This is one of my favorite records I've heard lately, with some of the most interesting production and arrangements. It reminds me of some of the best work of Mitchell Froom [Tape Op #10] and Valgeir Sigurðsson [#85]. Singer/songwriter Simone White's first three records were made in a traditional studio setting and recorded and mixed in a relatively short time frame. For Silver Silver, Simone decided to work with Samuel Bing and Julian Wass from the group Fol Chen. They initially set aside a month to work on the record in their home studios and at Simone's house, but the record eventually took a year to finish, with the three of them taking time off for tours and such in between spurts of working on the album. Silver Silver has the sound of an album where nothing was rushed and there was plenty of time for pauses and consideration, and time to reflect upon and revisit the tracks. White is very happy with how the album turned out: "This is the first time I've felt that way. It was a very organic, growing process and was really exciting for me. I didn't want to make another country-folky record." While Simone mainly writes on guitar, Samuel urged her to create in the studio, which initially had her apprehensive. "We just started making sounds, but it scared me as well." In pushing White a bit outside of her comfort zone, they made a really beautiful album. "Big Dreams and the Headlines" ends with a big "ahh" vocal section and the track really soars to a new musical place. Simone recalled that, "Samuel is a big Prince fan. He had me listening to a lot of Prince and Mariah Carey, trying to draw something out of me, and pushing my boundaries. I'm not sure I completely got there, but that's where the end of 'Big Dreams' came from." Songs on Silver Silver have lots of unexpected musical detours, like the bridge on the title track, featuring Andrew Bird on violin and harmony vocals. While the track was done via long distance collaboration, Bird and White play a beautiful counterpoint on violin and xylophone that grows out of the bridge into its own musical section of the song. The first track on the album, "Flowers in May," signals right off the bat that the record is bit different, with it's extended Eno-esque ambient end section. On "In the Water Where the City Ends," synth sequences mesh with pianos and ambient washes. The percussion on the album is unique; organic yet never sounding like a standard kick-snare-hat drum set. "Samuel and Julian play the parts one at a time into the computer and then chop it all up," comments Simone. "It's all real sounds but processed into the computer. They have endless creativity in finding sounds." On the track "Bonnie Brae" Simone reveals, "That's the sound of the bells from an old ice cream truck that's near my house every afternoon. When I first moved here it took me ages to figure out what it was; this flutey sound seeping up from the street didn't make any sense. When I did find it, we recorded it and then manipulated it - stretched in time three ways. It's like three views of the same moment. 'Bonnie Brae' is the name of the street the truck was on."
The vocal sound is also not what you'd expect from a singer/songwriter record, but is quite dry and up front. "I don't like a lot of reverb on vocals, especially while I'm singing," comments White. "I feel like I'm underwater and I can't hear what I'm doing." When I had the chance to talk to Samuel, he explained that the vocal was definitely not dry. "How do you get a wet sound but keep the vocal dry?" was his conundrum. In the end he didn't entirely remember how he came to get the varied vocal timbres on the album, "It was a random assortment of plug-ins really, the same plug-ins everyone else uses. I suppose it would be more efficient if I kept track, but once I find something I like and that works for the song, I'm so relieved that I tend to just move on." Bing tends to start songs in [Sony] Acid as he prefers the program for writing and processing sounds, although all the tracks eventually end up in Pro Tools. "I like that it's kind of cheap and sleazy to start tracks in Acid, while Pro Tools is more 'classy.'" Samuel also elaborates a bit on his process for finding sounds and building his own "samples", "When you record your own stuff and manipulate it you're pretty much guaranteed to have a sound with it's own stamp, plus some interesting accidents happen." I suspect that this commitment to sonic exploration is one of the main reasons Silver Silver sounds so fresh and unique. The track "Now the Revolution" has a really beautiful brass arrangement, but when I asked Simone about it she said there were no horn players on the album. "I think that might have been something Samuel had already recorded," she said. "Oh yeah," Samuel recalled, "That was a collection of horn recordings I made a few years ago. I just recorded a bunch of notes and saved them. I don't even know what chord I'm looking for, I just use my ear and pitch them up and down in Acid until I find things I like." The results of his hybrid method is certainly a great argument against analog and performance purists, and a perfect example as to how computers can help make great recordings as opposed to sterile tuned and time-corrected recordings.
When it came time to mix, Samuel and Julian took the tracks to Dan Long [ex-Headgear Recording, Tape Op #65] at his HeadWest studio in Silverlake, CA, to mix through his modified Yamaha M1532 console. Besides being a bit too close to the project after a year working on it, Bing explains that, "There's a certain amount of sound engineering expertise that Julian and I don't have. We engineered the record ourselves but when it came to the mixing, we took on the role of producers more than engineers and let Dan take on the mixing job. He also really helped us achieve and finalize the vocal sound we were looking for." Part of the art of making records is to know how to collaborate and when to get other people involved, and everyone working on this project, especially Simone, Samuel, and Julian, understand that. I suspect we'll see more great things from these folks soon.