Hey Flans, I was wondering if you could divulge (and recollect) how you recorded Don’t Let’s Start. Specifically: microphones/guitars used, drum machine models, and synthesizer types. I'm in my last year at the University of Colorado for a Recording Arts degree. An assignment I have is to record a copy-cat song (making a cover, and getting it as close as possible to the original). We chose DLS to work on, cause ya know, you're my favorite band ever. Thanks. - Austin
JF: These memories are fading so I’ll try to get it all in here!
For the final sessions for the first album we made the very happy move to Al Houghton’s Dubway Studio. At the time Al, who was such a positive force for us, was working out of the notorious Music Building on 8th Ave. a few blocks off of Times Square. The building was, and remains, 12 stories of rooms where there was no noise limit (!?!) Taking that elevator ride sounded like spinning the weirdest, loudest radio dial imaginable. At the time it seemed like the entire New York music scene either rehearsed, recorded or was living (illegally) there.
Don’t Let’s Start was part of these later recordings. It was recorded to an 8 track reel to reel machine (7 live tracks and a sync track for the drum machine which played “virtually” through the mixing console) and mixed through a small Ramsa board. Al, Bill Krauss, JL and me all took part in various fader and machine moves during mixing. Doing an analog mix back then was an “all hands on deck” deal—a very fraternal and often giddy activity. It usually seemed to start off tense, got fun, then both, as they always took a little longer than we planned.
The guitar was a Fernandez telecaster copy (not so bad, not so great) with the distortion coming from a pedal called the Chandler Tube Driver (the pedal is a bit of a unicorn—it had an actual analog tube inside) and the Boss Heavy Metal pedal. I used my trusty silverface Fender Deluxe (the only amp I used live or for recording thru Apollo 18). The chorusing and reverb sounds on the guitar track were put on during the mix.
Like a lot of the album, the drum machine was either our new, very up-to-date sounding Yamaha DX11 or a borrowed DX15. (check out this youtube demo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udwhk_pWybs You can hear a lot of Hope That I Get Old in these sounds) The two machines were nearly-identical but the RX15 had independent outputs for each drum sound which helped a lot. I think the bass sound was from one of Al’s keyboards (maybe a Roland Juno?) simply because it sounds a bit warmer than other basses on the album, but I’m not positive. It’s possible, although again I am not positive, the keyboard was the Casio CZ-101, which was an early band purchase. That Casio is all over the rest of the album—the glissy sounds in Chess Piece Face, the mallet instrument and whistling on Hideaway Folk Family.
Everything about studios then was intense. We were staring at the clock a lot, but we still had a ton of fun. But even with a lot of preparation, technically recording for us was not without struggle. These days lots of folks talk very nostalgically about working analog but, at the level we were working at, analog created a set of issues that I am happy are long gone. Keeping hiss to just a manageable minimum was stupefyingly hard. It was also far more difficult for folks like us (with little studio time working on mostly semi-pro gear) to make recordings that were sonically open. I would be the first to admit we seemed mighty shy about low end on the first couple of albums, but the bigger and more immediate challenge in front of us was getting or retaining any semblance of clarity through the process. Every piece of the signal chain was like another pillow on top of the sound: tracking to a soft sounding tape recorder through mushy noise reduction, mixing through a very noisy Ramsa board and then mastering to another soft sounding 2 track open reel machine. (There was a period a bit later where I owned a Tascam 2 track machine and then traded it up for a far more professional Otari machine. The sonic improvement reminded me of getting my first pair of glasses. It made me a little sad we had done so much work on these barely passable machines)
That said, just listening to that charming youtube clip of the Yamaha drum machine’s truly funky sounds makes me want to break it out of the attic and do something with it again!
PS: After I posted I see you asked about mics—-seems like the go-to mics were the Shure 57 (which we still use at virtually every session) and the AKG 414 (which we never use now). Keyboards and drum machines always went direct. I recall the Sennheiser MD421 (the star trekky looking one) but that might have only been used on horns.
As far as getting the Yamaha RX sounds—it might be available through UVI or on the MOTU BPM plug-in. GOOD LUCK!