With the semi-recent boom of vinyl, many artists have opted to combine 12 inches of wax with a digital download of the album.
Financially this makes sense, but the analog and digital worlds of audio differ greatly from one another and thus leads to some sort of compromise on either or both of the releases. However, we recently heard about the label Cavetone Records who only releases vinyl (with no digital component) and who keeps the process 100% analog.
We picked up a copy of The Ex-Bombers “Five Star Night” LP and when we looked inside at the dead wax we were met with the message “100% Analog Madness.” The grooves themselves contain the surprisingly giant sounds of a film noir pop duo, who only use an 8-string bass, drums, and vocals.
We reached out to Scott Walus, the producer of the record and half of The Ex-Bombers, to discuss the analog process, the philosophy of maximum minimalism, and some pieces of gear that made the record.
“The first thing to understand about the analog process, is that music making is a very human experience. There is tension, release, rage, and love, and the only way to get at that is to put the band in a room together and play the song all the way through,” said Walus. All of the tracks on the record were recorded without punch-ins directly to an Otari 8 track deck.
The second element of the analog process, is the importance of capturing every piece of sonic material in a basic track. For example, Walus paired some interesting gear for the signature sound of his Hagstrom HB8 bass. He opted for guitar amps like (Ex: Sound City 50 Plus, Ampeg Gemini II) out of bass cabs with 15s.
“Guitar amps have an excitement and the natural low roll-off is just made for vinyl, but the 15s just move air and sound huge,” said Walus, “I mic’d it up with a vintage Sennheiser, because the vintage ones are lower gain and just magic, into an EF86 preamp, because pentodes are spectacular in the top end, and you’ve got a full bass sound that has chime and presence.”
The other instruments and vocals on the record follow a similar story of analog care, like the calfskin head on the snare drum, the 1953 Hammond M2 organ, or the 1960s Electro-Voice crystal mic through the Sound City Fuzz Wah face heard on “Oh. Wow.” Every track has a lesser-known microphone on it, like the original Audix OM-1 heard on organ overdubs or the Shure 330 unidirectional ribbon throughout.
The 100% analog madness continues into mixing as the mixes are done onto a half-track Tascam deck into mono using a tube mixer loaded with 6DJ8 tubes and a bunch of esoteric EQs (mainly passive White EQs), limiters, and reverb. Several of these units were prototypes, built point to point and with military-grade parts by Lancaster Amplification. “That’s the great thing about Dave (Lancaster Amplification), if you can dream it up, you can call him and he’ll have a schematic for it in his head from 30 years ago. He even mated a Fairchild and a Urei for me in a 4 tube pre channel peak limiter,” said Walus.
Thinking monaurally has two purposes for Walus. “Records sound best in mono. Stereo is actually an afterthought and a trick to keep up with tape, but record grooves are at their best in mono. Second, mono really hits and tells a singular story, where if you’re pulling from hot jazz and 60s rock/pop like we were, it’s the story that you want to tell,” said Walus.
The record is an intriguing and enjoyable listening experience with multiple layers. We seem to catch something new every time we spin it. The Ex-Bombers are hitting the road this summer in support of the record and touring with many of the same instruments from the album. They have also recently released a 60 second sound sampler video to provide a taste of the sounds of the album here: https://youtu.be/-jRcWYEh_vI