Photo by Dan Locke/Frank White Photo Agency
What about your recording processes?
Allen: Before we record an album, we usually have a couple weeks of preproduction, followed by rehearsing in our practice space. Tim comes and works with us on transitions, shows us what to streamline and what might make our individual parts better. For drums, for instance, this will involve making sure that all the accents are in the right places, that they’re not stepping on the vocals or anything else. In preproduction, everything is recorded. We try to get scratch tracks before we go in the studio, one person at a time, to record our individual parts. Normally I go near the end, just before the keys and vocals, but this time in the studio I recorded before a lot of the other parts. Some guitars had to be re-recorded later if it felt like something was missing, that a little lead needed to be added.
Campbell: For my part on this record, we did everything in Provo [Utah], at June Audio. I really had a blast laying down my parts. Tim, the engineers, and I focused on the bass for 10 straight days; they brought in about 20 different basses and a bunch of different amps. I was in heaven, messing around with so many different tools I don’t normally have at my disposal, a bunch of boutique stuff and retro instruments, great old tube compressors and whatnot.
What are some of your favorite moments on the record?
Campbell: There’s a song called “Another World,” which got me back into plucking strings with my fingers. Neon Trees generally requires a bass pick with a little more dirt, but something cleaner, with 16th-notes on the fingers just felt right for that song. What’s great is that before we made the album, Hofner sent me a Club Bass, which I love. On “Love in the 21st Century,” we should get credit for making that Hofner not sound like a one-trick pony. That bass normally has a very particular sound—a Beatles sound. But we added so much dirt to it that it sounds like a completely different instrument.
Allen: I really love my playing on the whole track of “Living in Another World.” I just had a really good time writing it. That was one of those songs we did at the last minute, just before heading into the studio. At the beginning of the day it didn’t even exist. We started jamming, and Tyler kind of pointed me in the first direction it took from the little intro riff, and we built on it from there. A lot of times we do so much tweaking and rewriting, but this one came right together, in like an hour. We tracked it on the spot, and when it came time to think about re-recording it, Tim didn’t find it necessary. He just thought maybe we’d add some acoustic guitar and it’d be done.
Another moment I really like happens in “I Love You, but I Hate Your Friends,” in the chorus where there are two guitars that work off of each other. It’s really fun and upbeat, kind of like the Smiths. You can’t pick out what each guitar is doing; they’re kind of blended into one giant thing thanks to the Tube Screamer and the plug-ins that Tim used to further modify the tones on this and throughout the album.
Chris, given the plug-ins, is it difficult to recreate these sounds in concert?
Allen: It can be a little tricky, but I don’t get too picky when it comes to matching tones. It’s not like we’re talking about a complex sound like [U2’s] the Edge has on “Mysterious Ways,” where the intro riff is such a big part of the sound. Lightly overdriven guitar with a little reverb is not that big of a deal, people don’t scrutinize the tone live and feel ripped off that it doesn’t sound exactly like the record. But if they do notice, sometimes people even like the live sounds better!
How have you evolved as a musician since the early days of Neon Trees?
Allen: When we first started, I didn’t consider myself a songwriter. I never focused on what part comes after the next as far as structure is concerned, intro-verse-chorus-bridge or whatever. I didn’t think about things like a second verse needing something new and exciting to move the song forward. Now, I try to focus more on the song and what I can add to the big picture through different textures, something really ambient and reverbed-out, strategically placed whammy-bar splashes, things like that.