The Flaming Lips: Found Sounds Become Musical Foundation for ‘The Terror’

Apr 1, 2013 9:00 AM, Mix, By Barbara Schultz


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Dave Fridmann in Tarbox Road’s Studio B.

Dave Fridmann in Tarbox Road’s Studio B.

In addition to Studios A and B, Fridmann says that every room at Tarbox is wired for tracking, and that the band will record in any corner of the house, and place microphones at any position or distance they like. For example, setting up a conventional drum kit—with close mics, overheads and room mics—just isn’t done.

“In fact, they won’t allow that,” Fridmann says. “I can use DPA mics from afar if I’d like, or use STC ball and biscuit mics from across the room. That’s fine. But no conventional miking techniques were utilized in the making of this record. Not that I’m against it. I use more standard setups with other bands all the time. But with these guys, we just have a bunch of microphones set up, not in any particular order and not in any particular room. The drummer and bass player might play with one microphone somewhere between the amp and the kick drum, and that’s the drum sound and the bass sound. We’re done.

“Our technician, Greg Snow, has made and modified lots of different microphones—military ones and Motorola dispatch microphones—and used different circuitry. I don’t even know what’s in there, but they sound amazing! You can record from across the room because there’s some weird built-in compressor already in there. So when the Lips say, ‘We’re not going to go sing into that microphone. We’re going to sing over here,’ we can do it, and we end up with some very unusual sounds.”

“In this day and age, it really is easy to record a great-sounding guitar or a great-sounding drum kit, especially with someone like Dave Fridmann, who’s just at the top of the field,” Drozd adds. “So part of the fun for me is to bring Dave some shitty sounds. One of the songs, ‘You Lust,’ starts off with a couple of us in a room playing synth sounds into Wayne’s iPhone. Dave took that off the iPhone, compressed and EQ’d it, and there you go. It’s the beginning of a song.”

Most of the tracks were recorded to Pro Tools HD and mixed on Fridmann’s Otari Concept Elite board, but Fridmann points out that changes and new sounds are on the table at all times.

“Even when we used to track to 24-track analog tape,” he says, “we’d fill 23 tracks, and then with the 24th track, someone would say, ‘That’s what we should have been doing all along,’ and we’d throw everything out and start with this new thing. They’re always following their instincts to the song, and we might write a set of lyrics and do background vocals and overdubs and figure out effects, and then throw it all away and start with some other new, weird sound that we thought of and recycle part of those lyrics and turn those into the bridge of another song. It’s a very nonlinear process all the way through.”

“What’s great about Dave is that he’s like us, in that he’s been at this a long time, but still, to this day, he’s as curious about music as an 18-year-old,” Drozd concludes. “So when we get together we’re on the same page, and there’s a lot of energy and a lot of excitement that maybe a lot of bands our age don’t have. Dave has such a genius mind for this kind of thing. Some people hear music and just imagine chords and melodies. When Dave is listening he’s always analyzing. He’s thinking about how it can work sonically. He helps with arranging. He can help shape a melody. We’ve been friends for so long that he’s like a bandmember.”

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