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Though he altered his pedalboard a bit during the sessions, Cook primarily used what’s shown here: Boss TU-2 tuner, DigiTech Whammy IV, Electro-Harmonix POG 2, Way Huge Swollen Pickle, Fuzzrocious Ram the Manparts, Fuzzrocious Oh See Demon, Fuzzrocious Rat Tail, Tym Guitars Big Bottom, Akai E2 Headrush, and Ernie Ball VP Jr. volume pedal.
Curtis’ musical training and perceptive ears were also very helpful in ensuring that Memorial flowed naturally from track to track. Like most bands, Russian Circles pull tonal and musical reference points from their influences—Don Caballero, Melvins, Neurosis, Shellac—and working with Curtis add space rock and psychedelic music to the mix. Cook describes the approach as “a different idea of what heavy can sound like.” Knowing the band’s sound, gear, and internal chemistry also helped Curtis translate their sonic vision to Norman.
“He understands what we want, and he also knows the proper lingo and the recording process a lot better than we do,” Cook says of Curtis. “So when we say things like, ‘Make it sound more squishy,’ he knows how to translate that.”
The band enjoyed the sonic style Norman brought to two previous Russian Circles releases, 2006’s Enter and Geneva, and his ability to capture the band’s live energy played a big part in their decision to enlist his services again for the new album. “[Geneva] is a pretty faithful testament to who we were at that point,” Cook recalls. “That’s Greg’s M.O.—get great sounds that are honest to the source.”Down to Brass Tacks The equipment Russian Circles amassed for the Memorial sessions would make any gearhead’s eyes pop out. Sullivan’s massive triple-amp guitar rig lined the back wall of the Kentucky Room. Two Verellen heads—a 100-watt EL34 Loucks and a 300-watt 6550 Meat Smoke—each drove Emperor 4x12 cabinets, along with a tiny Fender Pro Jr. combo that Norman threw into the mix to strengthen the upper-mid presence.
In the band’s early days, Sullivan mostly relied on Sunn Model-T reissue heads. Following a van accident that destroyed much of the band’s equipment, he began testing his pedals for damage through Cook’s Verellen Meat Smoke head. “I plugged in my pedals and was floored,” Sullivan recalls. “I didn’t even touch a dial—the amp sounded great immediately. It gave me headroom for days, and the high- and low-boost switches provided a lot of sonic options. It was the tone I’d wanted for years.”
Behind the Wheel: Electrical Audio’s Greg Norman on Recording Memorial
Memorial is engineer Greg Norman’s third album with Russian Circles. “I like the space they create for all sorts of textures and harmonics,” he says. “They can obviously pull off the loud, tight, and fast bits, but the vacuum between those moments leaves room for really cool parts. And the soaring pretty parts make the explosions sound much more intense. When it’s done just right, I think of meteors cutting through apartment buildings.”
Norman’s role in making Memorial was similar to the Geneva sessions, except this time the mixing duties were handed to producer Brandon Curtis. “He’s smart, super-easy to work with, positive, and patient,” Norman says of counterpart Curtis. “Those are good, rare traits for someone working in the studio.”
Curtis’s background as a classically trained musician also helped. “Many times his knowledge of music theory would dovetail nicely with my techy, noisy-brained perspective,” Norman recalls. “I think that mix helped things out.”
In addition to being tech-savvy, Norman is a meticulous note-taker who’s able to give a detailed account of the equipment and techniques he used to record Sullivan and Cook. In his own words:
The guitar amps were set up in the smaller of the two live rooms, which is named the Kentucky Room. This room has a short, full-sounding natural reverb that’s great for drums and loud guitar amps. The walls are made of adobe brick, which has an irregular, porous surface that’s flattering for higher-frequency reflections.
I always need to hear the rig I’m recording before choosing the proper mics, but the placement is generally the same. I usually have the diaphragm or ribbon pointed directly at the speaker’s dust cover, about 4–8" away from the grille. It really depends on how much low end I want to capture via proximity effect. If I’m using a fragile ribbon mic like a Coles 4038 or RCA 74 on a loud amp, I’ll back off a foot or more.
Mike’s Verellen Loucks and Emperor 4x12 half-stack were mic’d with a Beyerdynamic M88, which is my favorite dynamic mic for big and heavily distorted guitar. That was going through our custom mic preamp, the Electrical Audio EApreq. This part of the rig was the most useful in the mix of the two “heavy” amps. I mic’d the Verellen Meat Smoke and Emperor 4x12 half-stack with a Shure KSM44, which also happened to be running through the EApreq preamp. Since the Meat Smoke is such a dark amp, I grabbed a mic that would catch all of that low end without overdoing it. I always use a room mic, usually a Sennheiser 421 or an AKG 451 with an omni capsule. The idea is to get a powerful stereo sound from one guitar, as if it were the only one to end up on the record. It also helps add depth and can really help convey how loud things are.
We also had a Hiwatt 4x12 set up with various heads, such as a 1965 blonde Fender Bassman, a pics-only Orange OR80 from the ’70s, two prototype amps from Emperor, and a 15-watt Fender Pro Jr. 1x10 combo we used as a head. This was mic’d up with a Sony C48, but at some points the Pro Jr. was mic’d with either a RCA BK-5 or a Shure KSM44, running into a John Hardy M-2 preamp. I like bringing that amp in for really dark, heavy-sounding setups like Mike has. It’s a dead-simple amp that sounds great on its own, or even powering another cab. It distorts in a good way that cuts straight through the mud, while not sounding thin. It blended nicely with his other amps while reinforcing the overall upper midrange.
For bass, I generally try to get a high-low mic setup. Brian’s Verellen Meat Smoke and Ampeg SVT 8x10 were mic’d with a Beyer M380 for the low end, and a Sennheiser 421 to catch the mids and highs. In that occasional instance when we wanted a more midrange-heavy distortion option, we’d have a Traynor TS-50B go through one of our custom 1x15 cabinets mic’d with a Josephson e22. All of the mics went through the EApreq, then to a GML 8900 for compression. I think I added one notch of bass shelf for the M380 on the EApreq. For catching some of the pure bass tones from his Moog Taurus, I used a custom Electrical Audio DI box. I rarely use a DI, but Brian had some presets on his Taurus that had some serious sub presence, so I used a DI for that.