It took the fields Of The Nephilim much more than the simple guitars, bass and drums line-up to create their new LP "Elizium." Keith Grant talks to guitarist Pete Yates, drummer Nod and producer Andy Jackson about making a decent rock album in the Nineties.
The last time that the Nephilim entered a studio they spent almost six weeks recording a single. This time they were somewhat less self-indulgent and, to the probable relief of their record company, produced a whole album, "Elizium". The apparent wealth of songs on it, however is something of a deception, the band obviously having developed a taste for musical excursions of some length.
"In essence there are actually only four tracks," explains guitarist Pete Yates. "The two sides are like a light side and a dark side. Thee tracks are broken down into different pieces of music cos so much of what we do is the result of jams. We don't go into studios to demo our songs, there are just cassettes of ideas worked up at rehearsals."
"We record all our rehearsals either with a four track or just a Walkman with a microphone," continues drummer Nod "This time we also did some recording on an Akai 12-track on "The Wail Of Sumer" and "Submission" -but not to overdub any other ideas, just to mix the live sound, to hear it better. "We decided to take these four long pieces into the studio and experiment with them. "Sumerland", for instance, got completely rearranged - the whole structure was just turned completely around and it just gelled in a completely different way. And the single "For Her Light" was actually just an edit from the second movement of a 14-15 minute song."
The group started the recording process at Parkgate Studios, on the Sussex coast, a residential facility well away from any major urban settlement - the band's preference. Both choice of studio and producer were in response to perceived previous weaknesses in the studio.
Nod: "We thought that our sound had always been suffering somewhere along the line before. Maybe the guitars would sound great, but never everything at the same time. Andy has a great track record, especially as an engineer; he was Pink Floyd's engineer for eight years. And we also wanted to work with one person, producing and engineering, rather than two separate people. Someone who could really engineer and produce the sounds that we could hear in our heads."
Not that the aims and intentions which brought forth "Psychonaut" were being deserted in the process of delivering an album within budget. The lessons from their brush with the possible excesses of technology had been learned and the machinery enslaved: it's awesome power harnessed at source. Nod: "We've had MIDI set-ups for almost a year now. I've got a Casio FZ10N rack sampler with a Tascam MM1 20-channel desk and SPX 900, which I trigger from pads running into a Yamaha DMC1 to a Roland GR50 guitar synth, which allows him to texture sounds and effects. It would have been easy to stick to overdrive pedals and stuff, but we've taken all the technology that's there to be used and used it. This allows us to take stuff that we do in the studio out on stage. Most of the equipment was being built up around the time we were writing the album, so we were able to develop a lot of technological ideas into the songs before we went into the studio. Once in the studio these could either be dumped onto tape or loaded onto Andy's computer - a Mac running Performer -which we did with a lot of the rhythm stuff."
Pete: "Some of the things that you might think were loops on the album are actually played, stuff that might sound like sequencers is actually just keyboards played freehand, and a lot of stuff that sounds like programmed bass is, in fact, just Tony playing off of delay."
Behind the desk, meanwhile, Andy Jackson wanted to keep things as live as possible. "We had everybody tie-lined through to the control room," he explained, "with just Nod out in the live area. That way we could have everybody playing live with just Nod wearing cans, everybody else monitoring in the control room on the big speakers. So the starting point was live takes long ones, and a lot of the tracks went down in just one long take or maybe two, with very little done to click tracks. I did some sequencing at a late point, but only using it as extra tracks of multi-track, as a tapeless recording rather than a sequencer. Only on the single version of "Sumerland" did we add a sequencer proper, and in that instance I took a trigger from straight fours on the bass drum."
"I had been to rehearsal rooms with them to prepare for the studio and decided it was that live sound that they have that I wanted to preserve in the studio. Even Carl's keyboard stuff, just taking a stereo feed from his mixer directly into the desk, because that is what his sound is."
Pete: "My set-up in the studio was the same as my on-stage set up, a Yamaha PZ078 power amp, a couple of mono Rocktron Hushers, the GR50 and Quadraverb and eight into two mixer. The pre-amp is an ADA MPI valve one. In the studio we used a splitter box feeding into a small practise amp out in the studio to get feedback off of the main speaker cab and I used my Les Paul with the EMGs and my Gibson SG - the first guitar I ever bought. Andy also had a Telecaster with a Charvel neck. I don't like Fenders as a rule but I used this one for a lot of the ambient guitar tracks, he quiet reverb stuff. The last sound you hear on 'Submission' is the sound of the tremelo arm breaking as I take too far!
"Paul used his Gretsch Falcon and a couple of Yamaha SG2000's and Andy's Telecaster as well, going through a JC160 and Marshall 9000 Series pre-amp, driving a Marshall 4x12 cab. "Tony played his Warwick Slipstream with EMGs through a couple of Gallien Krugers and an Ampeg 8x10 and Trace Elliot 4x10 cab, miked and DI'd. On the floor he had a little DDL and chorus."
Recording Pete's guitar sound involved treating his guitar synth work as just part of his overall sound - rather than taking a separate DI and merely treating it as an opportunity for the guitarist to play synth.
Pete: "Andy just miked my GL50 up through my cab using an ambient mike as well. We ended up using a lot of the ambient mike, as it took a lot of the digital edge off the sounds. I used a lot of string sounds, especially cellos."
With the backing tracks down and the need for a big live area gone it was time to move onto a somewhat less conventional recording environment to execute the vocals and overdubs - a boat. David Gilmour's house boat studio, to be precise. Andy explain: "Its got a DDA desk with Octifile automation and there are both Otari and Studer 24 track machines and lots of toys - some current and fashionable and some weird museum pieces from Pink Floyds past. There's a big room at one end of the boat which is, in effect, the control room and a lounge area at the other which has tie lines running into it, and that space we used for recording the overdub guitars.
Pete:" The keyboards were the same set-up that we have live. We have a guy who plays with us on stage, but on the album we played them all all, except for a few that John Carin, Floyds day and basically filled holes that needed filling with an Old Korg that sounds like a Hammond and belongs to Dave Gilmour. The other keyboards were an EMAX SE used for a lot of the strange sounds - we've had it for a while and have a large library of sounds that Carl's built up, things unmusical that get used in a musical way, like grinding washing machine samples and stuff - and an S1000 and a Quadraverb which we used for voice samples and things that took up a lot of memory space. The S1000 is up to four megabytes already and growing." Andy: "With the vocals, I had used a valve U47 for the guides and we hired one in on the boat, but for some reason it just wouldn't take it, mainly I think because carl sings so close to the mike and they get too wet from the moisture on your breath at that proximity, so we just used a U87."
"The thing about recording there is it is so unlike working in a studio, and with just Carl and me working there doing the vocals it was a very intimate environment. I recorded him at the desk, which made for good communication and a close working relationship. It also meant he could monitor through the speakers and not have to wear cans. The spill from the backing tracks wasn't too bad, and once I'd cleaned it up it was totally acceptable.
"Most of the mixes were very straightforward, with the bulk of it mixed in five days. For reverbs I used a Lexicon 480, generally on a vocal plate, a few SPX90s for reverbs and delays along with some SDEs, and three Alesis Microverbs which I love - just a couple of Halls (3 and 6). I used a few old harmonizers - Dave doesn't have any new ones cos everybody prefers the old ones. I also tended to use quite a bit of valve stuff, Tube Tech equalizers and Fairchild compressors."
The band feel with this LP they've struck the optimum balance between their earlier direct approach to the studio, pre "Psychonaut" and the technology that making "Psychonaut" forced them to come to terms with. No one can ever accuse The Nephilim of being luddite or of allowing the technology to take control. Maybe it's a hint of things to come, where the technology and the musician can truly exist together.
"We've incorporated the technology into our overall sound, and have it all at our disposal, but also under our control," Pete explains. And maybe as the Nineties roll on, it's the only way forward.