Rocking Vintage Gear and Getting Sexy on 2” Tape: In The Studio With Eksi Ekso

BASIC INFO:
Interview subjct: Tom Korkidis from Eksi Ekso
Album: Archfiend
Recorded at Baucom Road (Unionville, NC), Florida Keys (NYC)
Record label: The Mylene Sheath
Release date: Spring 2012
Recorded, Engineered, Mixed and Produced by Scott Solter
Mastered by Dave McNair at Sterling Sound, NYC

CRUCIAL GEAR:
microKORG
Toy Pianos
Tack Pianos
Reverb, Delay and Octave Pedals
Fender Rhodes
Hammond Organ
Baritone Guitars
Vintage Rickenbacker Bass

PRE-PRODUCTION

Your last album took a lot out of you. This one seems less textured and a bit dancier. Can you explain your artistic approach going into the new record?

Upon finishing our last record, Brown Shark, Red Lion, we had a very solid set of parameters that we wanted to implement for our next recording. BSRL was a collection of songs that took the three of us about two years to write and record. It was an extremely taxing process.

With this record – we knew that we wanted to impart the following rules: focus on a more song oriented approach, bring some “sexiness” and dance tendencies into the mix, no guest musicians, no strings, keep the tempos “up,” keep the arrangements concise, bass by committee (lots of synth bass, baritone sax, baritone guitar as opposed to bass guitar), and utilize more space.

Did the new direction for the album affect your songwriting process?

Our writing approach is typically collaborative in nature; we always start out by improvising and looping ideas. Sean [Will] has a Nord (and a KORG) keyboard, as well as a few KAOS pads and mics (to record trumpet/brass) running into a mixer and then out to a RC-50 loop station. I use a similar set up with two samplers (SP 404 and 303; one for keys, one with a mic for vocal loops and bari sax ideas) connected to a microKORG and an old Omnichord, then out through a Line 6 DL4.

My guitar set up goes through some typical pedals (reverb, delay, octave) and then through an RC-50 looper. Our tendency is to set up an Edirol stereo recorder in our space and capture everything we do. We then catalogue what parts worked and hone in on piecing ideas together. Since we all have home Pro Tools rigs, it allows us to workshop ideas at home separately, and then start writing arrangements. The other thing we did to expedite the writing process was to bring in almost fully realized song ideas. Since our tendency in the past was to over-arrange, we did the exact opposite as songs started to take shape; we would cut ideas out, keep things concise, and purposely didn’t finish arranging songs so that we could experiment a bit in the studio, and leave a lot of sonic space for vocals.

And you decided to head down South to record with Scott Solter, right? What was his studio setup like?

Scott Solter (John Vanderslice, Spoon, Mountain Goats), who the three of us are big fans of, mixed our last record. While mixing, we realized how much Scott was on the same page as us, and we knew we wanted him to produce our next record. He’s the ultimate craftsmen and sound designer, not unlike Tchad Blake or Jon Brion.

Scott’s studio is in rural North Carolina and is set up in a very “home-y” fashion. The main tracking room has a combination of high vaulted ceilings and some low overhangs. His arsenal of instruments is extremely impressive – timpani, steel drums, tack piano, toy pianos, a number of vintage organs and synths, a wall lined with percussion. Since leaving Tiny Telephone in San Francisco, Scott’s done a bunch of work in that space, and he obviously knows the personalities of his rooms very well.

PRODUCTION

What kind of sound were you looking for and how did you achieve it?

I don’t know that we had a collective idea of what sounds we wanted for the entire record, per se, but we certainly all would reference other recordings or techniques we liked based on the particular song we were working on. The terms “economy” and “dance” kept coming up, which didn’t necessarily dictate specific sounds. Instead, we got at the core of the songs.

The majority of our parts and the instrumentation were in place before we got to tracking, but we developed and refined those sounds in the studio, communicating to Scott a certain path we had in mind for the sound but allowing him the space to use a bevy of outboard gear and even old guitar pedals to tweak and slide parts into place.

Did you use any special gear or recording techniques on this one?

We tracked the second full session’s live takes (for drums) to 2″ tape, and then would record those takes into Pro Tools HD. Every song had a different approach, especially as it pertained to the drums – different instruments within the kit, different mics, and different mic placements. Sometimes we’d use a smaller room to house the drums. This technique resulted in each song developing its own character.

All of our sounds, especially keyboard sounds, were done using real instruments: grand piano, upright tack piano, Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer 200A, Roland String RS-101, Casio SK1, Hammond M1, KORG, and microKORG.

For guitars, we blended a 1963 Guild T50 with a gritty 1950s reissue Fender Tele through an old 1960s Ampeg guitar amp and a Fender Twin Reverb. A few songs utilize other strings to beef up the color like baritone guitar, banjo, and acoustic guitar.

Bass sounds were usually recorded with either one of the organs, the KORG or the microKORG (using Scott’s wall of outboard gear to manipulate accordingly). There are a few tunes that use real bass guitar, a 1976 Rickenbacker 4001, to reinforce the bottom end.

What did you try to accomplish in the studio that you’re not able to do live?

As much as we try to stay true to a sonic idea, it’s sometimes impossible to recreate sounds or parts live, unless you bring in laptops and samplers – which we do integrate to an extent. Our idea was that we’d use live loops to build these songs up on stage, not unlike how tUnE-yArDs or Andrew Bird never play the same arrangement twice.

POST PRODUCTION

How will you handle final mixing and mastering?

Scott will handle final mixing. Since a lot of the sounds were printed as we were tracking, the mixing process will most likely be more about balancing and creating the stereo field. We usually get one track sent to us a day, and we make comments, Scott sends us a revision, and then we move onto the next tune. Dave McNair [Sterling Sound] will master the record. Dave’s a great guy with great ears, knows Scott’s work, and will put the final touches on it. Dave mastered our last record, and hearing your record at Sterling Sound is an unforgettable experience; it’s a beautiful facility.

I heard you’re keeping the packaging more low key this time around.

We probably won’t go crazy with the packaging – our last record had a 24-page book accompanying it – but we will do some different vinyl packages and may not print any CDs.

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