Since forming in Minneapolis in1997, pop-punk band Motion City Soundtrack struggled and persevered, self-releasing EPs and albums and touring constantly to build a following. It paid off. In 2003, the guys signed to Epitaph, and in 2008, they moved on to Columbia for their fourth full-length album My Dinosaur Life, due out in January 2010. For the album, they reunited with former producer, Mark Hoppus (from Blink-182, pictured below holding all the headphone cables).
Here, bassist Matt Taylor and Hoppus’ engineer, Chris Holmes, talk about changing their songwriting and recording process after MCS’s drummer broke his arm; the process of creating their fast-paced first single, “Disappear”; and the gear that Taylor can’t live without. ?
How did you change up the songwriting and recording process this time to keep things fresh??
Taylor: This time around we were forced to work in a different way. We started out writing in a room together, as normal, but after a couple two-week sessions, our drummer Tony [Thaxton] fell and broke his arm. Obviously, this caused a delay in the whole writing process. It was a terrible thing, but one positive is that it forced us to think in a different way and record at home to bring ideas to the table for when we could get together and make the record. Justin [Pierre], Josh [Cain], and I were sending each other Pro Tools files over the Internet to keep ideas rolling despite not being together while Tony was healing.
??What was the step-by-step process for creating “Disappear”??
Taylor: "Disappear" was a song that was written quickly when playing together in a rented room in Los Angeles. The form of the song came together very quickly despite a short argument over whether or not it was okay to have the guitars and bass split apart and play the ascending verse chords a 5th apart.??
Holmes: The recording process on this record was unique in that we had to record the drums last due to Tony’s injury. Once we determined the best tempo for a track, we programmed drum parts to serve as a place holder so there was at least a foundation there and not just a click track to play to.?
The first keeper parts recorded were the left and right "main" guitars. On a song like "Disappear," we used a combination of a late '90s Les Paul Standard for one side and a Fender Tele Jr. on the other going through a Hiwatt head through a Marshall 4X12 cab. The miking for the main guitars was a combination of a Shure SM57, Sennheiser MD 421, and an Audio-Technica ATM25. Those three mics were run through Neve 1073 mic pres. The 57 and 421 were compressed through a pair of vintage Urei 1176s, and the ATM25 was compressed through an Empirical Labs Distressor. Then we'd blend them to get the sound we were looking for. We recorded a third guitar in the choruses to beef up those sections.??
After those parts were down we would either work on the cleaner sounding guitar parts, or start on bass. For bass we used Mark Hoppus' custom Fender bass through an Ampeg SVT classic head and an Ampeg 8X10 cab. A blend of a 421 and a Sennheiser e 902 were used to get the sound. Both mics were recorded through a Chandler [Limited] TG2 sent to a pair of API 550A EQs, and then through a Gates compressor.??
For vocals, Justin sang through a reissued Telefunken U-47 running through a 1081, then compressed with a vintage 1176. Justin is such a dynamic singer, so it was important to have a mic that would catch every nuance of what he does and still be really clean.??
We recorded drums in Studio 2 at East West. They have all the mics you'd ever need, and most importantly a sweet sounding live room. To that end we had two pairs of room mics set up, a close room mic, which was set 5 feet back from the drums and at almost hip level. We used a pair of Coles ribbon mics for that, and then we had a pair of M50s as a far-room mic. We set those up about 12 feet back from the drums and 6.5 feet high. ?
On “A Lifeless Ordinary (Need a Little Help),” there’s a section of call and response vocals, which is really beautiful. How do you ensure that no parts are stepping on each other, in terms of arranging and mixing??
Taylor: That part has two vocal melodies that we really liked. We wanted both to be used. Basically we decided to have one melody start the section and then have that one duck in volume to become the countermelody when the new vocal line entered.??
What recording experiments did you try out on the album?
Taylor: The main experiment was tracking drums last, which was less of an experiment and more of a necessity for us since Tony's arm was broken. We programmed drums using [FXpansion] BFD2 and actual samples that Chris had so that we wouldn't have to play to a click track alone.??
What are five pieces of gear you couldn’t live with out??
Taylor: My '73 Fender Precision bass, MacBook Pro, Logic Studio 9, my travel-friendly Akai LPK25 USB MIDI keyboard, and Moog Little Phatty.?