A while back, I read a little tweet that introduced the idea of something bigger than what I’d heard from Ridgewood, NJ’s Big Troubles. It said, “Damnnnn this band has huge guitars. You might confuse it for 1994…in the best way. The tweet came from someone inside Miner Street Recordings on the first day the band practiced at the Fishtown studio. The quartet was there to record the song “Phantom” for the latest episode of Shaking Through, the online audio and video collaboration between Weathervane Music and WXPN; the session was curated by The Pelly Twins, Jenn and Liz Pelly.
Driving to the studio, I was imagining layers and layers of distorted guitars rumbling under piercing riffs. And I wondered how that could possibly come from a band that wrote the dream-pop gem, “Bite Yr Tongue.” (Perhaps it was in Big Troubles’ reach, but it wasn’t something the band had tried on its previous LP, Worry.) I arrived with the Pelly twins as the band was laboring over the guitar part that carries the song’s bridge; lead singer Alex Craig was trying what seemed like the fifth different way to finish it off. The final take took strummed guitar bends into overdrive while multiple sustain tracks derailed underneath. After enough takes, Alex came in the control room so we could all listen to the complete mix of bass, drums, and guitar.
“I was expecting the general sound quality to be better than on the demo, but I wasn’t expecting anything that huge,” said co-curator Liz Pelly. “In comparison to Worry, it almost sounded like a totally different band.”
It was one of those moments where—as it played back—everyone quietly smiled and nodded heads. The sound was massive. The bass guitar punched back into the verse section before the song stopped altogether. The band hadn’t finished yet—but it was a sample of what could be done in this caliber of studio. Producer (and Weathervane co-founder) Brian McTear oversaw everything that went on in Miner Street. While Big Troubles grew enamored with the possibility of tones and effects, McTear stressed for them to trust the quality of the song. After all, they had access to gear they’d never touched, only listened to, and certainly couldn’t replicate.
“I remember (engineer) Jon Low and Brian doing take after take after take of this maybe 30-second snippet of the song, doing it over and again until the blend was just right,” said Y Rock’s John Vettese (who was photographing the session). “The attention to detail is what makes the song. When you hear it mixed together, it’s this towering, dense, epic thing—and the reason it is that way is because the Weathervane team spent so much time working though it.”
Admittedly, most of the recording sessions I’ve had the privilege of sitting in on grow tedious. But there was a different energy about my experience at Weathervane. So much effort and documentation was going into creating a single mp3. Who has time for something like that anymore? —Chris Zakorchemny
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