Photo from Calvin's Fall 2015 Sampler.
You came up over and over again in the interview that we did with Julien.
Julien and I grew up together playing music. I had done demos with her, prior to working at Ardent. We were working out of another studio called The Grove. I was her engineer at Ardent as well.
Where's The Grove?
The Grove is out in the suburbs of Memphis. It's a smaller studio. Julien was living out in the suburbs at the time, so we would meet out there and cut ideas for the record. We probably cut 20 or 25 songs over the course of the six months leading up to the Ardent session.
Did you know they were demos that you were making?
At first. Then, as we were building them, the idea grew that they were already coming together more than we'd anticipated. A few of those tracks from the demoing process actually made it onto the final album, mostly guitar tracks. I know on "Happy to Be Here," those were the guitar tracks from the demo.
What credits do you have, aside from this?
Primarily I'm a local engineer in Memphis. Julien would be my biggest credit.
Do you work at Ardent often?
Yeah, I've done a lot of engineering there in the past. A year ago I took a gig as the head engineer at a studio in town called Young Avenue Sound. Since doing the Julien record, I've had an influx of local people wanting to work with me, which has been awesome.
Because Turn Out the Lights is so sparse, I feel like we can probably get a pretty encompassing look at what you did, if you don't mind.
It was a very simple set up, as far as signal chain goes. For vocals, it was a vintage [Neumann] U 67 into a Spectra Sonics preamp that was pulled from the original console at Stax. We ran into that pre with a [Urei]1176 compressor. That was her chain for all the vocals.
Did you print to tape, or go straight to digital?
Straight to digital. For guitars, we had a [Shure SM]57, and I had a Neumann M 249 around three-feet away from her guitar cab. We were running Spectra Sonics pres on her guitar as well. Then strings were on the Neumann M 249, and we ran that through the Neve VR pres. At Ardent, we had the Neve VR console, so we used those pres for a lot of the auxiliary instrumentation. They sound great – I love that console. I think we cut a few auxiliary guitar parts through the Neve, but the primary guitar parts were through the Spectras.
All the guitar was just the Neumann and the 57?
That was the main guitar sound. We cut everything in the live room of Ardent Studio A; I had Earthworks mics set up in the room for the grand piano. We used PZM mics for close mics for the piano, and then the Earthworks as the far left and right piano sound. We used those same room mics to capture some of the guitar. There was guitar bleed in some of those, as well as her vocal. We purposefully used the room vocal sound underneath her close vocal on some parts.
Was she doing guitar first to a click, or were you doing live takes?
We did it differently on different songs. I wish I could tell you the exact song, but I know there was at least one where we cut guitar and vocals together. But the majority of it was cutting a guitar to a click, and then going out and tracking the vocals after the fact.
That's the advantage to doing demos first. You already know exactly how the song goes when you get in there.
Like I said, we'd worked closely on it for a while, so by the time we got to Ardent it was a pretty exact process. We knew what BPM we were working with, and we knew where the verses and choruses were. We could move on to making the sonics sound good.
She said your mantra was, "It's worth it," in terms of getting the right sound and take instead of trying to fix it later.
That's my sentiment working with anyone, but especially someone as talented as Julien. Just knowing the potential that's in her all the time. Whenever we're recording, I know she has the perfect take probably a take away.
When she told Matador Records that she wanted to use her childhood friend to engineer the record at Ardent, did they push back at all?
They didn't push back. As far as I know, they trusted her judgment. It was intimidating for me, as a local engineer. Matador's A&R flew out and checked out the record right after we cut it. We got a great reception from them, and they were really nice through the whole process. Then I did some reference mixes with Julien; we sent those references to Craig Silvey, and he ended up doing the final mix.
What did you send him? Pro Tools sessions?
Yes. I sent him Pro Tools sessions with the plug-ins, automation, and everything. Julien and I had built up certain ideas about where reverb should be on certain vocal lines and when a delay should randomly kick in and such.
It's really noticeable, in the headphones especially, where the reverbs abruptly begin and end.
There are these moments where it feels like she's right in your face singing, then she takes it to another planet and it's far away. Her whole thing was tying that in with the lyrics. I thought that was really interesting.
I was terrified on almost every song that gigantic bass and drums were going to kick in at the climaxes.
Did that ever come up as a possibility?
It really didn't. Julien is massive on her own. She picks up a guitar; with the effects she uses and the way she controls her voice, the power of a full band is in this five-foot girl alone. There was a B-side cut that had a drum part that didn't make it to the record, but that was the only song we experimented with drums on. On every other song, I honestly don't even think we considered it.
Were you doing takes all the way through the sixth day, or were you mixing by the end?
Actually, we moved pretty fast. By the end of the fifth day, we were moving on to pre-mixing. The sixth day we spent listening back, making mix notes, and doing some of the reference mixing.
Were you surprised by what Craig Silvey sent back?
Yes and no. Yes, in that I think that Craig killed it and it sounds really great. I love the mixes, absolutely; but no in the sense that I think Julien and I had calculated the songs and the pre-mix so much that Craig didn't try to diverge from that at all. He really just amplified the vision that Julien and I had sent him, which I thought was awesome. It was cool to get it back and hear this really great version of the quick mixes that we had put together. I can't complain at all about what Craig did.
Did I mention how great the guitar tone is?
Thank you. I think a big part of that was a healthy dose of reverb and effects from her pedalboard, but also a mixture of close mics, the Earthworks mics, and something I haven't clued a lot of people into that we did with her sound. It's fairly obvious, if you listen to it, that we used her Neumann vocal mic too. I had it recording at all times. It picks up the close string sound of her electric guitar. We both found that blending that in a bit, the dry strumming of her electric guitar, added a lot to the total picture of her guitar sound.
You can really hear it on a couple of tracks.
Yeah. I think it's important when it's just a vocal and guitar to have multiple perspectives.
She was doing the guitar takes from behind the vocal mic, even though she wasn't singing?
She was doing the guitar takes from within a few feet of the vocal mic, but she wasn't singing. We had it engaged all the time. The recording was very calculated for how little is going on. At the end of the day, we had probably five mics on the guitar. I don't know if all five were used in the final mix, but it was the idea that there's only going to be one guitar playing, so let's make sure that we capture several perspectives.
Turn Out the Lights sounds like a big, produced band record, but without the band. That's an interesting twist.
Yeah, totally. I'm glad you think so. I think the same. I love working with Julien. She's absolutely killing it. I'm so proud of her.