Autumn Owls Take Flight

Oct 1, 2012 9:00 AM, Mix, By Lori Kennedy


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Can you explain the step-by-step process of creating “Great Atlantic Drift,” from writing to recording to mixing?

McFarlane: I wrote “Great Atlantic Drift” on a crappy classical guitar in Tangier, Morocco. We first performed the song at an acoustic show in Galway about two months later. We added the barre chord bass line for that version, which went on to become an integral part of the final arrangement. It was one of the first songs we demoed for the album and became a project in deconstruction. The more we worked on the song the more of the original rhythm guitar came out. This gave us the space to experiment with sonic details and add ambient layers such as bowed glockenspiels and electronic drum samples.

Brian Deck

Brian Deck

Deck: The band had gone through a very long and thorough demoing of these songs before we ever were introduced. They had worked and reworked these songs a lot! We kept the lion’s share of the programming they had done. We didn’t fiddle too much with the arrangements, either. In most if not all instances we began work in Chicago from the Pro Tools’ sessions they had brought with them.

We spent about as much time on preproduction as we could, considering the distance involved. We had a series of Skype discussions about the music where I would tell the guys various things I had noticed about the music—things I particularly liked that I thought we could focus on more or places where I thought a little more melodic development could happen.

Ciaran Bradshaw

Ciaran Bradshaw

Bradshaw: From a mixing perspective, the first half of this song is mainly drums, bass and vocals with various other instruments and noises coming in and out. I really wanted to create a sense of vastness with the rhythm section that I could float the vocal in the middle of and then have all the other bits jumping in and out from different places.

Brian had a spot mic on the side of the floor tom to catch Will’s stick hitting the shell. I compressed, distorted and filtered the hell out of that mic to bring up all the ring and the overtones of the floor tom and to dirty up the sound of the kit a little. That mic along with overheads and the room mic are the sound of the kit. Well, that and the Valhalla Room reverb just to add a little extra air. That’s a great plug-in by the way—it’s an insanely good value. There’s probably a touch of the other close mics to add a bit of weight, but mainly it’s just those three.

Bass was nicely compressed on the way in, I didn’t feel it needed anymore so I just EQed to get it sitting where I wanted. I automated that EQ for the different sections of the song as needed.

There’s a middle section with a lot of pianos playing. There’s two doing the big hits, a nice posh-sounding one the guys recorded in Chicago and, let’s say, a not-so-posh-sounding upright the band recorded themselves. These were panned out about 9 and 3. Then there’s an ambient piano doing the melody line.

From there on the track gets a little fuller. I wanted to gradually bring everything a little closer and more intense so there’s a lot of automation from that point. It’s all quite slow though, reverbs gradually pulling back, EQs shifting around, etc....

The vocal chain was a [Massey] De:Esser, Sony Oxford EQ for corrective EQ, out to a [Empirical Labs] Mike-E Compressor and probably through a Midas EQ for some air and low-end boost, back into Pro Tools, and I think in this case another de-esser.

And for the vocal effects, I used a spring reverb that I pulled out of an old fender amp, a scuzzy “stereo” verb made up of a two different guitar pedal reverbs, a short ambience and a Massey TD5 delay. The overall level of those and the blend between them changes throughout the track.

There’s quite a lot of volume automation throughout the track. I didn’t want too much compression going on that might stifle the dynamics of the performances, so I had to do lots of little fader rides.

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