Vampire Weekend: Adventures in Modern Sonics

May 1, 2013 9:00 AM, Mix, By Blair Jackson


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Modern Vampires of the City album cover

Throughout the album, there are passages that combine distorted/muffled instrumental parts with pristine ones, “which has always been part of our aesthetic as a band, and that was something Ariel got right away,” Batmanglij comments. “It’s been an aspect of the band to use recordings that are made in different places and have different fidelity and to bring all those together. I’ve always thought that was a more interesting aesthetic than something that sounds like everything was recorded with the exact same microphone in the exact same room.”

The other two members of Vampire Weekend—bassist Chris Baio and drummer Chris Tomson—got more involved once the songs became more solidified. “On this record,” Batmanglij notes, “it was like there was a sketch of almost every element inside of the session before we recorded the real version for the drum and bass. Still, there was definitely a freedom for improvising and for Chris and Chris to contribute to the arrangements of the songs. We had decided we wanted to record the drums to tape, so that was a big goal—to get the songs to a place where we could record all the drums.”

Most of Tomson’s and Baio’s parts were cut at L.A.’s Vox Studios, which Batmanglij describes as “one of the oldest studios in L.A., built in the 1930s. It’s kind of a secret spot tucked away behind a liquor store. We tracked drums for most of the songs [with engineer Dave Schiffman] in about two days. It’s a great-sounding old room with linoleum floors, and they had a wonderful collection of microphones. They also have a great old tape machine [a one-inch Ampex 300 8-track], and we really pushed the sound of the tape to the max.”

Rechtshaid adds, “[Baio and Tomson] are incredible musicians, and they took the template of what we had done and the structure and arrangement ideas we had and turned it into something that was more Vampire Weekend. A lot of the stuff we had was very programmed-sounding, and then when we went into a studio and tracked it for performance, it loosened up.” The drum miking setup was stripped down, with sometimes just three mics going straight to tape: “The fewer mics, the fatter the sound,” he says.

Rather than having a dedicated mixing period, Rechtshaid says, “we were mixing as we went along. The lovely folks at Avid supplied Rostam and me with their new HD Native Thunderbolt box. Rostam and I are on the left side of Pro Tools users—a lot of what we’re doing is in the box, and it’s not just a computer-based tape machine. It’s a complete production station where we’re really shaping sounds and using plug-ins to create the atmosphere and the vibe of the record. We’re always building as we go along, and eventually our rough mixes were our mixes. We took them over to Emily Lazar’s place [The Lodge] with the HD Thunderbolt and hooked up to her interfaces, and we were mastering and making adjustments to the mix as we were mastering.”

Lazar and Scott Jacoby mixed one song at Eusonia Studios in NYC, and super-mixer Rich Costey (Muse, The Shins, Foster the People, TV on the Radio, among others) mixed three tunes at Eldorado Studios in L.A. on an SSL 4000E. Batmanglij and Rechtshaid also did some of their work at Downtown Studios in New York, spreading out tracks from his laptop across their API console via the Thunderbolt box and an Avid DigiLink cable.

“The objective of this record was ‘fresh and new, or die!’” Rechtshaid laughs. “They’re not a band that has ever worried about the conventional single or radio, yet everything they’ve done has instinctually worked.”

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