An interview with Gentlemans's Dub Club: Gear, Recording Techniques and Production
A deep dive interview into the recording and production process behind Gentleman’s Dub Club’s fresh new album ‘Down To Earth’ OUT NOW. We talk about how to produce and record a collaborative album during lockdown, plugins, gear and more.
Eimear O Sullivan, Musicngear: As part of this album was recorded in Crosstown Studios, and part of it was recorded at home - what did ye use to record yourselves at home? (e.g Mics, Sound Cards, DAWs etc)
Toby Davies, GDC’s Bassist and Producer: All of the band have decent home setups due to working on various different projects (plus we’re all audio nerds), so it was good to know that anything recorded at home could end up on the album. Everyone uses Logic with various third party plugins installed.
- Nick Tyson (Guitar) used an Universal Audio Apollo 16, a Gibson ES 345 and a Fender Custom Strat.
- Johnny Scratchley (Vocals) used a Shure SM 7 B mic into an Apogee Duet.
- Luke Allwood (Keys, BVs) played a Clavia Nord Stage 3 88 into a MOTU 8 Pre USB and recorded vocals with a Rode NTK.
- Tommy Evans (Drums, BVs, production) uses a Shure SM 7 B mic into an Universal Audio Apollo x8p and produces mainly in the box.
I very rarely work at home as I am based at Crosstown, but when I do I have an old faithful Native Instruments Komplete Audio 2 channel Interface, an Shure SM58 LC and I’ll take home my Gibson ES 335 TD and a MIDI keyboard.
Don’t worry too much about the end product and take time to think about how you emotionally connect to the music you’re creating
MnG: How did ye find recording yourselves at home, and what advice would ye give to anyone looking to get the most out of a recording remotely?
Toby: We actually really enjoyed the process of writing separately rather than our usual method of sitting down together in a room and bashing through ideas. Don’t get me wrong, that technique is awesome because there’s so much momentum and energy driving the creation of the music and we’ve been playing together for so long that we’ve worked out ways to play to each others’ strengths, but doing it separately meant that we could take a bit more time and each member could see out their ideas from start to finish.
The beauty of recording at home (especially in the middle of a lockdown!) is the amount of headspace you are allowed to relax into your music. You’re in a familiar setting with all your home comforts around you so you can delve into self-reflection without distraction or self-consciousness. You can really take time to think about your writing because you’re free from the pressure of being in a big studio with millions of options. Writing and arranging is, in my opinion, way more important than how it’s going to sound eventually. To look at it in reverse, I find mixing a song that’s badly written way harder because the inspiration isn’t there.
So my advice would be don’t worry too much about the end product and take time to think about how you emotionally connect to the music you’re creating. Writing a beautiful chorus using just vocals and piano or guitar is way more powerful than using the right snare sample!
MnG: The synths and strings at the start of Moonlight Dreams are so lush and dreamy - what synths were used for this, and what was used on them in the mixing process in order to maintain (or enhance) the rich analog quality they have?
Toby: Luke used a couple of the excellent Clavia Nord Stage 3 88 organ sounds combined with the TAL Noisemaker soft-synth with an arpeggiator set for the higher sprinkles. Nick also played in some held guitar chords using the classic combo of a Gibson ES 345 with light whammy bar vibrato through a Fender amp with the reverb cranked up.
The strings were one violinist, Alicia Berendse, multi-tracked through a blend of an Extinct BM9 ribbon mic and an AKG C 451 B. We mainly used the ribbon mic for the violins because it takes the harshness out of the top end which can be a problem with recording violin, especially if you’re multi-tracking as you’re receiving similar top end information on every take.
The rich analogue quality you’re referring to came mainly from all the analogue gear we used to record! We are massive analogue enthusiasts and are always trying to get that “golden sound”. At this point, I’d like to shout out Crosstown engineer/drummer Ben Mckone. He possesses a talent way beyond his years and his attention to detail is verging on concerning. He has spent many years collecting analogue gear including the desk that we ran everything through - an immaculately maintained 1970’s 24 channel custom Tweed Audio which he bought from reggae legend Prince Fatty.
There are a few in-the-box tricks I used for the mix as well. I deliberately didn’t get too heavy with surgical eq’ing because the original recordings were so rich and have so much character. That’s what gives old records their sound - back in the day EQ units had far fewer options than we have today, and the producers relied more on the engineer to get the sound. If you listen in close, many classic records have virtually no high end frequencies to them but possess an undeniable crunch and weight.
So instead of getting surgical I used a lot of high pass and low pass EQ to get rid of harshness and mud. I find bussing groups and selectively cutting low and high end puts each group in its own space and allows the parts to breathe next to each other. I also love UAD plugins and I whack the Universal Audio LA2A Teletronix Legacy on a lot of my groups. To really crank up the character I used the XLN Audio RC-20 Retro Color plugin - it’s an amazing and very flexible multi-fx plugin that has things like tape wobble, flutter and distortion.
Having said all this, I cannot stress enough how important that the actual musicians were on making this record. Luke Allwood was the principle writer for Moonlight Dreams and is an unbelievably tasteful keys man with an amazing ear for harmony. The chord sequence he chose gives it that dreamy quality and his organ line and synth sprinkles interlock in such a beautiful way. Alicia is an accomplished violinist who’s played and recorded all over the world, her expressive playing and sensitivity was the icing on the cake! Everyone else was on top form and used high quality instruments for the recordings which makes such a massive difference when you go to mix. I must also mention the musical genius and overall good guy Brad Baloo from the Nextmen - he mastered the album and was on hand to help with the balance of the strings and the rest of the parts before he got into the mastering.
MnG: Are there any specific plugins that are your go-to for mixing?
Toby: As I mentioned the Universal Audio LA2A Teletronix Legacy is a brilliant emulator of the original, as is the Universal Audio 1176 LN Legacy, I use a lot of FabFilter Pro-Q 3 because it’s really easy to use, can go into a lot of detail if needs be and is light on the processor, the Waves CLA Vocals and Waves JJP Vocals are great for adding vocal character and the Soundtoys and Izotope bundles are a go-to every time. For FX, the Universal Audio EMT 140 plate is an awesome plate reverb emulator and I actually use the old Logic Gtr Amp Pro for spring reverbs when I’m not using my outboard spring. I’ll often strap the UAD Ampex ATR-102 over the master to bring everything together - the lows are nice and warm and the high end is crispy and very good at boosting without sounding too piercing.
Who would have thought that out of the chaos of separation and despair would come something so beautiful!
MnG: Was it harder to keep song ideas on track as when communicating remotely, or did it allow more room for improvisation etc?
Toby: To give a brief rundown of the Down To Earth writing process, for most of the songs we would get together on Zoom to talk about themes we could explore, moments we could create and generalities about things like lyrics, chord sequences and arrangements. Then we would often delegate the writing of an instrumental or a chorus or a whole song to one or two writers. As a producer one of my main goals is to bring the best out of the people involved in making the record: starting with concepts that we all find inspiring and then leaving one or two people alone with those ideas means that there’s no meddling during the process of seeing out writing the song from start to finish. There were many instances where my gut feeling was to butt in and add my two cents, but I decided to shut up, step back and let the idea run its course for the sake of maintaining the vision of the writer and preserving the concentration of the ideas. It was only when those sketches were seen out to the end that I would look to make tweaks, bearing in mind the overarching view of the album as a whole. I think it’s important to realise that everyone has different taste…maybe the writer is hearing something you aren’t hearing, and that thing might be key in connecting the music with the listener. I hold all of the GDC writers in very high regard, so far be it from me to interrupt their flow!
I’m really happy with how the album holds together and I think a big part of that aside from the quality of the writing is due to the space the individual writers were allowed to express their ideas. Who would have thought that out of the chaos of separation and despair would come something so beautiful!
MnG: The drums sound amazing, what is the setup like for recording them?
Toby: The drums were recorded in Ben Mckone’s studio (Crosstown studio B). It’s a relatively small room which means a tight and fairly dead sound which is perfect for Reggae.
For the recording, we used an AKG D12 for the kick, an Shure SM57 LC for the snare, an AKG C 451 B for the hats, Beyerdynamic 420’s for the toms and Extinct Audio BM9 ribbons for the overheads, which we sent through a pair of Empirical Labs EL8 X Distressor. Everything was recorded through Vintage Tweed Audio C515 channel amps into 2 x Universal Audio Apollo x8p A-D converters.
Probably more important than the microphones was the instrument and the musician (you can see a theme here!). Once again I have to mention Ben’s genius not only because he engineered, but because he actually played the damn things! He’s one of my favourite all-time reggae drummers and aside from his deadly feel, his experience in both playing and engineering means he knows exactly how to hit each drum and cymbal to get the right resonance and punch for the music. To top it all off we used his beautiful Vintage Rogers kit which is arguably the heaviest and punchiest kit on earth.
Here’s a quote from Ben talking about the drum recordings:
“Most importantly the vibe was right for the session. I had just been in Spain and felt rested and refreshed. Me and Toby recorded the drums and bass at the same time which meant that we could play off each other, and the push and pull of the tracks was set by the foundation of drums and bass. We work in Crosstown every day so we have had time to fine tune the sound. We spent a whole day getting the sound right and then spent a day recording which was a nice change from a lot of modern sessions which are quite rushed due to heavy studio rates and deadlines.”
Another honourable mention has to go to our Sound Engineer Doug Hunt who came in at the end for additional mix advice. Doug is a highly experienced and freakishly knowledgeable engineer, so it was a massive help having his finely tuned ears for the final mix.
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