Mankind is Obsolete (pt 2)

by jcurcio on September 25, 2007

in Uncategorized

Mankind Is Obsolete (pt 2)

Fresh out of the studio.

James Curcio.


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(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?

tash-starmic_small.jpgTash: The band began when Jon and I met at music school in 2002. We

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.

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Our first EP, Metamorph, was released in 2003. This collection of

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.

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Naturally, a collaboration comes with its own set of challenges…you have to

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…?

Tash:

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

band).

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

live.

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

place.

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.

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After a year of touring regionally, we went back into the studio to record

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.

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Joe D’Ambra: Yeah, I joined MKIO in late July 2007 amidst the band losing two

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?

Scott Landes:

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

amazing results.

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.

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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.

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We’ve been working with Jim Wood (Dishwalla) as our main production engineer

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?

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Scott Landes: The studio is called Radiostar Studios, in Weed

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.

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The Gospel according to Jon Siren: I think

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

touring experiences…

tash-scream_small.jpg
Tash: One of the big challenges for me personally has been to allow

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

individually.

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.

studio-d_2.jpg

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?

brian_tracking_small.jpg
Brian DiDomenico: Many of the sounds on the album were generated from

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

masterpiece.

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

up.

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

people.

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.

{ 3 comments }

Natasha Yi December 13, 2007 at 1:19 pm

Hello…I found your site via Yahoo! when i was searching for natasha d, and this post regarding Mankind is Obsolete (pt 2) really sounds very interesting to me.. Thanks.

jamescurcio December 14, 2007 at 1:56 am

happy you found us.

there’s quite a lot on this site, if you go digging in the blog archives …

Vintage Guitar August 13, 2008 at 1:18 pm

There are some key criteria here.

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