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Photo courtesy shotmonster.com
Mark, it sounds like you have a lot of freedom and space in this band. How do you approach adding your own touches, or magic, to Erika’s visions?
Nathan: I play first in my gut what seems to be the right thing for the song. It’s really important for me to play something that compliments the vibe of the song and isn’t just about nerdy guitar stuff. A lot of that is about tone and texture, and also a lot of it is also about not playing sometimes and letting everything breathe.
How did you go about getting a stripped-down, live sound in the studio?
Wennerstrom: I think there was a definite goal to play the songs on the road and capture the live sound of the band. Until now, I didn’t really feel I had been able to do that with past albums. We all loved that approach. A lot of these songs, when we really sat back and listened, didn’t really need any guitar parts or layers. We felt that they were pretty strong on their own. Mark did all of the guitar live on “Simple Feeling.” I did overdub my acoustic but I didn’t want my vocals going into the acoustic mic and my acoustic going into the vocal mic and having problems with mixing later. So we did scratches for those and we went back and laid those down. “Low, Low, Low” we did totally live; we sort of sat in a circle and even the vocals are live on that song.
Was there a certain way you mic’d your amps?
Wennerstrom: Definitely another approach to recording this album was re-mic’ing amps and drums specific to how we wanted it to sound per song. Each song had its own setup to give it it’s own identity for the album. This has all been a learning process for me. For my first album we just set it up and hit record. We did closed, small-room mics for the drums for “Got to Have Rock ‘N’ Roll” and “Only for You” because I was going for kind of a ’70s R&B sound. And then we put the drums in a big room for a lot of the other songs.
Nathan: We mic’d everything fairly close, depending on what song we were doing and how large the space was in the recording rooms that the amps were in. Sometimes we were able to get some room sounds and sometimes not, it just depended on where the drums were. But generally on my stuff I used three main amps: a handwired Vox AC30, a Marshall JCM 800, and a late-’60s Fender Super Reverb. As far as mics, it was usually a Royer R-121 and a Shure SM7, or a Royer R-121 and a Neumann U67.
What are your preferred guitars on tour?
Wennerstrom: I play acoustic on seven of the 10 songs on the album. I mostly used my Gibson J-45 and a Les Paul Studio.
Nathan: My main guitar that I’m taking with me live is my ’68 SG, which I’ve had for a long time but I recently had some work done to. I got it refretted and I got all of the electronics completely redone—I got new Throbak pickups and new pots. There’s a guy in Austin named Ed Reynolds that I take my guitars to and he did a great job. I also have a Japanese Fender Jazzmaster from the ’90s.
You mentioned you were going for a ’70s vibe on “Only For You.” How did you go about that?
Wennerstrom: That song I had pictured in my head as sounding like Curtis Mayfield and his falsetto vocals. I talked to the band and told them I’d like to take it in a sort of ’70s R & B soul sort of direction, and then Mark added the electric guitar parts.
Nathan: I actually played a Gretsch on that one. A friend of mine was kind enough to loan me a ’55 Country Gentleman, so I used that and a Super [Reverb] for that tune. I was real happy with the way that one turned out.
Photo courtesy shotmonster.com
On “Simple Feeling” there’s sort of a prolonged, fuzzed-out, experimental blues solo. What were you doing there?
Nathan: Actually that whole song is one take, there are no punches or anything. I did all of that live. I was playing my Jazzmaster through two amps—I was using an AC30 and my Marshall and then I had my signals split up and I was using different effects in each amp. I had them raised up on a chair so I could move the knobs and get the delays to oscillate, and I had a tremolo pedal and I was sweeping the range on that. So I was doing all of those things live.
So was that off the cuff, or did you plan it?
Nathan: I had an idea of what I was going to try and do. I took a while to get it set up, to figure out what effects were sounding good with what right order and what amp and going back and forth with Jim [Eno] about it. Once we started tracking, we did three or four takes and there was just one take where everything came together—it was the one.