Engineering, Mixing & Mastering catered to by George ‘G1’ Lever
Sleep Tokens second record ‘Two’ entertained more than maybe we had initially anticipated.
The result is that for the new single ‘Jaws’ – we had to double down, refocus and decide how to encourage more from the material, setting a higher standard not just for the music but also from myself as an engineer / producer.
Reinventing yourself and your approach every time you come to create is exhausting. But when it works the payout is unbelievable.
From start to finish this song took 4 days to complete. Read on to see how this was achieved.
Ibanez 7 – Bareknuckle Juggernaughts
Strandberg Boden 7 – EMG 707x
Slate VMS – Song C37 Model > Neve 1073 > Distressor
Kit – DW Master
Kick – Audio Technica Dual Element
Snare – 57 & C414
Toms – Beyerdynamic M201s
Overheads – Slate VMS x2
HH – Aston Starlight
Ride – Aston Starlight
Room – Fathead Ribbons in Blumlein
Fender Jazz Custom Shop ’64
The track Jaws was built and completed in a reasonably short and efficient time frame (which is thankfully becoming something of a trend for me) working for around 4 days from start to finish. It was a quick process which required me to build the mix whilst tracking simultaneously.
Thus, to help encourage forward momentum and consistency, I built myself a few rules or ‘anchors’ to work by:
Rule 1 – The sub bass line (808) stays at either -24db or -30db. This was to ensure that the low end was always fixed and solid. Every other element would orientate around this foundation rule.
Rule 2 – Vocals are god.
After setting the 808 level, the vocals came next. I balanced them, delicately applying EQ and compression to taste whilst being mindful to not over-tame the dynamics of the performance. With the vocals in place, the rest of the mix aligned in one sonic space with little effort.
I knew that, for example, if the vocals felt too quiet, something must be masking them either in volume or tone. Or if the mix felt too dark, the lighter energetic elements needed to be accentuated etc.
This isn’t the first time I’ve used guidelines to maintain the initial vision, but it is the first time I’ve actioned them in a song that combines so many genres within one track. Because the drums were tracked last, they were also last to be implemented into the mix.
A lot of Jaws’ elements are synth-based/synthetically created, and quite far from sounding ‘organic’. I was sure that, to balance this out and keep the track rooted, I didn’t want to present the drums in the hyper-explosive, over-the-top processing style a lot of drums are subject to of late.
To achieve this, I spent more time setting the compression correctly and, rather than using compression to manoeuvre the performance in place, I utilised the natural tone and vibe that the overheads captured of live room to dictate the majority of the kit picture. If you were to hear the drums solo’d, this would be very apparent.
To keep what little bleed that existed in the close mics down to a minimum and still get the most from their impact, I staged a few different instances of Fabfilter’s Multiband Compressor plugin, keyed to only kick in and expand on the hit of the close mic in question. It’s set to attack quickly, to only let through a short 30ms spike, and then clamp back down.
Additional cool stuff;
– During the first instrumental chorus, most of the guitars playing the low E line are interestingly a Fender Jazz Bass performing on a single .090 string. This was a creative choice as well as a workaround in response to the bass octave region of the ‘guitar’ parts (and the lack of a guitar in the studio that would happily handle drop octave E standard tuning). It was a reasonably linear process to get the bass DI sounding guitar-like utilising a simple tone-matching process to a guitar DI, and when finally blended into a second set of drop E guitars, achieved the desired sound.
– The vocal hook in the second verse, before the ‘festival sing-along’ style chorus, are the same the hook from the chorus but played in reverse.
– When editing drums, I couldn’t decide how I wanted the drums to feel in the end section. I therefore didn’t quantise the performance at all; that whole section is just the pure drum performance.
Sleep Token have two records out currently called One and Two. They’re both 3 track EPs, however One has recently (as of writing this blog) been re uploaded with piano instrumental versions of each song.
We tracked these piano versions a pleasant studio called Monnow Valley, Wales. They are all improvised performances with no edits or cuts, and are well worth a listen.
Jaws acts as a stylistic keystone for Two, rounding off the creative exploration and the journey of what has been, whilst also potentially indicating at what is yet to come.
Until next time.