Mankind Is Obsolete (pt 2)
Fresh out of the studio.
(For part one, go here.)
James Curcio: I know you guys have been playing together… in some
form… for several years now. How did you get started, and what’s the road
been like to where you are now?
were wearing the same Sisters of Mercy shirt and quickly discovered that we
had very similar musical tastes and goals. At the time, I was going to
school for keyboards and so we started writing a lot of instrumentals while
looking for a vocalist. We couldn’t find a vocalist that fit what we were
doing at the time, so I decided to try my hand at it. Our most recent
line-up consisted of myself, Jon Siren (drums), Mark Nurre (guitar), Scott
Landes (guitar), Gordon Bash (bass), and Brian DiDomenico (keys). After
Mark and Gordon left the band, we replaced Gordon with Joe D’Ambra on bass
and left the position of 2nd guitarist open.
songs was a learning process for us, both in the production aspect as well
as the songwriting. “Angel Disease,” one of the tracks, is actually the
first rock song I wrote. During Metamorph and most of Rise,
Jon and I wrote most of the songs. Gordon began helping with songwriting
and produced Rise. The upcoming album, Trapped Inside, is our
first fully collaborative CD. Everyone in the band had a hand in writing
the songs. This collaboration, of course, has changed the sound of the
band. I’m excited about this particular direction, as I feel that everyone
has had something very special to offer.
really learn how to work in a group setting, how to work with different
personalities, what works well for others or not. Writing alone can be much
easier, but I found how rewarding group-writing ended up being. I really
loved writing with the guys….I have so many memories of laughing in my
living room, all of us hyped-up on caffeine and excited about the next idea
on the table.
So you guys were playing out from early on…?
From the beginning of the band, we’ve toured as much as we can. Jon came
from the punk/hardcore scene in the Midwest and really taught us a lot about
being a DIY band and the importance of not waiting around for a label to do
your work for you. This ties into all of the music and artwork that’s been
created….a big aspect of what we do is with the belief that you have the
power to create your own life. Everyone in the band works really hard to
make everything happen….from booking to promotion, accounting to sound
production, and all the technical -isms in between (we’re a pretty geeky
It’s a lot of work, but it’s taught us so much and most importantly helped
us to really appreciate good things when they’ve come our way, whether it’s
playing an awesome show, meeting and connecting with really good people from
what we do, or getting to work with amazing artists like Jim and Sylvia.
Trapped Inside is the most we’ve been able to put into an album, and
we plan on touring with it for at least a year after we release it. This
decision is ultimately what created a huge set of difficulties in the past
year, including losing Mark and Gordon. It’s a big commitment to literally
give up everything in your life for that long and to live in a van, not
knowing where you’ll sleep next… I can understand why this sort of life
isn’t for everyone. After being on our last tours, though, I realized that
it was definitely a life that I absolutely loved, believed in, and had to
The Gospel according to Jon Siren: Like she said, Natasha and I met
at music school back and started the band in 2002. We
started to record late at night using the school’s facilities until we got a
hold of our own ProTools M-box and started to record at my apartment. We
pretty much wrote Metamorph there, and parts of it at Natasha’s
We then had Steven Seibold (Hate Department, Pigface) record some of our
vocals/guitars and mix the album. That came out in 2003 and around that
time we found a live band and started touring immediately. Our line-up
during Metamorph was Jamie Roy on bass, Mark Nurre on guitars, Nathan
Trowbridge on keyboards/multimedia light show, Jon Siren on drums/keyboard
programming, Natasha Cox vocals/guitars/keyboards.
our follow-up album, Rise.
We wanted Rise to incorporate elements of Metamorph but to
also capture our live sound as well. We began to incorporate a combination
of live vs. electronic instruments and would mix and match drum and bass
sounds with some being programmed, while others were performed in the
studio. At this point we lost Jamie Roy on bass and we hooked up with
long-time friend and former band-mate of Natasha’s previous band, Gordon
Bash. Gordon Bash helped to record and produce Rise at his home studio in
Hollywood, CA. Rise came out in 2005 and we followed the release
with several tours including a full US/Canada tour in 2006.
long-time members right before recording T.I. and a nationwide yearlong
tour. During this tumultuous time, the hardest part would be getting to know
four diverse and different personalities while the rest of the band is
getting to know just one.
The band was set to record with Sylvia Massy Shivy. I had to learn to bands
repertoire in addition to the twelve new songs with some new bass parts in
about 2 weeks. Recording at Radiostar Studios has been amazing. The fresh
mountain air and serene environment are a welcome change from the smoggy
underbelly of L.A.
So how did you hook up with Sylvia Massy and Jim Wood?
I met Sylvia when I was up here with Collide on our short north west tour in
January of 2005. Statik and kaRIN are good friends with her and she was
nice enough to let us use the theatre at the time to record snippets for our
live DVD. A few years later when I joined MKIO, we embarked on writing
material for Trapped Inside and we
were throwing around the idea of working with a talented producer to record,
engineer, and mix the album. There is only so far you can go with self
production these days… Sure you can record and produce a record in the box
with an M-box (plus your digi-002 or MOTU, etc) and it can come
out as a decent production. In other cases you can be completely self
sufficient like Statik and have a complete in home studio and achieve
But for this album, we really wanted to achieve spectacular
results that are undeniable. Working with analog gear outside the box has
really brought a lot of warmth into this production that just isn’t possible
with even the best digital gear.
For example, when I tracked guitars for a couple of songs I had no less than
ten different effect processors, an ARP 2600 and a vintage minimoog. The
ARP 2600 was used for tracking acoustic guitars on “Fading”. Cool shit…
I love all the knobs and fuzzy tones. To bring all of this together is the
opportunity to work with people who have a similar style and vibe within
their own production; Sylvia Massy popped into our collective heads as a
natural first choice, and here we are.
and mix guy. Sylvia assigned him to be our main mixing/production engineer
on the album. Sylvia has been overseeing everything that we have been
doing, from picking out songs that made the cut to tweaking EQ and panning
in the mix room.
Most recently, I’m sitting here on the plush leather
couch in studio B in the main theatre room writing this up while both Sylvia
and Jim finish a mix on our song “Picking at the Scab”. It is amazing to
just watch them work together. At this moment our album is being mixed on a
1 million dollar Solid State Logic console. This thing creates enough heat
to keep the entire theatre warm during the winter. We have been tempted to
mosh and dive into the console while rocking out to the final fix of “Scab”
but so far we have abstained.
What’s the studio itself like?
California. In the middle of nowhere land between San Francisco and
Portland, high in the mountains in the shadow of Mt. Shasta. Yes, we are in
Weed. The water here is so fresh and the air is so clean.. But the locals
around here are a little scary; there are rumors that there was an old
radioactive waste dump somewhere around here. Maybe that is what makes
people a little bit weird around here, but the creative results are amazing
for running a studio and live in artists.
It sounds like a terrific environment to really immerse yourself in
something like recording an album. It’s so much harder to do that when
you’re still trying to live your regular life, at the same time.
there is some sort of Weed fever up here. I had a dude want to kick my ass
because I didn’t say “Hi” to him, his wife and kid. It was pretty crazy.
Also, Scott got shot by some kid with a pellet gun and also got spat on.
These were two separate occasions though. Other than that, the town kicks
ass and so do the people at RadioStar Studios. We’ve been hanging out with
a couple of bands up her that have been recording as well, Econoline Crush,
and Cog. They’re both amazing groups and it has been cool to talk about
myself to mess up. As I was preparing for the recording, I was aiming for
precision to really get things right technically. However, when you’re
recording, thinking too much and being too technical can be your enemy. I
think this can happen if your environment feels sterile and if you get too
nervous. I have to admit, I was a bit intimidated when I first got here,
knowing of all the people that have worked with Sylvia. The very first day
of recording, in fact, I was singing through the same mic that Maynard had
used. Jim and Sylvia really helped me feel comfortable while recording.
They had a room set up, fully equipped with incense, candles, and Christmas
lights that really made me feel at home. It was in this environment that I
felt more comfortable to simply let loose and really put myself in the
songs. I can understand now what makes them such great producers…it’s not
just about the sounds they can make, the gear that they have, or their
recording skills… it’s what they are able to bring out in the band
Yeah I remember hearing this anecdote about Kim Thayil… When he was recording Superunknown with Soundgarden, apparently he was having a really hard time getting into ‘the zone.’ So at great effort and expense they brought his sofa down from his place, because it’s where he normally sat and came up with guitar parts, just in the work-a-day sense. Now I don’t know if the story is true or not but I think the underlying idea definitely is… creativity really is an organic process. On that note, I know collaboration can be rough too- even when all the members of a team really want to build something together, there can be a lot of head butting…
Tash: Yeah, fully merging our ideas has been a challenge.
Everybody in the band has very strong, unique ideas. Putting together the
songs and producing them in one cohesive album has been a challenge for all
of us. We’re still learning how to best work together. The nice thing
about this band is that we’re always aiming to evolve into being the best
individuals and group we can be…sometimes we fall short and have our
stumbles, but the intention is there, and that’s what has always kept us
going. I think my favorite days in the studio has been when all the bands
and staff here hang out together. They’ve had some awesome BBQ’s here
where everyone hangs out…I’ve been soaking it all in.
Scott: The process has been extremely interesting. It is not every
day that a hybrid electronic / rock band comes through these studios, and
because of that Jim and Sylvia has been paying very special attention to get
everything right from the moment we pulled up in front of the theatre on
August 1st. After we figured out what songs Sylvia wanted to track, we
began tracking acoustic instruments drums first. So to start, we tracked
the drums in studio A, which is the main drum tracking room. It is
essentially an old theatre room converted into a full recording studio, with
an amazing console at the back. We setup the drums on the stage facing FOH,
and they had the bassist and I play through amps that were isolated under
the stage in what is called the “Dungeon”.
That way, the drums had perfect isolation from the cranked guitar amps,
but we could hear everything through our monitor mixes, and feel the floor
of the stage shake whenever I played a power chord. After we finished, we
moved into Studio D, which happens to be attached to the house that we are
all living in during our stay. This is no project studio; the garage has
been fully equipped and built into a professional studio with an iso booth
and vintage trident console. This was the main tracking room that we used
to record guitars, bass, and vocals.
The benefit of having a fully equipped studio attached to the place that you
live is that you can wake up, roll out of bed, and stroll into the studio in
your pj’s and start tracking your instrument of choice. Tracking guitars
with Jim was amazing; I really wanted to go for very processed guitar sounds
on this album ala Downward Spiral
To achieve this we required no less than 3 to 5 fuzz pedals per pass, which
Jim was plugging and unplugging on the fly. I also played through a bunch
of vintage tube heads, and even through a really old pigface amp (“Picking
at the Scab”). It was all fuzzed out, fucked up. I love sounds that don’t
really sound like guitars, and I like keyboards that sound like guitars. I
also got to play with some real pieces of Synthesizer history; we used an
old ARP 2600 to process a bunch of stuff, everything from my acoustic guitar
in Fading to the drum loops in Silent Killer. Even Natasha’s voice wasn’t
spared from this piece of machinery… which was also used to make the
helicopter noises in Apocalypse Now. The same exact machine. This
was one piece out of many that Jim Wood brought to help bring our music
outside of the box.
I had so much fun tracking and working with Jim, I am sorry that it went by
so fast. This all brings us to studio C. C is where everything comes
together in the mix, on the million dollar solid state logic console with
flying faders. I am in awe of this thing. When you turn the lights off in
the room, the lights alone on the machine inspire me to go into epileptic
seizures of manic proportions. Right now we are 4 songs deep into mixing,
and the results we have gotten thus far has been tickling my spine.
Brian DiDomenico: One of the many amazing qualities that Sylvia and
Jim both have is the ability to realize what is in their head and produce
those ideas in the music. They not only have a well trained and detailed
ear but they possess the talent to know how something would sound the best
and then have the skills and technical expertise to execute those ideas. I
was impressed how Jim and Sylvia would continuously hear how a part could be
enhanced and then know exactly what tools to use to accomplish that sound.
Often we would have synth or drums parts ready to go and Jim would suggest
that we take those parts and channel them through various fuzz and
distortion pedals or the ARP 2600. The phrase “That sounds cool, now let’s
fuck it up!”, was a common request.
What else did you use to get some of those sounds?
soft synths and sequencers like Reason, Albino, Absynth, Reaktor, FM7,
Battery, Drumagog and Ableton Live. Some of those sounds were then filtered
through different analog gear and that process really brought them to life.
As far as hardware synths, before we reached the studio we used a Roland
JP-8000, Yamaha Motif and a Roland Fantom-X. At the studio we used a Moog
(a real one!), a Roland JD-800 and an ARP 2600 courtesy of designer Alan R.
Pearlman circa 1971. The Moog and the JD-800 really helped to give many of
the tracks a boost of low end using pads and bass with some really cool
cut-off and resonance filters. And the ARP… well it just turned
everything it touched into the a distortarific-crunchfiltermania
The interesting part about the recording process was watching our songs
morph into sonic beasts. This process can be a bit nerving because you’re
letting someone – who was not part of the initial vision of the songs – help
shape and produce them. Jim and Sylvia had their visions of how each song
would end up. Sometimes it was the same as ours and sometimes it was
different. Ultimately our songs sounded better than we could of possible
created on our own. Every song we brought to RadioStar now sounds different
than our demos and our live performances. Some songs were rearranged, like
Awake – almost doubling the song with a second verse and chorus – and some
songs received a lot of sonic goodies, like Passing Through, to beef them
We didn’t feel out of control. That was a great part about working with
Sylvia and Jim. It was a collaborative effort and I think we all respected
each others musical decisions between the band, and Sylvia and Jim. The
challenge of course was that when you have many chefs in the kitchen there
are times when there is not a 100% agreement on creativity. Sometimes that
compromise can lead to a greater end result. The lesson learned is that no
matter how bad ass we think our music is, there’s always someone out there
who can make it better. We’re glad we found Sylvia and Jim to be those
Tash: Being here in Weed, CA has been such an amazing experience
on so many levels. We’ve had a chance to interact with like-minded bands
who are all really talented and have so much to offer, producers, and staff
here who really encourage you to grow. In this past month I feel like I’ve
grown so much. Having a chance to simply make this music come alive with no
distractions has been incredible for me.
I’ve really been digging on the Trapped Inside cover art you sent
me… who did that?
Scott Landes: Vincent Marcone from My Pet Skeleton Productions did
the artwork. He did a really amazing job with the cover piece, and the
layout looks really amazing.
Cool. So, when’s this thing going to actually be available to the
public, and what are your tour plans?
Scott Landes: We are officially releasing Trapped Inside on
September 12th, 2007. We are having a CD release party that night at The
Gig in Hollywood. After that we are touring for a year straight.
Note: I just received an email from Scott on his blackberry telling me they
are presently navigating treacherous terrain heading into Colorado.
href="http://www.mankindisobsolete.com/" target="_blank">Go see them at a venue near you
href="http://www.mankindisobsolete.com/" target="_blank">Go see them at a
venue near you.