|Ambassadors’ Gear: ZVex Mastotron Fuzz|
Ambassadors‘ music is full and energetic, but they aren’t scared to slow things down and get sensitive from time to time. The sound of this Brooklyn based quartet emanates from drummer Adam Levin’s thunderous grooves and Noah Feldshuh’s powerful and catchy riffs; rounding it up, brothers Sam and Casey Harris fill out the band’s sound. Here is a bit on how they accomplish that while recording.
– How much of your recording is done at home versus in the studio?
We usually demo all of our material at home using very minimal equipment; a few mics, mostly programmed drums, etc. Then after we’ve figured the song out with the whole band, we go into a studio and do it all there.
– What do you record at the studio and what do you record by yourself and why?
Pretty much everything is tracked in the studio. We do drums and bass first live, then track guitar, keys, and vocals later. Everyone is very nit-picky about their own parts, so tracking everything separately is the best way to keep the group sane.
– What are the pieces of equipment that you find particularly inspiring when recording at home?
I love using Logic Pro. I used to be a total Pro Tools geek, but after using Logic for a while I got really into the user-friendly aspect of it that I just started strictly using that. The plugin-ins are awesome and the layout of the whole program is really simple. I use an M-Audio Axiom midi keyboard to program stuff in Logic, and that’s also become my new best friend.
– What one piece of hardware/software would you most like to add to your recording setup (cost not an issue)? Why?
I would re-create Phil Spector’s reverb chamber out of my living room. If cost wasn’t an issue, why not?
– Do you expect your next record to be self-produced, or would you like to work with a producer? If it’s the latter, who would you most like to produce your band, and why?
We’ve always admired producers like Phil Spector, Rick Rubin, Steve Albini, Nigel Godrich, Danger Mouse– dudes who tend to leave their fingerprints all over the records they do. But in the past we’ve always produced our own stuff and we got pretty good at editing ourselves and crafting our own “sound” in the studio. That being said, our last record was co-produced, engineered, and mixed by our friend, the amazing Dan Stringer (Chester French, Talib Kweli) and it was really awesome to have him as a sounding-board for all our ideas. So while we aren’t completely opposed to bringing other people into our recording process, we’re pretty happy with what we’ve got going right now.
– Do you 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.
Noah uses his own secret combo of pedals for his guitar, and Casey crafts all his sounds through his Nord Stage and Nord Wave. I only use one pedal for my bass, and that’s a ZVex Mastotron fuzz pedal. I wanted to find a fuzz pedal that was a cross between what Ray Manzarek used on The Doors’ “Five To One” and what Colin Greenwood used on Radiohead’s “Exit Music”, and the Mastotron was the one.
– Do you have a particular recording style that you aim for? What techniques do you employ to recreate it?
I always love records where you can get a real sense of the environment in which everything was recorded. Microphones picking up bits of our conversations, instruments being dropped, talk-back on the monitors; all things that make the listener aware of the “process” in the product. That being said, our newest record still tends to sound very “produced” in the sense that it’s heavily layered and the production itself is pretty crisp and clean. Walking that line between radio-ready and ambiance-laden production is something that we really try to emphasize.
– Who determines the direction and style of your recordings?
We all do. No question. I’m usually the one who’s in the studio the most during the mixing process, but at the end of the day, this is a collective and nothing gets done without everyone’s approval.
– Is there a person outside the band that’s been important in perfecting your recorded or live sound?
Dan Stringer has been an incredible asset to the band; as an engineer he’s always willing to work with us, and never insists on imposing his own style or techniques on us. He’s there to bring out the best in us and in our sound. As a producer, he and I have very different tastes in terms of production but what we come up with together is really cool. I’m a bit of a control freak, so forcing myself to listen to someone else’s ideas is extremly hard. But attempting to truly collaborate is such a big part of the band ethos, so bringing it into this context is just as important to me.
– What other artists would you say have had the biggest influence in your approach to recording? Why?
When I first started recording myself and the band, I was listening to a lot of proto-punk shit –MC5, The Stooges, Love, 13th Floor Elevators– and I loved the sound of those records. But I had also grown up listening to a lot of R&B and hip-hop with super sleek production, so I guess in the back of my mind that was always the way I pictured professionally recorded music should actually sound. My goal was always, and still is, to take the best of both worlds. The last two records I heard that did this really well were Spoon’s “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga” and the Black Keys’ “Brothers”. In both cases, you can hear every individual instrument clearly, but there is a bit of grit and grime to the production that still makes it feel loose and almost a little unstable. I love that.
– Would you say that your live show informs your recording process or that your recording process informs your live show? Both? Neither?
Both, for sure. The biggest example for us would be that when we are recording songs in the studio, we’re always keeping the live version of the song in mind as we start overdubbing. We never want to rely on backing tracks live, so we have to constantly be making sure that whatever we do in the studio we can recreate exactly on stage (or something VERY very close).
– 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?
In terms of fashion, we’re all just dapper dressers by nature. But with graphic design, we work closely with a small group of our friends who are photographers, web designers, etc. Our asthetic is very stark and simple, and we’ve worked hard to make it present in everything we produce.
– What do you find to be the most challenging aspects of the recording process? On the flipside, what aspects are the most rewarding?
Not suffocating from the man-stench that envelopes the room in the first hour and lingers throughout the entirety of the recording process. But you definitely get good at knowing who farted.