Melissa Etheridge

Jan 1, 2004 12:00 PM, By Mr. Bonzai

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You couldn't turn on a radio in the mid-'90s without hearing Melissa Etheridge's distinctive, evocative rock-folk vocal. And while her subsequent projects haven't approached the commercial success of Yes I Am, she remains a critic's favorite. Last fall, she took over NRG Studios in Los Angeles, bringing in a crack band and producer/engineer Ross Hogarth to record her new album, Lucky, set for release February 10 on Island/Def Jam.

“Ross has a wonderfully relaxed attitude and creates an atmosphere that truly allows the musicians to expand and relax into their best performances,” Etheridge says. “They don't feel rushed, they don't feel pressured. It's very much ‘let the good things come naturally.’”

On the day Mix stopped by, Etheridge was tracking the sparse ballad “Meet Me In the Dark” on vocals and piano, with Paul Bushnell on bass and Brian MacLeod on drums. Etheridge and Hogarth made full use of NRG’s facilities, tracking drums on the Neve 8068 in Studio A, vocals and overdubs on Studio B’s Neve 8078, and mixing through the SSL 9000 J into Pro Tools|HD in Studio C. The song was tracked live, with no overdubs, except for a cello track recorded later. Guitarist Blues Saraceno, who played on most of the album save “Meet Me…,” was in the studio that day working on the song “Will You Still Love Me” with Etheridge.

For “Meet Me In the Dark,” Etheridge’s piano was miked with a pair of matched vintage tube AKG C-12s through a modified (discrete) Neve 33609 stereo compressor and API 550A EQs. Vocals went through a vintage tube Telefunken ELAM 251 into a Chandler Limited LTD-1 Neve-like module and a UREI LA-3. “The Telefunken gave us a beautiful, silky sound for her overall performances,” says Hogarth.

Guitarist Blues Saraceno and Brian MacLeod develop ideas for “Will You Still Love Me.” “Melissa and Blues’ electric guitars were all basically recorded the same,” says Hogarth. “We used old vintage combo amps, recorded using Royer 121 and Royer 122 ribbon mics, supplemented with a Shure 57 and a Sennheiser 421.”

Tracking drummer Brian MacLeod: On snare, Hogarth taped two mics together for phase coherency. “I always use a Shure SM57 or Beta 56L and then for the crack a condenser like an AKG 451, 452 or 460,” he says. For this track, hi-hat was a Shure SM 81, toms were AKG 414s, and a Shure Beta 52 (“for the smack”) and Electro-Voice ND868 (“for the low-end punch”) were used on the kick. DPA 4011s were used on overheads. Hogarth miked the room with matched Neumann U67s on the outside combined with a stereo Royer ribbon in the center of the room, and for effect placed a Shure Green Bullet radio mic over the drummer’s shoulder. “I use this mic as feed to a filter bank with an ADSR that creates a loop or sample-like sound that can either be used inside the kit like a loop or chopped later and used as a loop,” says Hogarth. He shares one more trick: “On the outside of the kick drum, for a long time I have used an NS-10 woofer taped to a mic stand as a reverse transducer.”

Some of Hogarth’s favorite gear: Sherman Filter bank (“can peel the paint off a wall or even cause erosion of the Pacific coastline”), Manley ELOP Compressor, SPL Transient Designer 4 (“tremendous on mixdown on drums”), Chandler EMI Type stereo compressor (“the best new piece I have”) and two Chandler LTD 1 Neve-like mic pre/EQs. Rack gear is flanked by pictures of Betty Boop and Hogarth’s son, Brady Todd.

Paul Bushnell’s bass rig includes an Eclair Audio Evil Twin Tube DI, which is routed to a pedal board full of favorite effects. “After the pedal board, I split the signal to another DI for signal pre-bass amp with Paul’s effects,” says Hogarth. “The other signal goes to Paul’s bass amplifier, an old Ampeg SVT. The bass cabinet is recorded with a blend of a Neumann FET 47 and a BLUE Mouse mic. I use separate tracks for each signal, blending the mics to one for a bass amp track.”

Etheridge runs down a song with Hogarth and the band. “My last album was just me in the studio, but this one is much more a collaboration with the musicians and with Ross,” Etheridge says. “The guys and girls who worked on it are just the finest talented musicians in this town.”

Hogarth on working with Etheridge: “I feel that Melissa is committed to making a difference and a contribution to her fans, and in a larger sense to the world as a whole. I believe this comes through in her heartfelt honesty as a person, in her writing and in her delivery of the song. It was my job to keep this in mind and not lose sight of this in the arrangements, tracking, choice of sounds and basically in the overall vision.”

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