Vampire Weekend: Adventures in Modern Sonics
May 1, 2013 9:00 AM, Mix, By Blair Jackson
Rechtshaid actually has two studios—the Echo Park Back House (as it’s called in the VW album credits) and Slow Death in Burbank. “We kind of bounced around between the two places,” Rechtshaid says, “and I heard songs and listened to stuff, gave some opinions, tried some things. By the end of the week, it was evident we had a good chemistry. In fact, we managed to break through a couple of hurdles they’d come upon. They’re very capable of writing songs and recording themselves, but there are sometimes points where you lose perspective and just don’t know what direction to take it. That was my initial involvement, and on certain songs that’s all it was. But on other songs it was more instrumental.
“We did a lot of experimenting and trying things different ways,” Rechtshaid continues. “All three of us had a strong hand in the final product. Ezra had a lot to say about how his vocals sounded, and other ideas, too. There isn’t really a demo process in this band, because if you’re recording something at any stage in any place, it could be part of the final product. Fly it around, time-stretch it, pitch it up, slow it down, chop it up. It used to be that recording audio into a computer was to be able to manipulate it to fix performances, but in this case it’s more to create a new sonic thing with loads of different sources, rather than making up for some lack of ability.
“With the song ‘Step,’ for example, we recorded it in a few different keys in the so-called ‘demo’ process,” Rechtshain says. “We finally agreed on a key, and the way we agreed on it was by pitch-shifting the original demo a few different times, trying to sing different parts, and then when we went to do final vocals, we didn’t like it as much. It turns out we liked the vocal recorded a half-step lower and pitched up, so that’s what we did. We took parts of it from the original demo and also went back and recorded it in a different key and pitched it back up—not because Ezra couldn’t hit the high notes, but because it sounded more interesting and weird. Still, it’s not pitched up so you’d notice.”
In the demented rockabilly-surf-punk tune “Diane Young,” the pitch-shifting on parts of Koenig’s heavily reverb’d lead vocal is almost cartoonishly radical. “That’s something we did in L.A.,” Batmanglij says. “Me and Ezra and Ariel were sitting in a room together and talking about that section of the song, and we thought it was too plain. At one point we pitched down the whole vocal in that section an octave, and there was something we liked about that—it sounded fresh in a way, but it also maybe sounded a little too extreme. But ultimately we found a middle ground using a formant shifting. A few months ago, I discovered the formant shift in Antares Auto-Tune and I showed it to Ariel, and it was one of those things where you learn about something for the first time and you get excited and you want to use it. It was his idea to automate it so it was moving in a smooth way up and down. It was definitely the product of the three of us sitting in a room and banging our heads together, trying to come up with an original way to present that part of the song.”
Most of the vocals on the album were recorded with a Soundelux U99 microphone going into a Neve preamp and a vintage 1176. Still, Batmanglij notes, “there’s UAD [plug-ins] all over this record. If you’re running the vocals through a real 1176 once and then you do it again with emulation, it just sounds better.”
Rechtshaid is also a fan of plug-ins: “I’ve pretty much bought everything UAD has built. I have an EMT 140 tube stereo plate, but I find myself often going to the plug-in because I like the way it sounds.” Other reverb and ambience tools used on Modern Vampires of the City included “a lot of AMS RMX-16—we used the real one as well as the Altiverb emulation, and matched up with the Eventide 910 and 949 [Harmonizers] we were using on the record for other pitch-shifted things.”
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