Filed under: Universal Togetherness Band
When faced with the tasking of mixing the multitrack sessions that constituted Universal Togetherness Band‘s recorded catalog, we knew Sean Marquand was the guy for the job. His experience in the genre-defying Phenomenal Handclap Band, coupled with his own polyrhythmic record collection, his comfy recording studio (Vel Studios, Brooklyn), and his familiarity with our mission made him a perfect candidate. Little did we know he was going to give Universal Togetherness Band the full Spector, taking it from an undergraduate experiment to high-fidelity masterpiece. We asked Sean, “How’d you do that?” This was his illuminating response:
When Jon Kirby called me to mix the Universal Togetherness’ unreleased album, I didn’t hesitate for a second. It was instantly clear from the first listen of the rough mixes that there were real songs and performances underneath the tape hiss and raw engineering. I also happen to love modern soul from the early ’80s, so I knew it would be a pleasure to dig in on this material.
I started work on the multis in the dead of summer and I quickly realized that there were some big issues with the raw material. The transfers from 1 and 2 inch tape were both noisy and frustratingly flat. The original ’80s console mixes I had been sent as a reference had dimension to them, so I knew these songs could sound good, and probably great.
To start, there was a lot of cleaning up to do. I spent days editing the raw tracks to pull out the hum, hiss and the occasional errant drum click or scrape of a mic against an amp grill.
Once the pre-mix was finished, I called up my talented buddy Eber Pinheiro from Atlantic Sound Studios—conveniently located 2 floors directly above my studio in Dumbo Brooklyn—for some advice. He was just as charmed as I was by the songs so he suggested we finish the mixes at Atlantic.
Atlantic has an impressive amount of outboard gear, amps as well as a Trident 80 console. The second we pulled up the faders on the board, Universal Togetherness Band started to sound alive. Eber and I both had some time to work on this project so we decided to use as much outboard gear as possible, to give it more punch and warmth, and also just for the experience of doing so, which is usually pretty fun.
We patched nearly every track into a pre, compressor or through a tube amp. We mic’ed up 3 vintage Fender amps and set up a bunch of 57s on the grills and put a Sony C37A in the corner of the live room. We ran the lead and rhythm guitars through the amps as well as the Rhodes and organs. This re-amp technique worked wonders on “Real Thrill” and “Ain’t Gonna Cry” as both tunes had tons of energy but the instruments needed some grit to stick out. We tried this technique on every song, but it only ended up sweetening the more upbeat songs. The ballads and mid tempos songs needed a different vibe.
“Taken by Love” was possibly my favorite song on the album, due to its really catchy outro, but it was the most difficult to mix. There were only 5 or 6 stereo tracks to work from and every track had tons of bleed on it. The only thing to do was run it through D.W. Fearn VT-2s and Neve 1073 and EQ the problem areas. I think the final product is cool though. It sounds like UTB was having a good time.
“Once in a Lifetime” conversely was really fun to mix as there are so many elements to bring out and tuck in. We squashed the rhythm synth pattern through a Urei 1176LN and drove a Fender Champ a bit on the guitar while we gritted up the overheads through the UREI LA-3A. The claps were buried in the mix, so Eber set up a sequence of a high pass filter sending the claps through 15 second and 30 second delays through a Roland SRE-555 Chorus Echo hard panning them and sending them to the reverb return. There were probably easier ways to make the claps pop, but this technique sounded great.
Nearly every song had some gentle EMT 140 plate reverb over the mix on most songs which helped and we also fed some of the original noise back into some songs to compensate for the gated drums.
At least half of the songs had non-vocal hooks and instrumental sections that were 2 to 4 times longer than needed. My hunch is they kept the structure long for overdubs but never got around to tracking any added solos or percussion. We ended up trimming down any long sections that had no musical variation, which tightened things up a bit.
The last step for every song was mixing down to Eber’s Studer A820 half inch machine. This step glued everything together and made us happy to get out of Protools for a minute.
The whole process ended up being a blast for us. The songs really work now and it was cool to help bring out the fantastic details of this really charming band.
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