When he's not being tortured on remote recordings, Max Feldman is responsible for taking care of Effanel Music's Chelsea studio in NYC. For those of you who aren't familiar with Effanel, their 50-foot long rolling recording studio makes them the world's premiere mobile recording outfit. Their credits include everything from the annual Grammy Awards and Video Music Awards to live DVDs by Dave Matthews, Madonna, and Eric Clapton. Max's personal engineering credits include U2, Phish, Cindy Lauper, Cassandra Wilson, Cher, Brian Wilson, Elton John and Bobby McFerrin. When Max isn't hard at work polishing the sound of major label stars, he's busy focusing on his self-described "real job": as an engineer/producer for independent artists whose music simply inspires him to record it. His most recent work is The Mammals' Evolver. Recorded with a station wagon load of borrowed gear in the band's cottage home in upstate New York, Max proves that with the right equipment and know how, there's no place like home.
What was it that attracted you to The Mammals?
The first time I heard them play, I was shocked in a way that I think a lot of people are at their first Mammals experience: I've never heard anything like this before! Something in the way they play this old music seems so new. First of all, they're all three amazing musicians. They each play about six different instruments, none of them badly, and their musical sense is just amazing. Besides that, they're all great people. I've never met three people who laugh so much. They laugh at everything. And that lightheartedness comes across in their music. It's just great fun to listen to them.
The Mammals being mostly an acoustic outfit, did you have to change your approach any?
It's true, I don't see a lot of acoustic instruments these days, and the ones I do see usually have pickups. But no, my approach didn't change. I like to think that any self-respecting engineer should know how to record acoustic instruments. Anyone can plug in a sampler and hit record. The real artistry in recording is being able to capture the sound of an actual instrument. Mic choice and placement is key, and that's something that you just have to have experience with to know how it's going to work.
Please run down the gear you brought up to their house.
We were literally confined to the amount of gear we could fit in the back of Mike's Volvo station wagon. In fact, I had to change my equipment list when Mike told me Tao was coming along! It was a really simple signal flow: mic to preamp to tape. I monitored off of the recorder with a little 16 channel Spirit mixer they had at the house. In other words, the mixer wasn't in the signal path until after the recorder, which was a Tascam MX-2424. I hooked the MX-2424 into my PowerBook. I could do editing on my Mac, I used it as a transport control, and I did all the file management there. It was pretty cool — it just hooks up with Ethernet, and I didn't have to use the front panel on the Tascam once. I also had a SCSI expansion chassis on the MX-2424 with four removable 18 Gig hard drives. As far as mics are concerned, I tried to bring a good variety of really excellent mics. I was fortunate that my boss was willing to let me bring these beautiful mics out on the road. I don't know if I would have done the same, honestly. I brought a Neumann M-149, which is just a beautiful-sounding mic. Open and airy — really amazing detail. I brought a couple of Schoepps 221b's, these small diaphragm tube condensers. They had these funny little clear plastic rings around the diaphragm end of the mic. The band took to calling them "the occuli". Also, a pair of Audio Technica 4060s. These are great new tube mics. "New" meaning not 40 years old. Probably the coolest one was the Coles 4038. It's a ribbon mic, really delicate and really heavy, because of the big magnets inside. It's funny looking, too, with this kind of triangular swivel top. Their name for that one was the "alien head". Also a classic U67, and the requisite SM57 and 421. Oh, and an AKG D112. That pretty much did it for mics. My secret weapon was the mic preamps. I brought twelve channels of John Hardy M-1s. I love those pres. Big and fat sounding, but clean as a whistle. I know a few engineers who swear by them. Also great because there's four of them in a single rack space. I topped off the Volvo with a pair of Meyer HD-1 monitors and a single Neve 33609 compressor.
You basically set up shop in a completely foreign environment. Could you tell me a little bit about the space you were in to record Evolver?
Well, we were in their house. And a little house, at that. At first I thought I was going to try and use different rooms for different things at the house. They have this really...