The Emperors of Wyoming
A while back I got an email from producer/engineer/drummer Butch Vig (Tape Op #11): "I started working with some musician friends a couple years ago on a side project, The Emperors of Wyoming. We decided to form a 'country' band, and wrote and recorded an album, all done via file sharing from our home studios. The main guitarist, Franklin Lee Anderson, recently mixed the album in Milwaukee, WI, and we had Dan Hersch master at D2 in Atwater Village, CA." In the late '70s Butch, Frank, Phil Davis, and Peter Anderson were playing in two different bands in Madison, WI. They went their ways, with groups like Call Me Bwana and Fire Town, and of course Butch's career (and the group Garbage) took off after Nirvana's Nevermind became the beast that it would be. Many years later, in four different cities in two different states, the band began. In some cases Butch would build an arrangement from Phil's demo. Butch: "It took about 30 minutes to record and edit the takes. Then I added some shaker and tambourine, and like all the drum tracks on EOW, I mixed it down to stereo and posted it." Everyone would add parts and sort them out along the way. Some songs would begin with "back and forth bantering via email" according to Phil. On one song, according to Pete: "The original demo sounded nothing like the finished track. It began to markedly change when Butch sent us his drum track idea, which started the complete transformation. Things started to really get fun and established our pattern for working together." Through the process various ways of working sparked ideas and long distance file sharing ("We had reliable back up" -Phil) and emails worked like a spread out rehearsal room and studio. Says Pete: "We recorded this project separately, in our four different home studios. My end was the hub of our recording quadrangle. We all produced different parts of the project and everyone grabbed the reins on different songs. The rule was that whoever took charge of whatever song had better beat that song up and take it's lunch money. Typically, I'd get everybody's parts, add my own, line them up, do some editing, export the Pro Tools session to a jump drive and bring it to Alex Smolinski at Wonder Wonder Sound in Milwaukee for some extra tracking, Kim Henry's background vocals and the final mix." Alex chimed in with his part in this album: "Frank would typically come in when the song was about 70% there, and we would go over what parts weren't working, and what to add or replace to better the track. Toward the end, the guys were sending me stuff as it was being tracked, and I edited and laid the parts into the mix in progress. It was an incredibly satisfying project to work on. I grew up listening to Butch's productions, and his style has definitely had an influence on how I work. They were open to any ideas or parts Kim and I had, which I didn't expect but appreciated more than I can say." The result is a classic Americana album (despite a John Martyn cover!), and one you'd never guess was recorded in such a seemingly disjointed way. Below, the Emperors of Wyoming's Phil Davis, Butch Vig, Frank Anderson and Peter Anderson talk about where the ten songs on the record came from, how they were written, how they came up with various parts, and how they were recorded, produced and mixed. -LC
Phil: "NGOY" started as a complete acoustic performance of a new country type ballad and there are parts of that original recording in my basement that made it to the final record. The idea for the song was to tell it through the eyes of someone whose life was changed forever by someone they loved. Actually, most love stories and love affairs don't usually work out; people's needs and emotions move at their own speed and they often don't match the other person's. The song is about the memories and feelings that don't ever go away, that you live with your whole life, that you can't get rid of even if you try, and sometimes the feelings are about a few people at once blended together. So after putting down the entire performance I sent this out and the boys went to work, bringing ideas, parts and a textural sound none of us had ever imagined. The key to our collaborations is for the band to agree on a beat per minute so that whatever parts we come up with, move around, or use parts of, and for Butch to create rhythm tracks and drum parts, we're all together and tight. This song was maybe the first one that we thought 'Holy shit,' we're onto something big here. This is worth pursuing further.'
Butch: Phil posted his original vocal and acoustic and we started kicking around ideas about how to approach the track. Somewhere in the email correspondence someone suggested Tom Petty's You Don't Come Around Here No More as a reference, and I was immediately inspired. Rather than play an acoustic kit, I put the drum track together
with programming, and then recorded some eBow guitar parts to give the song a hypnotic, dreamlike feel. Frank recorded an amazing lead guitar in the bridge, and besides bass, Pete added a lovely 12 string part. It's one of my fave tracks on the album.
Frank: This was the first song that really came together for us. We figured out how to work together on this one. I love the tune. It's definitely Phil. Early on, I sent a pedal steel track to Butch and he DRENCHED IT in reverb. It sounded great. I'm not a lover of anything subtle in a sound mix, so I took the hint and drenched it even further during the rough mix/edit stage. Butch is like that, he can throw out quiet hints but he can also let you know that a certain song is going to be a 12 string party and everyone's invited. I played the guitar solo on my brother's '66 Gretsch Rally. It's the dominant electric 6 string of the entire album.
Pete: Phil's original demo sounded nothing like the finished track. It began to markedly change when Butch sent us his drum track idea, which started the complete transformation song. This is when things started to really get fun and established our pattern for working together. The twelve string part came to me day out of the blue one morning after working on the song the night before. I used my Vox 12 string (with microphonic pickups and a whammy bar!) and quickly got it down and sent it to everyone. Butch sent back a slightly altered version of it a couple of days later that just made it better.
Phil: I picked up my friend Anita's new acoustic guitar, a Martin D 41, that for some unknown reason was lying in its case capoed at the third fret and I just started playing the verse chords automatically without any thought. She had just cut my hair and the guitar was in her shop. I hardly ever play with a capo, maybe that set it off. The entire melody and B section of "Everything fades all the castles we make" came quickly and within an hour I had the whole idea about the song, the lyrics and structure and everything. I felt like in some ways I had said everything in this one song, maybe everything I could say about time passing, the speedy blur of history and of life, from Caesar to three-masted schooners to Elvis, and the importance of focusing on what really matters — "better hold close, the ones that matter the most." This was one of those songs — the best kind — that falls out of the sky intact. I immediately did an acoustic demo and sent it out to the band to see what they thought. They liked it and went to work.
FLA: "The Bittersweet Sound of Goodbye" didn't need much from me. Phil's demo was great and fully formed, Butch loved this one right away, I remember him being quite taken by the words. He quickly turned around a very complete and gentle arrangement of Phil's demo. My approach was to imagine that I was playing the song live, what instruments I'd be switching back and forth from in a live situation, and then recording the parts that way. I played lap steel, hammer dulcimer, a hi-capo acoustic guitar and accordion. I thought Kim Henry added some nice, subtle background vocal tracks during further tracking at Wonder Wonder Sound in Milwaukee.
PFA: This was probably the most complete song right out of the blocks. It really could stand on its own as an acoustic number. I was kind of curious how Butch could come up with a drum part that would fit and he came up with two that were both good. Once we decided on the best one, the rest of the process flowed pretty quickly with my bass part and twelve string riff (which Frank played on the final cut) coming a day or two later.
Butch: I received the "The Bittersweet Sound of Goodbye" demo via email from Phil and listened late at night. I loved the song, the lyric in particular "better hold the ones close that matter the most" really struck a chord in me. The next morning, after getting my daughter off to school, I went down to my home studio and loaded the demo into my Pro Tools rig. I wanted to keep the drums dead simple, thinking Neil Young's Heart Of Gold is a good reference point, but wanted to give the chorus some kind of lift. After trying a few patterns, I noticed there's a bit of swing in Phil's acoustic performance, and I tried to emulate a bit of that in the chorus groove. I came up a pattern that almost has a bit of a syncopated Motown beat. It took about 30 minutes to record and edit the takes. Then I added some shaker and tambourine, and like all the drum tracks on EOW, I mixed it down to stereo and posted it. It became apparent as we finished the mixing that "The Bittersweet Sound of Goodbye" should be the lead off track on the album. There's something about it that kind of defines who we are as a band.
Frank: "The Bittersweet Sound of Goodbye" didn't need much from me. Phil's demo was great and fully formed, Butch loved this one right away, I remember him being quite taken by the words. He quickly turned around a very complete and gentle arrangement of Phil's demo. My approach was to imagine that I was playing the song live, what instruments I'd be switching back and forth from in a live situation, and then recording the parts that way. I played lap steel, hammer dulcimer, a hi-capo acoustic guitar and accordion. I thought Kim Henry added some nice, subtle background vocal tracks during further tracking at Wonder Wonder Sound in Milwaukee.
Pete: This was probably the most complete song right out of the blocks. It really could stand on its own as an acoustic number. I was kind of curious how Butch could come up with a drum part that would fit and he came up with two that were both good. Once we decided on the best one, the rest of the process flowed pretty quickly with my bass part and twelve string riff (which Frank played on the final cut) coming a day or two later.
Phil: The creation of this song was a total band collaboration with heavy doses of synchronicity. It started from some back and forth bantering via email among the four of us about summers in Wisconsin, drinking powerful Stite malt liquor when we were teen- agers-Stite came in 8 oz. cans and kids would 'shoot' them, getting a suction going that allowed them when they popped the tab to suck the whole beer down in a few seconds. And then we were talking about a girl Butch knew who he said was 'leading him down the wrong path.' They would go swimming at a pond in Avalanche, Wisconsin, hence the "Avalanche Girl". That night I went to bed thinking about what the song would be about and woke up at 4 a.m. the next morning with the first verse and chorus written in mind. "Here is a bridge that I'm offering you," the "Avalanche Girl" said in the lyrics, which was a very strange line to put into a rock song, but there it was. It made dream sense, and the more I sang it, the more it made real sense, too. She was his escape, his bridge to somewhere else, but he was hers, too. I wrote the lyrics and chorus down immediately and went back to bed. Later that day, having heard none of this, Butch sent some tracks without lyrics, without a melody or chorus. Amazingly, the lyrics and chorus went together perfectly! I doubt we could have fit them together more perfectly if we'd worked on it together in a room for a week. It was absolutely magic at work, a voodoo that permeates this record. From there putting down the vocals and multiple harmonies went quickly and after some tweaking by Butch in Silver Lake, the entire band started working on the tracks and within a few more days we were all stunned with what had started out as an innocent email chat about our teen days transformed into an amazing rock song.
Butch: Shooting Stite, that's slang only Wisconsin boys would know. What started out as reminiscing about our reckless teenage years quickly turned into a song, almost overnight. The "Avalanche Girl" is real, a true story. I was sixteen years old and had a whirlwind three day fling with a beautiful, scary, wild-as hell small town femme fatale. She used me and abused me for a weekend, then discarded me like a crumpled can of cheap malt liquor. After the band's initial email flurry with ideas for the song, I quickly came up with a basic track, and almost like we had a 6th sense, at the same time Phil came up with all the lyrics without hearing any music. The words and melody fit perfectly, which still blows my mind! I added a Fender 12 string after we recorded the basic track. As far as I'm concerned, you can't have too much 12 string on an EOW song.
Frank: This one happened fast. Phil and Butch were all over it. The song takes place in their neck of the woods in southwest Wisconsin — a wild, haunted, hilly region dominated by two major rivers: the Mississippi and the Wisconsin. Pete and I aren't from that area. We have no clue what Stite is. The demo sounded like a great lost Butch's drum track leaped off the phones. I used a double neck Danelectro 6/12 string on this song and used both necks, switching back and forth in real time during recording. I also added some real piano. Fire Town track.
Pete: The guitar and drum tracks that Butch sent were pretty complete. Phil came back with some great lyrics in short order and I thought we really had a good song on our hands. All I had to do on this was come up with a good bass line to help drive it. This definitely was a song about come of age in southwest Wisconsin.
Phil: An almost complete version of this song arrived from Butch, but without pedal steel, electrics guitars, or vocals, and the band went to work on it. I went away for a week on a family vacation and when we came back it seemed essentially done, except when I played it, it missing a chorus that could lift it, make it rise, and also bring home the title and the song idea. I added the chorus and then sent out a re-recorded acoustic guitar and vocal version of the song with the new chorus and harmonies. This was a pain in the ass because the song has a bunch of very tricky parts and nobody was much pre-disposed to re-recording the whole song. But the general consensus was the song was stronger for the new added choruses. Butch said, I think I can make it work and insert a new drum part in the existing structure without having to re-do everything else. The magic of digital recorded allowed this to be done. Frank and Pete then went to work and we nailed it. The original acoustic demo, which we may release, has an additional verse that didn't make the final version.
Butch: "I'm Your Man" was the first song idea I wrote after we formed EOW. I came up with the basic chord structures, and wrote some verse lyrics, but never really had any words for the chorus. Phil took the basic idea I had of a fragile, dysfunctional relationship and completely nailed the sentiment: I'm still rusty but I still run. We sort of went for a Johnny Cash vibe in the verse, and a bit of the Rolling Stones in the chorus.
My fave part of the song is Frank's banjo playing. At the very end, as you hear him frantically arpeggio on the outro, I can imagine he took a big sigh of relief as the song runs finally runs out of gas.
Frank: Huge sigh.
Pete: I liked the basic song idea the first time I heard it. Phil fleshed it out nicely and I did the bass without having any idea what I was going to play it when I sat down the first time. I wanted to keep it spare as I liked the idea of giving it a lot of open space. It just sort of happened as I was playing through the first time and I had on the second take.
Phil: Frank called from the road and said he'd just come up with a cool song title, "Cornfield Palace." He said it was about a woman who lived in a mansion in the middle of cornfields and was having an affair with a guy in Milwaukee she had known in college and who was now a Socialist. He said she was driving to Milwaukee under the auspices of 'going shopping' while her farmer husband was out ploughing the fields. From my perspective, the whole song was there in that title. Frank then sent a rough demo of the music and singing the melody. I wrote the lyrics and then sang the song after he laid down the instrumental tracks and Pete and Butch did the bass and drums. This was a song that was exactly the kind that we had in mind at the very beginning of EOW with our original idea of writing and recording a country-rock record.
Butch: "Cornfield Palace" is a rocker, pure and simple. I love Phil's lyric: She's the Queen of West Allis, in her SUV. We channeled a bit of Neil Young and Crazy Horse into the track. Frank's lap steel really gives the song some swagger.
Frank: I had been messing with the melody and words for some time. Phil got it done and the rest was easy. True story. I overheard the whole thing in a bar in south Milwaukee. Blue collar guy in love with the wife of a wealthy executive. She lives a lonely, loveless life; cut off from human contact in the middle of Nowheretown, USA ( Milwaukee's western suburbs) in a big, empty mansion surrounded by cornfields and woods. Pete and Butch get a great, loose trashy rhythm section vibe on this one.
Pete: I thought Butch and I were able to get a really nice live feel on this. On some of the tracks we would work on the bass and drum tracks before sending it on to Frank and Phil. This one really clicks.
Phil: I came up with a 'swamp-rock' riff on acoustic and wrote a song around it a song title that Frank had suggested. I was always thinking of 'swampy' along the lines of John Fogarty and Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Born on the Bayou." My earliest memories of hearing "Born on the Bayou" were driving around on frigid winter nights in La Crosse, WI, in 1970, the radio tuned to Clyde Clifford's "Beaker Street," which blasted out a dependably mysterious assortment of new rock tracks like Golden Earring's "Radar Love" and Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper" and Quicksilver Messenger Service's "Who Do You Love?" on KAAY, a 50, 000 watt AM clear channel station in Little Rock, Arkansas. So EOW figured Wisconsin guys writing swamp rock was no different than California guys doing it. I wrote verses and choruses and sent out the acoustic demo. If you listen to the lyrics, it's a pretty creepy song with a disturbing POV-Gothic-country with a psychotic character literally driven crazy by love. Most of what makes the song works is the groove and the sounds Frank came up with and then worked on further while mixing with Alex Smolinski. My biggest regret is that Beeker Street went off the air before were could give it Clyde Clifford.
Butch: This is our stoner groove. It's definitely a late night chillout jam, but the lyrics tap into some dark territory. I keep getting visions of Ed Gein cooking up some home brew down in his basement. The song has a nice slow burn to it. Pete and I came up with a sort of Creedence Suzie Q dead simple groove. Frank did a great job with the arrangement, and plays some killer pedal steel. Our mix engineer Alex really added some nice ear candy to the track, and Kim Henry added some spooky backing vocals to the song.
Frank: I learned how to edit and got to know my amp on this track. The spooky slurs are a multi-tracked Gretsch 6 string with a volume pedal.
Pete: I remember playing what eventually became the guitar riff for the song on the speakerphone to Frank rather than putting it down as a track. Just a spur of the moment thing, I guess. He took it from there. I just love the groove on this song.
Phil: The title is a play on the classic Buddy Holly song "True Love Ways," and it's the most pure pop for pop's sake song on the record, built on hooky riffs, bright melodies and classic pop song structures. It started out slower on the demo and closer to country, but by the time EOW got through with it, it was transformed, a different song-uptempo, driving, with a stunning guitar solo by Frank that would easily give Marshall Crenshaw a run for his money.
Butch: This is EOW writing power pop. I can almost hear Nick Lowe and Rockpile jamming on this. I recorded the drums in one take in my pajamas after sending my daughter to school!
Frank: This one floundered for months. Too fast, too slow, and then, way too fast to jam band speed. It didn't sound right until Pete came up with a rolling bass line. It immediately set the song in the right groove. I played acoustic guitars on this with Phil and the solo is on my favorite lap steel, a Lap King 8 string custom Rodeo Grande, used through the entire album and, I hope, a kind of signature sound.
Pete: Frank called me and told me he wanted something different on bass for this. He felt it had to be driven more -- like the bass on "Rock n Roll Star" by the Byrds. So we worked it out from there. He had a definite idea of what he wanted on this song.
Phil: This song started as a simple country song based on an acoustic riff; stylistically it might have fit on Harvest or any number of early '70s country-rock records. The singer in the song hopes against hope that by starting over and 'sweeping away the damage' that was done things can be made right despite everything that happened, that he can fix his life and start over. Most people can relate to that hope in one way or another about their relationships, or their lives in general. The production starts sparely but rises to an elegiac crescendo with Civil War styled horns. The "Woo Woo" at the end is a quote and tribute to a Madison favorite son Steve Miller and one of his songs.
Butch: "Sweep Away" was the last song we finished for EOW. The song hung around for a while in its original acoustic version, and didn't come to life until the 11th hour when Frank added some tasty instrumentation to the arrangement: pedal steel, organ, electric piano, and tremolo guitar. Kim added the ethereal backing vocals which really help the song soar. I can almost imagine Phil and Kim singing in the studio as Mick and Keith, taking turns swigging from a bottle of Jack Daniels.
Frank: This one didn't work until I visited a couple of old guys who played these ancient civil war era horns. I grabbed my portable pocket recorder and we did a quick head arrangement for cornet and tuba. After a few passes, I went home and added some cornet to the mix and dumped it on the outro section. The song suddenly rose up from it's 1969 country rock hippie grave and Butch started to return my e-mails again.
Pete: After Frank came up with his ideas on this, everything happened very quickly. I tried to come up with a fatter sound on bass by playing up the neck to try to get an acoustic bass feel to it.
Phil: A 19th century Wisconsin River ballad that is something of a folk classic and has been recorded by dozens of artists around the world through the years. Frank and I took some liberties in the transcription of the original lyrics and I also wrote some new ones at the end to give the story a spooky resolution. Since previous artists had done the song in more traditional ways, most often with acoustic instruments, we decided to give it a full out rock treatment with big electric guitars and a driving beat. To get to the Twin Cities from Madison you have to cross the Wisconsin River, and it's a very beautiful but deceptively dangerous river with unpredictable undercurrents that every year takes away swimmers that underestimate it's power. Now when I cross the river I look down and think of "The Pinery Boy" and his lover, never to be found, down there forever.
Butch: When I recorded drums for "The Pinery Boy," Frank had asked me to "play a Civil War march" at the end of the song. I wasn't sure how to interpret that until I started seeing images in my head from the book Wisconsin Death Trip, thinking how nature can be such a cruel and unforgiving beast. And I imagined the drums echoing the inevitable swirling waters of the Wisconsin River, dragging the lovers down, down.
Frank: I'm very proud of this one. I've always loved this song. It's distant ancestor is, of course, an old English ballad. But it never came to life for me until it was recast as a young girl's tragic journey down the Wisconsin River sometime in the late 19th century. Wisconsin has a great, varied musical past. The flagship of all folk songs, "The Wildwood Flower", first made famous in the modern era by the Carter family, is from Wisconsin. We've just begun to explore that past.
Pete: When I was child my Dad made me promise that I would never swim in the Wisconsin River and I never did. He lost a childhood friend on that river so it always had dark connotations for me. Frank drove the concept on this song--spaghetti western rock -- and it just clicked once Butch came up with the drum track.
Phil: The Scottish singer-songwriter John Martyn was one of my idols and I'd been listening to some old John Martyn in vinyl. I went online and saw that there was a Martyn tribute CD in the works and told my friend Jack Bortz. He tracked down the producers and said they should consider this new band, EOW. The producer of the tribute, Jim remembered Butch and I from Fire Town, and of course knew all about Butch's musical career many successes. Jim and I talked and I asked who was recording "Bless the Weather", one of Martyn's signature songs. Nobody, it turned out. I said we could do it and they could use it if they wanted. We had a week's deadline because they were mastering and needed it within a week. Butch created the groove rhythm track overnight, emailed Friday morning, I went down to my studio late Friday afternoon, pulled out the Gibson J 50 that I had learned all of Martyn's moody, highly emotional originals on, recorded the acoustic, an electric rhythm guitar part that miraculously made the cut, and my vocals and sent it out to the band. Frank added amazing atmospheric guitar parts along with some brilliant keyboard textures from Butch, Pete put down the bass and Frank took it to Wonder Wonder Audio to mix it. Not only did it join Robert Smith, Snow Patrol, Beck, David Gray and Phil Collins on the double CD, but we liked it so much were thought it was perfect as the last track on our debut record.
Butch: "Bless The Weather" is one of my fave John Martyn songs, and we were thrilled to have been asked to be on the tribute album Johnny Boy Would Love This. We recorded this really fast, and I kept the groove dead simple, using mostly percussion. I didn't want to get in the way of the mantra that Phil sings over and over "Bless the Weather" that brought you to me, curse the storm that takes you away." John's lyrics, like a lot of his songs, are absolute genius.
Frank: I associate John Martyn's music with the funeral of Pete and my older brother, Geoff. Geoff spent his entire life devouring music. He loved John Martyn from day 1 and I think we played the entire catalogue at his funeral. I remember being 13 years old, listening to his John Martyn LPs and not getting it. Now, so many years later, I get it. It was a real thrill for us to appear on the John Martyn tribute album, and I'm talking a "I feel like a kid" kind of thrill. It was our first appearance anywhere. Again, I relied on the Gretsch for this one, plugged it straight into the amp and played the song all the way through. Butch gave me a very timely and gentle push to get it right. A friend of mine with a wicked northeast Wisconsin coast accent once remarked to me, "Butch Vig... he's that producer guy, 'enna (ain't he)?" He certainly is.
Pete: Butch and I kind of worked out the rhythm feel for this -- I really liked what he came up with and I felt I had to come up with a slow lilting bass part to match it. When we got the song on the Martyn tribute album, I recall thinking that I sure wished my late brother Geoff could have heard it. He would have been thrilled.
We recorded this project separately, in our four different home studios. My end was the hub of our recording quadrangle. Typically, I'd get everybody's parts, add my own, line them up, do some editing, export the PT session to a jump drive and bring it to Alex Smolinski at Wonder Wonder Sound in Milwaukee for some extra tracking, Kim Henry's background vocals and the final mix. We all produced different parts of the project and everyone grabbed the reins on different songs. The rule was that whoever took charge of whatever song had better beat that song up and take it's lunch money. At home, I recorded everything as simply as possible. I played a 66 Gretsch Rally, a 1970 ZB double neck pedal steel, and a custom 8 string Lap King Rodeo Grande steel guitar through a Peavey Delta Blues amp. No pedals. The microphone was a single SM57, which I ran through a pre-amp and from there to a M-Audio box and into Pro Tools. I played accordion, banjo, hammer dulcimer, some acoustic guitar and cornet live in the studio using the same microphone. My room is very alive and not at all soundproof. if you listen closely to some of our songs you can hear birds outside, trains and cars going by, neighbors talking, lawn mowers and other great distant sounds. I love that.
When we formed The Emperors of Wyoming we wanted to channel the sound of bands we adore (Creedence, The Byrds, Johnny Cash, Flying Burrito Brothers, The Band, Tom Petty, The Rolling Stones) into the modern world by using cutting edge technology to record traditional country instruments.
A song would usually start with Phil emailing an acoustic demo. He lives in Madison, WI and has a small home studio in his basement. I would load his demo into my Pro Tools rig and record a drum track at my home studio GrungeIsDead in Silver Lake, CA. Most of the songs I used my Drum Workshop acoustic kit, and I also did some programming on several tracks with BFD. Then I would post the stereo drum mix to my iDisk and send a link to the boys. Phil would redo the acoustic guitar, record lead vocals and post. Frank would do a lot of overdubs at his home studio in Appleton WI: guitar, pedal steel, lap steel, organ, piano, accordion, banjo and post them. Then Peter would add his bass line and sometimes 12 string guitar at a studio near Sacramento and post. All four of us would occasionally add back vocals. I also added percussion, a few guitar parts and keyboards for texture. This writing and recording process went on and off for about two years, until we felt like we had a batch of songs that would work well together as an album. Frank is the "keeper" of the files, he had the task of getting the final arrangements together. After Frank did rough mixes and we felt the album was finished, Frank took the session files to Alex Smolinski's Wonder Wonder Sound in Milwaukee and Alex mixed it. Alex's wife Kim Henry also added a few vocal harmonies at the 11th hour. Finally, we had Dan Hersch at D2 Mastering in Atwater Village master the album. Both Alex and Dan's skills helped a lot in giving the album a very cohesive feel.
The interesting thing about recording the songs via file sharing is that I never know how the song will end up sounding. Since everyone records their parts on their own, with no direction from the peanut gallery, we each have to trust our instincts and sensibility as to what would sound good in the context of an Emperors song. I was constantly surprised by the path each song took. The end result would usually sound quite radically different from where I thought it would go when I heard the first demo!
"I'm Your Man" was one of the first songs we wrote. We tried to channel Johnny Cash in the verses and The Rolling Stones in the chorus. The song came together very quickly, and helped set the template for the album.
I would make breakfast for my daughter and see her off to school, then go down to my home studio, download a new demo from Phil, and proceed to record the drums in my pajamas. It's funny, I really love electronic music but I found the process quite liberating to record from an old school traditional point of view.
Every song evolved in a different way depending on who threw out the first ideas. Some were very raw and changed considerably -- others, were more polished and complete. Butch and I worked a lot on bass and drum lines but everyone voted on the basic way the song would go. Many times I woke up with a riff in my head from a track that one of the guys had sent the night before. I used my studio, which was a basic Line 6 unit, mainly for sending rough ideas. When I needed to lay down a final track, I would make a short drive over to Matt's home studio where he made the final recording very easy.
Engineer Matt Pedri:
For Peter's tracks the channel would start with a Universal Audio LA-610 as a DI and then into Pro Tools 9 by way of an RME Multiface II for conversion. Peter would monitor with the Fender Bassman model in Pod Farm while tracking. Knowing the project was going to span a good chunk of time and that we would want some consistency with the bass tone, we chose to go the Pod Farm route so we could recall the settings when needed. We spent a few minutes getting the tone close to Peter's actual Bassman and in the end we thought it was pretty hard to tell one from the other. Those settings were saved and we would always start there with a new song and usually wouldn't have to tweak it too much. Of course sometimes we would throw it out the window and start from scratch.
Initially there might be several quick takes with the P-bass, Hofner or other guitar and maybe even variations on the baseline that would go out to Frank as mp3's while songs were being constructed. After a track was approved we'd re-amp the DI track using the model and bounce out both tracks as 24/44 wav and send them to Alex for mixing via Frank.
This room is in the back of our house and used as a writing, editing and infrequent overdub space under normal circumstances. I usually work out of Pus Cavern in Sacramento and even the almighty Hangar Studios once in awhile. I have to say the commute was pretty nice for this project!
Engineer/mixer Alex Smolinski:
The Emperors Of Wyoming are a rare, unique group, so it would make sense that their recording process would be as well. This was the first project I've done where each member performed their parts in their own studio. Phil, Butch, Frank and Pete had been sending files back and forth for months, making demos long before I entered the picture.
At the beginning, Frank or Butch would give me the sessions on a hard drive. As I expected, the writing and arrangements were outstanding. I added parts like harmony and backing vocals (Kim Henry) and drums/percussion...fairy dust here and there. I like albums that sound like a moment captured in time. My goal, since these guys were never in the same room, was to make it sound like a big-budget album. If I succeeded on some level, that's great.
Frank would typically come in when the song was about 70% there, and we would go over what parts weren't working, and what to add or replace to better the track. Toward the end, the guys were sending me stuff as it was being tracked, and I edited and laid the parts into the mix in-progress.
For Kim's vocals, the signal path was either a Neumann U 89 or Shure SM7 -- Chandler LTD-1 -- EL Distressor -- Mytek A/D. For percussion it was usually the SM7 -- API -- Mytek. Drum overdubs were typically 1 mic mono, whatever mic was on the stand, somewhere in the room. Frank re-tracked some guitars here through our Matchless JJ-30, probably mic'd with an SM-57 into an API.
It was an incredibly satisfying project to work on. I grew up listening to Butch's productions, and his style has definitely had an influence on how I work. They were open to any ideas or parts Kim and I had, which I didn't expect, but we appreciated more than we can say. We really ended up with a nice batch of songs. Mixing was done at Wonder Wonder Sound (located in Milwaukee Wisconsin's Historic Third Ward) on a Pro Tools 9 HD2 Accel system and a UAD-2 quad card, Lynx Aurora D/A, Mytek clocking, monitoring via NS-10M's and Dynaudio BM-15A's / BM-14S Sub with the Dangerous Monitor ST controller.
Trailing Edge Recorders is the personal basement home studio in Fitchburg, WI, of EOW singer-songwriter-guitarist Phil Davis. "It's somewhat of a 'floating' studio design with no walls touching the basement walls and two layers of sheetrock and eight inches of insulation above them for the ceiling. It's fairly isolated sound wise from the rest of the house. I would often record vocals or acoustic guitar early in the morning when the rest of the family on the second floor was asleep and they never heard anything." Davis recorded everything using a Dell Inspiron laptop, a Seagate external hard drive, and a Lexicon Lambda interface using Multi Track Studio (MTS) Pro Plus, www.multitrackstudio.com. If you look closely in the studio photo, on top of the KRK speakers are Trailing Edge's twin guardian angels-Elvis Presley and Colonel Sanders.
"I've gone through six of the top DAWs but MTS is the most stable, easiest, most intuitive recording program I've ever used, as close to a Portastudio cassette as digital gets. It was developed by Giel Bremmers a software designer in the Netherlands, and if you have a problem he emails you directly and immediately with solutions. Unbelievably customer support in this day and age. I exported all my tracks as .wav files to be imported by the other guys in Pro Tools, and I converted them to .mp3s for emailing, so when it came time to mix we always had the originals, which were recorded 24/44." We also uploaded everything to a file sharing site, so we had reliable back up. The recording chain for all my lead and harmony vocals was a Rode K2 Tube mic through a Presonus Eureka preamp into the Lexicon Lambda. Using low priced, basic gear was always my governing aesthetic, and in the beginning I was using an SM58 for vocals. Butch thought I should upgrade the vocal chain and set me up with the Rode K2 and Eureka. He was right, of course. Acoustic guitars were recorded with an AKG small condenser Perception 150 mic through a Joe Meek Three Q Studio Channel. Any electric guitars I recorded were always mic'ed, never amp simulators, using an SM58 through the Joe Meek into the Lexicon."
Acoustic guitars used included a 1967 Gibson J50, a Larrivee D-03R, a Larrivee LV-05E, and a Martin D-41. Electric guitars were an Epiphone Firebird Studio and a First Act ME 501 into a Peavey Vypyr 30. "Having come up playing live through classic '60s-'70s electric guitars and tube amps, I'm astonished at the range and sounds, particularly for recording, that are offered today by a $200 modeling amp like the Vypyr. And it's a LOT lighter to move around than a Twin."
Drum Workshop Kit & Hardware:
22" Kick Fet 47 into Helios 500
13" Rack Josephson e22s into Chandler TG2
16" Floor Josephson e22s into Chandler TG
14 x 6 ½ snares (DW, Dunnet, Yamaha "Gish")
top snare mic: Telefunken M80 into API 512c / 550b into Chandler Lil' Devil Comp
bottom snare mic : Josephson e22s into Helios
Zildjian Cymbals, 18" K Medium Dark Crash, 16" K Medium Crash, 21" Sweet Ride
OH mics: Audio Technica 4041 into API 512c/550b
Mono room mic: Bock 507 into Chandler LTD-1 into Sound Toys "Decapitator"
Buss compression: Roger Meyer RM58
Various percussion instruments, shaker and tambourine.
Pro Tools 10 HD
M Audio Trigger Finger
Fender Telecaster and 12 String
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.