How We Made Our Record is a new feature on Radio Free Silver Lake. Each
week we interview bands about the different aspects of how an album comes
together: generating creative ideas, writing, financing and production
(recording, engineering mastering). We talk about the creative side of choosing
a studio, a producer, how to come up with a sound, and how to make it sound
good with limited resources. We thought that many of our readers, whether they
are musicians, recording engineers, or simply music fans, would be interested
in the backstory of how albums are made. Plus it's a fun & genuine
way to get people excited about an upcoming album. We kick off the feature this
week with United Ghosts. -K.P.
United Ghosts self-titled debut is now available on iTunes, on CD and gorgeous blue vinyl from local record stores and on mail order from Unitedghosts.com. United Ghosts play the Echo this Sunday July 7 for Part Time Punks.
By Axel Steuerwald (of United Ghosts)
Band photo by Aaron Lucy
Additional photos by Arian Soheili and the band
What was the creative concept, or a point of departure for the album when you started? Did you have a unifying concept or just start writing songs? When did you write the songs: before you went into the studio, or did the tracks come together as you recorded?
We had a very loose concept, inspired by our surroundings here in our hometown of LA. We often feel [Los Angeles] gets misrepresented as being all lazy-hazy sunshine without much of an edge to it. We wanted to put that right, show a different side. “Echo Lake,” the lead track, and “Holes Into The Night” are definitely themed along those lines. So is “Unhypnotized” with its cultish video by Arian Soheili. Check out the video for “Echo Lake” for some more thoughts by the whole band. Saying that, it’s not trying to be a concept album. It’s about a lot of things.
As far as writing in or out of the studio, it’s both. We have a small recording set-up in a magical little Garage in Silverlake that we use for writing. Most songs start there or in the practice room before we finish them in a real studio.
Production & Engineering
How did you choose your studio, producer, and engineer? Where did you record and what is the space like? Did you work with outside people or produce it yourselves? How did you make it sound good with the resources you had?
As I mentioned, we have the vibey little Garage studio set-up, which is amazingly creative, because you get all that time to try new sounds, experiment and go way out there but then for some things, like drums, it’s also really cool to go to a “proper” studio with a nice, big room and amazing mikes and all that lovely stuff…
So our production is very much a mix of the two. A lot of the raw, experimental ideas we track ourselves tend to stay on the final recording and provide the base of the song, but then we take it to this nice, big studio The Hobby Shop in Eagle Rock and fit the energy of the full band around. That way we get both, some of the lush, big-studio sound and the experimental, noisy energy of the original demos. And it cuts down on studio cost a lot, because the framework is already there. We just add the live band to it.
Traditionally speaking it’s a kind of a strange way of working, because the overdubs are there before the live band, which is weird, but it works for us.
We’re also really lucky to have an amazing producer and mixer in Scott Gilman, who I’ve worked with for quite a while. Whatever huge, noisy mess we come in with, he can usually transform it and sort it out without losing the original idea. He’s a magician.
It took quite a while, over a year, because we wrote as we recorded and the band was new, still finding its identity. We all love being in the studio and getting along is not really a problem, but there were a few setbacks.
Halfway through recording some bugger busted in the window of my car in the middle of the day in Los Feliz and stole my laptop and a hard drive that had some work on it that wasn’t backed up. That was heartbreaking! They also got a scrap book with lyric ideas and a bunch of mementoes, like plane and show tickets form all over the world, doodles, things that can’t be replaced. It sucked, but I guess it ties in with that “other side of LA” we wanted to show. There it was, running off with our ideas and my computer.
We financed it ourselves, partly with licensing money from previous bands, partly just out of pocket and by begging people involved for favors and cut rates. We tried to realize the full vision, get it right and have everything from the audio to the artwork on the level, at least for the indie market. Shaun Durkan (from the band Weekend) did a great job for the artwork. I guess it all paid off a little because there’s been quite a bit of mainstream radio play and after our recent UK tour the album got picked up by Cargo Records for UK/European distribution.
What have you planned for releasing and promoting the album? Will you be touring? When/where? Have you licensed any tracks? How can we hear the album?
We had a really fun and well-received residency here in LA (at Silverlake Lounge) in May. And will be playing a few select US dates throughout the summer. We will also release a second single and video, “Sparks From A Cold Star” from the record to give it another push. Nic Harcourt very kindly already played that one on his show Connections.
Then in fall it’s back to the UK and Europe, followed by CMJ showcases and East Coast US dates.
Words of Wisdom
What did you learn from this that will influence how you will make the next album? Is there anything you learned that you would pass along to another band that’s about to record an album?
That’s tough. Recording and writing is a never-ending learning experience. We’d probably say something like: Experiment wildly! Don’t go by the book, but then also make sure you have ideas recorded well at all times, so they can be used on a finished record. That early energy as you are writing, the first burst, is something really special and the buzz of it sometimes can’t be re-captured.
And make sure the artwork has some thought put into it a nd suits the sounds. Too many self-releases out there give a not-so-good impression just from the cover.
United Ghosts play the Echo Sunday June 7, 2013 10:00 pm with Ballerina Black and Space Waves for Part Time Punks. This event is 18 and over; $5.00.