Thick Voltage: Breaking Free of Basement Recording’s Production Limitations

It is a common occurrence to hear of a rock band making the big move from a small city to Brooklyn. Such a story is often followed by tales of interested managers, investments, and a hope for fame and glory. In the case of the former Western Massachusetts band, Thick Voltage, the pilgrimage to Brooklyn has embodied a different sentiment. The goal for this band has always been more about having a good time and rocking hard with friends than climbing the social ladder of the music business.

“We just want our audience to be a network of friends and we are the band in the background to that,” they say.

Instead of focusing on the music or the peacocked stance of a musician on stage as the focal point of a rock show, Thick Voltage looks at their shows as an opportunity to create a party atmosphere of inclusion first, and the music they create is simply a conduit to aid in the party. For a band playing and living in Brooklyn with intense competition, this is a unique and bold stance. Thick Voltage has chosen the atmosphere of their shows to hold an equal value to the music that they are creating.

And the music that these former college buddies make is reflective of this sentiment. Although lo-fi and punk inspired, the electronic elements hint at an all-inclusive and danceable vibe that is a perfect soundtrack to a PBR-soaked Brooklyn loft party.

“If David Bowie married a punk chick and has a kid, our music would be that kid…who is also really into techno,” they joke.

On basement recording: “The sound developed in a way it wouldn’t have been able to develop in the studio, because we would have been distracted by the ticking clock. Every minute counts in those places, and if you don’t have label backing, recording in studios is cost prohibitive.”

To the first time listener, Thick Voltage has the raw rhythmic intensity of Queens Of The Stone Age with the electronic grooves of LCD Soundsystem. This combination of styles makes sense within the context of the band’s tendency towards DIY shows, parties and audience oriented music. The brutal, distorted rhythmic rock ideas and the lo-fi, shimmering synths both relate quickly to an audience of young and eager party kids.

When asked how the DIY scene differs from Western Massachusetts to New York City, Thick Voltage is wide eyed and exploratory within a network of bands and promoters that are far more varied and involved than in Western Massachusetts.

“Out there, people didn’t really respond well to what we were doing. They thought it was too glitchy, blippy and weird. People are into weirder shit here. They are more open. I don’t know if it’s the air or whatever. I am sure that there were little pockets of scenes that would have accepted us, but we weren’t involved in that.”

Although alienated by their more rural routes, it was also evident that Thick Voltage made a strong comparison between Brooklyn and Northampton, Massachusetts. The two areas share social and political interests as well as personnel within the music community. It is common to hear of musicians living in both areas and playing with Brooklyn and Northampton bands. In Northampton, there is a sense of hippy idealism that rubbed the members of Thick Voltage in a way that gave them a sense that it was time to get out and experience something new. The hippy mentality, although on the surface accepting, was ostracizing and limiting to a psyche-punk band playing house shows. Brooklyn’s attitude of adventure and variety fit more closely to Thick Voltage.

This spring marks the first release by Thick Voltage. The self-titled, four song EP is a strong artistic statement for a young band. The synths are raw and cutting, vocals wildly distorted and drums pumped up as if blasting from a dingy basement show. The record was literally made in a small basement in Queens, where the band also rehearses.

For the intent of the record, to document a moment for a young band and the excitement of a given scene, the aesthetic direction could not be more on point. There is a lo-fi quality to the songs that plays well with the lush aspect of some of the synths. The boxy, low-ceiling basement, considered by many a less than ideal place to record drums, worked perfectly. Instead of using cheap Chinese condenser microphones to capture vocals, the band chose typical stage dynamic microphones, which further encapsulated the sound of a show rather than an attempt at a slick recording. The lack of “the right” gear forced the band to focus more on microphone positioning, room treatment and experimentation to achieve an appropriate sound.

“The sound developed in a way it wouldn’t have been able to develop in the studio, because we would have been distracted by the ticking clock. Every minute counts in those places, and if you don’t have label backing, recording in studios is cost prohibitive.”

Reason Record, a relatively new Digital Audio Workstation, was used to capture the ideas of the band. The ability to multitrack audio within Reason, formerly a software synth and sequencing application, is a recent development for the program. For a band like Thick Voltage, the software synthesis aspect of Reason Record was just as useful as the audio recording functions.

“All affectation was applied in the software. We used a lot of delays and reverb effects to fill out the sound and add depth and dynamics,” they explain. Along with delays and reverbs in Reason Record, a Line Six delay modeler, Rat distortion, and a variety of real amps were used on the synths to give an air of reality to canned keyboard sounds.

The future for Thick Voltage is not focused on glamorous goals, but rather another great event with a sympathetic audience who wants to party as hard as the band. Their live material is growing far faster than they have the time to record. With such a focus on live performance and having a good time in the moment, one can only hope to catch Thick Voltage this summer rocking a party.

You can check out the debut Thick Voltage EP at www.thickvoltage.bandcamp.com.

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Shane O’Connor (www.shanemix.com) is a mix engineer and producer from Brooklyn NY. He has worked with artists such as Madi Diaz, Lovedrug, Tab The Band, and Fast Years.

photos by Gabrielle Purchon

 

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