After reviewing the Donora record for Burghsounds.com, Jake Hanner and I exchanged some e-mails about the production of the album. Look below for some insight!
Can you talk about any goals or rules for the production for this album?
The first 2 songs we recorded for the album were "if you see my boyfriend" and "story". Around the same time we were writing "happily ever after". We thought it would be a fun idea to play off those songs and create kind of a story book/ fairy tale vibe for the album. I had found this great record at jerry's a while back that had all these harp runs, all in different keys. I started sampling them with my casio sk-5 (a low-fi 8 bit sampler) and working them in whenever i could. I tried to have them make an appearance in all the songs, but i may have missed one or two.
As far as rules for production... I try not to get tied to any one rule or idea. I know that limitation forces creativity, but at the same time i don't want to let a pre-conceived idea get in the way and keep creative moments from happening.
In the album review, I mistakenly refer to synths being used throughout the album. Can you list some of the techniques that you used to create some of the non-guitar sounds? Maybe those in "And Then The Girls"?
Ya, we didn't use any synths on the record. Not that I have anything against them, I just never got into them. I've always been into manipulating organic instruments and trying to create my own "unique" sound. A lot of the time it ends up sounding like a synth patch, but it always feels more precious to me because of the fun i had making that sound. I use the sk-5 a lot for that and it doesn't have long term memory, so I never save any of the sounds I make. At first that frustrated me, but then I realized that's kind of the greatest thing about it is that it has limitations. It's just like a toy that you can only do so much with so it forces you to be creative, but the simple sampling functions allow you to work fast. So fast in fact that a lot of the time when I go back and listen to the tracks I can't remember what that sound started as. I think John Cale said something like "working fast and cheap is the best way to get somewhere no one else has been". I may be mistaken but if it wasn't him it sounds like something he would say. Ha
The vocal layers on the album are pretty impressive. When layering the vocals did you use multiple microphones or different singer to microphone distances?
All the mono vocals were recorded with an akg c-414 with a c12 capsule. That's a great ldc mic. It's like a non tube version of the c12 mic. In the 70's or 80's, they started replacing the capsules with cheaper versions but never changed the model number on the mic, so if you find on old one you have to open it up to see what capsule you have.
When we wanted to get a "chanty" sounding vocal Casey would stand about 2 feet from the mic with it pointed down at her, and I would actually stand a couple feet over her shoulder and we would sing in unison. I would just move in or out until it sounded right. For the songs where we'd want to get a more intimate sounding vocal, we would record that in a smaller room and play around with the distance. Most of the ambiance on the vocals was a combination of mic distance and an old mxr analog delay pedal. That delay works really well on Casey's voice. For "and then the girls" and "untouchables" though, we recorded casey's vocal in the kitchen and used an spl transient designer to get all the room sound we could while still getting some presence and proximity out of her voice.
When we recorded larger group singing or wanted to get a stereo vocal sound we would use a U87 with the 414 in a large room with a vaulted ceiling.
The album definitely sounds like a whole, but some of the drums and vocals vary in sound from song to song. Were basic tracks recorded at the same time or was the album conceived over a longer period, coinciding with the writing?
In general, I just try to do what is best for the song. I'm not all that concerned about subtle differences because in the end it's all going to sound cohesive because it's all coming from us. And the three of us making music together is what donora's sound is no matter how much I may try to push it in a particular direction.
There are actually 2 drastically different recording approaches on this album. The main approach came from the fact that a good number of the tracks on this album started as demos. When we started to record the songs "for real" we just kept going back to the demos and finding them more interesting, so we'd just finish the demo. After figuring that out, we wrote and recorded a couple more with that same "demo" approach.
The second approach and what was actually the beginning of recording for this album was that we made a decision for 3 songs (story, champion, if you see my boyfriend) to hire our dad as our multi instrumentalist and to go into the larger tracking space with the basics of the song and just started working on arrangement ideas. We'd practice the song until everyone had their part figured out and we thought we had a good arrangement and then we tracked it live. We kept the live vocal takes and embraced the bleed. Two of the three turned out completely different than I would have ever imagined.
I didn't see any reference to other album formats. Is the album mp3 only? Did you have any concerns with mp3 sound quality? (Editor's note: here is where I show my ignorance for what iTunes offers in download formats)
Do you mean that you can't purchase the album on itunes in wav file format? That would actually be news to me? and I would have concerns with that. or do you mean that you only saw it available on itunes? We have cds that we sell at shows, but only a digital distributor. I don't know if very much of our fan base would listen to vinyl, but if it was ever in demand, I would like to print some vinyl. If only for the hope that a single copy would end up sitting in Jerry's Records 20 years from now. Ha. I listen to a lot of vinyl, but only because I enjoy having to turn the record over. It forces me to pay attention and think about what i'm going to listen to next. Instead of just having an endless loop of songs playing in the background. That and I like making trips to Jerry's and Mineos and getting into all the music I missed the first time around.
Find out more about Donora at http://www.donoramusic.com/