Tobin Sprout has been looming large in the basement recording scene for quite some time now. Since his early days with Figure 4 he's been crafting rock songs and laying them down on pretty much everything from 4-track and 8-track cassettes to 24-track analog and many-track digital machines. In the late '80s and early '90s he was intimately involved with the greatest Dayton, Ohio, rockers of them all, Guided by Voices, not only as a musician, but also as the main engineer and producer. After Guided by Voices' classic line-up split a few years ago Sprout went at it alone and put out a few great solo albums in the years that followed. Most recently though, he's been back with a band, this time playing under the moniker Eyesinweasel.
The other day I was listening to Let's Welcome the Circus People and it credits you as the producer, but I didn't see any mention of a 4- track and the recording quality is pretty high compared to some of your other stuff.
Yeah, that one was mostly done on an Alesis ADAT and a Studio 32 board so I can go up to 16 tracks, which is what I'd like to do eventually. The stuff that I did on Moonflower Plastic, outside of the studio stuff, was done on an 8-track cassette and a 4-track cassette and there's a big difference in the sound quality of the ADAT.
Have you been upgrading your stuff pretty steadily over the years?
Pretty much. My ultimate goal is to get a 24-track analog machine, but it's just expensive. You've got to have somebody that can work on it, and you've got to find one to begin with. They're expensive and a problem to maintain and there aren't really a lot of people up here who could even work on it. So eventually I'd like to do that, but for the time being I'm just going to be using the ADAT because it seems to be working out pretty well and it's easy to use and there's not a lot of problems like with a tape machine.
Do you find yourself being drawn to the analog sound instead of the digital stuff?
Yeah, quite a bit. Mostly just for the saturation point that you can get with tape and you can't get it on the ADAT. They are getting better to where you can get a nice sound on them but they still don't have the warmth that you get from tape, I don't think. A lot of people say they can't tell the difference, but I can hear the difference in a lot of the stuff.
Is there any piece of equipment that you really like that you've stuck with over the years?
There's a couple of microphones that I still use. There's an Electro-Voice that's more of a stage mic that I still use just because it has more of a crisp sound to it. And then I've got a CAD E-100 vocal mic that I've been using — I was using that with the 8-track too. That's got a nice large diaphragm so it really picks up the vocals really well. Aside from that I still use the Memory Man [analog delay pedal] occasionally on some vocal sounds because that was really the only thing that we had on the 4-track for effects. It was just an echo and a chorus on it.
And you used that for a lot of the Guided by Voices stuff?
Yeah, most of the vocal sounds were done through that.
Do have an actual studio set up a home now, or do you pretty much just pull the Alesis out and do it all in the bedroom?
Actually my board is set up in a box with the 8-track in one unit and it's up on casters so I can move it around to the drums and I can actually set the sounds while I'm playing the drums. And then the other equipment, the outboard stuff, is in another thing like that and when I mix I can hook them up and so it's easy to use one-man wise.
So you do most of the recording process by yourself then?
Pretty much unless Jim Eno [of Spoon] is in town. He's been up here and there are some other drummers that I've used, but pretty much when I'm just getting the ideas down I'm recording by myself.
With the new Eyesinweasel double LP of demos and unreleased stuff, I think that it's really interesting to hear some of the songs, like "Digging Up Wooden Teeth", that you recorded a while ago and then redid for the Let's Welcome the Circus People album. There are big differences in how the versions sound.
It's definitely tighter on the album but a lot of the stuff on [the new Eyesinweasel record] are the 4-track demos from before I set up here after we moved. I was just using...