier – went dead. A rapid replacement search, phones, Facebook announcements, addresses and settlements. One has been found. They go there. Traffic, lights, cars cows, Albanians and aliens, but after a few hours the replacement was finally brought to the studio. Setting it up to everything that was working before didn’t take five minutes either, but eventually the signal was resurrected. Przemek got back on the sofa, fingers were back on the strings, the bass lines went back to the computer and were fortunately finished.

Przemek: “The difference between a rehearsal and a recording session is like between a training and a game. I realized it recently when I was playing tennis. During the training you are cool and play chilled out, there is no pressure, people, you’re not being observed, nothing stays anywhere, but then when you find yourself in the actual game, all of the sudden a tension sneaks in. With a music album it’s similar, because you know it’s going to stay for years, it will reach a certain group of people and will be judged. But first of all, I wanted to record my lines in a way which will fully satisfy me. And I did. I am happy. In terms of bass parts this is the most diverse album I have ever recorded”.

Time to reduce the thickness and increase the number of strings. Here come the guitars.

gity_Fotor

Chris Bienkiewicz

 
 
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