Full Production, Mixing & Mastering catered to by George Lever here at G1 .
Throughout the Gentle Earth EP – Poisonous Birds use mammoth synthesised soundscapes to great the majority of their sonicspace.
The challenge throughout the mixing of Gentle Earth is to be able to keep the size of the synths as large as possible while still managing to bring through and encourage additional impact that the drums provide and have vocals that sat within the mix without feeling like they are obscured or disconnected (this was the most tricky part).
OH! not to forget still find the correct voice and placement for when the naughty guitar riffs take part also.
Kick in – ATDE250
Snare Top- M201
Snare Bottom – c414
Toms – Sennhiser e604
OH – Oktava mk012 – ORTF RM1 – Oktava m219
RM2 – Oktava m319
Bass: Travis Bean Designs TB2000 (neck+bridge p’up w/ fingers in 1st chorus, bridge p’up w/pick in 2nd)
Effects chain: NRG Effects Purrer/Kicker (preamp/boost/drive) > Mantic Vitriol (distortion)w/ split outputs
Dry Signal: Vintech 573 Preamp
Distorted Signal: BAE Rehoused 312 Preamp > API 550 A
Lots of Novation Bass Stations. An original one from 1993, a plugin emulation, and the new Bass Station II. Also OP-1, Korg Monotribe and all kinds of softsynths. Almost everything is mangled with plugins, pedals or resampled through my Elektron Octatrack.
Joly Modded Oktava m219 > Chandler Germanium > Distressor > Slate VMR
Harking back to the original discussion Tom and I had about the approach for Poisonous birds, We derived that in order keep things as close to live as possible, we couldn’t use any close mic samples. Blending or replaced. It all had to stay live.
What was different about this drum mix? For the first time there’s a dedicated reverb track thats being fed by the final drum bus (which includes the parallel compression drum bus). Abbey Roads Plate Reverb is what provides the majority of the sound, that plugin is still fairly new to me and it sounds great. I loved that I could change up the dampening in order to change how
murky / diffused the resulting response was.
I stuck to Softube’s Fet Compressor (i think) for the drum parallel bus, that thing is so smashy and chewy, its great.
The kick ended up getting pummelled with the Slate VMR FG-401 compressor (SSL based), nailing around -10db of gr. Then tweaked the response of the kick with the SSL EQ after.
Snare bus was a pretty standard affair after splitting out the snare top to sort out the bleed, Slate VTM, Metric Halo Channel Strip & Fabfilter Q2. Classic.
Toms got a shade of EQ after having the bleed trimmed back, then into an L1 and a small amount of eq again there after to sort out the boxyness that can crop up after a beating from limiting.
Overheads got left relatively alone, I EQ’d using the Hammer DSP EQ from Kush (this thing is great) into the VBC Grey. Job done.
Rooms were left alone again bar for the previously mentioned EQ cuts.
ii Synths & Guitars
Synths are a relatively new world for me, they move and interact with acoustic elements in a completely different way. They’re untamed in ways that is hard to explain but allow me to attempt to.
What I found myself working on the most is getting the low end and sub lows to hold consistently rather than ebbing and flowing.
Because there’s next to no bass guitar in the EP (bar for one song where its more of a melodic instrument than rhythm) I knew the synths had to provide that hold and structure that the bass normally provides when married to the drums.
Once I had found the right combination (waves bass rider and multi band compression) and the more extreme synths started to behave, It (the mix) started to take shape quickly. The majority of the picture for the mix is made up of synths, so these guys had to be LOUD, BIG and have BALLS (bring in the tube saturation please!).
Tube, Tape and Amp saturation types found themselves being used but with a delicate hand. Going too hard on these things can turn melodic sources into white noise annihilation.
The guitars themselves were all Axe FX Ultra patches programmed by Tom, I have no idea what he used, what cab, or why. All I know is that the resulting sound worked well and needed only a little EQ to fit into place alongside everything else.
Tom recorded the vocals in the comfort of his own home with one of my Oktavas. Upon delivery
of the draws we ran the recorded tracks through my Chandler Germanium Preamp and into the Distressor on the 10.1 Opto setting. Probably hitting -10 / -12db of gr on the louder sections.
Once everthing was run through the outboard, the vocal tracks were summed to a buss into another stage of compression (albeit less intense) a 1176 flavour this time from VMR, VTM tape saturation and Fabfilter Q2 (I never want to live without this eq again)
Together Tom and I walked through each song automating the vocals section by section so they either sat forward or back depending on the intention of the line he was singing, along with pushing the reverb sends in tandem. (Reverb used was Valhalla Vintage)
There’s a few creative delay throws which I think I used H-delay for.
“George expertly crafted a beautifully balanced totally destructive sound. I genuinely don’t think many other mix engineers could have done that.”
Gentle Earth was the third major project George & I have worked on together, amongst other smaller bits and bobs. I started talking to him pretty early in the writing for Poisonous Birds. My vision for the project was strong and singular. find that the same piece of music can sound completely different if the context isn’t clear. George & I talked for hours about the mood I was trying to convey & where I was coming from. We ended up completely on the same page and the rest was easy.
This was never supposed to be a ‘perfect’ record. Quite the reverse in fact, we wanted to embrace imperfection, and make a very raw and real recording.
I gave George some pretty challenging sounds to work with. The snarling synths needed to retain way more top-end grit than any electric guitar would, but it totally clashed with the vocal. In fact every frequency band had so much going on, but George expertly crafted a beautifully balanced but in places, totally destructive sound. I genuinely don’t think many other mix engineers could have done that. He’s my guy.
Mastering the Poisonous Birds record was treated to be more like an extension of the mix process rather than something completely separate. With that we kept things pretty simple. Some tape colour from an emulation plugin, shape and final tone control through a Neve EQ (probably slate) and loudness provided by Slate FG-X and Fabfilter Limiter.
Poisonous Birds are extremely exciting to have worked with. I like being tested, tried and then asked to do things that challenge me to find new solutions and routes to the end result. Im already waiting for round 2! Until then, Gentle Earth shall have to do ! – G