Music: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Apr 27, 2010 1:31 PM, By Blair Jackson



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<I>Beat the Devil’s Tattoo</i> was tracked in Station House Studio (Hollywood) and The Basement (Philadelphia, Pa.).

Beat the Devil’s Tattoo was tracked in Station House Studio (Hollywood) and The Basement (Philadelphia, Pa.).

In The Basement Studio, Hayes says, “They have a 2-inch, 16-track reel-to-reel going through a Mackie [board], but we also brought in a 16-track Tascam board that we’ve used on all our records. It becomes a distortion box, really. [Laughs] We use one channel of it like that and drop it into Pro Tools. We also mix on it.”

The guitar/bass/drums basics that formed the album’s foundation, however, were recorded during an intensive four days at engineer Mark Rains’ Station House Studio that, at the time, was located within the building that houses Hollywood Sound (but has since relocated to Rains’ own space in the Echo Park neighborhood of L.A.). The band managed to knock out 18 songs with Rains, and then used those basics to build upon back in Philadelphia—adding multiple layers of guitars, finished bass parts and doing much of the vocal work—then overdubbing more later and recording the entire title track, with Rains at the Station House.

One of the more intriguing aspects of the album’s sound is that the drums are in mono, right in the center of the mix. According to Hayes, on the first self-titled BRMC album, recorded in the basement of a San Francisco studio that was under construction, “We just used two microphones for the drums, and we loved how that sounded; in fact, we’ve been chasing that sound ever since. When you go mono on the drums, you lose a little bit but you gain a bit, too. For one thing, it leaves more room for guitars on both sides. It’s a fine line, but the hope is that you can make the drums more punchy in a way. You can do that in stereo, too, but you have turn them up and turn the guitars down to get them to sound punchy.” Rains says that he’s worked with mono drums in the past on indie projects, so this was not a radical move for him. Hayes recalls that just a pair of Shure SM57s were used on the drums on a couple of songs; others had up to four mics.

Rains and the band are credited with mixing the album—mostly in the box—but another important member of the team throughout the project was co-producer Michael Been, best known as leader of the fine ’80s band The Call (“Let the Day Begin,” etc.), and father of BRMC co-leader Rob Been (who was known as Robert Turner in the band’s early days). Michael Been has worked on BRMC’s albums in a number of different capacities through the years—engineering, mixing, playing piano, producing—and to this day he is the group’s live sound engineer. Asked what he brings to the group, Hayes chuckles, and says, “In the beginning it was guitars. I didn’t have any, he did, so I have one of his guitars. But really, he brings a little bit of everything. He’s kind of the outside view, who we know can come in and let us know what to do when things might be going a little haywire.

“When it comes down to mixing, I have a tendency to put the kitchen sink in everything. The way I sometimes work, I’ll keep putting guitars on until I’ve got all my ideas recorded. Then it’s a matter of piecing it together. Well, Michael’s good at weeding out some of the things that aren’t needed. We’ve gotten a little better about that—not putting on 16 different guitar parts through the whole song. Now I’ll actually pick different parts and put them where I think they should actually be.”

At the close of our interview, I ask Hayes whether he ever worries about the performability of the songs the group records, given that so many of them are thick with multiple guitars and various effects on the vocals and instruments. “It’s kind of a nightmare every time,” he concedes. “I’ve gotten better at that, too, even though a lot of these songs are really full of stuff. Once again, Michael helps out a bit, suggesting which licks to play. We figure out how to make it work with the three of us. We’ve learned how to make a lot of noise between us.” 

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