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JFH Staff Blog | Hawk Nelson

Friday, September 4, 2009

Jon of Hawk Nelson Recounts The Recording Process of Live Life Loud

A blog recounting the recording process of Live Life Loud:

So it's been a few months since we finished recording "Live Life Loud", and I'm sitting down to sketch out what I can remember about the recording process..... Thankfully I'm blessed (and equally cursed) with a crazy detailed memory for things like this, and I could probably write this in just as much detail a year from now. Haha. This is the point at which the rest of the guys would make a "push your glasses up your nose and adjust your pocket-protector" gesture and laugh at me. ( I can definitely nerd out when it comes to studio time, techniques, and equipment, so I'll do my best to keep the nerding to a minimum, and place the NERDIEST stuff in big ol' parentheses. )

We recorded the album in Nashville, in two chunks..... because of our touring schedule. We were doing a tour called Winterjam (alongside tobyMac and others) that stretched from January to March, and another tour called the Rock and Worship Roadshow (with Mercy Me, Jeremy Camp, and others) that stretched from March through the end of April. Altogether we played in front of roughly half a million people during those few months, so it wasn't exactly a "down" time set aside for making a record. Even so, we found some time during Winterjam to record 6 songs (Live Life Loud, Meaning of Life, Eggshells, Alive, Never Enough, and Shaken), and some additional time after the Roadshow tour in which to finish up.

The recording process in both of those cases started with the 4 of us in a room with our producer, Steve Wilson. Jason, Steve, and I would each grab an acoustic guitar, Dan would have his bass and a small amp, and Justin would have his small practice kit set up. We would go through existing song ideas one by one, in order to get an idea how we'd like to arrange them for this recording. Sometimes these would be Jason's song ideas, and other times they would be ideas that were created from a collaboration with various friends that we've written with over the years. In any case.... it was here that we generally decided the feel of each song.... the length of each verse, chorus, and tag.... and the tempos of each song. Once we had come to a place where the song seemed to sit well in our minds and on paper, we would record a quick scratch guitar and scratch vocal. These scratch tracks were used to remind us of the arrangements, and would also be used when the recording process began in ernest.

This is where things got serious (and for us that means fun).... We went over to  Quad Studios in downtown Nashville to record the drums. This studio is simply amazing... one of my favorite in town. The main room sounds killer for drums, and this is where Justin Benner laid down the fat beats you will experience on this record. :) I'm sure he was inspired by the platinum Amy Grant records on the walls.... (I sure was!). I won't get into the nitty gritty of the gear used on the drums, but it was pretty killer (SSL console, plenty of Neve. UA, and API goodness). Justin had the scratch guitars and vocals to play along with, so he had some idea of where the song was headed. Justin also keeps CRAZY DETAILED notes. He's definitely the most methodical and mathematical musician in Hawk Nelson.

Once drums were tracked we went back to Steve's studio to record everything else. Daniel tracked the bass through a Sansamp and his Ampeg SVT head and 8x10 cab. He generally finished quite a few songs in any given day, and got to sit back and enjoy watching the tunes grow from that point on.... Up to this point, his main bass had always been a Fender US P-bass, but in recent months he's been playing a Fender Jaguar bass quite a bit, and it was this bass that got used for most of the parts on this record. You might not know this, but Daniel actually learned to play the bass when he joined Hawk Nelson.... so with that in mind, it is so inspiring to see what a confident, skilled player he is now. He laid down some grooves that feel SO good... and he and Justin meld together quite nicely.

After the bass was completed, it was my turn to start tracking guitars. Naturally, as the guitar player, I tend to think of this phase as the time when the songs really take shape. That may or may not actually be true. :) Since guitar is often the first instrument to be recorded in multiple layers, I feel like that's where songs begin to come into their own form.... but if I was the singer, I'd probably think that the vocals were where the mojo was really at. Since I'm the one writing this blog, however, you get to experience my own perspective, even if it is slanted and unfair. Haha.

We had pretty great collection of amps and guitars to play with, including a Bad Cat Hot Cat 30r, a Marshall JCM 800 ('84), a Marshall 100w Super Lead ('73), a Vox AC30, a Peavey Classic 50, and an Orange Tiny Terror. For guitars, I relied primarily on my Paul Reed Smiths..... I never go to a recording session without these bad boys anymore. They hold tune like no other, and sound so balanced and musical. On LLL I used an SC245 extensively, as well as a Mira, and Singlecut Hollowbody. I also used several Telecasters, a Stratocaster, an Epi Sheraton hollowbody, and several SG's. I couldn't help but notice how much more tuning I had to do when I wasn't on a PRS. I'm just sayin! (Gear Note:We tracked all the guitars through UA 610 preamps, and a blend of Audix i5 and Royer 122 mics).

Once the guitars for each song were tracked, Steve and I spent a good amount of time toying around with percussion, organs, rhodes, and other miscellaneous sounds. Steve and I both really enjoy this part of the recording process, and place quite a bit of value on the extra effort (or love, as Steve calls it)  of placing interesting percussion and synth parts in the various corners of each song. We spent time with tambourines, shakers, and even a vibraslap! If you're not familiar with a vibraslap, it's in the song "Live Life Loud" in a few places.... and it sounds like a crazy rattling wooden box.

I also got to experiment with a theremin on that song, which is a crazy instrument that emits a tone that's based on your proximity to an antenna. The closer your hand is to the antenna, the higher the pitch. Some theremins have a second antenna for controlling volume, but the one we used had a knob for that. As far as I know, the theremin is the only instrument out there that you play without touching. Quirky, right?

Once Steve and I kinda wrapped up our craziness, it was time for Jason to come in and track vocals. For you nerds out there, we used a Lawson L47MP condenser mic for most of the songs (an SM7b was used on a song called "The Job"), through a Vintech x73i preamp, a Distressor, and Crane Song Hedd converters. Nerd alert, I know. Steve and Jason are both pretty talented with vocal arrangements and background vocal parts, so they had a great time arranging all the BGVs. There are "nanana"s, "sha-la-la"s, and all kinds of little background goodies to listen for! Jason even sang every part of a barber-shop-quartet style vocal performance on "Ode to Lord Stanley".... haha.

We brought in a bunch of friends to help us record gang vocals after this.... All the "Hey!!!!" shouts and such..... various friends of ours dropped by to help us for this part... including a very special appearance from Brandon Heath! We sang gang vocals on probably about half the songs on the record, including nearly choir-type arrangements on "Tis So Sweet" and "Final Toast".

That pretty much wrapped up the tracking of Live Life Loud. Our good friend J.R. McNeely mixed the record (he also mixed our first two albums, "Letters" and "Smile") at his studio in Franklin, TN, and Ted Jensen over at Stirling Sound in New York mastered it.

All in all, I think the four of us put a lot of ourselves into this record. The recording process was done near our homes in Nashville, with a producer whom we feel quite close to (love you Steve...), and both of these factors contributed to the personal touch that feels more evident on this particular album. As we move forward and grow as a band, we're still sort of discovering our voices and figuring out who we are. Every record seems to have a personality all its own, and this one has some personal and heartfelt touches that may not have existed on previous albums to quite this degree....

Myself and the other guys are quite excited to share this new album with you, and we hope you enjoy it immensely!



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