Producer Machine on Making Earth Rocker

Finding the Mojo
“They are one of my favorite bands to work with and one of my favorite bands to listen to as a fan, too,” says Earth Rocker producer Machine. “Any time they come knocking, it’s not a problem to spend time with a band like that [laughs].” Machine initially worked with Clutch on 2001’s Pure Rock Fury and 2004’s Blast Tyrant—which, at the time, was an unlikely pairing.

“I met them on the premise that I was going to help them make radio songs—that’s not the best foot to get off on with a group of guys like Clutch,” Machine recalls, laughing. “It wasn’t an obvious choice for us to collaborate in 2001 when we were first matched up together because they had just signed to a major label [Atlantic] and I was put in touch with them through an A&R guy since I was working with bands like Coal Chamber, Hed PE, and Lost Prophets that were getting radio airtime.”

Once the band and Machine figured out each other’s working style and recording quirks, Machine assured them he could take the right position and make a great Clutch album. Their collaboration forged a distinct, structural shift in Clutch’s overall sonic landscape with a more melodic songwriting bent, fine-tuned aggressiveness, and harnessing of the band’s live energy and flow.

“It was about a year ago when they reached out to me and I went to one of their shows and afterwards they asked me if I wanted to make a record with them again,” Machine says. “I told them that I’d do it, no matter to my other commitments—I was onboard.”

Almost a decade had passed since their last recording session together, but both Clutch and Machine reconvened wiser and stronger within their craft.

“They admitted to me that I did things differently from other producers and in hindsight they learned so much about constructing, arranging, and developing songs from our time together in the early 2000s,” says Machine. “When we work together, we prefer to use extensive preproduction sessions and this time we met at JP’s house and there were a lot more things to work from. The overall flow, arrangement, direction of the album, and completed songs were done in each of those three preproduction cycles.” After they completed the third preproduction at drummer JP’s house, they headed straight into the studio on the wave of momentum the new material created. This provided audible differences immediately.

“They knew they had a killer album in the bag and they were loose, but decisive in the studio. It was second nature and it was a great time. Even still, with a band like Clutch, you’re still going to have some of the 11th hour added parts or changes— like the jamming outros to ‘D.C. Sound Attack’ and ‘Book, Saddle, Go’—and you have to embrace the spontaneity as a producer or get left behind [laughs].”

Machine vs. Machines
Machine gives a breakdown of his studio mindset when recording Clutch’s Earth Rocker:

“We used two Marshall amps—the JTM45 and the JCM900—but relied heavily on the 900 and mixed in only the JTM45 where it was needed for a denser tone, added character, or just overall heft by moving those cab mics further outside the cone for just low-end chunk. For cabinets, we tried a whole bunch of stuff and landed upon a happy accident with the Orange 2x12 with Celestion Vintage 30s. We were trying a bunch of 4x12s and weren’t getting the sound Tim had in his head, so we figured that the size of this particular Orange 2x12 had more real estate per speaker than the 4x12s did because it was an oversized 2x12—it was a little less than 2/3 the cabinet, but only half the speakers of the 4x12. And because of that, the extra space pushed a lot more air, and clear low end, which really made a distinctive sound difference when we were A-Bing all the cabs.

I always use a SM57 on one speaker and a Sennheiser MD 421 II on another speaker when recording guitar. Both mics are on the grill just on the outside edge of the cone and then I blend the mics through my old Amek console because putting multiple mics on a cab doesn’t necessarily mean you have double the tones.

For ‘Gone Cold,’ the lone acoustic track on the album, we recorded traditionally by mic’ing outside the soundhole with an AKG C 480 B cardioid microphone. That was actually the same mic I used on the acoustic track ‘Regulator’ on Blast Tyrant. I remember recording that song at JP’s house and I searched and searched for the perfect mic to record the acoustic guitar parts for that song and I stumbled upon that mic as one of the last things I hadn’t tried. Once it was setup and he was playing—I just felt that it was the mic for that song. And for ‘Gone Cold,’ how could I not use the AKG?! I blended it with a AKG C 414 B, but again, the 480 is the main mic where the 414 is just adding to the mix to fill in nooks and crannies that the 480 is missing in the high highs and low lows.

“I positioned the 480 out in front of the guitar, to the right of the soundhole, with the center of the mic pointing at the last fret of the guitar where the neck joint meets the body. I feel that’s the sweetest spot to get best qualities of the acoustic guitar without getting too much wooliness or overloading the mic. The best secret I’ve found working with acoustic instruments is getting a solid pair of isolating headphones and doing real-time adjustments of mic positioning with the second mic because acoustic guitar will let you know you’re too close by getting woofy and bassy or you get too far away or to the sides and it’s thin, nasally, and constricted.

The Shure 520DX is the harmonica sound for ‘D.C. Sound Attack.’ Without that mic, you don’t have that classic, signature harmonic tone. If you sing through that mic, you sound like you’re using a tin can in a boxcar [laughsthat harmonica sound.”