All Access: Arctic Monkeys

Nov 1, 2007 12:00 PM, Photos and text by Steve Jennings

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From the same label that brought you Franz Ferdinand and other Britpop/alternative rock groups comes Arctic Monkeys, a foursome of highly talented musicians who blasted to the top of the UK and U.S. charts with their highly acclaimed debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not. Following this initial success, the band released Favourite Worst Nightmare, and their current tour supporting Nightmare is selling out every house. Mix caught up with the lively band — and their equally boisterous engineers — in San Francisco's Warfield Theater.

Front-of-house engineer John Ashton had been using a Digidesign VENUE, but is now manning a D-Show Profile because, according to the engineer, it's cheaper to hire. “For plug-ins, I thought I was keeping it pretty simple, but looking at it now I've gone a bit mad, though at least it's still all in the desk,” Ashton adds. “Effects-wise, I use the D-Verb on drums, ReVibe on the vocals, a simple slap delay and the Line 6 Echo and Amp Farms for special effects on Alex [Turner, vocals/guitar].” In addition, Ashton uses gates and comps for most inputs, as well as the Smack! compressor on bass and Turner. Other effects include the Bomb Factory BF-3A leveling amp modeler over the guitar groups and Focusrite D3 over kick and snare groups, as well as a moogerfooger phaser over the dirty bass mic input to re-create a bit of the album's filter-y noises. For EQ, Ashton relies on onboard offerings with the Focusrite D2 over the mic.

“I've very recently gotten hold of the Crane Song Phoenix plug-in, but it's still in its early days, and I'm using such wildly different rigs in such wildly different rooms each day it's difficult to hear whether I'm actually getting anything out of it.”

Vocal mics include Sennheiser e 945s (Turner and drummer/vocalist Matt Helders) and e 935s (Nick O'Malley, bass/vocals; and Jamie Cook, guitar/vocals). “I'd like to thank the band for ignoring our advice and perpetually driving the onstage sound up and up and brighter and brighter, thus making our job so much easier,” Ashton says with a laugh. “And PRG, our P.A./lighting company, for employing sarcastic lighting guys called Jason, and the marvelous Mr. Mike Hawkins, who makes it look like I know what I'm doing.”

Monitor engineer Will Doyle is using his first digital board: a Yamaha PM5D, calling the desk very straightforward and easy to use. “I might try the Soundcraft Vi6 soon, though,” he adds, “just to keep my brain ticking and learning. I'm using internal gates and comps, but quite sparingly: Matt (drums) is on in-ears [Ultimate Ears UE7s with a Shure PSM 600 wired pack], so I try not to gate anything that he'll hear. [Helders also uses a Buttkicker Pro.] As for plug-ins, I think that any subtle effect they may have on a sound would probably disappear as soon as the guitars started.

“The in-ears are not that new anymore, but they've been the biggest change of recent times,” Doyle continues. “Beforehand, I used two wedges and a sub for Matt, which sounded great, but he was worried about his hearing so he wore earplugs. Then we got the UE7s, and admittedly they're the first pair of custom molds either Matt or I have owned, but they sound amazing — very full and clear, and they're attenuated enough that you can still hear everything at low volume. I'm very pleased with them; now, I just have to convince the other three.”

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