But what about the riffs?

On March 18 (fully 18 days behind schedule) we entered our newly christened Darker Corners studio here in beatiful San Luis Obispo, California to finally begin working on the 7th Exhumed full-length. I haven’t been able to update this site because things have been too hectic. I’m just now beginning to be able to gather my thoughts, if I’m honest.

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Mike, myself and Sebastian enjoying a fine pilsner beer and the fruits of our labor.

By now, a band building their own recording studio is far from novel. It’s an idea that had been floated in various iterations in the Exhumed camp a few times over the last few years. I’ve always been resistant to the idea. It’s expensive, it’s labor-intensive, a recording studio can quickly turn into a money pit, and I never really wanted to be an audio engineer. I figure, I’m the main songwriter, lead vocalist, and one of two lead(ish) guitarists. I’m also the point of contact for our label and agents, and I manage a decent amount of our online presence as well as the day-to-day tasks such as advancing shows, fulfilling mailorder and other miscellaneous shit. And I have a full-time day job, at least 2 other bands, and avwife and a dog. I’m not really looking for another hat to wear. (I also never wanted to fulfill our own merchandising site, so as you can see, I don’t get my way too often) Ultimately we were more-or-less pushed into this course of action (as I discussed in my previous blog posts), but thankfully, our long time Front-of-House soundguy / guitar-tech / fifth Beatle Alejandro Corredor relocated to the Central Coast, so we had an audio engineer (he also plays bass for Pounder and engineered and mixed Uncivilized).  And with Mike’s extensive construction background, we had someone who could plan and execute the building side of things professionally and affordably. If we were gonna do this, the timing wasn’t gonna get much better. But I still had misgivings.

My mindset was “never make a record where you live.” If you make a record where you live, things will invariably come up that distract you from the process – your job, your relationship, your friends, other life-events, etc. etc. Those are all important things that rightfully demand your attention, but when I’m making a record, I cherish the two weeks when I get to pretend that the recording process is the most important thing in the world and nothing else gets any serious attention. When we were working on Death Revenge for 10-12 hours a day in Orlando Florida at New Constellation RMP with the incredibly-skilled Jarrett Pritchard, the only non-album things there were time for were eating, shitting, sleeping and washing down the session with a few beers wile nodding off in front of the TV for the night (I  think I started Rogue One four or five times, great movie to fall asleep to) .

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What, me worry? (yes, our “couch” is a van bench and that’s a seat-belt buckle)

Though my worries proved sane and prescient their fruition was nowhere near as dire as I feared. We continued to work efficiently, even in the midst of full-time employment, life-changing personal events and all of the day-to-day demands of family, job, pets, etc. I’ve found the life / recording balance difficult to maintain, but as we limp towards the finish line of the process, the excellent results are proving difficult to argue with. T-minus one day before I board a plane bound for Mexico and our ensuing Latin American tour with Beyond Creation, just about everything is recorded. Once we’re gone, our engineer / co-producer Alejandro will turn everything over to Joel Grind (of Toxic Holocaust fame) to mix and master and we should be able to approve the mixes from the road and keep things on schedule. So despite delays caused by everything from shipping mix-ups, rain, the existential morass that is Home Depot, and a bunch of other stuff I am too brain-fried to remember right now, things seem to have pulled together. Of course, the proof will be in the pudding when the album comes out and people love / loathe / ignore it, but as of now, at the 11th hour, I’m feeling pretty okay about everything. Of course, writing something like this is exactly how you jinx things, right? So, fingers crossed.

{Here’s an aside I think is relevant – I’ve been occasionally asked why we’re on such a tight schedule and we need to be done recording by the time we leave for tour April 2nd. “Surely,” their reasoning goes “now that you have your own studio, you can call our own shots and take as long as you want to make records, right?” Well, technically we do – and I can see why people would think that, but… let me tell you a little something’ about the good ol’ “Music Biz.” While streaming, online downloading and YouTube make music accessible instantly, in underground metal, physical media is still a very important aspect of an album release. In light of that, the renewed interest in vinyl over the last decade+ have caused manufacturing lead times to steadily increase. Most record pressing-plants shut down in the 90s, and the few remaining wax-merchants have struggled to keep up with demand now that Major Labels are getting American Apparel shoppers to drop $35 on 180-gram Rumours re-presses. Also because of the internet, releases have to be more precisely coordinated than ever. In the 80s, when Pac-Men roamed the earth and Rappin’ Rodney was high art, album release dates would often be staggered in different markets with no impact on sales. In the internet era, once one person has a record, everyone can potentially get it overnight. So things need to be more controlled than ever as far as timing the release across multiple digital platforms, mail-order, and yes, brick-and-mortar record stores (the higher profile the release, the more crucial this is). All of that means that once every element of an album is approved (mix, mastering, sequencing, song spacing, artwork, layout, etc) it takes about 5 months before the label can to take it to market (assuming their release schedule can accommodate it).

So – do the math – if we left the record partially finished, did our Latin American tour and returned to polish it off throughout May, it would likely be approved for manufacture sometime in June. That means we’d be looking – best-case-scenario – at a November release date. Any delay (and with Necrocracy we experienced 5 months worth of them, so they are very, very real possibilities) and we’d be looking at 2020, since very few albums are released in December. Everyone is too busy buying Xmas shit then, and between inclement weather and the Yuletide shop-a-ganza, December is an impossible time to tour. Since touring is our primary source of band income (you’ve read about this phenomenon elsewhere by now, right?) we plan to be out on the road in the states immediately upon the album’s release and then head to Europe quickly after. That’s about two months of touring, which means that we need the record to drop in October, so that we can be home before Xmas season really kicks into high gear (about December 10). Besides, I’m looking forward to yet another Thanksgiving dinner at Cracker Barrel (that was sarcasm). So, realistically if we don’t have the record signed off on by April 15th, our prospects for of anything financially-sustaining for the rest of 2019 begin to rapidly dim.}

Meanwhile, back at the main subject of this blog post…

As far as the studio itself, we opted for an older ProTools HD rig, simply because it was much more affordable than even the stripped down current version. We set up 16 channels of pre-amps, and ran a snake from the live-room to the control room by rigging the wiring up in a manner not wholly unlike the electrical wiring in the rebel base on Hoth (sorry for all the Star Wars references).

Rebel Base
Or something like that…

We already had a some drum mics, but we picked up a couple more, as well as lots and lots of miscellaneous clamps, cables, and things of that nature. We found some really cheap office furniture on Craigslist and got a bit more from Mike’s move, snagged a free office chair from Facebook marketplace, slapped a couple posters on the wall, and lo and behold, it was starting to look like someplace you could make a record at.

As our April 1st deadline began closing in on us at a rate that I would describe as “ever-increasingly alarming,” and I felt a bit like Luke, Han, Chewie and Leia in the Death-Star trash compactor (okay, last one, I promise), we turned to Alejandro to assemble the technical stuff in the studio, so he did the vast majority of wiring things up and such. I acted as the mediator between our shopping list and our budget, trying to find places where we could get things cheaper and determining what was really necessary (we began tracking with a mouse that only worked when we used a paper towel as a mouse-pad, and even I had to admit that we needed to “splurge” on a $30 track-ball mouse).  We would have been able to begin earlier, but we had an order for a pre-amp that was not fulfilled, and then an Amazon Prime delivery that stretched into a 4-day debacle, so by the time I was sitting in the control room listening to Mike’s first drum take, I felt like we had already ran a marathon. Fortunately (mild spoilers to follow) this new record doesn’t have the expansive scope of Death Revenge, which had film-score elements, tons of guitar layering, and complicated vocal arrangements, lyrics and sequencing to put together. I think on top of building and assembling the studio, tackling a project that complex would have been an act of hubristic self-sabotage, like when Luke abandoned his training on Dagobah to take on Vader at the end of Empire. (fuck, where do these keep coming from?!?)

The good news is that we’ve all made a bunch of records at this point and once we finally arrived at the point where we just needed to execute the songs, it was so much easier than worrying about how much drywall we could fit in the van and when the hell our TRS snake was getting delivered. Sitting down to record the songs themselves really turned out to be a relief and a massive release of the tension that had built up over the course of the building phase of things. The only things I particularly like about being in a band are the things that directly involve the music itself, and I can honestly say that I’ve never felt like there were so many obstacles between the songs and the (nearly) finished product as there have been for this record.

Looking back on the process, I’m now at a point where I can feel good about the material and about the recording as it stands so far. The myriad of hassles we’ve all endured to pull this thing together have been worth it. Of course, come October, when the record should be released, this could all blow up in my face and the album could be universally panned, but until then, I’m gonna enjoy feeling pretty good about what we’ve accomplished. I’m just gonna relish finally being able to get a good night’s sleep now that the most difficult stages of the construction and installation are in the rear-view. Fingers crossed that the force is with us.

 

2 thoughts on “But what about the riffs?

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