Tyratarantis and the Motown Approach
[Editor’s notes] – a little while back I asked Tom Bramley if I could interview him for a guest post up here. Tom’s a friend and a producer and his boundless enthusiasm is one of the many reasons I’d recommend him to others.
I wanted to use this space to talk a little about how people make the records they make and how the approach the producer and band choose shapes a record. At long last we’ve got our respective acts together. Below is a case study in point and I hope there’ll be more from Tom in the coming months as his production adventures take him to the states, and to NYC.
Listen while you read – Here’s the recording in question:
So without further ado, here’s the interview.
So Tom, tell me about why you chose Tyratarantis as a case study in point?
Well, I chose Tyratarantis as it’s a project I was very close to, and involved from inception to completion. I wanted to focus on how, as a producer, working with people you know closely using an ‘in house’ approach can really aid the organic process when creating a product.
“In House” you say. So, like a real house or do you mean it’s something you were producing where you were the inside man? Was it like being in “The Monkeys”?
All tracking process took place at Leeds College of Music’s “Toft Room”. All of the “post” of the CD took place at our actual house in Leeds. Myself and Josh, Dave (the bass player) and Lucy (artwork) all lived together at the time and mixed, mastered, designed and produced the CD ‘In House’.
OK so tell me, who are the band, and what are their motivations/influences?
I’d say Tyratarantis are an experimental jazz trio; They hail from Leeds College of Music. The band are: Dave Rees (bass), Dominic Marshall (piano) and Sam Gardner (drums) and have been playing together now for about the last two years. Dave is principle composer, and whilst the other members all contribute greatly to the sound, Dave will often turn up to practice’s with the foundations of the tracks.
Dave’s fascination with odd timings and rhythmic ideas, coupled with his love for more standard jazz pieces mean that the band switch between complex technical runs of prowess to very laid back almost ambient sections effortlessly.
So do you see Dave as the linchpin? How does that affect how you direct the session?
In short yes. This project was very much Dave’s baby, which meant that he was the go to man on all decisions. He had such a clear and direct vision for the project, that coupled with his excellent communication skills (something that must never be underestimated), meant that as a producer it was much easier to ‘hear’ Dave’s ideas before they happened.
And you like this way of working, with a clear visionary at the heart of the band… or do you want to impose “your sound”.
Personally I prefer the artist to have the clear vision. My stamp is ‘making the band sound like them’.
Tell me how this project differed from other work you do. What made this one special?
The working methods on this project were slightly different to any of the work I have done before. The project quickly grew into a ‘production house’ system. I lived with Dave Rees for the last year at University, and he approached me and another of my housemates, Josh Green, to record a mini album of tracks from his new band. So me and Josh booked a six hour session in the Toft recording room at college and began planning our session. As with a lot of Jazz sessions the key was enabling the band to have constant eye contact and good monitoring of each others instruments as the majority of the tracks were built around improvisation. We decided that we wanted the tracks to sound warm and as live as possible, giving the listener a sense of the energy that the band put into every take.
So is it Neumanns and 414s all the way?
The tracks were recorded with 2 or 3 takes tracked for song and the best track taken through to mixing. Tyratarantis were very well rehearsed and it was more of a case of choosing which solo’s stood out the best within the take as opposed to the one that was tighter.
In terms of equipment used, the drums were quite minimal with 2 x AKG 414’s for the overheads, Beyerdynamic M201 for the snare and an AKG D112 for the kick, the bass was an MD421 and a Audio Technica 4033a, finally the piano was recorded with a pair of Schoeps CMC 6U (wonderful mics).
And you’re running into Pro-Tools yeah? How does that affect your workflow? Comping from multiple takes or taking the “Best”?
We did run into Pro Tools through a Toft ATB analogue desk for the tracking. During tracking Pro Tools was principally just used as a tape machine. We wanted to keep the sound as organic as possible by making decisions with EQ during the tracking process and using the desks sound as much as possible.
At the mix we used the best overall take as oppose to comping. I am, in general, not a fan of comping or having a session full of edits. I like the band to sound ‘true’ to where they are at in terms of technical ability and musicianship at the time of recording. For me Jazz is all about capturing the moment to tape and not worrying about mistakes, if the feel is there then the take is good. With something so organic and spontaneous it is silly to comp as the mood and emotion would be lost.
All in the same room? Baffles? Glass? Separation? Spill Vs Ambience
The session was all live with all three musicians in the same room. The main focus when designing the layout of the line room was making sure there was a very clear ‘line of sight’ between all of the members. Because part of the track was improvised, good band communication and headphone mixes were essential. Baffles were used to contain some of the drum spill onto other mics, and again with the bass amp, in order to keep the line of sight we put the baffles on their side. We wanted to retain as much control over each individual mic as possible just in case there was a problem during the best take when we looked over what we had. We managed to retain a lot of the ambiance by capturing the instruments as well as we could individually and allowing the room sound of each instrument gel in the mix.
So, how does this differ from working with people who are restricted by time and budget?
The lack of time constraints meant we were really able to play around with ideas, both in the tracking and mix stage. It mean that the tracks had room to ‘grow’ in the studio especially for the improvised solo sections. Again in the mix stage (as explained later) we had time to give the project space to breathe and allow the ideas to come naturally, instead of forcing a sound there and then.
Why do it ‘in house’..?
…already 3 of the five people involved in the project lived together, myself, Josh and Dave and this meant that after the tracking we were able to come home and spend a good 3 or 4 days working together of the mixes and masters with absolutely no pressure. Usually when mixing with people I find myself working quite independently and then receiving feedback, going back to the mixes, receiving feedback etc…until finally the mix is finished. This however became much more organic, one of us would have an idea and then we would load up Pro Tools and test it out, no decision became forced or over thought.
Perhaps this feeling is felt from bands working with producers who have 8 or 9 months to work on an album, but in my experience a lot of mixing decisions become wary of time constraints and are often rushed or are definitely not given enough time to grow. As the mix began to get closer to the end we realised that we should start to do something with this and at least make it available for people to buy, and send off for reviews.
For you is it important to see the record through to fruition. Does the producer’s story become part of the story of the record?
I don’t tend to take on projects unless the musicians I am working for already have an idea with what they would like to do with the finished project. I find it difficult to just churn out music for the sake of it. The project needs to have an anchor to which it’s focused on, this means that both myself and the musicians have a clear aim of what we are trying to achieve. For example a CD designed to get gigs is much more focused on capturing the ‘live’ energy of the band, and a CD for sale has to adhere to certain ‘commercial’ rules.
Well I suppose the differences are time,money and realism. Major drum edits and triggered kit samples isn’t how a band sounds live so why try get gigs with something that, badly done, makes them end up sounding like a computer. To be fair though this is relevant more to ‘rock’ music, but if a band wants a gigging CD they will go for more songs less days… My point being that in my experience bands approach things differently depending on the recording’s purpose.
Then the next thing on the agenda is the artwork. This task fell to another of my housemates Lucy Thornton who is a Film and TV composer but was messing around with charcoals at the time, Dave decided to sit with her and come up with some ideas and the CD and inlay designs were drawn up. From this Lucy created final images for the design and these were imported into photoshop and edited by Josh who has had quite a lot of photography experience and works professionally throughout the year. The inlay was typed up and off it went to print. I have since set up a bandcamp for the band as well here, I encouraged the band to ask people to ‘Pay What You Want Model’ in the hope that the music will reach a wider audience, and also start to bring in some money to fund the production of a second mini album (which we are hoping to start in the summer).
I am aware that when reading this it might just sound like any other project, and yes it is very similar to a lot of recordings that go on, however I am utterly convinced that the product we ended up with was much more organic because of living together. We all know how each other thinks and works and I think this came across in the final CD. I feel this has been one of the benefits of being a music student, there was no pressure to make money, or to rush, because we weren’t working for anything. We all had student loans, plenty of free time and loads of ideas and that all contributed to what we produced. I feel that this seems to be something really missing in a lot of recordings I have heard recently, bands are spending £700 to go into a studio for 3 days to come out with something that, whilst being clear and well mixed, lacks feel and connection between the producer, engineer and artist. I feel this kind of relationship built with bands is something I really want to be able to keep up as I finish University. I have been thinking of how this could be possible and I think Hope and Social have the right idea with their producer also being a member of the band. For me a producer’s role is much more as an added member of a band, whilst this doesn’t mean that I won’t be working actively as a freelance producer with bands that I don’t really know, I hope to forge some strong relationships with one or two bands in the hope that the music created follows a similar process to the one above.
Cheers for your insights TB. I’m off to look it all up on bandcamp.