The Purgatory Players – “Deserts” ALBUM MIXING
Fear Him Through The Metals
The Waltz and The Pivot
Eulogy For All Saints
I spent a chunk of August 2012 mixing the début album by The Purgatory Players. The band consists of drums, bass/double bass, guitar, piano, viola, harmonium, and are headed up by lead signer/writer Robert George Saull. In Deserts, they have created a stunning piece of work, where song craft takes centre stage.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with Robert a few times over the past couple of years and it’s been really interesting watching his song-writing develop. He has a distinctive sound, a great ear for melody and quite a way with words. When it’s at it’s best (check out “Fear Him Through The Metals” and “The Mountain Relit”) it really is very special indeed. The songs veer from intimate guitar and voice numbers, to massive bells-choirs-pianos-organs-trumpets sections, and everything in between. One of the most beautiful moments on the whole album is closing track Eulogy For All Saints. It features a choir and Robert and that’s it. He delivered a haunting lead vocal which provides the perfect end to the album.
When the band approached me earlier in the year, the album was pretty much all recorded. The recordings need a fair bit of tidying up in terms of timing and bits of tuning (the band’s ex-drummer Andrew Hirst did an awesome job with a big chunk of this editing) and the some of the individual tracks needed cleaning up – because everything was tracked in a bedroom studio, there was quite a bit of noise on everything – especially the guitars.
Tracking the Choir
The band also wanted to do a bit more tracking. Robert wanted to redo a couple of vocals, and add some guitar, and he also wanted a choir on a couple of the tracks. With Robert’s guidance, I arranged the parts and enlisted the help of some choral friends of mine and about 8 of us tracked three songs in one very very warm session in early august.
Before I started mixing, the band gave me free-reign to add and take away what I wanted from the arrangements.
In practise, this meant adding all sorts of organs and strings woodwind and percussion to many parts of many tracks. I added crash cymbals to pretty much every track as Andy only used a crash/ride and hi-hat setup which left some of the bigger moments in the tracks wanting. I did a fair amount of fiddling with arrangements too (taking away a guitar here, distorting a bass there, shortening a middle eight over here again) to make the songs’ sonic progressions as tight and arresting as possible.
I spent about a day on each track, and then a few hours doing tweaks. A lot of the tidying up of audio (getting rid of hiss on the guitars, cleaning up the vocal track to get rid of headphone bleed, seperating the stereo recorded double bass to mono files to sort out phasing issues) happened as I went along.
The drums sounded ok on the whole. The best thing about them was the performance. Andy is a great player – full of invention and energy and very musical in his approach and performance. The sound wasn’t as full bodied as was required and the snare wasn’t quite the right sound for a lot of the tracks so I ended up triggering snare samples and kick samples on most of the tracks, just to give it a bit of extra power where it was needed.
I mentioned breifly that the double bass was delivered to me in stereo. I think it was miced from the rear and the front and then these mics were panned right and left. It sounded strange in stereo, and when I summed them to mono, there were some serious phase issues. I ended up seperating out the stereo file into two separate tracks and using just the front one.
The guitars were noisey – in terms of hiss – and needed work to beef them up. There was only one guitar on each track (Robert is the only guitarist in the group), and this made the tracks sound a bit emaciated. It was crying out for some double tracking to give the guitars some power, so I did some clever editing – layering guitars from different choruses over the top of one another to make it sound as though they were recorded in different takes, etc.
Trumpet. The trumpets were tracked by the inimitable Alan Smyth at 2Fly in Sheffield and arrived sounding lovely.
Robert has a very distinctive delivery and his vocal sounded great. He has a great range of delivery – from whispered to screeched. It did a lot of subtle distortion and warming on them. The reverb was generally just a nice sounding plate, and I’d add a bit of delay here and there as well – automated to ebb and flow with the song.
Samples. The band were keen to use a few samples. Bassist Neil Heppleston put together some amazing sounds for The Waltz And The Pivot (reminiscent of Tomorrow Never Knows, by The Beatles) to which I added some reversed vocals and deep sub bass washy bits. Robert had found this amazing recording of an Imam calling the faithful to prayer in Istanbul. We used it one two tracks, Ibrahim, Yet Eternity and How We Grew Up. The recording was incredible but was in the wrong key. Luckily, all it took was a semi-tone nudge upwards and it slotted in beautifully to both songs. Boom. My favourite sample is probably the owl at the start of White Mirrors. Oh yes.
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaanyway, I didn’t really mean to write this much, and I meant it to be far more technical. Next time, I’ll probably include screenshots of the projects I’m working through to give a bit more insight into proceedings.