Bill Moriarty is an engineer based out of Philadelphia. He co-owns American Diamond (named after the cross streets nearby) with the band Dr. Dog. When he's not sharing tracking and mixing duties on their projects, he can be found working with some of Philly's finest musicians. In 2007/2008 Bill will be traveling several times to learn recording and mixing directly from engineer Oz Fritz [Tape Op #19] through a Philadelphia performing arts grant.
How did you get involved with Dr. Dog?
I met them around when they were done tracking Easy Beat. I was working with a lot of Philly bands, they knew of me and asked me to come and help them out a little with their setup. They had been recording it on a Tascam 388 in their basement and asked me to help them mix. I was working out of my apartment then.
When did you decide to share a studio space with them?
A bunch of things happened around that time. I had just gotten engaged and wanted to move the studio out of my apartment. They had started to make a bigger commitment to the band — basically setting up their lives so they could do what they needed to do to be successful. Part of that was moving their studio out of the basement. So we decided to go in together because the mixing relationship had gone really well. They had gotten some money from their label to buy equipment and needed someone to help them decide what to get and help them set it up and I needed to be able to split the rent with somebody. We got really lucky because my friend [Edan Cohen] was moving out of this place the same month we started looking, so we were able to just take it over.
Wasn't it used as a studio before you guys moved in?
It was being used as a studio for the previous four or five years, but it's basically a factory. I have to record pretty much at night and on weekends because there's a woodworker right under us who's extremely busy and pretty noisy. The space does sound good though.
Did you set it up from scratch in that space?
Yeah, we changed it completely. Dr. Dog got a recording budget, which is something none of us had ever had, but it really had to cover a lot of things. They were out on tour in Europe, so I went back and forth with their manager figuring out what to buy. At that time I was working at Larry Gold's [The Studio] in Philly, and he had a bunch of tape machines that weren't really getting used. I bugged him for a long time to sell me one and finally he did and also threw in a console. It's an [MCI] JH-24, which is a pretty standard 24-track machine, and an Allen & Heath Sigma console. It has no mute groups and isn't automated, but it's fine and the preamps are pretty nice. He also gave us the patchbays and a bunch of cables. The other nice thing is that the tech who had worked on them since Larry bought them is still here in Philly, so we hired him to come and wire everything and make sure it was all going.
That's great you got all the cabling and patchbays. It can get really expensive when you're trying to build a studio, especially with a tape machine and an analog console. It's easy to forget about that stuff when you're budgeting for gear.
Yeah, but we actually use the patchbay very little. There is very little outboard gear here. My goal in setting the studio up was that I wanted to make this place operable by one person who's in a band. So there's not a control room — we couldn't afford a big control room anyway. Luckily our philosophy goes along with that, sort of a Daniel Lanois-style [Tape Op #37] open room thing. So by the time Dr. Dog got back from tour everything was going.
Did it take a while for them to get used to the new setup?
I tried to get rid of anything that might throw them off and label everything very clearly. They actually got used to it really fast — I think it only took them a couple of months to figure out pretty much every button on the console and how to use it. They work all the time — one of the hardest working bands I know. They use the studio to the point that I don't know if I actually recorded anything that made it on to the record. If I did it would be no different from them doing it, because they only like to use a certain kind of mic, and they go for a sound that's very different from what I go for with other bands.
How is it different?
In the beginning my main job was just to set everything up so it worked and show them how to use it. When I record a band there are lots and lots of mics. When they record themselves it is one mic. So it's like one mic on the drums, and covering them with tons and tons of felt to make it sound like cardboard and dead as possible. They have a Rode NTK, which is sort of a cheap tube mic that I recommended they buy back when they were doing Easy Beat. They love it and it's pretty much the only mic they use. I was surprised, because with the other mics we've got I would have expected them to like them better, but they don't. We'll put up other stuff once in a while just to mess around — they really like [SM]58s. Also there's this mic I found when I sifted through all the stuff we brought over here, an [Electro-Voice] EV PL6, this little grey mic, and I love it. It has no high end and no low end. It's the perfect background vocal mic. I had never tried those before. They started screwing around with it and it sounded great! I looked online for a while and couldn't find anything on it. Finally I found one dude who had four or five of them, so I bought them all — they were only 20 bucks each. I use those all the time now — if I'm doing a big session I try to use them all.
How often are you doing other sessions there?
Well I was working a lot just with Dr. Dog in the beginning getting up and running, but once they went back out on tour I got to take a breather and work with some other bands. It felt good, because a band would come in Friday and we would finish their album by Sunday, which is a totally different perspective from a yearlong thing of writing and making a record. We split the rent and utilities entirely and share the space, so Dr. Dog is writing, practicing, and recording here. Other bands are writing and practicing in their house and then coming in here just to track. American Diamond isn't the only place I work. I've also been taking several projects to Brian McTear's excellent Miner Street Studio [issue #5] to record or mix. It's about five blocks away from my studio and worth every penny.
Are you mostly tracking to tape?
Yeah. Right now the way it works is I'm using the tape machine for everybody, and if I need to use the computer I use the computer. In the year and a half we've been here most of the time I've ended up using the computer. The only reason is because I have tools in the computer that I don't have in the analog world. With Dr. Dog, the entire EP [Takers and Leavers] and the album [We All Belong] ended up being mixed in Nuendo. Another thing that came up was that they were on the road so much, they could call me to make one small change, and I could do that without spending hours trying to remix things.
So you did a lot of the mixing?
For the EP and the record, the way it worked is, they would kind of EQ things the way they wanted on the analog board, and then we would send [individual tracks] to Nuendo that way. A lot of the mixing process was fixing problems. For instance, they have this old Peavey PA head they like to use for the vocals. It was tracked through a DI and was really buzzy and harsh sounding, so we would just try to make that sound tolerable. I had to de-ess them a lot. They would sometimes turn the EQs totally harsh and there'd be some little fights. Some things didn't need anything, like the bass. Toby [Leaman]'s a great bass player and they don't really mess with the sound of it, so it sounded great. We were able to borrow a [Universal Audio] 6176 a few times for vocals, which was a godsend. On Toby's vocals, he has a huge dynamic range and doesn't move back from the mic when he gets loud. But we only had that for a few days, not for the full year, so we compressed a lot of the vocals in Nuendo.
Were they into using more "standard" gear like the 6176 for tracking?
We talked about it a lot. One of my favorite engineers is Oz Fritz, who did Mule Variations and a few other Tom Waits records. I think his recordings sound incredible, and I've actually called him and sort of forced him to become my mentor. But at one point I convinced Dr. Dog to let me record them (sort of) in that style. I can't say it sounded exactly like Mule Variations, but it did make them sound as big as I think they sound. They didn't like it, which is fine, but I just wanted to make sure I wasn't crazy. But they prefer the smaller, more filtered sound. I'm always impressed when a band can move from lo-fi to a higher fidelity and still keep it interesting. I guess the thing I try to encourage everyone to do in the studio is to record live and go for a more organic sound. Like an audience perspective reality, documentary-style recording of the band. That's the way I like to make records sound if I can. Sometimes Scott [McMicken] would say to me, "I want the drums to sound like Beck" or whatever, and I would mic the drums in a way I interpreted sounded like that. We'd listen to it, and he'd say, "That's not really what I mean. I think this one crappy mic in the corner is was I want," and he'd be totally right. His intuition was always right as far as how to get the sounds he wanted. Bands have come to me that like the way Dr. Dog sounds, and I'll record them the way I like to record bands, which I don't think really sounds like Dr. Dog, and they'll like it a lot. But I think they think it still sounds like Dr. Dog, which I don't understand!