Mixing Outside the Lines

Jul 30, 2008 2:05 PM, By Janice Brown



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Producer/engineer Alan Weatherhead has mixed records for Sparklehorse, The Comas, Camper Van Beethoven, Magnolia Electric Company and Cracker, among numerous other indie-rock bands that appreciate his naturally experimental style.

“My aesthetic is a little different,” Weatherhead asserts, with an example, “Guided By Voices’ [notoriously lo-fi] Bee Thousand sounds great to me.”

The bands that hire Weatherhead to mix their records usually share this aesthetic. “The records I’ll mix have usually been created with an experimental energy, and so they want to continue in that direction,” he notes. “So my job is to take it a little farther in some cases, and in others figure out how I can subtract from what’s there to make it stronger.”

Weatherhead works out of Sound of Music Studios in Richmond, Virg., and his mixing arsenal is distinguished by his affinity for effects pedals, Amek 9098 channel strips and distressors. He recently mixed the new record by A Camp, the New York City–based indie-rock band led by Nina Persson of The Cardigans at Firehouse 12 Studios in New Haven, Conn. “The band gave me license to do whatever I wanted in mixing, basically,” says Weatherhead. “You never know what the outcome of some sonic experiment will be, and it’s part of my approach to try anything. First I get things in place, and then ask, ‘Texturally, what would make things more interesting?’”

Weatherhead mixed the A Camp record in Pro Tools, running most everything through Firehouse 12’s API Legacy console, and using both analog pedals and software effects to add dimension and unique quality to their recorded sounds. “On one song, we ran this single-note acoustic guitar part through Eventide’s H949 plug-in, basically bringing the guitar up an octave and adding reverb to it,” he recalls. “On its own it sounds completely glitchy, almost not musical. But in the mix, having some of that underneath the guitar made it sound like a 12-string.”

On vocals, Weatherhead used parallel compression and experimented with tape delay. “We’d record the tape delay and then line it up so it was actually in time with the vocal to give it a fatter, thicker sound.” Backing vocals were run through a variety of filters. “I have a pedal made by Frost Wave called the Resonator, and it’s basically a clone of the filter section of an MS20 synth. And like the tape delays, a lot of times the vocal would be running through the Resonator and we’d be manipulating it as we were recording it. We used the Sherman filter bank on a lot of stuff, as well, particularly on drums.” In general, Weatherhead adds, “What we’re doing with all these filters is never the whole sound but another layer, something else snuck in there for texture.”

Mixing a record for singer/songwriter Nadine Khouri recently, Weatherhead used distortion as a creative solution to a less-than-ideal recording. “There’s one song on her record that had a really heavy ending, but since they’d recorded basics for it on the same day they cut a few mellower songs and didn’t change the drum sound for the heavier one, it didn’t sound quite right,” he explains. “So we put the snare drum through a distortion pedal and gated it, just made it sound super-crazy. Sometimes it’s better to make a sound that’s not working so well into something totally different rather than trying to be so literal about it.”

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