I’m heading up to Minneapolis next week to see Walt Mink play at the Varsity Theater. It will be the third time I’ve seen them live. They were great the first two times, so I’m sure this show will be no exception. My first exposure to the band was a demo cassette that was sent to Smart Studios early in 1992, and if I recall correctly, the cassette didn’t present the most compelling picture of their music, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect when they came in a few weeks later. I don’t recall having any conversations with them prior to recording, although maybe John and I spoke on the phone briefly. There definitely wasn’t any pre production. Walt Mink just showed up, and we proceeded to record Miss Happiness. It’s still one of my favorites among the records I’ve worked on.
I had a pretty good feeling the moment the band showed up - task number one for them was to create a living room vibe. If you take a look at the album cover, which was shot in the studio while I was mixing, you can get a sense of what it looked like:
Most of what you see was the band’s. They brought in a ton of gear, carpets, tapestries, lamps, beads and even a couch, if I’m not mistaken. Joey had so many cymbals - at least twenty, and probably more like forty. He also brought a big case of percussion instruments, and this odd thing that he swung over his head that sounded like a swarm of bees - that ended up in the intro to Pink Moon.
We used a few different guitar amps - a Fender Bassman I modded, a late 60’s Marshall, a 1972 Marshall 4 x 12 (All of which I still have), and a few other things. John may have brought an Orange head. I had recently read an article about recording Billy Gibbons that described a setup where a single speaker was used. This allows you to pull the mic back and get a bit more natural sound while avoiding the phasey sound you often get when micing a 4x12 from, say, a foot away. So we got a bunch of packing blankets and scraps of Sonex and covered three of the four speakers. One benefit of this was that the amp - which was pretty much cranked at all times - wasn’t too hellishly loud. The other was that we could play around with mic placement as in the Billy Gibbons article and get good sounds with the mic a foot or more from the amp. I think we used 57s and 421s, and I know we used a Sennheiser 441. We doubled all the rhythm guitars, but we always changed the sound so that the left and right are a bit different. Sometimes it would be a 57 on one side, a 441 on the other, sometimes we’d change the amp a little. The idea was to open up a little more space by not creating a tonal “stripe” in the middle of the mix. It worked pretty well, although sometimes it was a pain in the ass to get right. To get the doubles tight, you generally have to go back and forth between the left and right tracks, and you have to keep switching between the two sounds, which can get complicated. You think your finished, then on playback you notice a little glitch somewhere, and you go to fix it, but its on the 57 track with lower gain, and now you’re set up for the 421 with higher gain…. It’s easier to just use the same sound on both sides. It doesn’t sound as good, though. Have a listen to Quiet time and see if you agree (and make sure to catch the killer turnaround at 2:07!).
More to come…