The 11th Hour Studio Diary – #2

So here’s a special fucking treat if ever there was one. Ed motherfucking Warby (as he’s known to friends) is writing for this blog to give updates on his HIGHLY anticipated (by this Angry Metal Guy) follow up to Burden of Grief which is one of my favorite doom records ever. He’ll be periodically checking in with the written word as watching him in his studio would be about as exciting as watching Ihsahn was in his (i.e., not fucking entertaining at all; watching flies fuck; paint dry; corpses decay without time-lapse). Enjoy! – AMG

Tuesday, May 31st

Last weekend Hail of Bullets played at Baltimore’s Maryland Deathfest so I’m slowly recovering from a massive jet lag. Wanted to do some work yesterday but I couldn’t find the required enthusiasm. Today is better though, I’m determined to finally finish the last A song that’s been giving me so much grief. There’s a few looooong chords in it, and because of the low tuning coupled with a curious lack of sustain (something that seems to improve with minimal changes in tuning, but this is all trial and error as the tuner doesn’t even register these changes) I’ve been re-doing these ad infinitum. Sounds like I finally nailed it though, and if not I think I’ll move on to some other stuff anyway because quite frankly I’m getting sick of doing the same thing over and over again…

The song I’m working on also needs a grand finale, one that I’ve worked out in my head already but that still needs to be recorded. My idea involves low pounding notes on the piano, augmented by a timed stereo delay, so I did that part first and built it up from there. It has a spooky melody that’s been haunting me for weeks, and I’m pleased to say it sounds as cool as I thought it would. Took some time to find the right sound for it, but that’s part of the fun. Once I had the piano bit down I started adding guitars, 4 massive tracks of brutally chugging chords of doom, I just love doing this shit. It’s a simple but effective riff, made interesting by a neat chord progression that’s accompanied by a string section. Each layer I add makes this thing more monstrous, I’m glad to be creating something new after doing nothing but laying down stuff that was written a while ago.

And then all of a sudden it’s 5.00 am. What? 5.00 am??? Sun’s coming up already, birds are chirping away, time to get some sleep I suppose… this reminds me of the full week of all-nighters me and Ronnie pulled on Burden of Grief to get it done in time, me frantically recording the last bits while Ronnie was just as frantically trying to make sense of the endless stream of notes I kept sending him on the mix. More delay here, quicker fade there, and pan that raven from left to right… aaargh, the pain! I must’ve looked like a zombie during the day, I know I felt like one. Tomorrow I’ll do some leads, hopefully.

Wednesday, June 1st

Warby's GuitarsSlept in until noon, had some breakfast during which I listened to the work I did yesterday. I have the bad habit of rejecting a lot of stuff when listening with fresh ears but this still sounds as good as when I was doing it last night. Messed around with the timing on the interval before the heaviness some more until I found the right length, and then I went to the part right before it to record the first lead of the day. A relatively simple, mournful wail that calls for the neck PU for a nice creamy sound (I’m going for a Samantha Escarbe vibe, Virgin Black’s tragically underrated but insanely brilliant guitar goddess). Did a few takes so I can pick the best one later and then moved on the to the main theme of this one. It’s a part with big chords and big melodies, one of my favorite themes on the album. Expecting a lot of tuning grief this one actually went rather quick, I still need to go through the assorted takes to pick the best one but it’s definitely in the can.

So, I’m on a roll here… what’s next? Maybe some clean guitar for variation’s sake? There’s one clean part for which I did all the chords but it still needs a subtle, melancholy solo on top. I worked out the notes already but the fingers apparently aren’t aware of this, so it takes some time before it starts to sound like I know what I’m doing. Once it does though the result is rather pleasant, and when I play back the finished version I feel like I’ve awoken my inner Mark Knopfler. Just kidding, this doesn’t even sound remotely like Dire Straits. Honest!

One of the runs in the clean section re-appears in a heavier arrangement later on in the song so I try my hand at this next. For the clean bit I used the 7 string because it’s easier to keep in tune and since the melody is the same I stick with the 7 string. Smart move, I remember the demo version which I did with a 6 string guitar took a while but this is done in an hour or so. Although I did my usual 88 takes, turns out the first few were the best. It’s a typical 11th Hour theme, if there is such a thing. I like to think there is.

In the studioNot a bad day, I must say. The last few hours are wasted on messing around with a previously recorded solo, some bits seem slightly out of tune (actually it’s usually the chords underneath that morph and wriggle) so I correct these. I hope I can do some more tomorrow, but I have to start prepping files for the drum recordings this weekend. This means creating a click track and guides to play along to. The Protools sessions I’m working in now are rather messy, the very definition of work-in-progress, so this might prove to be a lot of work. Maybe I’ll use the demos instead, at least those have bass and vocals. I have exactly 1 day to record the drums (the budget is rather tight so I have to cut some corners here), but Excess Studio boss Hans Pieters is letting me set up the day before. Should save some time.

Thursday, June 2nd

Today I tackled a brief but tricky 3-part harmony bit in the song I worked on Tuesday. It’s a neat call and answer thing where one guitar plays a line and the other 2 play a variation on it after which all 3 come together in glorious harmony. Well, that’s the idea anyway. I recorded the 3 parts of the harmony separately based on the chords underneath rather than try to match them to each other, that way I won’t have any tuning troubles. Hopefully. I spent at least 2 hours on getting the bends right, there’s nothing quite like a harmonized bending extravaganza but it’s not easy to get them to blend just right. Or maybe I’m just very anal about this stuff…

11th Hour drummer Dirk stopped by on his way to Excess Studios to drop off his cymbals which I’ll be using this weekend (we play the same brand and mine are stored with the HoB backline) so I played him some of the stuff I’m working on. The man has a great memory for music and is already able to play most of the songs by ear. That’ll save some time when we start rehearsing these tunes. Actually I have a whole band of guys like this, what a blessing.

After Dirk left, my sister invited me over for dinner and since she follows the proceedings with a healthy dose of sisterly interest I decided to treat her to a preview. This meant adding the vocals and bass from the demo session to the work-in-progress one, and recording some temp bass for the new part I added. I messed around with the levels and effects before I saved it and sent it to her mailbox (shared it with the rest of the band as well, they must be wondering what the hell I’ve been doing all these weeks). My sister always cries when she hears my music, at first I thought this was because the previous album is partly about our parents and there’s some painful stuff on it for us both, but the new songs have the same effect. I guess that’s a good thing.

Warby layin' down drumsOnce I got home again I started preparing the guide files for this weekend’s drum recordings. Because I don’t want to consolidate any of the tracks yet the only way to do this is bouncing them in real time. I’m doing separate files for the instruments and clicktrack so I have to do each song twice. Boring as hell. That reminds me I still need to make guides for Rogga, the man’s been waiting for weeks while I work my butt off. Next week for sure!

5.00 again, time for some shut eye…

Saturday, June 4th

Drumday! Set up my drums yesterday afternoon so after some soundchecking we could start right away. I played for about 2 hours when we noticed the toms started sound really weird, guess I’d been hitting too hard cause the heads were pretty much gone. Fortunately I had a spare set (my kit is stored at Excess for whenever I need it there) so they were easily replaced. Once I had them on the toms sounded so much better we decided to start over. 11th Hour drummer Dirk came over to do some coaching and take pictures and although I hoped to do all 7 songs in one day I managed to record 6. Good thing the studio wasn’t booked the next morning so I could come back and finish the rest. I had a hard time slowing down to the required tempo on some songs, the really slow stuff is not a problem but the slightly-more-up-tempo-but-not-quite ones were a bigger challenge.

Sunday, June 5th

Fixed some small things I wasn’t satisfied with on the other songs and then we tackled the last one. My wrists hurt like hell from pounding those drums for almost 9 hours straight yesterday, but after a few takes we have a good version. Mess around with some fills and then we call it a day, strike the kit and burn the last session on disc so I can see if it’ll open on my computer. Thank god it does, this means I can do my own editing without having to go back to Excess. Maybe now this is done I can finally sleep again at night? I sincerely hope so, last few nights I didn’t get more than maybe 4-5 hours of sleep, not enough when you’re supposed to be recording an entire album’s worth of drums in 1 day. Tomorrow I’ll finish the first batch of guides for Rogga so he can record part of his growls in his cabin in the woods, and thus we’re another step closer to completion. Still, quite a few steps left to take…

« »