| In the Lilys song “Shovel into Spade Kit” there’s a section that features an orchestra. I want to know how you found that piece.
A | We had many de Wolff records sitting around the studio. They are samples of orchestral passages in different styles. I listened through them all and was able to find solo bits of instruments that I wanted to use in that passage. Trumpet, bass clarinet and clarinet. Those are the three instruments you hear in that passage.
Q | No oboe?
A | No oboe, just trumpet, bass clarinet and clarinet. I was able to transfer that material from vinyl to half inch two track and then Varispeed the parts by using the Ampex ATR102. I would Varispeed the segments into the song the way I wanted them to appear in the piece.
Q | And it was all done by sound?
A | By ear, yeah.
Q | Couldn’t you have just sampled it more easily?
A | But the sound quality would suffer. If I used the best sampler, it would have lost a lot of sound quality. It was simpler to put it straight from vinyl to tape, all along fully preserving the analog signal path. In the making of that record we used no digital devices at all at any time. There are hardly any records made these days in which there isn’t one digital device.
Q | The Apples (in Stereo) are known for their extensive usage of home recording for their records. How did they get hooked up with Studio .45?
A | Robert heard the Lilys record and liked it. That had a lot to do with how I ended up working with him. As time went on Robert started to realize the limitations of his set-up and realized that what he really wanted to hear wasn’t always achievable all of the time. If he had 50 overdubs, it was going to become increasingly difficult to submix all of that material and have it still sound clear. Especially if he’s doing all of the engineering. There’s a huge difference between a 1/2″ 8-track and Brian Wilson making Pet Sounds on an 8-track. There’s a huge difference and people have to realize that.
Q | Everybody references the recording of Sgt. Pepper’s on a four track, and forgets that the Beatles weren’t using a Porta One.
A | Yeah. The four track was probably a Scully or a Studer and it was probably a half inch four track that was aligned every minute of the day by engineers who really knew what they were doing. They treated the tape machine like we treat them here. We line them up every day. Every day an MRL is put on the machines. The entire calibration procedure is gone through every single day. I know of big commercial studios where that isn’t even done these days. People use these new Studer A 827s and they align themselves. They are supposedly auto-aligning and auto-biasing and I don’t particularly trust them. To me, there’s too much electronics in there to have to accomplish all that. I’d rather have an old MCI machine like we have that might be a little bit harder to handle. It might be a pain to keep calibrated all the time but the sound is certainly worth the effort.
Q | When the Apples were here recording, Robert took some of the tapes back home with him to record more overdubs on his eight track. What’d you do?
A | They came out here for a few weeks the first time and we recorded the basics live, which was quite a lot of fun. We set up in the main room, real old-fashioned, guitar amps and drumsand everything in the same room. I gave everybody a fully discreet monitor mix so that each musician could hear the balance the way that they wanted to hear it. And then we proceeded to go through the basics. We got everything on to two inch, drums, bass, and two guitars. Then we went through and got rid of some of the original rhythm guitars. We treated them as being scratch. But there were some good performance in that first pass which were saved. Then we did as much overdubbing as we had time for in their first trip out here. I put on a reference mix on two tracks on a 1/2′ 8 -track player, because that’s the multitrack machine in Robert’s studio he has two Otari 5050 1/2 ‘8 -tracks. We put SMPTE time code on one track of the 24 track and on one track of the 8-track. That way they could take the half inch tape and continue overdubbing at home. There they were actually able to use two half inch eight track machines and do two runs of overdubs that I was able to sync to the two inch later when they came back. We synched that material up and transferred it all back to the two inch tape.
Q | There’s a song recorded at Studio.45 in which an entire Can song was recorded on one track. Apparently it’s inaudible until someone points out that it’s there and then you can’t hear the song without noticing the Can track. Do you remember who that was?
A | Flying in the Can tape, I believe that was on Flowchart. That was the first record I did for them and that was about two years ago. It was just a cassette that we wild synched in. We started it up at a certain point and it just bubbles along below the level of the program. It’s in “Metro Survey,” I think. That’s the name of the song.
Q | Could they get into trouble for that one?
A | I don’t think anyone’s going to notice to be honest with you. We’ve done quite a lot of that. Wild-synching little things into the program. It’s fun to see how that stuff will come up in a random way. Sometimes it’s great, it comes up so good that you could never recreate it. It’s a lot of fun to just let it happen. Sometimes it’s not usable at all. And then sometimes it’s very calculated and predetermined like in the Lilys song; where I sat there for hours overdubbing, marking the tape with a grease pencil, and starting the tape at a certain point. Hoping it’ll run up to speed by that time I’d punch in on the two inch machine.
Q | Is there a standard way that you mic drums?
A | Not really. I really try to do what’s going t o suit the music or what I think is going t o suit the music. I never put a Mic in front of anything until I’ve heard it with my own ears first. I’m definitely not on of those people that talks about these things that they always do as a matter of course. I read in audio trade magazines all the time that an engineer will be asked about what he does with compression or EQ and he’ll immediately start rattling off things that he always does. I’m always so amazed by that. I wonder how he know he’s going to use 3:1 compression and this and that EQ until he’s heard what he’s about to record. Or is he just in the habit of doing that no matter what it is? It’s confusing to me. Basically, I really have to hear what it is that I’m going to take in with a microphone and get to tape before I start making any kind of valuable judgment on how I’m going to do it. I know the sounds of certain mics. I know their EQ’s and how they color sound. If I have a really bright source, I might pick a dull mic. I basically have to hear it before I decide what I’m going to put in front of it. Each piece of electronic gear colors the sound in some way, or it’s designed to not color the sound at all and I’m going to pick it based on how I know it sounds.
Q | Tell me about the more unusual pieces of equipment that you use in the studio like the older microphones that were initially intended to be used in a courtroom.
A | We have these old dynamic omni-directional mics that were taken out of the Illinois state house. They’re Shures, and a friend of mine who has a studio across town bought a bunch, and has given me a few to listen to. Basically, I’ve been rediscovering a lot of really old dynamic microphones that don’t have much gain. A lot of people don’t even consider using these mics, because they’re really low gain. I’ve been experimenting with them using really high gain microphone preamps-Telefunken V76s–and dumping that into a really clean sounding line driver on the console. You really get to hear close up the character of some of these old microphones. These old mics have really unique EQ curves. Frequency response wasn’t very good back then out of any electronic device. To get something to go 20 hz to 20 k was a huge feat. Some of these microphones start cutting out at 9k, so you hear all these different slopes of attenuation in the top end. Some of them are so great on certain sources. We have to hear we’re about to record and then pick a microphone. If I hear that something sounds a certain way I know that the sound of a certain microphone might compliment it or add something to the music, then I’m into that. Some of these old dynamic microphones, they definitely have their use when you have a high gain mic pre and really good line amps on your console. Otherwise, they’re pretty much useless compared to modern condenser mics that have tons of gain. When you can buy an AT 4033 in the store for $500, there’s not much use for an old 55s or some old dynamic mic.
Q | Which other mics have you preferred lately?
A | I use a lot of condensers on everything. I like to choose things that are going to add something to the sound. I’m not one who likes electronic gear of any kind just designed to measure out nicely. THD and low distortion, those things are all good, and we like our audio gear to measure out. But there’s a lot of things these days that are designed for utter clarity and it just adds nothing to the sound. It’s like passing the signal through nothing. It doesn’t add any magic to the music, because it’s not designed with that kind of passion. It’s not designed by ear. It’s not a case where people are listening and designing. It’s a case where people are listening and designing. It’s a case where people are measuring out frequency response and distortion and noise and using that to design. I use a lot of mics that color the sound greatly, mics that are high quality–not noisy and very clear. I like to use Micotech Geffel Um70’s. I like a 30 year old Neumann condenser U67 that I use a lot.
The Hartford Courant | July 10, 1997
Recording Studio in Colt Building gains favor…
The guns manufactured under the Colt Building’s blue onion dome gave the “made in Hartford” tag an international reputation. Now it’s the CD’s recorded there that are winning fame.
Studio 45, within the Colt Building, has fast become the unlikely destination for some of the most interesting new bands-whether ’60’s pop revivalists like the Lilys and Apples in Stereo, the fuzzy, space-age bliss of the Swirlies and Flowchart or neo-traditionalist country-folk music of the Silver Jews or Scud Mountain Boys.
In the last year, records like the Lilys’ “Better Can’t Make Your Life Better,” Poole’s “The Late Engagement” and Bowery Electric’s “Beat” have been recorded at Studio 45. Recently, chief engineer Mike Deming finished the new Suddenly Tammy record, just as the Apples in the studio arrived from Denver to finish it’s record. Deming has become one of the most demanded engineers in the business, already booked solid through December. He worked 300 days last year. Nothing recorded by Deming or at Studio 45 sounds alike. As the studio celebrates it’s 5th year anniversary this year, it’s become nationally known as the place to make unique, finely crafted records inexpensively, with Deming herald as perfectionist mastermind with an eye toward the artistry of making records.
“Mike has an exceptional gift to hear the frequencies and sounds of the guitar, the sounds of the drums, and to render them so natural sounding,” said the Lilys Kurt Heasley. “It’s the perfect place if you have any sort of aspiration to make a record that sounds like something, if you want outstanding results, or if you have a vision that needs to be realized.”
Deming, 34, deflects the credit to the studio, and the collection of the restored vintage equipment and unique modern console that he and his partners have assembled.
“I’ve always tried to concentrate on making sure the production suits the music. If you put on any record that we’ve made here, they all sound different” Deming said. “This is an easy place to get diverse range of sound.”
Bands recording at Studio 45 usually move in for weeks, oftentimes months, to concentrate on their record, living in an apartment directly downstairs.
“It’s really is like going to a little island. It’s so well equipped and so well maintained that it just leaves you with your work,” said Rich Costey, a Los Angeles-based producer who brought the Swirlies, Ditch Croaker, and Bowery Electric to Hartford. “It’s also pretty cheap, and isolated, which allows you to spend more time working, especially on a indie record. That’s an environment conducive to creativity.”
Deming, a Pittsburgh native who moved to Connecticut in the 1970’s, calls Hartford a perfect location: part way between Boston and New York, affordable, free from distracting night life, but a short drive from relaxing countryside’s.
Next, Deming turns his attention to the new Earth record, in which he plans to use a grand piano and full brass section- “serious Renaissance period brass”- railing against the “downhill” turn in the art of production.
Most 90’s production sounds so thin and wispy. “I can listen to a whole record and 10 minutes later not remember a note.
“But put a simple proper pop mix of the late ’60s and it sounds like a monster. Even if I’m doing a record which has nothing to do with that era- The Scuds, New Radiant Storm Kings, Earth-we still want to make the instruments larger than life. That’s the goal.”