Studio C is also really nice because they have two nice-sized ISO booths – we could do acoustic piano and drums at the same time, for example, with no leakage. It gave us a lot of flexibility.
What were the specific instruments you tracked, and overdubbed?
We tracked drums, bass, Fender Rhodes, acoustic piano where that was used, and sometimes some synths live. The overdubs in Conway were mostly percussion. Quinn has a lot of self-built drums and instruments – all that psychedelic stuff you hear in the beginning of the song “Motherboard,” for instance, is actually all percussion. This guy had an amazing sound. We worked with him for three or four days in Studio C which I’d say is 28 feet wide by almost 50 feet long, and it was completely filled with his percussion stuff.
How did the band direct you through the tracking? What kind of sounds were you going for?
They just wanted the sound to be very natural. Think 1970’s when things were not very processed, but think hi-fi too – modern quality, but natural sounds. The drums we tracked were baffled off. Studio C is fairly live, but we also had room mics. We could get tight sounds if we wanted, but also use the room.
At this point in the project, I didn’t know what was going where, so I wanted to track with the flexibility of using different acoustic perspectives later on. Most of the drums are dry and tight for the dance songs, but for parts of “Touch” it’s almost all room. We tried to record with versatility in mind.
What were some of the mic choices you made on the drums?
The kick drum we used an AKG D112 and Sony C500 right next to each other inside the drum, with a Neumann U 47 FET outside of the drum, and a Yamaha NS10 woofer as a sub. Those four mics were on four separate tracks, so we could dial in the kick drum sound that we wanted.
The snare was a Shure SM57 on top, AKG C451 on the snare bottom, AKG C451 on high hat, Sennheiser MD421’s on toms, the overhead was a pair of Schoeps CM5U’s, and we used a pair of Neumann U 87’s for the room.
We always went for positioning. We didn’t use a tremendous amount of EQ, but really tried to get most of the sound with mic placement.
When it came to piano, what was your miking approach?
On Conway’s nine-foot Yamaha, we used a pair of DPA’s over and a bit behind the hammers – dividing the keyboards into thirds – at about 15-inch height, and a U 67 back over where the bass strings cross. The DPA’s were mixed left and right, the U 67 filled in the center.
How about vocals?
I didn’t record a lot of the vocals – the band mostly went to where the singers were and recorded them there. I did record Paul Williams for “Touch” using a U 67, and for “Fragments of Time” I recorded Todd Edwards with a U 47. On both of those vocals I used a Neve 1073 preamp/EQ, and an LA 2A compressor.
Everything on this album was recorded to Pro Tools running at 96 kHz, with Lynx Aurora converters and Antelope clock.
We simultaneously recorded the basic tracks – drums, bass, and keyboards – to an A827 Studer tape machine with Dolby SR running at 15 inches per second (ips), and then we transferred that to Pro Tools. So we had tracks that were recorded directly to Pro Tools, and tracks to analog tape, which meant that we had choices on a song by song or part by part basis. Usually for the dance stuff they went with the digital because it was punchier, but in other places they wanted a warmer, less transient sound, so there we would use the analog recordings.
When we were actually tracking, it was all the skeleton of things. I didn’t know what the songs were going to be. They had it in their heads, but a lot of the songs were arranged in editing. That’s one of the other brilliant things about Daft Punk – Thomas is a virtuoso in Pro Tools.
Was it disorienting at all for you to not know exactly where the songs were headed as you tracked them?
Not really, because we knew what the vibe was going to be.
After the basic tracks were recorded, they took the Pro Tools files back to France, started editing, and truly realized the songs’ structures. Then they came back to LA, we did a bunch of guitar, keyboard and percussion overdubs for about two weeks. From there they went back to France for months more of editing and recording, and then they came back to LA to mix.
They set up a separate Pro Tools room, editing the tracks as I was mixing them, and sort of finessing their parts – updating them as I was mixing. It was a very interactive process.
What did you like about Conway’s Studio C for mixing? Tell us about the board, monitors, layout – and anything you did to “personalize” it for yourself.
Well, we used my own monitors throughout this whole project, the Guzauski Swist GS-3a. We used those for tracking, then the Daft Punk guys bought a pair and they have them in Paris, so they did most of their work on them.
I brought them to the orchestra sessions, and then we also used them for the two weeks of overdubs. We also used them at Conway for mixing. Pretty much everything I was involved in and what Daft Punk did alone was monitored on those speakers.
You personally designed the GS-3a along with Larry Swist. After several years of working on your own monitors, what are your impressions of them now?
They’re small enough to be used as nearfields, and they also sound exciting during tracking. They have a very wide, flat response without having to use an additional subwoofer – they’re flat from 30 Hz on up, with very low distortion. Larry designed a decoupling mount for the midrange and high frequency drivers. This prevents the low frequency energy from the woofer from superimposing on the higher frequency waves, which lowers intermodulation distortion.
They’re a nice reference, and we didn’t use any larger or smaller speakers. We took the material out and listened on other things, but in the control room we didn’t use anything else as a reference.
What was the Neve 88R and outboard like for you in Conway’s Studio C?
The Neve 88R is Neve’s newest analog console. Conway was an early adopter of the VR consoles in the mid-80’s, and a tech there named John Musgrave did some nice upgrades on the VR. The 88R is a VR that includes those improvements, and also some others.
It’s a very nice-sounding console, and very versatile too. This console has a 4-band parametric EQ and dynamics section on every channel, and a nice center section. Everything sounds warm and very clean, and it’s a nice console to operate.
As far as outboard gear, this album was mostly analog. Other than recording digitally, most of the processing was analog, which was something specific they wanted and I think it really helped.