Songwriter and novelist Willy Vlautin has led Portland's Richmond Fontaine for 20 years. With this new group, The Delines, he's written songs for Amy Boone (The Damnations TX) to sing, and grabbed his bandmate/drummer Sean Oldham, bassist extraordinaire Freddy Trujillo, The Decemberists' keyboardist Jenny Conlee-Drizos, and Tucker Jackson on pedal steel to lay down some excellent tracks. The songs are haunting, sad, and beautiful stories, sharing much of the view of 'burned out America' from Willy's last novel, The Free. The album was recorded and produced by my friend John Askew, in Portland, at Tucker Martine's [Tape Op #29] Flora Recording & Playback. I dropped John a line to uncover this fine albums origins.
Why Flora? You seem to work there a bit, though it is Tucker's personal studio.
I got to know Flora early on: back when his studio was at his house, he'd let me mix while he was out of town. When he moved to this space, and he was finalizing the build-out, he let me run a few of my sessions in there to troubleshoot, as well as make a list of to-dos and whatnot. It's always been very comfortable, as well as great place to work. I try to do projects there if it can work out.
How many days did this album take?
We did all the basics in four days, including vocals. Amy Boone was only in town from Texas for the days we recorded, so we needed to make this session very productive. Everyone was very prepared and we made great use of our limited time. Once we had the recordings, we brought the tracks back to my studio [Scenic Burrows] for a few remaining overdubs, and then about ten days of mixing.
Was this recorded to digital or tape?
I love recording to tape, but I can't wait to get it into the computer. So, yes, we recorded the basics to tape (Tucker's Studer A820 24-track, 2-inch machine) and then dumped to Pro Tools. Using tape really helped the band feel focused on getting good performances. It was that kind of record.
Did you use Tucker's plate reverb on the vocals?
It was the EMT 140 plug-in from Altiverb. I did try hard to figure out how to get a good "real" plate sound without having one - it wasn't practical for me to use Flora's plate at the time, and I don't own one myself. I placed the [SoundToys] Decapitator in front of the EMT, rolled off some highs, and added a bit of gain. It did seem to help the quality of the plate, in terms of richness and warmth, on Amy's vocals. On some songs I used the UAD Studer A800 plug-in, in front, instead.
Any special insights to the recording and production?
The record was all about trying for a "vibe," and finding that was not always easy. We had various extras and instruments as overdubs; i.e., we tried string parts and horns on certain numbers to see if a more "Bobbie Gentry" sound would be fitting. But in the end the songs came across best with a simple backdrop: having Amy's voice out in front, and the band as a backdrop for her vocals and Willy's stories. It was often tempting to want to add things to a song, in hopes that it would push it to that special place; but for Colfax keeping the recordings spare seemed to be the best fit.