Producer's Desk: Tucker Martine

Jun 1, 2012 9:00 AM, By Blair Jackson

SONIC EXPERIMENTS IN THE GREAT NORTHWEST

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Tell me about working with My Morning Jacket.
It was interesting because initially I was invited to come help them record demos, although I think they knew they might want to use some of it later. I think on their previous record, the process had become a little studio-intensive and construction-like, yet they’re known as this really great live band. As people often do, they will react against whatever they’ve done last, so I think they wanted to go really live and organic.

“So, we’ll cut it live with plenty of bleed.”
[Laughs] That’s what we did, in this huge open church in Louisville that had the acoustics of a gymnasium.

What did you bring in there?
Jim [James, the group’s visionary singer and songwriter] has acquired a decent amount of gear, and their friend—who also became my friend—Kevin Ratterman, has a studio in his parents’ funeral home in Louisville, so he was roped in to help out, too. Then we found a Mackie on Craigslist for monitoring, and Jim has a Studer 827 24-track and the same monitors I tend to use, which are the ProAc Studio 100s; they’re not too flattering, so they make you work, but they’re not too fatiguing. Jim had a small collection of mics, as did Kevin, and I brought some things to fill in the gaps—some ribbon mics. I brought a Royer stereo SF 12 we used to capture the room sound, and during the sessions Jim bought an RCA 44 and Carl [Broemel] the guitar player, had an RCA 77 his dad owned, and we ended up using it for about half the vocals.

Interesting vocal choice…
I know. Jim was really excited about singing into it. I think he’s seen some footage or heard some great old recordings from way back when they’d used that.

There wasn’t a computer in the room and everything was bleeding into everything and we really didn’t know what kind of sounds we had on tape.

The gear was on the stage and there was a velvet curtain between me and the band. But we’re talking about a loud rock band in a gymnasium, so it was just a gesture to reduce the highs by a few dBs. Even then, when we were playing it back, it was in this very cavernous space and you could sort of get the idea, but you didn’t really know, which is why we chose to go to a very controlled environment to mix, a place that was acoustically dialed in. We ended up mixing at Blackbird [in Nashville], which was the opposite extreme.

When you work with a group over a few albums, as you have with The Decemberists, you must develop an intuitive sense of what they like and what they don’t like, what you can try and what you shouldn’t try. I think of them as being pretty experimentally minded.
I think that’s true. The last record I did with them, The King Is Dead, we’d done so much together by that point that the lines of communication were wide open and we really had a common vocabulary. Colin [Meloy] does a lot of experimenting in the songwriting process. It’s always different with everybody, and even record-to-record with a band like that. The concept album [The Hazards of Love] required a lot of experimentation to make things work because here were all these songs that had to go together and literally blend into each other. So you start a long series of experiments figuring out how to make it sound like they were always meant to be together. He wrote everything to be together, but we had to really figure it out: “All right, let’s get 10 people with floor toms in the room and we’ll put a mic on the other side of the room and crush it [with a compressor] and right on the last down beat it’ll ring out and go into the next song.” Those guys are as game to experiment sonically as anybody.






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