Album Tracking: The First Two Weeks

Recording is a strange process. Most typically, musicians will spend weeks on pre-production (the process of writing, arranging and generally preparing songs for the recording studio) trying to perfect their material. They will pore over potential equipment, calling in favours to borrow a friend’s slightly larger bass drum for that bigger sound that they might need. They will often take every bit of money that they have – whether acquired from funding, gigs or emptying the piggy bank – and pour it into booking a recording studio for whatever time they have between their full-time day jobs and other responsibilities. Given the above constraints, they pile into the studio with their limited time and resources, try to relax and nail the perfect take. Fuck.

Gorgeous view of Auckland from the studio kitchen window, i.e. our main contact point with the outside world for two weeks.

We are extremely lucky that we were in a position over mid-January to take some time off from our day jobs, call in favours all around New Zealand for equipment hire and have enough money from our busy tour schedule to afford to record for the initial two weeks. We are also incredibly privileged to get to work with an extremely skilled producer, Ben Malone – a full-time music producer who we first worked with on our debut EP ‘Black Diamond’ and subsequent one-off single I Don’t Care.

Tracking guide keyboards from the corner fortress.

We made ourselves comfortable at Big Pop Studios in the sunny, gentrified hipster suburb of Kingsland. (Incidentally, I (Tim) have done some transcription work for Big Pop in the past and my brother is employed as a full-time audio engineer with these guys – there’s a great example of the closeness of the links of the New Zealand music industry for ya.) Much to my delight, the studio had multiple beeeeautiful old synthesizers (photos attached) that I had to force myself to not get distracted by, particularly as we were primarily there to track drum parts. Therefore, I’ve set up my own keyboard fortress in the corner of the control room to track guide parts along with H’s drumming. If anybody wants to know (and I strongly doubt that as this is keyboard equipment that we’re talking about) I am running my trusty stage equipment – the Korg SV1, Moog Sub Phatty and Yamaha Reface CS. H set himself up in the adjacent room with multiple drum kits (provided by Scotty’s Drum Hire in Auckland) – I have no idea how drum equipment works so I’m not going to embarrass myself but trying to describe what he was using.

Some beautiful keyboards and synthesizers that I had to stop myself from being distracted by during the drum recording process.

I may be going out on a limb here, but I imagine that people who haven’t experienced working in a recording studio before have a very different vision of how it works than musicians, engineers and producers do. In the mind of the general public (and I can verify this with anecdotal evidence collected from many conversations with people at gigs), musicians enter the studio and proceed to flawlessly play together (in one – maaaaybe two – takes) their songs in the exact form and order that they appear on the album. Let me quash this right now – this imagined scenario could not be further from the truth. The reality is that most time in the studio is spent doing very lengthy soundchecks (hours!), followed by gradual tracking of each part for each song individually, usually with the aid of guide tracks which may or may not need to be arranged/recorded earlier. And if you were expecting witty, caustic rockstar banter in the studio, guess again – this usually consists of the producer or engineer saying “that was great, but can we try it with 16th hi-hats instead of 8ths?” and similar responses over and over until tracking is finished. In a nutshell – it’s hard work.

Me taking a photo of H taking a photo of Ben adjusting the kick drum mic.

Having written the above, magic moments do happen. Within the album production so far, we have often gone off-schedule to the point whereby half of the songs we’ve recorded were written based on throwaway ideas developed in the studio. At the end of the first two weeks of recording, averaging 16 hours of work each day, we have 27 songs with drums and 15 songs with full instrumentation awaiting vocals. This means that we are probably going to be releasing a 15-track album sometime this year…

I also got to record on this lovely Yamaha upright piano while H recorded the drums.

To sign off, we are – SO – FUCKING – EXCITED – to show these songs to the world, but there’s a LOT of work to be done in the meantime. We’ll also need some time to recover from our initial stint in the studio… We’ll keep you updated as the recording process progresses. Keep informed of our goings-on on this page, by signing up to our mailing list here, following us on our socials (links below) or at our website at www.dillastrate.com. Yeyeyeyeye.

Cool guyz – Ben Malone (left), Henare “H” Kaa (right)

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