Music: Raphael Saadiq

Jan 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By David John Farinella

MOTOWN MEETS MODERN IN NEW SONGS

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To capture as much of the instrument as possible, the decision was made to go DI into an Avalon M5 with a bit of compression via the Crane Song Phoenix plug-in that was a hit during the mix dates. “When you crank the gain on the Phoenix, it makes everything so fat and wide that it allows you to get a nice bottom,” Brungardt says, “but it compresses the muted sound of it, too, so it really sticks out and cuts through. We also used the [Pultec] EQP-1A to pull out the bottom.”

On the guitar side of things, Brungardt went right to The Beatles' book for inspiration and used a U47 on the amps. “It really gave us warmth and character,” he says. “It allowed the amp to breathe and we got the tones of the amp along with the room. For me, that really opened things up so that I could play with the live room, using different reverbs to get a sound.”

The compositions on The Way I See It feature sonic touches that will remind many listeners of old Motown songs. The Jack Ashford-supplied tambourines, vibraphones, bells and shakers on songs like “Love That Girl,” “Staying in Love” and “100 Yard Dash” are examples.

When it came time for Brungardt to mix those tunes, he relied on the FilterBank plug-in. “When we got to those tracks, there was a lot of high end,” he says. “So we used FilterBank to make it a little dirtier, a little darker. We rolled off the highs just a little to give it that old-school flavor and to make sure it fit the track.”

For all the care taken on the recording and mixing of the instrument tracks, the most obvious nod to old-school soul is the slightly distorted nature of Saadiq's vocal tracks. According to the singer, that was by design. “I wanted to bring an edge to my vocals,” he says. “I did some of that at the end of Instant Vintage [Saadiq's 2002 release]. I always like when the vocals are pushed to the limit and it sounds like it's cracking just a little bit. I wanted that crackiness to be like the dirt on the record. I didn't want it to be too polished.”

Using a [Shure] SM7 microphone was the first ingredient in that successful recipe, reports Brungardt. “It made his vocals real thick,” he says. “Because it's a dynamic mic, the harder he hit it when he was singing, even if we had our gain right on the preamps, we got a nice little distortion.”

Working dirty was a change for Brungardt. “On most albums I work on, they want it clean with no distortion,” he reports. “I was taught to make sure it was polish, polish, polish, and to make sure everything fits right, the bass hits and things are clean for the big pop vocal. On this record, I switched gears because I felt like it was all about performance and about the way it's supposed to sound, not about following all those rules.”

So the distortion stayed and he was careful about EQ'ing Saadiq's vocals. “We left them where they were,” he says. “Maybe we cleaned up some upper-mids, but not really any high end. We left that kind of dark and worried about it on the mastering side of things. To get the vocals to sound older, we kept it darker and didn't use the EQ on the SSL 9000 to push the brightness. Then, when we went to mastering, we told Tom [Coyne at Sterling Sound] that we wanted it to fit where everything is today and he instantly picked up on it.”

According to Saadiq, who recorded his own vocals for the most part, pushing the high end was not a concern when he sang “100 Yard Dash.” “When I sang that song, my voice came out so high that I thought something was wrong,” he admits with a laugh. “I had to go get Chuck and ask him if it sounded like I was on helium or something. He said, ‘No, man, that's you.’ It was just the vibe of the song and we were able to leave it right there, but I thought it was a little weird at first.”

The vocal tracks were compressed slightly during recording, but then smashed via a Fairchild during the mixing. Brungardt also used the Tape-Head plug-in during the mix to add distortion, especially during the song “Keep Marchin'.” “We just need to add a little something,” he says. “Tape-Head gave us that little saturation that sent it over.”

Saadiq is confident that the studying and care he took with these songs has paid off. He says that the crowds are paying close attention to what is happening, and the band is thriving as result of this music's undeniable authenticity.

“People used to take recording very seriously,” he says. “They used to wear lab coats at Abbey Road. So I got serious with what I was trying to do, both mentally and physically. I feel that the way you work in the studio is the way you marinate the sound, so when people hear it they'll get the spirit and the energy of what you were doing when you were recording it. I've always felt that the more time you spend with a song, when you're playing it through the speakers and listening to it, but not critiquing it, you need to move to it and make sure it makes you feel good. That's the way the energy should get out to the people.”






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