THE DEVIL’S ENGINE
Produced, Engineered and Mixed by Jag Tanna
Vocals – Brian Byrne
Guitars, Bass, Organ and Backing Vocals – Jag Tanna
Drums – Christian Tanna
Percussion – Daniel “the Thrilla” Mansilla
Toms, Claps – Jag Tanna, Daniel Mansilla, Junior Vargas, Guillermo Relea d’Anconia
Recorded and Mixed at The Mother’s Hip, Peterborough
Mastered at The Lacquer Channel by Phil Demetro
Music – Jag Tanna
Lyrics – Christian Tanna
Unreasonable Expectations – Zeke Myers
Ok, so a little bit about the recording of The Devil’s Engine:
So overall, not too much of a departure in how we usually record… well, ever since Scenery it goes like this: A) pick a weird location B) make the best of it C) cut the drums then more or less leave me alone until it’s your turn!
This one felt a little more solitary than the others as I’m just sitting out here in an old farmhouse, trying to get something done. I actually like it better when the guys are a little closer, even just to hang and have coffee, and pull me out of my bubble once in awhile. Maybe it’s even just to have some simple feedback that i’m on the right track. A lot of benefits to how we are recording for sure, but also some little things I miss, and feeling like a band is one of them! We are geographically challenged!
We cut the drums in the garage in a couple hours one day, afterwhich I was just here alone. I only had some fast guide tracks on it but good enough to cut the drums and get the percussion happening!
Usually the drums are cut to rough tracks with just left and right gtr, one pass through each. I try not to think too much at this point about the actual gtr parts and keep a lot of detail out of them until i actually cut. I dont want to get accustomed to what I’m playing on the demo version as im bound to feel totally different on the day i record, so why even try? As long as I’m locked and in tune! Anyhow, the drums came out really clean and pure without being overly fussy and I think Chris was really relaxed. I had a usable sound within about 45 min and we started cutting immediately. This is the process that just kills a drummer… waiting around while people are trying to get sounds. By the time they cut, they are totally drained and pissy! There’s nothing worse than a pissy red head that you need to work with for the rest of the day!
Chris really didnt have any time to sit, listen and learn the song so we just sat together in the garage bashing through each section to learn it and talk about what was needed, then i walked into the studio and we started cutting. If he got stuck, more bashing. It’s a little bit piecemeal as we are writing and recording on the fly, adjusting tempos for each section and wrestling with the fucking snare drum! His toms stayed rock solid but he beats the hell out of that snare and it just gets kind of tired fast. He ended up using his orangey brown mapex kit and it was a real treat to record.
The one really strange thing i did on this entire song was use one mic for everything, or at least the same brand and model on EVERYTHING! I used 16-18 shure 57s on the kit, and singles on the perc, guitars and vocal. It started out as a “its all i have” thing to an “its all i want to use” little game. It was kind of a self-handcuffing experiment to see what I could come up with and test myself a bit. That sounds better than admitting to you that i’m just lazy! Although I do get bored quickly if i’m doing things the same way and I was totally surprised with the result… will definitely do it again!! Just like with recording WGTL I didn’t use any eq tracking the guitars, bass or vocals… just mic placement, guitar and amp settings etc. and kept things simple and clean. Plenty of good signal to fuck with later.
I spent a little bit of extra time picking parts for the drums in the edit, as my approach on guitar was starting to take shape in my mind, and I had enough drums recorded so I wouldn’t have to call Chris back in. Once it was settled in and feeling great, i was ready to get tracking! Or maybe not…
While I had the set up in the garage going for cutting drums, it was the best time for percussion as well. Daniel came up and we had fun just creating patterns and collecting data to be put in after the fact. The song wasn’t written yet but the rhythms dictated all the possibilities percussion wise. We had it wrapped up in a couple of hours with a ton of options to use. Easy peasy!
I was going to start the bass first as thats kind of the normal thing to do before starting guitars, but i thought i would go a different way… to Spain! A minor setback, but an awesome one…
Basically, the last time i played bass was on Dig and I remember tearing the shit out of my fingers so badly, then having to play guitar. My guitar playing suffered a lot on that record because of having to do that… lesson learned. My other issue is that i always hear really odd high order harmonics on bass notes that are never truly in pitch with the main note that you normally pitch to, and it makes me absolutely crazy! When tracking with some basses, and they are kind of naked, it makes me mental…my ear cant take it and i start going in circles wanting to tune every note! My teeth actually start hurting! A horrible experience. My fix now? I track bass with the volume of the bass track off or extremely low and just play without focusing on the wrong things. Crazy but it works!
I decided that as I didn’t have a feeling at this time for the bass parts, and in theory, the song hadn’t been fully realized on gtr yet, I could focus on the vocals and refining the melody.
So enough about da bass!! If i had my choice I would have cut vocals last but being as we all live in different cities, I could only get Brian in when he was here for rehearsals! I think it was before the Sarnia show but i know we only had one solid morning to cut the body of the song, with the next day for fixes/changes and final bits of yelling. We still didn’t have the lyrics yet as Chris kind of left it to the last minute. He showed up with a whole bunch of paper with his crazy handwriting on it and gave us the tune. For the most part the lyrics are around 80% on point, and work well with the melody I gave him, but there are always a few crazy lines that need some explanation and finesse. We always ask for options on lines in case they are impossible to sing the way I really need for the melody to make sense. Chris gave us some real zingers but in the end, everything sat pretty smooth. We only had one shot at getting it right as Brian was only here for a set amount of time and in some ways, I would have killed for more time. When a vocal is cut I need to absorb it a little bit away from people to see if i’m getting the right feeling from it, and with this one, I had little areas that kept tugging at me saying something was wrong. I decided to wait until I had the rest of the song finished and then make the final call on what we had… best just to move on than obsess. Not to mention, Brian had already left! So yes we missed a couple of ‘ands’, ‘thes’ and the like, and for sure the song has now lost all meaning lyrically to Chris… but overall, it sounds pretty cool!
So, at this time we now have drums, percussion and a usable vocal happening and its time for guitars… finally! It took me a while to get started but I always feel like once I actually start, i can get 90% of it finished during one sitting. its the last 10% that i fight with!! Not really looking for anything special, just my usual lack of focus! The guitar parts are usually written in the moment and I don’t have a master plan, so all I really need to have is energy and a fairly good mood on the day. I have to believe that the parts will come to me when I need them, as it has always done in the past. This, and the acceptance that I will definitely have an energetic 7 year old girl jumping on my back, telling me to turn it down, and that she’s hungry all the damn time, then all is normal and good. Moving on…
I can’t really explain my ‘process’ for tracking guitars except that I don’t really have one! I usually just sit down and hope something happens that I like, this let’s me continue. If I don’t feel it in the moment, or find that I’m not tracking in complete takes, I just quit. Yes, the joys of home recording! The one thing i’m happy about is that I’m not fussing over tones at all… I just grab my black #1 gtr, plug into my Naylor and hit record. Once my tone is solid, then I hit the pedal box and dig up some inspiration. The fuzz sound you hear in the beginning of the song is the same fuzz I have used on everything since Scenery I believe. Every tone on the song is basically the same settings on the amp, same guitar, same day. The last thing i did was the solo which I didn’t actually put in until the song was almost mixed. I didn’t know what I wanted to do and Chris just kept saying “shred or go home”, “don’t be a pussy”, “don’t suck” etc…. Being as I was already home, his first statement held no water. I ended up passing through the solo and just played whatever, pretending I had my shirt off and an armadillo in my pants. Im not really a shredder or very fast at all and I get uncomfortable letting other players hear me doing that… It’s not my strength at all. Everybody can play fast so it’s never truly impressive, so I rely more on unexpected turns in weird places in the middle of phrases. I was way faster when I was 16 than I am now and that depresses me! I actually have no idea what i’m playing, I only know it’s in tune… and never to be played the same way again. I can’t!
Ok, guitars are finally in place and now getting a good feeling for what is wrong with the vocal. Will address later…..
Moving on to actually tracking bass. I went with my trusty demo bass which is a 5-string Music Man Stingray. Nothing special about it other than it plays nice. The song has a nice swampy vibe so I wanted the bass to sit slightly behind the drums, and with a lot of space. There’s a ton of ghost notes within the verses and the chorus that propel the drums along that you feel more than hear… It’s tricky as shit and will be fun to put together for live. With Dig, I was way more deliberate tracking and everything was locked ridiculously tight, cool at the time but hardly as cool now. There are some neat moments of weirdness and speed in there, but overall, I kept it more about the groove. The song feels better with that focus. So of course when I started tracking, the tuning was making me crazy, especially in the pre-choruses when it’s up against a wall of guitars. I fought with it for a bit and then just turned the volume of the bass track off and kept tracking, then investigated what I had when I was finished. Worked out amazingly well and the tuning of everything magically united in a perfect way. Whew! A couple of hours later and done! What’s next….
Mixing. Not much to say here. I took the same approach as I did with WGTL… Keep fucking with it until it sounds good! I should say I used an older computer to get a warmer sound or something smart like that but really it was just straight up with no bells or whistles added. Everything was done ‘in the box’ with no outboard gear used… Just comes down to choices, ears and guts and hope that it translates outside of my bubble. It’s funny, but I have been happier with the sound of the last two songs more than the last 4 albums and I don’t really know why. These are tracked and mixed in basements and garages, and the others cost a fortune in some of the best studios in the country! I love this outcome. Valuable lessons learned here. Never again.
I had the song basically mixed, added the solo, fixed two or three lines lyrically when Brian was back in town, and boom…. There it is.
If you have any questions regarding the process, of course just ask and i’ll do my best to answer.
Sorry the process wasn’t more interesting!