The Avett Brothers

Sep 1, 2012 9:00 AM, Mix, By Blair Jackson

CREATING THE CARPENTER WITH RICK RUBIN & RYAN HEWITT

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Scott Avett at Echo Mountain

Scott Avett at Echo Mountain

This is not an unusual way for Rubin to work. As the producer notes, “We usually are in good enough shape preproduction-wise where we are clear what our goals are in tracking. I always try to keep as fresh a perspective all through the album-making process by never listening unless a decision needs to be made. On this album, although much of it was done remotely, I listened approximately the same amount, and was able to give clear feedback and then hear the band’s updates to my comments in a timely fashion.”

The currently touring version of the Avett Brothers is five musicians, incorporating the usual trio, plus cellist Kwon and drummer Jacob Edwards. That configuration did some live tracking as a group at Echo Mountain for The Carpenter—as on “I Never Knew You”— but Hewitt says, “It varied from song to song. Scott and Seth intentionally wanted to try different songs in different manners, so there were songs that were the whole band in there rockin’ out, and there was also a song that started with just Seth acoustic and then we built the band around that. The song ‘Life’ [which closes the album] was Scott and Seth playing and singing live in one take start to finish; the two of them facing each other with a couple of microphones.”

Asked if we hear much of the spacious church room on a track like that, Hewitt notes, “In general, Rick doesn’t go for roomy sounds, but I have mics there and sometimes I can cheat a bit of it into the mix. On that duet [“Life”] there’s a Royer stereo ribbon mic next to the two of them. I wanted it to be a little more like you’re in the room with them than the last record. The last one was very intimate and very direct sounding because of the nature of the room, really. But because we were in this big ol’ church, I wanted to take more advantage of that sound. I’m always recording room mics, because the song could take an unexpected turn in the production process, and they could be key ingredients.”

More often, though, Hewitt employed various plug-ins and outboard pieces for reverb and delays. On the moving ballad “Winter in My Heart,” for example, “I knew from the first time I heard that song it had to have a plate on it, so that’s a UAD [EMT 140] plate [plug-in] on that vocal. We used that quite a bit and the [UAD EMT] 250 digital reverb. I also got into their [Lexicon] 224 plug-in a little bit. I also have some outboard analog delays and some spring reverbs in the rack I like to use a lot. There were also songs where we printed some real plate at the studio that we really liked. Another thing we did when we were in Asheville is I sampled the room [into Altiverb] and used that later here and there—like if we had a percussion overdub from another studio, we were able to blend it better with the tracks from Echo Mountain.”

Indeed, that came in handy on some percussion touches Lenny Castro added later at Hewitt’s Venice Beach studio, Lock Stock. Other outside musicians who contributed to the album included Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith on three songs, Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench (both captured at Rubin’s studio), drummer Steve Nistor (recorded at producer/engineer Tucker Martine’s Flora Studio in Portland) and a small horn section that was cut at Butch Walker’s L.A.-area facility.

That lo-fi horn part, on the funky New Orleans-ish song “Down With the Shine,” is one of several tunes that imaginatively blend crisp sonics with deliberately distorted elements. In the case of what Rubin calls “the Salvation Army horns,” Hewitt miked the players with RCA and Royer ribbon mics, “through Neve mic pre’s and then slammed them onto tape [via CLASP], distorting them in the process. Then I distorted them even more in the mix to make them even more dirty and nasty sounding.






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