Neil Young’s Moonlit Sessions

Oct 1, 2012 9:00 AM, Mix, By Barbara Schultz



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Americana album art.

Americana album art.

Hanlon placed a pair of U67s over the rest of Molina’s kit. “There was a 90-degree angle between the two capsules that coincide over the snare. Each of those 67s sat on its own track,” Hanlon says.

On bass, he took a DI and placed another 47 FET; these were combined to one track on the Studer and in Pro Tools. That’s four tracks.

“On guitars—Poncho and Neil, tracks 5 and 6—I mike in a style similar to what I learned from Andy Johns,” Hanlon says. “Andy is one of the greatest engineers in the world. He could get a great sound out of anything. He used to put two Shure 57s or 56s on each guitar cabinet. One would be straight on, and one would be angled to the cone. I find I can get mids and highs from the straight-on mic, and all the bottom end from the side mic.”

On Sampedro’s guitar rig, Hanlon used two Shure SM57s, plus an AKG C12A to capture the ambience of that tiled alcove. “The microphones on Neil’s rig were the same type of setup,” Hanlon says. “I had two 57s on each of his two guitar amps. I could use whichever amp I wanted, or both.”

Psychedelic Pill album art.

Psychedelic Pill album art.

Hanlon put up Neumann KMS140 vocal mics for Young (track 7), as well as for Talbot and Sampedro, and a KMS150 for Molina. Track 8 shared the room mics and Ralph Molina’s vocal mic. But for those who are keeping score, at this point Hanlon went over the 8-track limit. “Poncho and Billy’s vocals had to go strictly to Pro Tools,” Hanlon says. “I had a few other Pro Tools-only tracks. One is what I call the subkick. I sent the kick drum mic, the 47 FET, to a small subwoofer that I had miked with an 87 with a foam pad over it; it reinforces the kick drum into the room. This is very low-frequency, but it helps modulate the mids and highs into the room mics for a better room sound, and it helps Billy Talbot, the bass player, stay in sync with the drums. Since we don’t use headphones, the tighter I can get the drummer and bass player to play together, the better the whole room’s going to sound.”

Another Pro Tools-only track was what Hanlon calls the “Briggs compressor,” after Young’s former producer: “This was David Briggs’ old RCA mono compressor, to which I sent a combination of the kick and the two U67 mics on the drums via a bus on the BCM10 Neve,” he says. “You get a single track of this mono, smashed, compressed, fat drum sound.

“So, everything we absolutely had to have—the core band sounds—was on those eight analog tracks. I kept the subkick and the Briggs compressor separate, because if Neil decided less is more and he didn’t want me to use them during mixdown, I could leave them out.”

Still, after all the care and wisdom that went into the studio plan, Hanlon did not know what music he was going to hear by the light of an October 2011 full moon when the sessions began: “Neil may have talked to the band about the material, but if he did I wasn’t present. I didn’t know we were doing folk songs until we got in there.”

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