skip to Main Content

Poisonous Birds

Gentle Earth

Listen

Full Production, Mixing & Mastering catered to by George Lever here at G1 .

The Challenge

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.

Tracking

Drum tracking

From the get go there was a discussion about how to approach drum tracking. Tom and I sat down and talked through multiple aesthetics that the drums could bring, how to achieve it and where would be best to go to make a start with recording them.

For the first EP it was agreed that a more dirty, grungy and lifelike approach was completely nessiscary.

Setup & location

Tom found a spot in Bristol which was usually hired by bands that needed to do a full show rehearsal before heading off on tour.

The space was large, concrete floor, high ceilings and a few large acoustic panels on each wall. Not amazing, but I thought it can work providing the microphone and kit placement is managed well.

I re-skinned the snare using an Evans heavyweight and started to walk around the room hitting the snare to see where it sounded best. I also got the guys (Tom and Finn) to shout if they heard anything change drastically for the better or worse.

Once finding the spot, the rest of the kit got its batter side heads changed while Finn got to setting up the rest.

Initially the microphones I wanted to try on toms were the Oktava m219s, however Finn was too loud and even with the pads engaged he was clipping the capsules, so unfortunately I had to swap them out for the smaller and more durable clip on sennhieser microphones

M201 was used on snare top because of its polar pattern and how nimble it is, I wish I had brought some packing / acoustic foam with me so i could better protect it from high hat bleed but alas, I forgot some.

Using the dual element kick mic was a first for me, I usually choose a D112 married with a Shure beta 91a inside a kick. What’s great is this mic houses both dynamic and condenser elements in one body so figured it should get pretty close to the same sound while taking up less space! Turns out it sounds great and picks up minimal bleed.

Overheads got the ORTF treatment because Finn chose to use a 3 cymbal setup, so I figured I could use an approach that would sound really natural and wide on headphones.

Room mics were a little more straight forward, I measured out an equilateral triangle from the snare/kick line of the kit and placed the two Oktavas on each point with a ribbon mic in the middle. The final room pair were as far back and high up as I could go.

Result;

The resulting tones were almost what im used to from a better environment, one where I can monitor in a separate room. On reflection there were a few bleed issues that I had to find work arounds for, and the second set of room mics didn’t really bring as much to the ‘picture’ as I had initially hoped.
The room had a very strong 3-4khz character, most likely from all the hard surfaces and not enough diffusion. Fortunately Fabfilter Q2 saved another life and was capable at carving out the intrusive elements.

The snare top mic had a whisper too much bleed and was a shade dark so I ended up duplicating the top mic across two tracks. One would focus on the body of the snare and the other would be hard gated and eq’d to accentuate the snap and attack of the hit. I chose to do this over sample re-enforcement because of the nature of the music and what was being played.

I did however bring in one of my ever trusty snare room samples to blend into the room mics, only because with the amount of 3-4khz I was having to cut, the initial attack note of the snare was being softened and I wanted to bring that back into the frame without over highlighting it.

Gear Used

Drums
Kick in – ATDE250
Snare Top- M201
Snare Bottom – c414
Toms – Sennhiser e604
OH – Oktava mk012 – ORTF RM1 – Oktava m219
RM2 – Oktava m319

Guitars
Axe Fx

Bass
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

Synths
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.

Vocals
Joly Modded Oktava m219 > Chandler Germanium > Distressor > Slate VMR

Mixing

i Drums

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.

poisybirbs_web_small

iii Vocals

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.

Testimonial

“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.

-PB

Mastering

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.

Lastly…

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