I've always felt that the best way to check out an artist is to see them perform live. In the current age of digital nip and tuck, a great performance carries even more weight in my opinion. When I walked into a club several years ago and caught El Ten Eleven, I was impressed. This duo could build their instrumental loops of Kristian Dunn's electric double necked bass and guitar, with Tim Fogarty's programmed beats and real drums locked right in, and the crowd was gladly going along for the ride. I'd seen others try to do this same thing and fail, with loops falling out of time and beats coming in at the wrong place. Transitions, their fifth album, finds them treading the same looping, rocking, and instrumental ground, but pulling off even more dramatic shifts in songs- something that live looping can make very difficult. Some textures turn into shimmering sound, ala Steve Reich or Philip Glass, and other songs rock out with Peter Hook-style (Joy Division/New Order) lead bass lines. EBow guitars swell up and electronic beats pop in and out of real drums. It's always changing.
The band was looking for an engineer with a background in hip-hop, electronic, and indie rock. They chose Chris Cheney, a staff engineer at Interscope Records, who has worked with Dr. Dre, The Fray, many American Idol winners, Nicole Scherzinger, Chief Keef, and The New Mastersounds. They recorded at Sage and Sound Studio in Hollywood, taking advantage of some great outboard gear while tracking into a computer, and also at Atwater Deluxe Rehearsals in Atwater Village, L.A. I quizzed Kristian about the techniques they used to record Transitions: "We recorded all of the guitar and bass tracks separately through different amps and speaker combos (as opposed to live, where everything is going through one amp)." Plus they staggered the written parts as overdubs instead of looping everything in the studio. "Usually we'll track drums and one part (typically a bass line) live to try to get some decent feel going. Then the overdubs begin!"
Tim adds: "The drum parts start with me playing on my drum pad setup into a [Roland] V- Drum brain. From there I'll send MIDI to an Akai [keyboard] sampler and take a stereo out from both, panning instruments to have separation. Those sounds usually get messed with when we are working on mixes, after everything is recorded."
One song, "Yellow Bridges" has some crazy drum compression, as engineer Chris explains: "It's a combination of [drums] being tracked in a small room, bit crushing the files, and a few [Universal Audio] 1176 compressors."
Transitions was mastered by Kevin Bartley at Capital Mastering in Hollywood, but Kristian wasn't totally satisfied with it, "So I tweaked it a bit myself in the box using [IK Multimedia] T-RackS EQ." This record is a treat to listen to. El Ten Eleven is proof that live looping and programming can rock; and that instrumental tracks can captivate and hold a room's attention as well as any vocal-led group. Transitions shows them at their best in the studio.