2012's Open Your Heart put The Men on the map. Their aggressive, raw rock 'n' roll was a welcome jolt, a reminder of the power of energetic live performances. Ben Greenberg is the band member and recording engineer responsible for harnessing that spark. Their new LP, Tomorrow's Hits, brings to mind the classic tones of The Stooges and the Rolling Stones.
I hear the step up in fidelity on this record, but you've maintained the vibe and energy of The Men's previous work.
Yeah it's probably just different mic pres or something. [laughs] I mean, we only booked three days at Strange Weather to make the whole record, so we weren't trying to do anything that sounded super big budget. I feel like people do so much to their records these days, and it's because you can and everyone wants to explore their options. We could have spent a week talking about drum tones. You could plug everything into everything in that place if you wanted to.
Strange Weather has some amazing gear. A real Fairchild limiter. Some rare Neumann mics. Have you been working there a lot?
I worked in their old spot for about a year. We were the second session in their new location. It's a really beautiful place. Everything works [laughs].
You had your own studio, Python Patrol, for a long time before you started working exclusively in nicer rooms. What was it like to make the leap?
It was definitely a huge relief in a lot of ways, because I suddenly had all these options available. Instead of trying to recreate the sounds in my head through some insane 4 a.m. Pro Tools plug-in chain, I could reach for it and it would be right there. Having the immediate fidelity available just allows you to capture so much more of a great performance.
You're not spending all your energy trying to get sounds through gear that might be working against you.
Or at least getting the real sounds. With The Men, or any band I work on, it's always about what the band actually sounds like in a room together. I don't like it when there's a contrast between that and the recording.
I think we can all appreciate when a band comes in and nails it too. It's so different than piecing things together in the computer.
I think it's sad that it's something you have to appreciate and not something you expect. It's one of those things you try and describe to people when they want to make their record to a click and piece it together. You have to explain what will be missing. There's nothing like being in a room with a band. It's not going to be the same unless they're all looking at each other and experiencing that interaction. There's a real palpable difference. I think it will always sound better.
On Tomorrow's Hits you tracked everything live together and even did some of the vocals live. What was the monitoring setup?
At Strange Weather they have these huge ATC speakers that used to be the large monitors in the old studio. They put them in the live room and they sound amazing. We used small amps and put blankets over them and isolated the bass. We sent vocals and a little bit of bass back into the room. There was surprisingly little bleed. Rich [Samis, drummer] plays so loud that it was pretty easy to keep it isolated.
And I imagine the bleed kind of glues it together?
Yeah, it's nice to capture different ambience. We would catch some drums in the piano mic, acoustic guitar mic, and even some of the guitar amp mics. It adds movement to a mix too. If you leave your picture up the sound moves as the band shifts their playing. It allows things to peek through in subtle ways. I think that was really key in getting the sound of this record. I like when things keep moving and the band mixes itself, creating ups and downs and contrasts.
On the drums you did a [Neumann] U 47 mono overhead and RCA BK-5A on the kick and ReVox M 3500 on the snare. Why no tom or room mics?
I'm a big fan of the Glyn Johns [three mic] thing but we didn't do it this time. I wanted it to be even simpler than that. That U 47 really gets everything.
It was nice to put on this record and be reminded of the old Stones stuff. You're not...
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