Scott Merritt Goes Lo-Fi on Latest Eaglesmith Album
One of our favorite albums of the year is Fred Eaglesmith's 6 Volts. Like the Le Noise project from Neil Young and producer Daniel Lanois, 6 Volts is decidedly lo-fi. The main technical challenge for Eaglesmith and producer Scott Merritt, who goes back with Eaglesmith virtually to his recorded beginnings, was how to record the songs as a band with a single microphone in monophonic.
We recently emailed with the noted Canadian producer to delve into the technique and art of lo-fi recording and the recording of 6 Volts in particular.
Rocks Off: How did you conceive this record? One mike, one track mono, so what made you guys go 'this is what we're going for this time'? What were the conversations going into this one like/about?
Scott Merritt: Fred and I were both feeling that we were starting to suffer a bit of listening fatigue when it came to most modern recordings we heard around us. Super-human voices, precise instruments pasted on a grid, crazy editing, all scrubbed up. Not all of it of course, but I think it's safe to say an awful lot of it.
For a start, it's good sometimes to at least know what you don't want.
On the other side, we have always shared great fondness for the music that used to play on the old transistor radio on the kitchen sill when we were kids. Tiny lo-fi mono boxes, just one cheap speaker, but still somehow it could be enough to bowl you over.
Also, for the last few years a fair amount of my personal listening has been to archival types of music recordings. I love the Smithsonian stuff. Most all of it recorded well away from studios, worlds apart from the multi-track revolution that started in the early Sixties. I just love the clarity of a lot of those performances and beautiful lack of hype of the recordings. Naturally, you start to consider how those recordings were actually created. The types of places and situations. You look into it - and you begin to wonder if maybe there might be some way to integrate whatever they were up to into what you happen to be up to, hopefully with some sort of relevant spin on it. Not just "doing retro for retro's sake". You want players to respond somehow similarly maybe.
Of course it would be dumb to suggest we pulled the one mike / mono idea out of thin air. The first mono / one mike "modern" recording that I heard was back in the Eighties when the Cowboy Junkies released The Trinity Sessions disc. Great atmosphere on that one.
RO: Correct me if I'm wrong, but doing this one mike,/mono, I assume the "mixing" was done on the fly, track by track prior to pushing "record." Can you explain the process a bit?
SM: Yes, one microphone -- in this case, a real nice old RCA ribbon mike Fred has -- but there are no "separate tracks" involved. He and the band set up in the main room at the Masonic Hall -- where he lives -- around that one mike. There is no real "mixing" involved in the modern sense, since there is no console or multi-track recorder involved. Balancing the instruments depends completely on where the players are placed in proximity to that one mike in the middle of the room and the control each musician has personally over their own instrument's volume and tone. No overdubbing or repairing of parts. Whatever happens, happens. The recorder was a mono MCI analog tape recorder. We spent a fair amount of time working out the band arrangements, but recorded the progress of most everything along the way, all onto the "one track" tape recorder. Whatever we liked at playback, we dubbed over to a digital recorder - I took those mono files back to my place -- the Cottage -- where I listened through and assembled everything. Sometimes I edited different takes to create a new master take of the given song, sometimes not. Very quick. Intense, but quick. Probably worked out to about a song or two a day, start to finish.