My latest album, Embraced, was released digitally April 23rd and on 180 gram gatefold vinyl mid-May. This is the first time I’ve worked with a band and the result is pleasantly extreme. Embraced will be independently released through Bandcamp.
Embraced – The Absolute Process
Because of my hostile nature towards interviews, I decided that a way to avoid them would be to talk about the important aspects of the album: the process. In all, Embraced took about a year and a half of studios, other humans, and countless hours staring at the screen. If you have questions and/or comments, leave them below. Thanks for your continued support.
The writing portion of Embraced was the most time consuming. It took the longest because it was written in a four-part choral style: bass, tenor, alto, soprano – also not having a deadline didn’t help speed this process up. Having the necessary instruments to write for a large range of voices was helpful and an 8 string guitar played a key role. In all, it took about 7 months of noncommittal writing, experimentation, and arranging to be satisfied with a skeleton ready to be recorded.
In this writing period I was fortunate enough to have a friend lend synths including the Fenix II/III, a massive Serge system, and a Buchla 200e. These illusive synths were used in addition to the ever expanding Eurorack system I possess. The sessions with these systems helped shape the way the album was arranged by basing the structure around certain patches. A rundown of the Eurorack manufacturers that I used extensively: 4ms, Cwejman, Doepfer, Harvestman, Intellijel, Make Noise, Malekko, Schippman, Tip Top Audio, WMD.
After deciding I was ready to record, I transcribed all the audio into MIDI as reference for the musicians. There are a couple reasons I did this: the first being versatility, I wanted us to be able to ajdust the tempo while keeping all the harmonic content aligned. The second reason I transcribed audio to MIDI was that my scratch guitars were horrible. I often played without tuning or a metronome – if I had an idea, I recorded a scratch and left it at that. This scratch track method created a problem when showing the work to other musicians, so transcribing it seemed like the most logical, albeit time consuming, task in order to work with different musicians. In case you were wondering, I used the harp patch in Logic’s Sculpture as a stand-in sound. As annoying as it was, everyone grew fond of it and eventually missed it as it was being replaced by real instruments.
After a couple months of Charlie sending in recordings of his drumming to the tracks, I decided it was time to hit the studio. Greg ran the studio while I was concentrated on trying to translate the music to Charlie. Recording the drums into ProTools took about 3 days.
“I didn’t do shit except make sure you could hear what Charlie was playing. Surachai made the lines fuzzier by steering me away from the over-the-top definition of modern metal, so I didn’t get too crazy about clarity. But at the end of the day, the guy is playing some cool shit and I wanted to be able to hear it. Gear-wise, I mic’d closer than I typically would, including some spot mics on cymbals that weren’t cutting through the overheads clearly enough. I used mostly API pres on the drums, for their definition and punch, and I added a bit more top than I typically would, again mostly with API eqs. I also fed a wildcard spare room mic to Surachai’s modular so he could improvise aka wank-off on it, while Charlie was tracking. Sometimes I like to run that through different pedals but Surachai had plenty of bullshit of his own to add, so I stayed away. It was a fun project. I just listened to Surachai’s final mixes and they sufficiently beat me into submission. Which I think was the goal.” – Greg Panciera
With the notation written out for the four different voices, guitar tracking was basically playing a game of Guitar Hero. Listen to the metronome or drumming and play the notes on the screen while adding your own flare if you were so inclined. Shane recorded the Alto and Soprano voiced guitars over several late nights, and Drew recorded the Tenor voiced guitars on one of the tracks in a night. Aside from the sheer talent Shane and Drew possess, their input and unique style on the parts where invaluable and brought the stagnant MIDI notes to life. Tom Kelly’s standup bass sections were recorded in a night and added a depth I didn’t know the album needed. My guitars were recorded over a few nights after everyone was finished. The main bass track was recorded using a Tip Top Audio Z3000 MKII going through a couple of Malekko Fuzz pedals as well as a Sonny & Sanford Blue Beard Fuzz.
While staying in a lake house in Georgia and with a few minutes to spare before new years, Richard and I recorded burning embers underwater with his hydrophones. He pieced together the files for his own use and I just plopped it at the end of Ancestral alongside what I already had. Alessandro let me use a file that was recorded when he was giving a tutorial of the Buchla Easel to Richard and I when we all were in my studio in Chicago.
When working on an album that has sonic consistency throughout all the songs (like a traditional rock setup), I work in one giant Logic session. The advantage to this method is that it forces me to treat the arrangements of audio as a cohesive album rather a bunch of collected songs. Global changes like adding dynamic processors are easy to implement as well as auditioning patches throughout the entire album. Most of the mixing was performed on JH Audio’s JH16 in ear monitors and there is a reason for this: between work and my different workspaces I have 5 audio workstations. What most of these stations lack is consistent monitoring between them. Of course hearing mixes on different monitors in different rooms is helpful but with the JH16’s – it remained consistent. Adams A7X’s were very useful for an overall ‘pleasure’ mix while the Avantone’s were showed you how horrible your mix actually is. Some of the most used plug-ins that were essential to the mix were Universal Audio, Sound Toys, Valhalla. INA GRM, Native Instruments, U-he, and factory Logic plugs.
The only person I’ve used with mastering for vinyl is Shawn Hatfield of Audible Oddities. He’s accommodated all of my personal and label related releases. Shawn’s work has consistently been incredible, helpful, and in this particular case he elevated the mix to a level I couldn’t be happier with.
“For this particular project, I combined several pieces of analog processors that when combined, give a gentle lift in the highs, and add some additional low-end harmonics. Despite each piece of gear having its own unique sound, when combined together, gear interacts with each other in unique ways that can create new flavors. So the first order of business was choosing the right processors for the project, with the help of a Dangerous Liaison. For EQ, we went with the smoothness of the Dangerous BAX EQ to help pull some air out of the music without adding harshness to the cymbals and guitars, and we used a Buzz REQ 2.2 to get a little surgical with the guitars to help balance them as a whole with the mix. The REQ 2.2 is pretty incredible in its ability to tuck components of a mix neatly into place. We employed two gentle stages of compression, starting with a Foote Control Systems P3S ME VCA compressor which fed into a Manley Vari-Mu. I really liked the combo of VCA and tube compression for these songs, but it was used very sparingly as to not alter too much of the natural dynamics. Everything was captured with a HEDD192, utilizing its pentode section for a slight increase in overall harmonics and then sent directly to the final brick-wall limiter.” – Shawn Hatfield
Ideally the vinyl process would be a one-stop shop where you would send in your master tape/digital files/what-have-you to be lacquered, plated, and then duplicated. From my experience, the one-stop shop method is not the way to go. For the past few releases I extended the signal path by including Roger Seibel of SAE mastering. Making lacquers and metal parts are specialized skills and while some places want to perform it all in house, or outsource it – I prefer to use people I trust and know have skills backed by years of experience. Also, pressing plants generally subtract lacquering costs if you decide to outsource it. So, Roger Seibel handled the lacquering and sent it to Mastercraft to be metal plated, they in turn send it to GottaGroov to be printed.
Caspar Newbolt of Version Industries was in charge of the visuals of Embraced. Ever since I saw his work with Big Black Delta, I was instantly captivated. I asked him early on, before I recorded anything and always thought he would lose interest but as the months went by, we kept in touch and he continued to ask about the progress. When artwork finally comes in, you can instantly tell if the visual artist understands what you’re doing – Caspar does. He understands that his artwork will forever represent every ounce of energy you put into the project and places a visual stamp on it. He has achieved a level of understanding on the content where I won’t include lyrics on the album.
When releasing anything, whether it being a pile of shit or diamonds, you must let the world know it exists or the worst thing will happen: it will be ignored. Kim Kelly is someone I admire for many reasons but mainly I choose her as PR because of our differences. Many of our opinions and interests align but our personalities don’t. Kim is social, easily approachable, friendly, smart, and open – I am not. She proofreads my answers to interviews and I receive brutally honest feedback, “You are SUCH a dick. I really, really love it! I would get so mad to get those kinds of answers back”. She’s one of the best people to have on your side, and you are lucky if she likes your music.
Embraced is independently funded and released. It would be nice having a label front the studio, mastering, vinyl production, and PR costs but depending on the terms, it could end up biting you in the ass. I’d rather go into debt than ask for money on Kickstarter. I’ve always put myself in a position to be as involved as possible, admiring but not always following the DIY or DIE philosophy. Regardless if I trust or employ people, if my product “fails”, it is still on me. Blaming someone else is not something I’m interested in – I’ll take full responsibility of my failures and successes.
Drums – Charlie Werber (Guzzlemug, Murmur, Lovely Little Girls)
Guitars – Shane Prendiville (Guzzlemug, Murmur)
Guitars – Andrew Markuszewski (Nachtmystium, Avichi, Lord Mantis)
Acoustic Bass – Tom Kelly (Guzzlemug)
Sound Design – Richard Devine (Warp, Schematic)
Buchla Easel – Alessandro Cortini (Sonoio, NIN, How to Destroy Angels)
Guitars, Bass, Vocals, Synths, DSP – Surachai