Music: The Killers

Dec 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Heather Johnson



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For the parts that they did record, the band took a “less-is-more” approach, choosing a more sparse miking technique, especially on the drums, which Root spread out to only nine tracks. He miked Vannucci's extensive Craviotto drum collection with an AKG D-112 or Audix D6 for the kick, Earthworks SR25 drum mic for overheads and a Royer R-122 for the center overhead in certain cases. Snare top was miked with a Josephson e22S, while snare bottom took a Shure SM57. Root used a Brauner VM1 with a UREI 1176 compressor for additional room sound. For a different type of response, he put the drum kit in the vocal booth.

Lacking a sub-kick microphone, Price created one using a technique borrowed from other recordists. “We found an old speaker cone in the studio, but it was a little too small so we took the two wires out of it and ran it into a mic channel so it was working backward,” says Price. “That's what we used to create a lot of the low end coming from the kick drum. Since the speaker cone is so much bigger than the normal diaphragm on a microphone, it creates a really huge ‘subby’ sound.”

Despite its rickety design, the speaker cone mod worked well enough to also capture room ambience. “We'd use it in reverse and fire audio out of it back into the room and capture that sound from the other side of the room with a distant room mic,” says Price. Flowers' vocals got a similar treatment. “If we thought that the vocal sound needed more body, we would take a speaker with a bass port and send the vocal through that, but with an SM58 right inside the bass port so it was really just picking up this sick bottom end. When you hear it back, you hear this muffled sound, but when you mix it in with his direct vocal, it added a lot of body.”

Experiments aside, most of the tracking sessions were pretty straightforward and efficient. Root recorded into Logic using the band's new API 1608 with 16-channel extension — a lucky find. “We were going to try to get away with the Studer board that was already there, but it blew up two days into recording,” says Vannucci,“which is kind of good because I had my eye on the 1608. We threw in a couple of API 500 Series and Purple Audio compressors and bought a bunch of plug-ins to work inside the box.”

While the band recorded new parts to merge with the demo tracks, Price worked at a brisk pace embellishing tracks, re-arranging, editing and mixing, all pretty much simultaneously. “Sometimes when people aren't sure if a song is there or not, they'll say, ‘Well, it's going to be good when it's mixed.’ When you say that, sometimes you're avoiding the real issue, which is, ‘Is the song good enough or not?’ I thought it would be nice to do these two things together. That involved me and Robert Root working very quickly and trying to mix as we went along. That way, if Dave was recording guitar and came back into the room to listen, we could have it already sitting in a track. So Robert and I would work in a very restricted way where we squeezed drum lines, bass, guitars, keys and vocals onto 16 channels on the API. Instead of separating the two processes, we brought the two together.”

Because Price had edited and partly mixed the album during the tracking sessions, the actual mixing sessions, which took place at London's Olympic Studios, incorporated guitar, bass and a healthy amount of vocal overdubs. (Flowers originally sang many of the choruses before he had finished the rest of the lyrics.) Price mixed on the facility's SSL 9000 K console, and as with the rest of the process they maintained a collaborative environment.

“The Killers are very active in every area of their career: their promotion, their music, their image,” says Price. “For that reason, it was good to not have any separation and for us to make the record as a unit. There is a certain amount of smoke and mirrors involved when you're producing a record. Sometimes it's advisable not to let people see [what's behind] the smoke and mirrors, but I thought from day one that if everyone is there and sees what's going on, no questions will be raised in the end. And I felt better that we were making an honest record that everyone had been a part of.”

Final mixes complete, Price delivered the album to esteemed mastering engineer Tim Young at London's Metropolis Studios. “Tim is equally good at his job as he is unimpressed by anything,” Price says with a laugh. “So when he gives you the nod, you really know that it's good. He thought about what was best for this album and decided to master it using all analog equipment.”

Excitement began to build well before Day & Age dropped on November 25, propelled by its lead single, “Human,” which debuted at Number 13 on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart, a well-viewed appearance on Saturday Night Live and just the all-around anticipation from fans that have waited two years for some new Killers songs. And considering the attention the band, both as a unit and individually, has put into their songcraft this time around, it's worth the wait. “They're all very creative and have their own ideas and opinions, but when you get them all together, it's like they know what each other is thinking before they say it,” says Root. “They're very tight-knit. They act as one and think as one, but individually they're all creative. They're the quintessential rock band.”

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