Reba Meyers has played an ESP LTD Viper since she was 14. in The unusual finish on her new ESP signature LTD RM-600 is created via a process that uses plastic wrap. Photo by Joe Calixto
Reba, I’m told you taught yourself Pro Tools and recorded a lot of your own guitar parts on Underneath. What motivated you to do that?
Meyers: We made full-on, very real demos of all the songs before we went in to record the album, and we each had our own stations. I was using Ableton to record all the guitar parts, and Shade had his own Ableton rig. I’d send him a project when I was done with it, and he would add, replace, and just fuck with stuff. We bounced projects back and forth until the songs were done. We recorded some of the vocals ourselves and some with Will Yip, who helped a lot with idea-bouncing. Then Shade did basic mixes of the demos and we put them into an album format very similar to how the album actually came out.
When we went to record it with Nick Raskulinecz, we basically remade everything. Nick wanted us to use Pro Tools because that’s what he worked in, and then everything would be the same consistency, so Shade and I were basically forced to learn Pro Tools. I ended up comping a lot of my own guitars myself, because of time constraints and wanting everything to sound a specific way. I was set up in my own little room and I’d lock myself in there for 10 hours a day taking everything I’d tracked in Ableton and analyzing it to recreate things accurately or hopefully make them better. Sometimes I wasn’t able to beat what I’d done the first time, so I tweaked the sound of the original to make it work, but wouldn’t perform it again because I didn’t want to lose the energy of the original take.
There are some leads and solos that made it onto the album that are clipping because I did them in two seconds as a demo, but if the performance was better or more immediate, I kept it. When you play a part that you’ve just thought of for the first time and you’re still in that moment, it’s the most genuine, and we tried to capture that a lot.
Can you tell us about how you got your tones on the album, and blending real amps with plug-ins?
Meyers: I recorded all of my rhythm parts with the real EVH 5150 III EL34 I use live, and some of the leads I did on one of the lower wattage EVH 5150 IIIs, but most of the leads were digital because it beat the real amps for crispness and cutting through the mix. Our music is so layered, and I wasn’t going to allow the guitars to be buried, and tracking a lot of the guitars in the box let them cut through—stay clear and smooth, and live in a very specific frequency range without losing their body. I used a UAD Engl amp sim plug-in for a lot of the heavier, grimier overdriven leads. I also used the Native Instruments Guitar Rig software, because it has tons of stuff, so I’d start with that for a lot of the leads and throw tons of different compressors and Soundtoys plug-ins on.
The list is insanely long, and a lot of it was just making little noise blasts or swells that come in for a second or two. I used Ableton’s pitch automation for a lot of that stuff, like on “Erasure Scan” there’s a lead that comes in a few times throughout the song and it’s pitch-bent down in a really fucked up way. That’s just Ableton’s transposing automation. I tried to use simple stuff like that, which I hadn’t really heard used on guitars much to create a really digital, but fucked up, sounding tone. A lot of people associate digitally tracked guitars with this mid-scooped, perfectly timed, sterile sound, which I never liked, but I think we were able to take the digital guitar sound concept and use it in a very metal or hardcore way—a new, modern way that didn’t just suck the soul out of it, but adapted it for a much more unique sound.
Landolina: I mostly used my 5150 III 50-watt and we also used an Engl Invader for some heavy riffs. There were a lot of different amps getting used here and there, but those were the main ones.
The album is cold, digital, and heavily layered, but still very organic, with a very human element. It manages to carry the spirit of a hardcore band.
Meyers: That was the biggest challenge of making this record. We battled each other a lot to find a balance between the crazy cuts and digital glitches and noise, but also make it feel like it was played by a person—keeping some sort of life in it. We set out to mix that in-the-room, live hardcore-band feel with a cold digital landscape, and we really wanted to pull people in and out of it constantly. “You and You Alone” is a great example, where we took something that began as a really organic metalcore riff. It was sent to Shade and then chopped into a rhythmic, digitally cut-up riff, then sent back to me and I had to re-learn the riff with the structure he gave it. It was like the idea got sucked in and spat back out of a computer and became something new through that process. We tried to do that in all kinds of ways, depending on the song. We used samples instead of a guitar riff, and we made samples out of guitar leads and made themes with different pieces of what would’ve been nonsensical riffs on their own, but when turned into a sample and used in a repetitive way, has an unexpected melody.
How did you guys approach arranging the glitched guitar parts on songs like “Swallowing the Rabbit Whole?”
Meyers: A lot of the stuff would come through accidents or an idea executed a little differently than we had in mind, but would still work. It’s just part of songwriting for us at this point, and we always try to make things very intentionally rhythmic. Even if something is rhythmically jarring, that’s intentional. It’s so easy in Ableton and Pro Tools to slide things around and you don’t have to relearn how to play a part every time you want to change it, so we were able to dig a lot deeper creatively because we had these tools at our disposal. We just had to remind ourselves to not make it perfect because that would ruin the whole thing. We still wanted to sound like a band.
“Cold.Metal.Place” is one of my favorite tracks on the album, and there’s a really cool passage with pinch harmonics panning around the stereo spectrum. Can you tell me how you mapped that idea out?
Meyers: I came up with the main riff with the pinch harmonic and sent a demo to Shade, who replaced all of the drums with this crazy electronic percussion that had extra accents. We had the idea to add a riff that played off of Shade’s drums in a way that was almost an off-time version of it. I listened to that riff on a loop and figured out a version that could still be played, but sounded a little off. We went through a million different versions before we got to the one on the album. It sounds like you’re surrounded by pure chaos.
How challenging was it to bring these songs into the live realm, with all of the layering and glitching?
Meyers: It was fuckin’ tough! When we were coming to the end of writing it, we all had that daunting thought about what a pain in the ass it would be to figure out the songs again, but we did it and asked people for advice to get it straight. That’s also why we wanted to livestream the release show. We had put so much goddamned work into figuring out how to do these songs live in a way we were happy with. It took forever to be able to play these songs without just staring at our hands, but we locked down and did it. I have so many sounds on this record that if I was going to try and switch all of them with my feet, my performance would have suffered tremendously. I ended up working with this company, Savant Playback in Nashville, and they built me a playback rig that uses some iConnectivity interfaces. We have a couple of things on tracks, but it’s mostly just supplemental stuff that makes the overall mix sound better, and things that make switching tones efficient so we can still really perform.
Landolina: This record is a challenge to play. The main riff on “Swallowing the Rabbit Whole” is something I have to practice for hours. I brought in that riff and everyone was like, “that’s cool, but it needs to be faster,” and there were a few times when Reba or I brought in an idea and we all decided it needed to be faster and we figured out how to record it that fast and worried about executing it on guitar live later. From the time we finished the record to when we played the release show, Reba and I spent hours and hours practicing.