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)

Introducing the band

The first post on a blog is a bit like a shop window – you’re setting up an expectation for what’s contained inside. Therefore, we don’t think it would be fair of us to start a blog and not let you know exactly what you’re dealing with before delving any deeper. Consider this blog entry an introduction, disclaimer and warning all in one. Without further delay, allow us to introduce ourselves…

Dillastrate performing at Electric Avenue Festival, Christchurch with guest performer/extended family member Emily Browning, February 2018

Dillastrate is a two-piece* band featuring Henare (“H”) Kaa on the drums and lead vocals and Tim Driver on all the keyboards (and sometimes vocals). We originally met at the Christchurch Jazz School in 2006 (now Ara Music Arts) when we were both attempting to hone our craft. Since then we’ve individually worked incredibly hard for the opportunity to work as session musicians and front our own original projects. We first saw the possibility for Dillastrate when we were working together in other bands, including ahoribuzz and Soulsystem. The band started as a side-project from these ventures, but rapidly expanded to be our main focus. It’s even gotten to the point where we have started recording our first full-length album (which we’ll talk about in a future post) which, considering the cost of production, must mean that we’re SERIOUS now. In the short two years that we have been together, we have managed to complete NINE national tours, including some of the biggest festivals in New Zealand record an EP and standalone single, and start work towards an album. In fact, since January 2017 we have played over 60 festivals and headline shows around the country – mostly because we have a legitimate addiction to playing music together.

Dillastrate performing at Blue Smoke, Christchurch, May 2018

Individually, we are fairly distinct people with largely opposite personalities – a yin/yang type deal. While H is a fiery, excitable front-man with a drum kit and a microphone, Tim prefers to keep the show moving from behind stacks of equipment. If any of you have seen our live shows before, you can almost certainly attest to this! We also like to get people dancing, which is thankfully what we’ve been able to do at every show we’ve played thus far (including those typical Christchurch shows where people bring deckchairs and blankets and prepare themselves to be entertained for hours from a stationary position – nice try, sitters!).

Dillastrate performing at Water Bar, Wanaka – January 2018

Hopefully that’s sufficiently introduced us to the wider world! If you have any questions, chuck them in the comment section below. Otherwise, if you want to be in the know and get regular updates these our blog posts, sign up to our mailing list here. Also check out our other pages, including our socials (see below) and our website – www.dillastrate.com. Cha!

* In all honesty, it’s actually a three-piece featuring Jamie Thomson on the sound desk, but this is sometimes difficult to explain to people who only see two people onstage. (“But there’s two of you up there!”) From our perspective, it’s also a bit awkward trying to explain this while onstage. (“There’s two of us up here, but there’s actually three of us in the band, but you can only see two people because…”) So, we’re practically a duo, but functionally a trio.

The full band – Tim Driver – keyboards/vocals (left); Jamie Thomson – sound engineer (centre); Henare “H” Kaa – drums, lead vocals (right)