Bernard Fanning’s third solo album “Civil Dusk” is due out on Friday August 5th, and producer Nick DiDia was once again at the controls recording and mixing. Nick DiDia produced Bernard’s stunningly successful debut record “Tea & Sympathy” and 2013’s “Departures” - both albums reaching number one on the charts. Of course you’ve already heard Nick’s work before on Powderfinger’s latter-era work and milestone records from Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine and Bruce Springsteen to name a few, but more on that later.
Federal Audio caught up with Nick at his new Byron Bay recording facility La Cueva (lah-quaver) to deliver some ADAM A7X monitors and talk about the new project and some of the studio techniques involved in its conception and delivery.
We kicked off the discussion with a question about NIck’s favourite three plug-ins for recording and mixing, and things got interesting from there.
“I think they’re all reverbs actually - the EMT250 and the spring BX20 (both from UAD). We had a real BX20 (pictured far left, below in original AKG catalog) at 301 in Byron Bay in the ceiling and I tried to buy from them when they closed but they weren’t selling it - its still somewhere in storage. But the next day it was released on the UAD. Its close enough”.
“I don’t use plugins probably nearly as much as most people do - just cos I have access to the real stuff”. Basically Nick commits sounds ‘to tape’.
“…and with the SSL any kind of EQing, filtering you have to do on the back end I just do on the boards”.
“I actually do like the (AMPEX ATR-102) tape machine plugin - Ive just been throwing that on mixes (over the main bus) but just on playback - for a long time now I basically do my mix and then do a gained-up faux-mastering mix just so when people listen so they don’t go “ahh its not loud enough!”. I’ve been liking that a lot.
There’s one song where I tweaked a preset called “High Input One Inch” which made it the track super-FM-radio-exciting but kind of wrong at the same time (laughs) - Leon (Zervos - mastering engineer at 301) came back to me saying ‘there’s some kind of 14k thing thats…just …I had to get rid of some of it’. He might have to but some of that back in - its just not quite as exciting without it.
We had one (a real AMPEX ATR-102) at 301 and we’d always use it for mixing or for ‘slap’ especially. Typically that would be the ‘slap’ machine, and then we’d mix to either a half-inch Studer or a one-inch modified 102. Tape machines are still great, its the tape thats not so great. I think its gotten better but unfortunately we went though a period of time where the new tapes were wildly inconsistent.
The guys at Blackbird in Nashville did some crazy shootout that involved tape machines and Pro Tools and different converters and the result was that if you record to tape, overdubbed on tape and mixed from tape it was definitely different - you could hear the difference. If at any time you went to pro tools - you basically lost whatever you would have gained.
In the old days we would track to tape put it in pro tools then print stuff back to tape - at this point the benefit is almost nil. Everyone confuses tape with being some sort of perfect medium - it never was, but everyone liked the way it sounded.
The greatest thing about tape is the workflow - but you can still do that with pro tools. If you’re a producer you can do that - when you meet with the band you say ‘this is how we’re going to make the record’ and usually most people are into it. At the same time you do have the flexibility”.
When it comes to vocal chains, Nick says on this record they were more experimental.
“Typically its either the best, most expensive Mic you’ve got, or its the SM7. Bernie has a Groove Tube mic and I have a Sound Deluxe U95. I was working on a project record and they sent a prototype (U95) to try out and we ended up using it on the record (Pearl Jam’s No Code) - if you look in the insert you can see a picture of it. They wanted to send me a brand new one but said ‘no thanks’ (laughs) - I knew that one sounded really good!
Then I’ll typically use a Pultec and LA2A if available or the (Tube Tech) CL1B.
Brendan O’Brien’s* theory is that you never use the same thing in as you do on the way out - so we would typically use the Tube Tech stuff recording and the LA2A & Pultec coming out. At the end of the day by the time the vocal hits the record it s been through 16 transformers!”
In here (La Cueva) I use the summit MPC100A preamp - I didn't really use the SSL preamp much and we had the neves on the piano. I have a UA 610 too.
If you’ve got a great vocalist they can sing into anything and its gonna be ok”.
What about Guitar cabs?
“Traditionally on guitar cabs its been a SM57 on one speaker and Neumann KM86 (figure 8) on another. I blend it with the 57 to make a mono track.
There’s a story that Motown during the 70s replaced all their old tube mic and replaced them with those Mics (KM86). That Stevie Wonder stuff during the 70s was all that mic - drums, vocals, everything. And Ive used it on everything - Sounds great on acoustic guitars, sounds great on electrics - depending on how loud it is - it takes a lot - sounds great on drum overheads, on vocals”.
And how did Nick like the ADAM A7X monitors?
“They’re great. we checked three sets of speakers and they were the fourth and those were the first ones where Bernie and I were like “Oh thats how its supposed to sound like” and so far everything I’ve taken out of here sounds really good”.
Nick also used the Antelope Audio Pure2 as the main clock and the A/D converter from the master bus on the SSL AWS900 and for monitoring. In terms of hearing the main outs “It made a huge difference”.
“I don’t think you’d notice it if you were mixing in-the-box but if you’re mixing analog out-of-the-box … you can hear whats coming out of the board - what playback is.
We used to always check it with tapes and it was usually a little better - it smoothed it out in a good way. But I found that anything (digital) I’d used up to this point you switch between the console and tape and the image folds in - and that (Pure2) was the first thing I’ve heard where it doesn't do it.
“I actually listened to other mixes I had done of the same stuff and I had the same experience where the old mix was here (centered) and the new mix just went (makes wide stereo hands). I tried the Burl and the Prism and a bunch of different stuff - but if you have to switch between them twice to hear the difference, then the difference is negligible. But this (Pure2) was so much of a difference for me”.
Bernard Fanning’s Civil Dusk is out August 5.
*- in 1990 Nick began work as Brendan O’Brien's engineer, and together they worked for nearly 20 years on a multitude of seminal rock and roll albums by the era's most influential bands including Pearl Jam (Vs/Vitology/No Code/Yield/Backspacer) Rage Against The Machine (Evil Empire/Battle of Los Angeles) and Stone Temple Pilots (Core/Purple/Tiny Music/No 4 and ShangriLaDeDa). Check out the links below.
Pre-order Bernard Fanning’s ‘Civil Dusk’ here: