Music: Spinal Tap

Jun 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Mr. Bonzai



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What do you do for Spinal Tap?

Vanston: I have multiple functions with Tap, ranging from being their producer, keyboard player, musical director, photographer and archivist, et cetera. I also find Chinese restaurants in each city that still use MSG. Hard to find these days, but the boys love their MSG.

Why do you call your studio The Treehouse?

Vanston: It's my hideout, my sanctuary, and until recently there were no girls allowed.

Primary equipment?

Vanston: The studio definitely centers around Logic 8 and my Macs. Every day I shake my head in astonishment at Logic. It is infinitely customizable — I have dozens of templates for working in video, live mixing, mastering, et cetera. Sometimes I think back to how we used to work and wonder how we got it done. The biggest advantage to today's technology is the ability to jump around from song to song. Since I am an “in-the-box” guy, there are no knobs to recall when switching projects or songs.

I couldn't live without my Mackie Control. That changed my life. To be able to grab a fader and do a quick duck or ride means that every move I do is moving me closer to the finished product. The fact that it's so small is a huge plus for a guy like me, who does most of his own engineering, allowing it to sit to my side instead of gobbling up valuable real estate.

I also have a vintage keyboard room that is full of tasty artifacts from the era of analog synths. There is nothing like these old beasts. They shake the room while the plug-ins lie limp. My Oberheim 4-voice is all over this new Spinal Tap record, as is my Jupiter-8 and Yamaha TX816s. I also use the Alesis Andromeda, a more recent analog synth — I don't know how it ever got made as it is an expensive tool for a small market. Kind of like this band. I am also absolutely loving my ZenDrum! David Haney came up with a superior trigger technology to make drum programming fun and creative.

How do you get the group's massive drum sound?

Vanston: We have a massive drummer, Skippy Skuffleton [aka Gregg Bissonette]. We really tried to fatten him up for this record. He lives in a motor home that he parks outside the studio, and we send Mexican food out to him at regimented intervals. Of course, it takes a special engineer to capture the sheer violence when Skippy is trying to finish the track to make a run for the loo. That would be Ed Cherney, the only guy Skippy will let closer than 10 feet to his drums.

Blue Microphones sent over some very expensive mics for us to use. The big ones are called Blue Bottles, and I think Skipper Wise at Blue wanted us to try them on vocals. I shied away from this because the guys have a bad track record with mic stands. They're actually rather clumsy and can't be trusted with expensive equipment. So we used the Blue Bottles as overheads, out of harm's way. They sounded fantastic.

How do you get that huge bass sound?

Vanston: Derek has an amp that has tubes from a Russian fighter jet in it. Some guy in Latvia built the electronics. The speaker cones are actually woven by hand, although we recently discovered that those hands were children's hands in China. After a long deliberation, we decided that only enhanced the childish innocence that Derek brings to the band. Ed also uses some Tube-Tech multiband compressor on it to rein in the terror that is Derek's bass part.

How do you get that breathtaking guitar sound?

Vanston: What is interesting is how well David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel complement each other's guitar sounds. Nigel, as you know, has his amps built special — at least the knobs are special — but David is happy with whatever happens to be in the studio. We used amp boxes to keep the leakage to a minimum. The Village has a really great studio [D] that has lots of nooks and crannies to put all the extra cabinets that Nigel and David use. But when it comes down to it, it's the sheer rage that they both play with. I put down a ban on all therapy during the making of this record. The last thing we want is a bunch of happy guys playing all la-la rainbows and daisies.

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