|The Making of "A Dead Area" by Theory of Negativity
An interview with Ted St.Pierre at The Outlook, Bethel, Maine
How did this project come about?
I had worked with Pat Malia and Jason Rowland for many years, going back to 1989's Pesky Leper , Vomitcake, Peace Corpse's 3 releases in the early '90's: The Brain Parade cassette, The Ratsugar cd,
and Devilhead 45; and the first Theory of Negativity cd in '95-'96. I played with Jason in Sky Frontier,
and with Pat and Adam in Forest Floor, and produced cds for those bands also. It was late summer
or fall 2001, I think, when Jason contacted us, saying he and Pat had afew tunes they wanted to try.
It had been about 5 years since the last Theory of Negativity project. At that time, this seemed to be
a totally new project. I asked Jason if he needed any bass, and the answer was yes.
What was the general method you used in recording this cd?
Jason and Pat had the song ideas, and worked them out a little bit before they came in the studio.
Then we would set Pat's amp in the iso booth off the control room, hook him up with a wireless so
that he could be in the studio room with Jason when they played. This was great because this
allowed me to focus on engineering good drum tracks and reference guitar (though sometimes we
kept it). After they felt they got a good performance, or at the very least a good drum track, I'd
pick up my bass and put down a bass line. After that, Pat might add another guitar track or two,
and overdub his vocal. Sometimes he broke it up between two tracks for the verse and chorus.
The number of tracks was kept to a minimum, sometimes using fewer than 12 tracks per song.
Usually I would start out with 8 drum tracks: hi-hat, snare, kick, hi, mid and lo toms, and stereo
overheads. After the fact we would actually erase any track we deemed unnecessary, and only
the bare minimum were kept to keep everything as live and immediate as possible. On afew of the
songs, Adam Mazza would play guitar or baritone guitar instead of Pat, and also Rob Gaudet's
keyboards were added.
What are some of the specific recording techniques you used?
On drums we used standard Sonor Force 2000 drum set, 3 toms, snare, kick, 2 Zildjian crash cymbals,
Paiste ride and a couple miscellaneous cymbals. I miked all the toms and bass drum using Sennheiser
421's. Foam and/or blanket was inside the bass drum, varying amounts from song to song, with the
front head off. Jason would also bring his own snare, a Ludwig 5" acrolite aluminum, his own rack
toms with pinstripe heads, and DR double pedals. For overheads I used old-style AKG 451's with CK1
capsules. For high hat, I used an Audix D-1, and for snare I would use an Earthworks FM360 flexi
mic or an Audix D-3. I normally would use dbx 160a compressor/limiters on individual tracks as it was
recorded, and some minimal eq at this time as well.
For the guitar we used Pat's Laney 100w head, his effects unit, and my 4x12 cabinet fitted with
Celestion 30w greenbacks. Pat plays a 1990 PRS Custom. This was miked with a Sennheiser 609,
fairly close, slightly off-axis with one of the lower speakers. On a couple of tracks I may have used
a pair of these on different speakers. For the basic tracks he would be using a Samson SR22 wireless
with dbx, and then switch to a cable on any additional tracks because he would usually be in the
control room at that point. This was run through an Anthony DeMaria Labs (ADL) 1000 tube
compressor, with little or minimal eq. Maybe only adding a little top, or extreme low end attenuation.
On bass, I used a Fender 5-string Jazz Bass plugged into a Bellari Direct Drive tube mic pre-amp,
then into an ADL1000 compressor/limiter, and sometimes fairly significant eq.
Pat's vocals were done in a variety of ways, recorded in the iso booth off the control room.
Sometimes using an AKG "The Tube" with an Earthworks Lab 101 pre-amp, other times a handheld
mic was plugged into the Mackie console - either a Shure SM57 or an AKG C535 condensor through
a vintage Urei LA-4 compressor/limiter. For special vocal processing on some tracks I used my 1950's
Recordio mic plugged into a Rat 2 distortion pedal then into assorted guitar amps.
What format were the basic tracks recorded in?
I used the Mackie HDR24/96 system, which I'm really pleased with. Normally I would use it 24 bit at
48k. It's so much easier and faster to use than Pro Tools (which I've used on other projects),
because you can treat it almost like a tape recorder, however when it comes time to edit, you've
got everything right there. I also use a Mackie SR 56x8 live analog console. I specifically chose this
console because I had some experience with the Mackie 32x8 8-bus and I was looking for something
that had alot of inputs and was rock solid in terms of construction and reliability. Since this console is
designed to be moved around every night, it fit the bill.
Any special editing techniques?
My general approach to editing lately has been to edit out any dead space in a recording that
doesn't absolutely have to be there. For example, I would go through the tom tracks and erase
everything out - all the ambience - except for the actual tom hits. That way those tracks are
essentially off until there's signal present. It's like having the most accurate noise gate going.
This also helps to increase separation and keep a real minimal approach. I used this approach on
all of the instruments and vocal tracks. I found it also helps to accentuate the dynamics of the
Even though digital editing gave me more control over things like channel muting and level, the
whole cd was recorded very much in a live "Old School" way recording live musicians playing together
as the basis for these songs, except with good isolation between tracks so we would have good
control over the sound of each instrument. We didn't rely on any digital "tricks" to correct pitch
problems or timing problems. What you hear is what you get.
How about the mixing process?
At the time I had some studio monitors that I wasn't entirely happy with for mixing purposes. They
were okay for cutting basic tracks. I actually mixed a large majority of this cd using Beyer DT-770
headphones, and sometimes referencing to mini speakers at a very low volume. In fact I actually
set up an old Denon stereo for reference. I'm happy with my monitors now, I got a pair of Polk
Audio LSI9 speakers that I'm using with a Bryston 4B and Tannoy subwoofer. The mixes sound
great on pretty much any system I've checked it out on. In general, I don't really recall using the
console eq at all during mixes. Maybe added a little high end here and there to certain vocal tracks.
Also, there really wasn't any reverb or ambient effects. We might have used a touch of backwards
reverb from a Yamaha REV 500 on a transitional backwards cymbal swell, but everything else was
dry. Including the vocals. One last thing I did with vocals was to patch in my Urei LA-4 limiter, and
squashed them even more.
You also mastered this cd?
Yes. The songs were mixed first to my 360 Systems Short/Cut, this made it really fast and easy to
tweak any fades and work on the sequences. Pat had sort of an "A" and "B" list of sequences with
only a couple of minor changes, and as I recall, we just tried the first one and it seemed to work. I
also used a TC Electronic Finalizer Express as I burned the master cd on the Marantz 610 CDR
recorder to have more control over levels, although I did do some level adjustment within the
Short/Cut. However this was minimal. Everything was pretty consistent, level-wise.
I have to say that working with Pat never ceases to amaze me - how funny and talented the guy is.
When he put his vocal tracks on top of the finished instrumental tracks I didn't know what to expect,
and he really excelled. Pushed it over the top. When he cut the vocals on "Get a Net" it just blew
me away. Holy Shit! Where did that come from?
Reprints and excerpts are welcome, but please ask first.