The Wallflowers

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



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On new drummer Jack Irons:

Joyce: “The record is rhythm-heavy and that’s what we were going for. I thought Jack Irons did a great job of figuring out what we were going to do. He adapted really well and quickly to finding this unique sonic fingerprint for the record.”

Dylan: “We couldn’t have made a record like this without Jack Irons. Jay hadn’t worked with Jack, either, and I think at the beginning he might have been a little puzzled with how Jack was going to fit in with what we were doing. But by about midway through, Jay said, ‘It’s unbelievable, but this has become a drummer’s record!’ If you’re into drums and you’re in to Jack Irons, you could listen to this record and ignore me. He’s so creative, you could just box me out.” [Laughs.]

Was Jack the connection to The Clash for that clever homage, “Reboot the Mission”? I know he played with Joe Strummer…

Joyce: We’re all huge Clash fans and as we were recording, we’d sit around and listen to a lot of records when we’re taking lunch or a break. But even way back when we were doing Bringing Down the Horse, I remember Jakob was a Clash fan. But Jack had this groove and it was obviously tipping out hat to them, and it sort of fell together like that.”

Dylan: “I was a super fan and one of the things I was thrilled by when I met Jack was realizing that he played on Earthquake Weather with Joe Strummer, and he had a neat vantage point to see that stuff. That’s not when Joe Strummer was being appreciated nearly as much as he should’ve been, and Jack was there. “Reboot the Mission is shout-out to the group,and nothing rhymes as well with ‘drummer’ as ‘strummer,’ so we’re halfway there. [Laughs.] Then we said, ‘Let’s see if we can get [The Clash’s] Mick Jones to sing on it.

Who’s playing that backwards guitar on that?

Joyce: “That would be me, using a Boomerang [effects pedal]. I’ve been using it for years. It’s got a phrase looper; you can put a sound in it and reverse it. There’s also a lot of dub delay action going on between a few amps [on that song], which is what also helps it fall into that sort of Clash-y vibe.

Do you play on all the records you produce?

Joyce: Most of them, I guess. It depends. Some I don’t play on. But this was one where, from the beginning, it was like, ‘Let’s set up and just jam,’ so it wasn’t like I would normally produce a record. But it was a lot more fun, because it started from just playing. There was no agenda. That’s what was fun about it.

“The cool thing about it is we were playing so much, we kind of forgot we were recording and that’s often when the good stuff starts happening. When you have a bunch of guys in a room just playing and you forget about going in and listening to the playback and adjusting your part and my part and all that, all of a sudden people are more spontaneous. Still, we recorded everything we did and sometimes we’d go back and listen to this or that part of a jam.”

Was Jakob in there with the band laying down vocals live in the same room as the band?

Joyce: “We had Jakob isolated, but everyone else was in the same room, mostly not wearing headphones. Most of [keeper] vocals were done later, but ‘Love Is a Country’ is a tracking vocal; we just never could beat it. Other songs we might get a chorus from the tracking vocal, and do others for punching in.

“Even so, 90 percent is the live takes with no overdubs. There are a few keyboard overdubs that Rami might have wanted to experiment with and a few little guitar things. But because it all fit together going down so well, a lot of overdubs didn’t work.”

Dylan: “‘Love Is a Country’ was probably the biggest bear on the record in terms of knowing we had something that was good, but we wrestled with it from the beginning to the very end, trying to see if we got it right. Sometimes your first instinct is right, before your brain gets involved. You go through different phases where you think, ‘It’s all about the hard work, and you’ve got to look at this thing from every angle, and you’ve got to be a detective, and you’ve got to figure out how to sort the song out the best way.’ After you do that a number of years, you also have to recognize that just because it was your first idea doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right idea.”

What was the nature of Jay’s production on the album, since he was almost like a member of the band?

Dylan: “It’s always an elusive role. I want as few people in the room as possible, but I want everyone who’s there to be extremely talented. If you’re in the room and you know it’s not structured with the right talent in the room, you’re worried about somebody’s lame idea sneaking through when you’re not looking. [Laughs.] If you stock a room with strictly talented people, you’re not as worried anymore, because something might go right under your nose, but at least it’s going to be a good idea. That’s where you want to be—fighting over great ideas. Jay had a lot of great ideas.

“I ended playing very little guitar on this record, because there was no room. We didn’t want to clog it up with rhythm playing.”

Joyce: “My job on this record aside from being a player and being a motivator was to keep things moving along. It was pretty brave of the band to jump in there and just do it, and also pretty brave of the record company to allow that to happen.”

Jay, tell me about vocal and guitar mic choices.

Joyce: “Jakob’s vocal mic was a [Shure] SM7 that has somehow been broken through the years, but it sounds better than any SM7 I ever heard, and I use it on a lot of singers I record. And we were hittin’ a little compression, going through a Quad 8 mic pre; but not much of anything.”

What’s that “shadow vocal” I hear behind Jakob sometimes?

Joyce: “That’s Stuart singing probably an octave behind him. We experimented with a lot of different things that are subtle sonic fingerprints for the record. Early on, maybe on ‘Hospital for Sinners,’ Stuart was singing that soft octave vocal thing and we all thought it was a cool sound that didn’t take anything away from Jakob, but added a little flavor to it; but it wasn’t the traditional harmony vocal.

“On the guitars, me and Stuart were each using two small amps right in the room. I was using a custom Swarts Space Tone and Dan [Auerbach] had an amazing-sounding Magnatone over there that I used. Stuart had a whole bunch of things—a Vox and a [Fender] Champ and various others. spreading the signal stereo—a lot of the delays were panning left and right between two amps. Collin [Dupuis, engineer] likes to use a lot of AKG D19s and [Electro-Voice] RE-15s and some of the older mics that used to be the [Shure] 57 of the era back then. And if we did use a 57, then it was the Unidynes—the older ones.

“We also used a mic of mine—the Western Electric/Altec 639A ‘birdcage’; I’ve got several of those. A lot of it was cheap mics recording guitar and organ and things like that.”

How much of the ambience on the record is the room at Easy Eye?

Joyce: “Dan’s got a bathroom he had treated—he lacquered and painted this bright small room, so we sometimes sent a speaker to that. We also had two plate reverbs and some tape echo, but all the ambience, effect-wise, was real. As far as room mics, a lot of it was mono room—an RE-15—because there was so much going on in the room. Collin would also maybe use a Shure ribbon mic off to the side, kind of behind the drums.”

What did mixer Rich Costey add to the album?

Joyce: “Rich ‘got it’ right away. He understood what was going on and he didn’t do too much to what was already there. We had some pretty amazing roughs come out of there, and he was able to comp that same sort of thick, chunky, Quad 8 vibe with whatever he was using. He added a little more brilliance to things, gave it a little more punch here and there.”

Dylan: “We had a first round of mixing with somebody else, but it didn’t go well because the board this other person was mixing on was really deadening this organic sound we already had. It became clear it was going to be difficult to mix—not in the sense that the tracks were a mess; they weren’t at all. But Rich Costey didn’t get much of a choice. There was none of that ‘We haven’t decided to use this guitar or that guitar.’ It was not like Bringing Down the Horse, where we delivered a thousand tracks to [mixer] Tom Lord-Alge. [Laughs.] He really had to sort out a lot of stuff—he was really important to that record. But this was really just performances. We wanted it to sound straight-ahead and simple and Rich understood that and really brought out the best in what we gave him.”

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