PonyHomie review

Excellent review of the PonyHomie album in City Arts

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‘Remable’ by PonyHomie
December 31, 2012 | by Jonathan Zwickel

The first record you need to hear this year is by a band you’ve never heard of. Remable, by Seattle trio PonyHomie, is a lovably schizoid electro-pop excursion that’s equal parts bubbly and brooding.

PonyHomie has existed off and on since 2009 but didn’t get serious until 2011. That year the band sent a demo to uber-engineer Scott Colburn—a.k.a. the man who recorded Animal Collective’s best stuff and the Arcade Fire in a Québécois church. Colburn added a deft touch, working with the band mostly on drums and vocal overdubs. With his guiding ear, PonyHomie birthed a full, fulfilling debut.

The foundation of PonyHomie’s sound is a Nord G2X modular synthesizer, an out-of-production piece of technology that serves as both muse and musical Swiss army knife to bandleader Brandon Feist. The Nord is thoroughly electronic and astoundingly versatile, able to emulate a string or horn section or refract a single human voice into multiple octaves so it sounds like a full choir. This machine can play music on its own with the press of a button, but Feist has figured out how to exploit its more human potential. Its sonics fill Remable like liquid plastic, all soft, melting contours jelled into a high gloss.

With the Nord as its primary engine, PonyHomie has little use for guitars, so there isn’t much guitar on the album. Ramon Salumbides plays electric bass or bows an upright, yielding a warm, woody sound as comforting as the Nord’s silvery buzz is alien. Mike West’s drums percolate in unpredictable ways, circling the melody rather than pushing it forward.

Despite the trifling band name and album art, PonyHomie traffics in a sort of radiant gloom. And Remable gives good reason to dance the spastic pogo and/or aloof sway endemic to Goth Night at the disco (see especially “Super Hang Loose” and “Nothing Good”). Feist works a poignant vocal tone, though he’s occasionally mixed too aggressively; on “Garbage Trucks” and “Hot Weapon” he slides from yearning to yelping. But when vocals, rhythm, synth and songwriting come together, the result is undeniably compelling.

The best example of essential PonyHomie—and the album’s emotional high point—is “I Was Asleep.” After a percussive, off-kilter-electro intro, Feist’s voice enters heartwrenched and measured, singing about death or departure: “And down the road you will be known by your first and last names/And you’ll be told that you are gold, through and through, down to the bone.” A Nord-made horn riff braids around digital filigree, West’s drums punch and veer, Salumbides’ bowed bass sounds regal and funereal. Towards the end, a discernable organ line wafts through as the final minute (of almost six) lifts into ecstasy.

There are similar pinnacles throughout Remable, small moments exploded into panoramic proportions. PonyHomie is unafraid to play out a song to maximize groove and drama.

If the band has proximal brethren in 2013, it’s ambitious psych-poppers Stephanie; if they have ancestry, it’s Aqueduct, Dave Terry’s nigh-genius synth-pop project from the mid-’00s. But for the most part, Seattle bands don’t sound like PonyHomie. Now’s a good time to welcome something new.

PonyHomie celebrates the release of Remable at Chop Suey on Jan. 4, 2013.

Simplicity Trumps Technology

Excellent article that sums up my production philosophy, except that I’ve been doing this for 30 years, so it’s not new. Read the article at BMI here

6 Ways Simplicity Trumps Technology in the Studio

By Dave Simons
Dec 11 2012
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Living with first takes, limiting the number of recorded tracks and other ideas for streamlining your sessions.

In a recent piece on the Everly Brothers, we looked at how the technology limitations of the time resulted in a more efficient record-making process—and, in the case of the EBs, better-sounding records. For anyone born into a world of limitless tracking, the idea of studio “devolving” might sound silly; nevertheless, it is still worth considering some of the following practices that, theoretically, allow one to spend more time making music and less time futzing with faders.

Take five (or less). Very often the first few takes of a session reveal the most inspired performances—in part because you’re not yet fully committed to what you’re doing. “Invariably when it comes time to do the ‘real’ take, it’s not nearly as good,” says producer/engineer Niko Bolas. “So the producer’s job is to make sure to hold on to that first run through—that way if the artist winds up expending their energy trying to replicate that initial take, it will already be saved.”

Performance, not perfection (or reasons not to go beyond Take Five). There’s no better way to suck the life out of a recording than to attempt the same part over and over again. When overdubbing, give yourself a set number of attempts per part, then move on. Chances are a year from now you won’t hear the “mistakes,” but you will notice if the track sounds like you fussed over it.

Band-made. Just because you wrote the song doesn’t necessarily mean you should dictate the arrangement (type-A personalities, take note). By allowing your bandmembers to come up with their own ideas on the spot, you could wind up with something far more interesting. Case in point: in 1987, singer-songwriter John Hiatt began the sessions for the memorable Bring the Family album by simply performing skeletal versions of songs like “Memphis in the Meantime” and “Thing Called Love” on acoustic guitar, then rolled tape and allowed helping hands Nick Lowe (bass), Ry Cooder (guitar) and Jim Keltner (drums) to fill in the blanks uncoached. “I’d made some demos beforehand,” recalls Hiatt, “but we didn’t play them at all. Instead, I just sang each song once, and off we’d go. We got ‘Memphis in the Meantime’ on the third take, and the rest followed in short order. It was just one of those things. The point is, the more you offer your basic ideas to other musicians when you go in to record, the more opportunities you have for something great to happen.”

The fewer the tracks, the easier the mix.There is the belief that having a dedicated track for every last piece of studio noise gives you much greater control (due to the ability to “solo” and manipulate the sound of each part). Bear in mind, however, that your ultimate goal is to get a suitable overall sound. If it takes 30 tracks to make that happen, fine—but remember that there are a lot of great-sounding records that were made with just three. Also, the more tracks you have, the more tracks you’ll have to mix. Should you wind up with more tracks than less, at least try to be creative—rather than keeping everything at a uniform level during mixdown, randomly move parts in and out, contrast the various parts using different EQ settings, effects levels, etc.

The benefits of “bouncing.” In the old days, engineers would typically combine “common” instruments such as drums, bass and rhythm guitar in order to preserve track space. Even if you’ve got oodles of room, sub-mixing (or “reduction” mixing) a handful of tracks down to one or two is still a good practice, as it forces you to commit to a basic combination of instruments ahead of time, thereby making your final mix job that much easier (particularly if you’re like me and still using non-motorized, physical faders). If, for example, you recorded a drum kit using six mics, try doing a basic two-track (or even mono) reduction mix while you’re still working on the project, rather than keeping the drums spread across those six channels the whole time. From an organizational standpoint it helps keep things nice and tidy (and, since you’re in the digital domain, you can always go back to your original multitrack should you need to anyway).

Live is the answer. By now most of us are accustomed to “building” tracks bit by bit, i.e., drums first, bass overdub second, and so on. The obvious advantage: the ability to go back in and fix individual miscues after the fact. Still, there’s a lot to be said for the sound—and ease—of having everyone playing in the same room at the same time. “You think about the kind of atmosphere that the Beatles got on that first album by just playing live with minimal overdubs in one 12-hour marathon session,” notes producer/recording artist Todd Rundgren. “If a band’s agenda is to really capture a ‘performance’—which I tend to favor and encourage any act who’s capable of doing it—that’s what I try to go for in the studio, and will set up the room accordingly.”
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Career

What Does a Producer Do?

Excellent article that describes what I do for a living. Read it at BMI here

What a Producer Does and Why You Should Consider Using One

By Cliff Goldmacher
Dec 11 2012
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Working as a producer for the last ten years, I’ve recorded with all kinds of artists from “fresh off the boat” newbies to artists whose experience in the world of music doubles or even triples my own. In every case, my role as a producer stays essentially the same. It’s that role that I’m going to describe in this article.

What is a Producer?

The best way I know to describe what a producer does comes in the form of this analogy: A producer is to a recording as a director is to a film. When it comes to making a film, the buck essentially stops with the director. It’s the director who steers the ship working with everyone from the actors to the technical editors in order to achieve his or her overall vision of the movie. It is exactly that way with a producer when it comes to making a recording. Not only must the producer have the experience to work with the studio engineer (often possessing the technical expertise to engineer the project themselves) but a producer must also have the musical understanding to help the artist with everything from song choice, structure and arrangement, to the all-important vocal performances that are vital in giving a recording its personality. In short, a producer provides the experience and necessary perspective to guide a recording from start to finish.

Producer Backgrounds

Producers can come from a variety of backgrounds. Here are the four most common and what each brings to the process, but, typically, producers have experience in more than one of these areas.

1) Producer/Songwriter – Since at its essence, a recording is dependent on the quality of the song, the producer/songwriter is heavily involved in the song selection process. Not only does this type of producer have experience in knowing what does and doesn’t work when it comes to pre-existing songs, but often this producer will co-write songs with the artist for a given project.

2) Producer/Musician – Here, it’s often an instrumental and music theory background that gives this type of producer their experience. They have first-hand knowledge when it comes to working with musicians and knowing what instrumental approach will work best in a given situation.

3) Producer/Engineer – In this case, the producer’s primary experience comes from actual recording (i.e., placing microphones on drum kits, recording vocals and mixing albums). By becoming an expert in the nuts and bolts of the recording process, an engineer/producer can make the recording process a smooth one for the artist.

4) Producer/Music Fan – This is someone who lives and breathes music and has the instincts to guide artists and session musicians through the recording process without necessarily having had the “hands on” experience of being a songwriter, musician or engineer themselves. They often bring great perspective to a situation where being too close to any one part of the process might compromise the overall recording.

What Do Producers Do?

Producers can be involved in many different aspects of a recording. Some producers are very “hands off,” acting mostly as the voice of experience and perspective for artists who already have a fairly clear idea of who they are and where they’re headed. On the other end of the spectrum are the producers who are involved in every element of the recording, from co-writing the songs, to engineering, to playing one or even all of the instruments. In some, but certainly not all of these cases, the resulting recordings have such a distinctive sound that the producer becomes as associated with the recording as the artist themselves. For the record, no one way takes precedence over any other for producing a recording. The only measure of a producer that matters is whether or not the resulting recording is satisfying to everyone involved. As most producers operate somewhere in between minimal and complete involvement, here are the main areas where most producers do their work.

1) Pre-production – This includes working with the artist to decide if the songs are as good as they can be and, ultimately, which songs would work best as a group for an album release. It also includes deciding on the overall sound of a recording which involves deciding which session musicians/instruments would be best suited to achieve the sound and feel of a particular song.

2) Instrumental Recording/Arrangement – At this point, the producer works with the assembled musicians and helps direct their performances in the studio in order to achieve a cohesive sound for the recording.

3) Vocals – Finally, because the typical music listener responds first to the voice of the singer, one of the most important roles of the producer is working with the vocalist to help them give their best and most sincere performance of their material. It is extremely difficult for even the most experienced vocalists to have any perspective on their performance while it’s happening. For this reason, a producer is the voice of reason and experience who knows how to encourage a vocalist to do one more vocal pass or helps them realize that it would be better to take a break and come back to fight another day.

How Do I Find A Producer?

For those who are new to the process of recording, whether it’s an album project or even a song demo, it is unclear where to look to find a producer for your project. Generally speaking, word of mouth in your music community serves as the best, most organic way to find a producer right for your project. Another effective way to find a producer, particularly if you’re interested in doing a whole recording project, would be to look at the liner notes on some of your favorite independent CD projects made in the city where you plan to record. Often, those producers are available for hire and it’s just a matter of getting their contact information, which the CDs usually include. Finally, there’s no rule that says you can’t contact a well-known/successful producer whose work you admire. Maybe they will be too busy or too expensive to work with, but you never know. If you’re respectful in your request, there’s no reason not to try.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, it’s a good working relationship and the trust between artist and producer that makes for the best results. So, be sure that you not only like a producer’s work but feel comfortable working with them as well. You’ll be spending a lot of time with this person and trusting them with your art, so make sure that you feel like the producer you choose is willing to give you and your music the attention necessary to get a great recording.

Good luck!

Bio

Cliff Goldmacher is a songwriter, producer, session musician, engineer, author and owner of recording studios in Nashville, TN and Sonoma, CA.

Cliff’s site, http://www.EducatedSongwriter.com, is full of resources for the aspiring songwriter including a brand new HD video series available at the link below.
http://www.EducatedSongwriter.com/video-podcast-series
Cliff’s company, http://www.NashvilleStudioLive.com, provides songwriters outside of Nashville with virtual access to Nashville’s best session musicians and singers for their songwriting demos.