Philosophy of the World Recording

Apr 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Matt Gallagher



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Seattle-based producer/engineer/musician Steve Fisk ( developed his craft in the 1980s and '90s as part of the Pacific Northwest's burgeoning indie-rock scene. Working in various studios, Fisk helped shape and document the sounds of acts such as the Screaming Trees, Beat Happening, Soundgarden, Nirvana and Unwound. He initially set up some gear at home to work on personal projects, but found himself working with his client base of rock bands and singer/songwriters in his home.

Today, Fisk uses his Pro Tools-based home studio for mixing and occasional tracking and overdubbing sessions. “Traditionally, and 90 percent of the time, I spend three to four days doing basics in a big studio and then I drag things in here for the other stuff,” Fisk explains. He says that he prefers tracking in studios that have high-quality vintage mixing boards. “I've always favored older boards. Part of the interesting thing about recording digitally with an older board is you really get the sound of the damn board.”

Steve Fisk in his control room at home, surrounded by top gear

Steve Fisk in his control room at home, surrounded by top gear

In recent years, Fisk came to specialize in mixing within Pro Tools, and because of his analog aesthetic, he employs analog summing to “get around the limitations of Pro Tools,” he explains. “That's how I'm doing my best work right now. I like mixing in other studios, but a lot of people that I work with are economy-minded, or if there's money to spend it gets spent in tracking. Plus, people like what it sounds like.”

Fisk describes his home as “an old bungalow from 1929 with a lot of amazing Scandinavian woodwork.” His living room serves as the tracking room. “Just by accident, [it] actually is a very nice-sounding place to record with its combination of drywall, veneered wooden ceiling, carpeting, the furniture and the fireplace,” he notes. “There's a veneered wall, as well, so all the sound bounces around in a very pleasant way. For years, we recorded vocals in here, and said, ‘Wow! This is a beautiful vocal room.’ Somewhere along the way, people started bringing drum sets in here.”

An add-on room in the back of the house, which measures 12×32 feet, serves as the control room. “I've done a lot of work to try to make it [acoustically] neutral with foam treatments and putting up [Auralex] LENRD [bass traps] in the corner, and some diffusion in the back.”

The control room houses a Mac G5 and Pro Tools HD3 Accel system with Pro Tools Version 7.4 and a Digidesign 192 I/O audio interface. For analog summing, Fisk relies on a Roll Music Systems RMS216 Folcrom passive summing device. “It doesn't try to sound like an API or a Neve; it's theoretically neutral because its coil is completely passive,” he says.

Quality outboard gear is also central to Fisk's production. “I use different mic pre's, depending on what I'm doing,” he says. These pieces comprise a Summit Audio TPA-200B, three Chameleon Labs Model 7602s, which emulate the Neve 1073, and a Mackie Onyx 800R digital mic pre. His main compressor is a Joemeek C2 photo-optical stereo unit. Fisk's mic cabinet is modest: “I rent mics, but the Chameleon Labs TS-2 and Pacific Pro Audio LD-Tube see a lot of duty.”

Fisk's vintage effects processors include an Echoplex, as well as Master Room and AKG BX20 spring reverb units, and he uses his ARP 2600 synth as both an audio source and a processor. Other vintage gear includes a Mellotron Mark VI and Moog Theremin. Fisk monitors with ADAM P11As and Yamaha NS-10Ms. “I also have a $65 Logitech system with a crappy subwoofer because I figure some people are actually listening on that,” he adds.

This year, Fisk produced Cody's Dream from Mark Pickerel and His Praying Hands, and Paul Manousos' Common Thread (reviewed in “Cool Spins,” page 128). “Pickerel's last record was almost completely in the box,” Fisk notes. “The songs are post-modern references to older material, [but] I told him, ‘If you hear Amy Winehouse, you don't need to have old-sounding sounds; your arrangements and your approach are old sounding.’ Paul's records are usually recorded pretty traditionally. [He's] the loudest singer I've worked with in a long time. He hits notes like an opera singer. I think he actually enjoys being hard to record.” [Laughs]

Both Pickerel and Manousos are Fisk's longtime clients and friends, and a look at Fisk's extensive discography reveals repeated collaborations with many artists. “I've been lucky enough to do multiple projects with several people,” he says. “You develop a lot of communication and vocabulary, and a lot of approaches, so hopefully each time you get together you're working quicker, more efficiently and more creatively.”

Matt Gallagher is an assistant editor at Mix.

Extra recording tips from Steve Fisk

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