Music: Third Eye Blind
Sep 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Heather Johnson
"URSA MAJOR" MARKS FIRST ALBUM IN SIX YEARS
Jenkins kept the windows to allow for natural light but added another set of half-inch-thick panes for noise control. (Both in and out: Because the studio is located in a residential neighborhood, they have to keep things quiet. But just like every San Francisco neighborhood, cars and buses make it noisy.) Pelonis also designed a pair of custom main monitors for the facility, which Jenkins pairs with a set of Barefoot Micromain MM27s and, at the time of our visit, a pair of Focal studio monitors.
To equip the facility, Jenkins moved in his Helios Olympic Studio preamps, racks of Neve 1073s and 1081s, and a few compressors, but he knew he needed a desk more powerful than his old Helios 20-channel line input console from his former San Francisco studio, Morningwood. He also knew he wanted a console that he could keep well into the next decade. He turned to Beresford for advice. “Stephan kept referring to the excitement that he had making his first record with Eric Valentine, which was recorded on 2-inch tape and mixed on a Neve,” the engineer says. “He seemed to want to get back to more of an organic sound.”
Beresford led Jenkins to Wunder Audio president Mike Castoro, who was in the process of developing the WunderBar, a modular desk based on the company's popular PEQ1 preamp/EQ modules, which feature Neve, API and Wunder stereo bus “flavors.” They got the first one built. “It's basically a brand-new, '70s-style console,” says Jenkins. “It's all discrete.”
Fully equipped with the best of both worlds — WunderBar, vintage outboard gear, a Studer A827 2-inch machine and a Digidesign Pro Tools HD3 with Lynx Aurora converters and an Apogee Big Ben master digital clock — the band recorded drums, bass and some guitar parts to tape, and vocals and other guitar parts in Pro Tools. The band took advantage of the historic ballroom at their disposal by recording drums in the large live room, with 48 tielines connecting them to the studio more than 225 feet away — just past the fountain and flower garden. A video monitor above the console maintains visual connection.
Although the band intended to record live in the ballroom, cabling and soundproofing issues — as in, the ballroom has none and neighbors with very expensive houses live very close by — prevented that from happening the way they intended. “We ultimately recorded drums in the ballroom, and bass followed by guitar in the control room,” says Beresford. “We did, however, experiment with the best way to position in this room and with various miking techniques.”
Although the band tried out some new techniques, they generally aimed to keep the recording process technically straightforward. “We focused on keeping our priorities straight,” says Jenkins. “Is the song good? Is the feeling of the song in the fingers of the player, and are those fingers coming down on an instrument that has a timbre and tone that's really working for that song? And is it recorded into the right amp or in the right room? We wanted to make this album as flat as it comes in the tracking process — as close to that initial impulse as possible.”
For the most part, however, Beresford stuck with standard miking techniques and choices. He used a Mercenary Audio KM69 for overheads, acoustic guitar, strings, cello, violin, percussion and piano. “It's the most-used mic on the record,” he says. Other favorites are the AEA R88 ribbon mic and a vintage pair of Neumann U67s that Beresford used on drums and piano.
Beresford miked the drums with an AKG D 112 inside the kick, a Soundelux 195 FET outside of the kick, Shure SM57 and/or SM7 on the snare, an AKG 451 and sometimes an Earthworks QTC50 on the hi-hat, and Sennheiser 421s on the toms. For vocals, Jenkins sang through his trusted Telefunken ELA M 251, which he's used on almost every record, and which Beresford paired with a Mercury M66 compressor.
With some of the rough mixes in place, Jenkins began seeking out “big-name” engineers to mix the record. In the meantime, Beresford, who began working with Jenkins and Co. as an assistant engineer in 2000, mixed “Non Dairy Creamer,” which appears on the band's recently released Red Star EP. He then mixed the remaining songs on that disc, as well as six of the tracks on Ursa Major. Tony Hoffer mixed three songs and Chris Lord-Alge mixed two, including the catchy debut single, “Don't Believe a Word,” which has the melodic drive of the classic Third Eye Blind songs of the past.
More than two years have passed since Beresford first sorted through those hard drives packed with song ideas, and the music forums have been ablaze with posts from fans wondering when Ursa Major will really see the light of day. Despite scheduling conflicts and other random delays, Jenkins emphasizes that the process really did go fairly smoothly, and he looks forward to greeting audiences old and new, both in person and on the Web. “Even though the making of this album has taken a long time, the actual recording went very quickly,” Jenkins says. “That's a product of the confidence and spontaneity that we have taken on from this new group of fans.”
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