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Holding Absence
Holding Absence

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Engineering and Production catered to by George Lever

Prelude

It is hard to pinpoint when exactly Holding Absence and I started discussing the album. It feels like it was pretty soon after the ‘This Is As One’ record was finished, then again my memory is awful and bad.

“This is Holding Absence” took a while to make, not because it was difficult to create but because there were a lot of moving parts to consider.
The outcome is one that I hope everyone is proud of. As of writing this, only one track has been released so far, so it’s pretty difficult to judge how well it will be received.

Gulp

For those of you still curious about the approach taken when building the record, time to use that finger (I hope it’s a finger) and scroll down.

Also, I’m hungry.

Tracking

Preparation & Tracking

i. Fes & Dan Weller & Me
Feisal and I had a few different sessions before the tracking dates commenced. In all seriousness this was to hone and finesse the identity of the establishing tracks along with writing more on top for consideration.
This process was interesting to navigate, it was the first time I had to guide someone with writing to a deadline.

During the first session we arranged and finished 8 songs in total, 6 of which made it to the final record.

The second session took place mid way through 2018. It felt like there was a need for a few more radio ready songs, something that would immediately lift the presence of the album for the band upon launch.
This is where Dan Weller (Sikth, BabyMetal) came in – Dan is a song-writer, a really good song-writer at that. My understanding is that over 2-3 days, Dan worked with the band on the songs ‘Like A Shadow’ and ‘Monochrome,’ with intention of releasing these tracks as radio singles. It would then be my job to take the skeletons of these songs and produce them in such a way that they would sit well alongside the rest of album and still sound like Holding Absence. It also meant I had the task of working with the gents to identify what ‘Holding Absence’ is currently and what it may be in the future.

I think it’s safe to say there was more work involved in the second session, as a lot of the moves made were to ensure that the new tracks met the standard and sonic qualities set during the first recording session.

Tracking & Scheduling
Guitars, Bass and Ambience

As far as tracking goes, the biggest pain in the *** was having to work out these huge extended chords and keep them in tune with not only themselves but the songs natural tone as well.
This is where I’m going to let you into a secret – If the guitarist is struggling to control their left hand and doesn’t have an Evertune to utilise. A capo is your best friend. Use the capo to keep the tension consistent then tune the chord with the extensions you want and track away. Yes, you do need to do this chord by chord but the result can be really pleasing. There you go; pro tip provided.

The first half of the album used a Victory Kraken for all rhythm tones. During the second session, I had received my modded JCM800 1982 (mod provided by Dan Gower.) We shot out the JCM against the Kraken and found they were really complimentary, so obviously I had to use the JCM everywhere, including some weird ambient FX parts. Both these amps ran into a Two Notes Captor. This is a reactive load box that allows you to record the amp without a connecting cab! It’s an ace little unit that can be powered over phantom power (using an XLR) so no need for a wall plug!

For the low-end, Mr Fender Jazz was run through the Diezel VH4 ch1 (kindly on loan from James Clayton of The Arusha Accord.) This combined with a Darkglass pedal and a safety DI sounded super unique. We were all set!

Ambience
This will take a little while, so bear with me. 
A lot of the ambient parts for Holding Absence move and interact with the sum of the song as well as providing a certain musical theme/element to each track.
The role of the ambience changes based upon the intent of the song and therefore the approach needs to change with it.
Some applications are as a result of manipulating the chord itself through effects/reverb/ reversing the play of the chord into reverb and so on.
Do this up to 30 times and you’ll have some idea of the process.

The next level of the process was to then work on ‘ugly’ sounds to bring in harsher and more saturated tones to the ambience. This can be heard really well in the lead line for Like A Shadow, this effect is the combination of the Mr Black Superman and Boss Analog delay feeding the input of the JCM800. This is then followed by a ‘drone’ layer that takes that information and splits it into granular bits and smears them out over a predetermined length of time (usually 10 seconds or so.) This layer gets automated to PUSH and PULL certain notes that self harmonise with the original take.
It’s a lot of work, but that’s how much of the box you have to break in order to find unique sounds that can define a moment.

Drums
With the record being split into two different sessions, this led to us utilising two very different studios. The first batch of songs were tracked at a studio called Vada, the second was tracked at Northstone studios in Wales. Vada’s character is open, bright and direct. Northstone is a little more complex, smaller in room size and gritty (I’ll get to that later).

Vada uses a SSL G+ desk and I made full use of this when tracking, with EQ and compression running on the way in. The intention was to get as much of an ‘in your face’ and immediate drum sound from the get go.
Northstone didn’t have an SSL to hand, but it did have two Neve summing mixers and a lot of the new Rupert Neve Shelford pre amps along with a few of the 500 series tape sim units Rupert Neve Designs now sells.

Because the acoustics of each room varied a lot along with the composition of each room, it was really important to keep the tuning and mic placements uniform between sessions. However, irrespective of how many notes you may take or how consistent you try to be, there will always be something that’s different. The only option there is to roll with it and make use of it in a creative sense to help give the songs a new character altogether.

Vocals
Lucas and I spent some time at Vada going over vocal tracking with the Slate VMS running through the SSL desk. This didn’t seem to effect the mic modelling too much, I’m sure it added some colour and saturation – sounded fine to me!
Theres a lot of subtle shifts and throws throughout the record, running reverse reverb throws to help re-introduce passages of singing after an instrumental period.
We also did a few more experimental effects using some guitar pedals I had to hand such as the Hologram Infinite Jets and Mr Black Supermoon. The sounds that came out are pretty unique and definitely add some cute little bits of ear candy for when you listen to the record on headphones.

Drum Adventures

Okay, you’ll need to bear with me with this as I try and explain how the f**k I even anything ever.

A year ago (2017) the idea of splitting up a record into two sessions would have been enough to fire my anxiety through the roof. Throw in a curveball and mention that each session is in a different space +1 lvl anxiety power, change all the gear at each studio, +2 lvl anxiety and self-loathing.

On the upside, both studios are ace for what they aim to achieve and how they go about doing so.

Below is a breakdown of the main differences between each setup from each session.

Drums @ Vada

Gretsch Catalina kit

Adrian Bushby overheads – Close X&Y pattern stereo pair using Neumann U87’s followed up with close micing the main left and right crashes with Neumann KM184s

Room mic pair – Royer R121 in blumlien

Larger room with short decay / open balanced tone akin to middle farm. (Maybe a little shorter than middle farm thinking about it)

Z custom crashes, much better for recording, far less bleed than usual.

Drums @ Northstone

Similar setup but with different mics

Neve ribbon mics for overheads – spaced pair into Shelford preamps w/ the super Neve designs tape sim

Room mics placed inside room between live space and control room. High and wide, trying to encourage as much pre-delay as possible to make the room sound bigger than it was. Aston Origins?

Dark, trashy room & huge Paiste cymbals = lots of lovely 3k bleed in the close mics.

Although the studios were very different in setup, build and approach. I found as long as the close mics on the kit stay similar in setup, the overheads and ambience setups can change (within reason) and still ‘sit’ in the mix with relative ease.

The most noticeable difference comes when the room size changes, this effects the tone and shape of the bleed you that is encountered. This can be tricky, especially if when trying to not use samples.

In order to bring uniformity, my suggestion would be to introduce some consistency via room samples – that way some constant is ensured between the two recording sessions.

Gear

Drums

Kit setup;
Gretsch Catalina
Snares – Ludwig Black Beauty & Mapex Sledgehammer Black Panther

Vada Mic Selection;
Kick – Audio Technica Dual Element Mic
Snare top – Shure Beta57 & Akg C414
Snare Bottom – Shure KSM32
Toms – Akg C414
Spot mics – Neumann KM184s
Overheads – Neumann U87s
Room Close – Royer R121s
Room Far – Neumann U87s

Northstone;
Kick – Audio Technica Dual Element Mic
Snare top – Beyerdynamic M201 & Akg C414
Snare Bottom – Shure SM57
Toms – Senn MD421
Spot mics – SM7b & Oktava mk012
Overheads – Rupert Neve Design RN17
Room Mics – Aston Origin

Guitars & Bass

Fender Telecaster with Cobra Pickups
Fender Jazz Custom Shop 1964
Victory VX The Kraken
Dan Gower Modded Marshall JCM800
Diezel VH4 on Bass
Two Notes Captor

Post Production

Honestly speaking, a band losing one of their founding members mid-cycle is never easy, whichever way you colour it. It is complicated further when you, the producer, are asked to help ensure that whatever comes next is consistent with previous material.

This becomes less about engineering and more about how you observe others’ relationship to music and what their own approaches to writing, melody and harmony may be.

In this instance, the main thing that the gentlemen required from me was an overarching view of the project that is this album, as well as ensuring that the flow of the record encouraged the listener to stay involved with what was being presented to them.

The risk is obviously that the songs Fes and I worked on vs the songs I ended up finalising on my own would sound noticeably different.

Avoiding that was paramount and critical, I allowed myself time to familiarise once again with what we had done since ‘This Is As One’ and listen to the composition of the ambient layers to best understand what made these sections work in the way that they did.

Having established the way things were, it then led into ‘where can they go next’.

We introduced moving drones and textured atmospheres that weren’t guitar driven, I guess it is more ‘pop’ to do this via synthesis but whatever. If it works… then it works. Funnily the results reminded me a little of the lead tones / atmospherics from the Bring Me The Horizon album ‘There is a hell, believe me, I’ve seen it.’ – Which happens to be a sick album so no complaints from me!

Trusting the mixer

The album went to a mix test that I was part of. This ended up with my close friend Abraham Fihema of Luna Crown being picked out of the blind test. Hopefully he’ll write his own words on the record at some point. I asked Abraham to join me during the Northstone sessions for the second half of the record. So as a mixer his involvement was a little more than your typical ’coming in from the cold’.

Testimonial

Holding Absence

Working with George was a pleasure and a really pivotal part of our album recording process. Always willing to offer his own ideas, while remaining impartial – If it benefits the music, it’s right – That played a huge part in our final product.

Sonically, George is great at creating awesome soundscapes and understanding the overall shape and body of what the recording needs and how to achieve it, which is vital when recording something as big as an album.

Finally, on a personal level, George quickly became a friend in the studio, always mediating any band disputes and offering wisdom when necessary. And he makes a great seitan curry too!

Reflection

With the wish to be honest and open, it is difficult for the ego when you lose a blind test shoot out. It will make you ask questions about your own ability. However, it is important as a professional to lose every once in a while.

You’ll learn lessons that otherwise go untaught. I learnt a lot about myself. Abraham was very accommodating and spent time talking through the process, I’ll always be eternally grateful for this as it helped me learn a side of the job that I had not appreciated fully beforehand. Thanks, Abraham x

Aside from personal development, breaking up an album into multiple sessions and losing someone from the process while doing so would derail most bands.

It didn’t derail the project this time around because everyone involved shifted to pull more weight.

Hopefully the result speaks for itself and highlights everything that went into the album from all involved.

G1