Entries in David Hearst (2)


Scattershock - Recording "Wrong Train": Part 2

In my previous article, I explained how we shifted our focus from the Shatterbox remixes to finishing off the Scattershock tracks originally recorded in Denver. This time, I will go into some detail about what it took to finish the recording, mixing and mastering of the Scattershock Wrong Train album.

During the same period when I was tracking rhythm guitars, Steve and I were using our nights in the studio to finish off the drum and bass reprocessing. Once we'd wrapped that up, we proceeded with vocal tracking. Over the years, Steve and I had always hoped we'd find someone to handle lead vocals, but that never panned out. We finally talked it over and decided that he and I were still the two people most likely to truly feel the songs and lyrics. For a number of reasons, we decided it would be best if I took on the lead vocals, and the two of us would split backup vocal parts. Once that decision was made, we dug in and worked our way through the songs and parts. Somehow, all the energy and eventual frustration that was part of the Shatterbox remixes came pouring out. For the first time ever, I really felt like I was able to channel my emotions directly into my vocal performances. I still wish my voice had more natural magic but I feel like this batch of tracks reflects the best my vocal cords and years of training could produce.

While we were working our way through the rhythm guitars, lead and backup vocals, Nancy and I were making the difficult decision to move out of the Bay Area, relocating to Bozeman, Montana. This was a very painful decision for me, and was equally hard on Steve. Although it didn't soften that pain for either of us, we agreed that we would do everything necessary to make sure we finished the Scattershock album. By June of 2009, when the Hearst-Reynolds family packed up and drove out of the Bay Area, we had completed all the vocals, all the drum and bass reprocessing and all of the rhythm guitars. We had not, however, finished lead guitars nor had we mixed or mastered the songs.

I had packed up all of the essential recording gear from Redwood City and brought it to Bozeman with me. I set it up soon after our arrival and had a functional, if not exactly polished, recording space in the shop building of our Bozeman home. After solving the problem of cranking up the Powerball enough to get my desired lead tone (more about that in a future article), I pushed my way through the solos, many of them coming easily, while the "Wrong Train" solo, which has always been a challenge, took many days of practice and tracking.

When I finally had the guitars wrapped up, it was time to focus on the mixes. I was working for McDSP at the time, and we were developing new versions of the Classic Pack plug-ins. With FilterBank, CompressorBank, MC2000 and Analog Channel needing thorough testing, I had the perfect opportunity to put them through their paces, while simultaneously establishing the best settings for our mixes. After a lot of experimentation, I felt that I was close to having the mixes nailed, but the relatively untreated space where I was mixing was making it hard to be 100% sure. I'd left my Tannoy System 15DMT studio monitors in Redwood City, so I was mixing with just my DynAudio BM6A reference monitors and BM15A subwoofer. With the challenging acoustics of my space, the single reference point wasn't enough. Thanks to my good friend, Billy Costigan of Poindexters, that problem was solved by a new pair of Focal Solo6 Be monitors. They did the trick, giving me a distinct perspective from the DynAudio speakers and I was able to make the final adjustments to the mixes.

All along, I'd imagined that we would also do the mastering, but after years working on these tracks, I realized it was time to hand them off to someone with fresh ears and a new perspective. Thanks to one of my father's connections, I had been lucky a year or so earlier to observe a great jazz session at Fantasy Studios. While there, I got to meet Jesse Nichols, one of their engineers, and had really been impressed with his work and his personality. Awhile after that, Jesse was kind enough to help us pick out the perfect vocal mic for my voice (a Neumann TLM 103). With that front and center in my mind, it was natural to approach Jesse and Gannon Kashiwa for input on the mixes. We got some great help from Gannon on the mixes and I made another round of adjustments, then we handed those off to Jesse who did a magnificent job mastering everything. I doubt I'll ever do my own mastering again...

After it was all said and done, we had completed 9 songs. The two oldest ones ("Same Time Next Week" and "Don't Wanna Talk") date back to our Secret Life days. The rest of them are all songs from the Shatterbox era and would have been part of that unreleased batch of mixes. The good news for us, though, is that these versions of the songs sound much better and represent a much greater, more personal accomplishment.


Scattershock - Recording "Wrong Train": Part 1

A few months ago, I explained the history of my partnership with Steve Rosenthal, and how we eventually recorded 14 songs at Rocky Mountain Recorders in Denver, with help from engineer, Gannon Kashiwa, and bass player, Paul Olguin. You can find the two earlier articles here (Scattershock - A History: Part 1Part 2). In this article I will describe the long path that followed before any of those tracks were released.

Sometime in 2006 or 2007, while I was working at Apple and after I'd finally gotten my Redwood City recording studio fully functional, Steve and I decided it was time to put Pro Tools and our analog gear through its paces. We'd always felt that the early Pro Tools recordings we'd done of all the Shatterbox material hadn't had the energy or polish we wanted, and decided that those sessions were the perfect opportunity to experiment with processing and mixing. We started by patching various pieces of analog gear into inserts in Pro Tools, running drums, bass, guitar and vocals through all the outboard gear, learning which units sounded good on which tracks. After many nights of trial and error, we eventually established a collection of signal paths and settings that we liked. Using those, we reprinted all the Shatterbox audio tracks through our processing chains of choice.

The resulting analog-reprocessed tracks established our new baseline for mixing. Steve and I continued our weekly evenings together in the studio, using plug-ins to fine tune the tones and eventually established a collection of settings that could be used across all of the songs, with only small adjustments on a case-by-case basis. With that in place, we were able to focus on the mixes themselves and soon wrapped them up. To further exercise the analog and digital gear, we proceeded to master the songs, learning even more in the process.

By the time we'd wrapped up all the mixing and mastering, we were excited about how good the songs sounded. The analog reprocessing had breathed fresh life into the songs and everything sounded so good that we wanted the rest of the world to hear it. Since Mike Levine had contributed to the collection as a songwriter, vocalist and bass player, we contacted him to let him know how excited we were and that we were interested in releasing them as an album. Steve and I had started Crayonmaster, the company that held the rights to our songs and would act as the music label for the release. We were happy to cover the legal and logistical costs of the release and wanted to split any proceeds equally between the three of us. Unfortunately, after a brief period of optimism, it became clear that Mike was unhappy with the plan. After a few more attempts to reach a compromise, Steve and I decided it was not going to work out.

This marked one of the most painful, frustrating periods of my music career. Steve and I had spent years writing, tracking, mixing and remixing this collection of songs and now, just like that, the project was tabled. Fortunately, in the midst of the unhappiness, an idea was born. We remembered the Denver tracks and realized they provided us with a new opportunity. We were free to do whatever we wanted with those tracks and quickly established a new goal: finish enough of those songs to release an album anyway. While setting up Crayonmaster, we had discovered that another band had been formed with the name, "Shatterbox", and they had locked up domain names and social profiles with it. Thus, the name, "Scattershock", came to be.

Then began another round of recording and mixing. Although we were happy with all the performances from Denver, I was not satisfied with the tone I'd captured using my Soldano X99. Listening back years later it just didn't have the excitement or power that I wanted on our songs. It was fairly easy to make the decision to re-track my guitar parts, this time in my own studio and using my ENGL Powerball. We rolled up our sleeves again and proceeded to reprocess the drum and bass tracks using the analog gear and knowledge gleaned from the Shatterbox remixes. It took time but was quickly a source of satisfaction. The tracks came to life even more so than the Shatterbox tracks.

As for the guitars, I hunkered down and started tracking them, with the Powerball cranked up and my trusty Sennheiser e906 up close and personal with my Marshall cabinet. I made some adjustments to the parts, aimed at establishing two distinct rhythm parts for each song. Typically, I tracked the first part with my Anderson Drop Top using my standard high gain, relatively bright, distorted tone. The second part varied more in tonality, but most often was tracked using my Anderson Hollow-T and a darker tone. To this day, I am happier with the Scattershock guitar tones than with any other project.

Next time I will explain how we moved beyond rhythm tracks to vocal tracking, lead guitar, mixing and mastering.