So you play in a band and you produce your own stuff. Awesome — me too. And like a 5 foot 6- inch aspiring football player watches Rudy, I listen to Yeasayer. Their 2007 debut album, All Hour Cymbals, tracked partially in a Brooklyn basement and described by the band as, "Middle Eastern- psych-snap-gospel," stands as a testament to the fact that low-budget, self-produced recordings can make a vivid impression on the music world and launch a band into the creative vanguard. Their 2010 follow-up, Odd Blood, may have had a higher budget — free from day jobs, the band rented out a house in Woodstock to record in — but they still opted to produce it themselves, employing an engineer to assist. Odd Blood leans more towards pop and electronic than the tribal-orientated debut, while still wearing the band's passion for experimentation proudly. I sat down with vocalist and guitarist Anand Wilder to discuss self-production and loon samples.
Tell me about making the first album, All Hour Cymbals.
That was the culmination of two years of being a band. We pretty much began as a recording project. We were recording a lot of demos in Logic, and then we'd figure out how to translate into a live setting. So all of the songs on the first album, except "Wait for the Summer" were demoed in Logic in our basement in Brooklyn. Then we scrapped all those demos and started from scratch with J. Robbins [issue #13], but we didn't have much money to do that first record. We had only five days in that studio [The Magpie Cage in Baltimore], which is kind of ridiculous considering how long it takes us to work. We got down pretty much all the bass guitar and some of the guitar, drums, keyboards, MIDI guitar (a [Roland] GR-33), cello, upright bass, tabla and other random percussion. But in five days those songs were not finished at all, so we took it back to New York and got a Pro Tools setup. We were still working day jobs of course, so we'd slave away adding new overdubs and deleting. Some of the stuff that we'd done in the studio sounded too clean, so we'd incorporate some of the tracks from the Logic demos — bouncing them out and bringing them [into Pro Tools]. Then after about four months of tweaking, in the winter of 2006-07 we went to [Dave Sitek's] Stay Gold Studios and mixed the record with Chris Moore, also in five days. So that first album only had ten days of professional studio time. In our basement we didn't have any preamps. We were going directly into the Digi 002. I can't believe we did that now. We should have bought a cheap preamp just to give it a little bit of color. We would record in our basement bathroom — big group vocals — we'd sing into pots and pans using just one mic that I'd bought for $400 — a knockoff Neumann. I think Chris Moore had a big influence on how the sound shaped up. He has a way of layering sounds and creating atmospheres.
Mixing is huge.
Yeah. We all would have liked to have more time, but I think it's nice that that album is something that seems kind of pure and simple.
How was the process for the new album [Odd Blood] different?
Because we had made the switch to Pro Tools, we thought, "Okay, now we can take these demos that we've been working on in the interim since the last album, and we can just use them as templates for the actual release." Pretty much all of the songs were demoed, and it was just a question of saying, "What parts of this demo are good enough for a professional recording?", "What sounds are cool?" or, "What will fit the aesthetic of the new album?" For example, I might have something [on the demo] that was a little more in the vein of the last album with sitar-y, world, eastern flourishes to it, and the band would be like, "We don't want to repeat ourselves. Let's get rid of that and let's get back to something more essential on that particular song." We had a song that was pretty much acoustic and we threw a huge beat over it and made it a completely different kind of feel, more anthemic. When we finally went to the mixing studio in September of 2009 [the file] might have said, "Created in 2007." If it was tape it would have been worn down.
Do you think you'll continue to work without a producer, in the traditional sense of the word "producer"?
I think so. I would be open to the idea of a producer, but it's just a question of whom. The production these days that I'm excited about is hip-hop production — XXXChange, Diplo, Switch and those kinds of guys. Yet I've never seen that kind of production translate to a non-hip-hop record.
I think you've done a good job so far. You mentioned that you compose via recording and then work it out...
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