Studios 301 recently hosted the legendary Cold Chisel recording their new album in Studio 1 with producer Kevin Shirley. Our assistant engineer Owen Butcher who was on the sessions gives his recap of the experience and working alongside arguably the biggest act in Australian Rock.
written by Owen Butcher
Despite working at a well known studio it’s not every day you get to work with musicians that qualify for legendary status. You meet a lot of young, exciting and upcoming artists, but bands you grew up listening to on the radio are a different breed. You know all the words and how all the songs go, but as you don’t know them personally you make up your own stories and ideas of how they are as individuals. This can be a bit of a shock when they arrive at the studio as there is usually a certain amount of re-adjustment you need to do. Luckily in the case of Cold Chisel the band members are exactly as you’d imagine. Jimmy is excited and keen to get singing, Ian very thoughtful and considered in what he’s going to play, Don is all about the song and attention to detail, Phil is polite but always up for playing a mean bassline, and Charley is caring and always looking to push the songs to their limits. Kevin Shirley was producer on the record, and he liked to be very hands on with the Pro Tools, the band and the songs.
Fans of the band will be pleased to note that almost everything was tracked live with minimal overdubs. In almost all cases it was everyone in the room playing together. We set them up with Charley out in the large room to give the drums a bit of space, with Phil standing near the drumkit with a baffle in between them. We did this so Phil and Charley could communicate with each other visually through the window in the baffle, but also keep Phil’s headphone mix clear. Ian was also sitting in the same live room with his pedals and amp heads, with the speaker cabinet in a booth. We ended up keeping the booth door open and making what I dubbed a ‘sound corridor’ with baffles and tontine. This isolated the guitar amp enough from the drum mics, but also gave Ian the feedback he needs from the amp on the guitar strings and kept him as close to the drumkit as possible. When playing the upright and grand pianos, Don was in the other booth for isolation purposes. We took the front of the upright piano off to expose all the strings and make the piano less boxy sounding. When we was playing other keyboards he was sitting in the live room with everyone else as we could DI any Wurlitzer and Nord parts. Hammond organ was run through the Lesile cabinet (Don during recording: “You should see what I learned you could do with a Leslie back in the day after carrying it up 4 flights of stairs at the Grafton RSL club!!)”. Jimmy was actually singing in the Control Room. He liked to be near Kevin to discuss ideas, and he sings so loud that the studio monitors don’t cause big enough bleed issues.
Equipment and microphone wise, we used mostly basic microphones for the setup as they’re a straight up rock band (U47 kick drum, 421’s Toms, 57’s on guitars, snare etc), though we did add some Sony High Resolution microphones to the mix as Overheads (Sony C-100) and on the upright piano (Sony ECM-100N) to help give a bit more extended range to the other traditionally less detailed sounding mics. We used a Neumann M149 on vocals because it can take a higher SPL than our other vocal mics. All of these were run through the Neve 88R preamps and EQ, with compression from the 1176 on Vocals, LA2A and Pultec EQP1A on the bass and a touch of Amek 9098 compression on the piano.
After all the main tracking was completed, we finalised the guitar solos for each of the songs with Ian. This was a fun process, where we isolated the amp we were tracking in the booth with the door shut, but split the signal from his amps to another Marshall cabinet which we put near him. Any feedback or FX he could use the Marshall the create them, but they would play out of the amp in the booth. In addition to this, we have Genelec 1031A monitors from Mitchell Rd hung from the ceiling of the line room, so the whole band mix was pumped through that like a PA system as though he was playing at a live concert! This made him at feel more at home during tracking and we all know this produces much better results.
The band were a pleasure to work with. They worked very hard and purposefully throughout, making sure as they went to record what was best for each of the songs to do them justice. I also noted that they can appreciate a nice Whisky or two during any downtime, so they’re always welcome in a studio I’m working in.