|Companion’s Gear: Roland SPD-S Pads
Companion, a Brooklyn based art pop project with a twist, is the latest endeavour of singer Pepi Ginsberg (from Red and East is East). The process of developing this new sound began around Pepi’s home recordings, along with vocal harmonies she created with founding members Anna Thorngate and Amy Carrigan. To flesh out these vocal-centric versions of the songs, she picked up her own guitar and turned to her longtime bass player, Tim Lappin, plus new guitarist Kirk Schoenherr. As we will explore in this interview, the band started to create a sound that incorporated both organic and electronic elements, often including Ginsberg’s homemade beats. The lineup was later complimented by Dave Scalia on the drums and Companion is now out and promoting their eponymous debut album.
How much of your recording is done at home versus in the studio?
All demos are made at home but very little of our actual recordings are made outside the studio. There was some tracking we did with a very portable synth in our living room but that’s about it. No one in the band is an engineer so we find we’re able to get better results in a more professional setting. For vocals, drums, anything that needs to be recorded live, it’s very difficult to find a good sounding, quiet room that isn’t a studio. Also, to get vocals and drums to sound the way we want them, we know we need to use gear none of us own.
What are the pieces of equipment that you guys find particularly inspiring when recording at home?
The most inspiring thing for me is this website called dirtydrums.com where you can play drums with your keypad. You can run your computer speakers through an amp, mic it, and get fun sounds. I’m not a real gear head so I just use an apogee duet, garage band, and whatever instruments I’m playing to hash out demos. It changes from record to record but that’s been the trend.
Do you guys use rack effects or guitar pedals to forge your own sound? If you do, please list the ones you use the most and let us know why you love them.
We all use pedals and Anna has worked out sounds for her keyboards, she plays a Nord Electro 2 and my old Korg MS 2000 (pictured), she also uses a beautiful boost pedal her boyfriend built (it has pressed flowers on the front and back!) and a Line 6. I use a Boss Digital Delay pedal and an overdrive pedal, which Tim also uses. Kirk uses a few pedals as well but our set up is really very simple. Dave uses an SPD-S drum pad for the extra drum parts. It’s pretty straightforward.
Do you have a particular recording style that you aim for? What techniques do you employ to recreate it?
We aim for making things sound as good as possible with the budget that we have. Recording is a pretty mysterious process for me, at least. A different room, a different day, a different piece of gear, or even a fun plug-in, can change the way you hear a song once it’s recorded. There’s a lot you can do in the studio to get particular sounds, but our songs tend to be quite complicated as it is, so we like to keep it simple. We aim to get a great clean signal going in so we have good tracks to work with when we mix.
Who determines the direction and style of your recordings?
We as a band do.
Is there a person outside the band that’s been important in perfecting your recorded or live sound?
Our good friend Adam Schatz was really instrumental as a vocal coach for Anna and Amy and me. He would come over during our rehearsals and was an amazing outside ear for pitch, style, dynamics, you name it. He was helpful in many ways in helping get the last record made and helping us gals with our harmonies in a live setting. Overall however, everyone in the band contributes to the live and recorded sound.
Would you say that your live show informs your recording process or that your recording process informs your live show? Both? Neither?
We made the Companion record before ever playing live shows, so at least this go around the recording certainly informed the live show. After playing together a lot however, I’m sure our live shows will now start to inform our recordings. That is all a delicate balance however. Records and performances are two very different things, and how close you want them to be in sound often changes depending on a project or your feelings about live versus recorded music at the time.
My digi-delay pedal is the most important pedal I use. The SPDS is very helpful in translating our recorded drum sound to our live show. Anna’s set-up is really great. We used an Access Virus (pictured) on the record and she was able to recreate a lot of those sounds with her Nord and Korg.
With bands doing more of everything themselves these days (recording, performing, self-promoting, etc.) and the evermore multimedia nature of the world, how much effort do you put into the visual component of your band – fashion, styling, photography, graphic/web design, etc.? Do you do these things yourself or is there someone that the band works with?
I care deeply about the visual aesthetics of our band. I work with people whose vision I believe in, and am totally hands on in the look of Companion. My friend and designer Adil Dara Kim (http://adildara.com) came up with our logo and designed the record cover and we worked together on the website as well. My other friend Laura Bernstein (http://laurabernstein.com/) is also a super talented graphic designer and does work for the band. We choose video directors who’s work we feel a kinship with, such as Alec Sutherland (http://alecsutherland.com) and Bridget Palardy (http://sharkaa.com) who did the first two videos for the record. We’ve worked with some awesome photographers but being six people, it’s always a fun challenge to get us all looking our best in a particular shot! I take photos of the band that you can see at companionishere.tumblr.com (a few at the bottom are not mine but are credited) but I am rarely in the pictures! Developing the visual identity of the band as we grow musically is something I am excited to do and care about deeply. There are amazing artists in this city and I love collaborating with clever people. It’s endlessly interesting to see what emerges.