Vol.
IV
Ep.
4

Band:

Hometown:

Curated By:

Invisible Familiars

Brooklyn, NY

Nicole Atkins

Song: Disturbing Wildlife

Length: 4:16

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For a versatile musician like Jared Samuel, the challenge of balancing work as a front-man and a side-man is never done. Though an accomplished session player, his own project Invisible Familiars, shows him worthy of the spotlight. He came to Miner St with his own crew of session players to track the groovy, minimalist "Disturbing Wildlife."

We’ve been talking with singer-songwriter, Nicole Atkins about being a guest curator for about a year now. We were happy that schedules opened during a break in the making of her new album, allowing her to bring herself, and the remarkably talented Invisible Familiars to Philadelphia’s Miner Street Recordings in January, 2013.
   Invisible Familiars is the work of Jared Samuels, a remarkable live and session multi-instrumentalist from New York City. He’s played with bands like Superhuman Happiness, Cibo Matto, Yoko Ono, and several others over the past decade, but Invisible Familiars specifically features his songwriting and decision-making.
   As always, this series strives to show the community the processes and techniques of great independent music is made. The song, “Disturbing Wildlife” turned out to be a really cool, authentic specimen of early 70s simplicity (think John Lennon’s Plastic Ono

Band record), and a great change of pace for the Shaking Through audience.
   Jared and Nicole arrived on a very cold night in January. She was battling a bit of exhaustion, and he was nursing a foot injury that had him dependent on a cane. But somehow, the sense of humor about their respective ailments was able to carry them through. They were joined for this session by guitarist, Robbie Mangano (Project Object), and longtime collaborator, producer and multi-instrumentalist, Michael Leonhart (Steely Dan, Yoko Ono, Mos Def). As hoped, Nicole contributed production ideas and her unmistakable backup vocals. Oh, and we’d be remiss not to mention our own video crew member, Joshua Freedman, who saved the day in basic tracking by providing a shaker for the group to keep time with (earning him the title “Shaker Joe” for the rest of the session).

“There's definitely a spiritual aspect to making music. This song came out so fast, I really just had to try and get out of the way. ”

Recording

The recording session for “Disturbing Wildlife” was a quest for minimalism. Jared didn’t want a lot of layers. As these types of sessions move along, there’s always the chance of under-doing a production, which is perhaps even more dangerous than the opposite. Nonetheless, we walked the tightrope. There are exactly enough parts in the end, and nothing extra.

The session was engineered by Joe Bisirri, and produced by Weathervane’s Brian McTear. For the session, we had the great fortune of having access to nearly the entire line of AEA ribbon mics, an incredible Heritage rack containing a 1073 and 2264e, and a Retro Sta Level (all courtesy of George Hajioannou at Studio Logic Sound. In addition, a handful of gear was donated to the session from Producer Todd Sheid’s personal collection, as the episode was recorded in the down time of his record with a group called Old Griffins.

Drums, Bass & Guitar
When Jared, Nicole, Michael and Robbie all sat down to play “Disturbing Wildlife” for the first time, there was a little bit of confusion among the several multi-instrumentalists presen... Who should play what? What should the basic track contain? Jared started on a scratch Wurlitzer Electric Piano, Michael at the drums, Robbie on Guitar. Everyone learned the song in this formation, and then for the basic, Jared switched to his Ampeg AEB-1 bass guitar with flat-wound strings. After all these years, we’d never seen anything like it! It was tracked direct into the Creation Audio Labs MW-1 with the Retro Sta Level.

The drums were tracked using our tried and true Weathervane drum recording techniques, with a pair of Telefunken Ela M260sthrough DW Fearn VT-2s, and an the AEA A440 through the Heritage 1073 (in place of the Coles 4038)overhead. We also had the great pleasure of capturing rooms with an R84 and A840 (used as a pair) with the nulls rejecting the kit. Michael’s beat was all about carefully open holes (“50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” s was referenced more than once…). There was a great deal of “negative space”, and since Jared didn’t want a constant hi-hat, McTear thought the group was having difficulty playing in the pocket together. That’s where the field audio engineer, “Shaker Joe” Josh Freedman, saved the day. Josh was positioned in the narrow hallway between the live room and the control room keeping time with a shaker into the AEA KU4 through an MCI channel and a Distressor.

Robbie Mangano is a great, great guitar player. It’s rare that it’ll happen, but Robbie’s guitar take in the basic was kept almost in its entirety. He played his Gibson ES-335 into the studio’s vintage Valco Supro, isolated in the piano room, with Joe’s Crowley & Tripp Naked Eye sent through an MCI mic pre. The final mix may have had 3 or 4 guitar phrases removed. His part had a great effect on the players in the basic track and the song largely breathed around Robbie. Again - Robbie is GREAT.



Vocals
For Jared’s vocal we shot out an AEA A440, and an AEA 840 to decide which route to go. The final decision was to use the A440 through the Heritage 1073 (with an LA-2A). Jared sang five takes, which he and Joe comp’d the next day. Nicole’s vocal parts started on the A440, but Joe thought it was too big for her voice. He switched to Miner Street’s Neumann U67 through the Heritage 1073 and the Retro Stay Level, which we thought captured her voice exquisitely. Michael sang a pass of vocals as well through the A440, the Heritage 1073, and the Heritage 2264e. His track was recorded before Jared’s and Nicole’s, and as a result we might have recorded him with too much proximity, meaning his voice was a little more difficult to fit in the background until mixing.

Other Overdubs
In a song as minimally orchestrated as “Disturbing Wildlife”, overdubs stand to be even more highly scrutinized. That’s where a real professional musician like Michael Leonhart can shine. There was a time when Michael had the distinction of being the youngest Grammy recipient to date in 1992. His cornet track, recorded with his companion of 10 years, a mini-dachsund named Normyn at his side, was captured through the AEA A840, the Heritage 1073 and the 2264e. It was Normyn’s 10th birthday that day, and there was simply no way the two would part, whether it was tracking drums, vocals or cornet!

Afterward, since Michael and Normyn had to head back to New York City, the entire group, along with production staff and video crew made two runs through the song on hand claps, through same signal path above. Robby proceeded to track another pass of guitar, as well as his Italia Baritone. The passes were more exploratory than anything else. Only little bits made the final take.

Mixing
Mixing was relatively simple. Check out the Console Mix Bussing Sheet from the session for exact routing details through Miner Street’s MCI. 4 mono busses and 3 stereo busses were routed from ProTools into the console. All tracks hit a vintage Compex 760, before meeting up the Manley Massive Passive and, initially, the Alta Moda Unicomp (courtesy our friend, Producer Todd Sheid). As you’ll see below, we later switched from the Unicomp to a pair of Daking Fet Compressor IIs.

When there’s very little in the way of tracks there’s sometimes the misconception that they don’t need to be altered much in the mix. What can happen is that we become so in love with the sounds we captured, along the mics and other gear we used to capture them, that we under-sculpt the final presentation. This is what happened with Brian and Joe’s initial mix. It was a little too flat and a bit on the tubby side. On second pass it was clear that most tracks needed some amount of high-passing, that a little more ambience needed to be let into the picture, and that the stereo two bus needed perhaps a little more aggressive EQ and compression.

The second pass of the mix was a great improvement! “Disturbing Wildlife” felt simple, yet alive, the way we hope Jared intended!

Download the Raw Tracks and/or Mix Stems to make your own mix.

Credits

Director

Peter English

Producers

Brian McTear
Peter English

Engineers

Joe Bisirri

Band

Jared Samuel
Nicole Atkins
Michael Leonhart
Robbie Mangano

Director of Photography

Phil Bradshaw

Camera Operators

Phil Bradshaw
Larry DeMark
David Milstein

Editors

Josh Camerote
David Milstein

Production Supervisor

Nicky Devine

Audio

Josh Friedman
Morgan Muse

Still Photography

Phil Bradshaw
Larry DeMark
Peter English

Sponsors

Special Thanks

  • The Patriarch Foundation
  • The Philadelphia Cultural Fund
  • The Pennsylvania Council on the Arts
  • Samuel S. Fels Fund
  • Muse Educational Foundation
  • Michael Donahue
  • Laura Grablutz
  • Jason Smith
  • Giovanna Imbesi
  • Felix Espinosa
  • George Moore
  • Alex Knott
  • Kristin Thomson
  • Christopher Adams
  • Rustica Pizza
  • El Camino Real
  • Johnny Brenda's
  • Dan Scholnick
  • Bennett Daniels
  • Jan Torosion
  • Tara Boyd
  • William McCall
  • Ross Zimmer
  • Paul Dickman
  • Matt Miller