My Side of The Glass

A Blog by Record Producer Brian Charles

Tuesday Night Recording Club – June 18, 2013, Inspiration: David Bowie’s “Queen Bitch”

db-cigTuesday Night Recording Club – June 18, 2013
Original Song: “Heavenly Devils”
Inspiration: David Bowie’s “Queen Bitch”
“Heavenly Devils” – Written by Aaron Perrino
With Musical Contribution from:
Kenji Ross: Drums
Annie Hoffman: Bass
Josh Hager : Guitar
Produced & Engineered By:
Brian Charles & Annie Hoffman
On Tuesday Night, June 18, 2013 at Zippah Studios, Boston,MA
When I committed to blocking out every Tuesday evening at the studio for our recording club, I didn’t fully realize how those 4-6 hours once per week would affect the rest of my week of recording. The process of dissecting and researching these seminal recordings and techniques has become a weeklong endeavor for my assistant and me. Reading articles, watching videos and LOTS of listening is required before everybody shows up on Tuesday night. One of the coolest by-products of all of this is that I’m finding myself breaking some of my “go-to” habits as an audio engineer. I’m appreciating the innovators who pressed on into new territory of recording and music. I’m also appreciating the result when an innovative musician or artist is snare-mics-350wteamed up with an innovative producer/ engineer. David Bowie and Ken Scott are a shining example of this. For those of you who may not know…Ken Scott got his start at EMI/Abbey Road studios engineering sessions for The Beatles. Soon after, he took up residence in Trident Studios, London (he actually recorded “Hey Jude” there). Shortly after this time, David Bowie was beginning to get some traction in the U.K. with his top-five hit “Space Oddity”. This was in 1969. A few years later (’72), Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars broke through to the U.S. achieving Cult-like status. Hunky Dory was in between those milestones and seemed to be somewhat overshadowed by the sheer explosion of Ziggy. Many fans discovered the brilliance of the Hunky Dory album after the fact. What makes this album so significant to me is that it showcases Bowie’s talent as a songwriter. Remember, this was before his persona of Ziggy was created…this was David Bowie… an artist inspired by his first major trip to the U.S. as an artist. Inspired by Bob Dylan, American pop culture (Andy Warhol), and even Neil Young. All of these influences are present in the writing on Hunky Dory. This week we pulled inspiration from the song “Queen Bitch” – a song that was clearly inspired by The Velvet Underground. It has been said that this is THE song that set the Glam-Rock movement in motion. Although the instrumentation is basic, the sounds are anything but that. In fact, we spent the better part of the week rounding u10-string-acop the right “Tone Bender” pedal to help us re-create the Mick Ronson guitar tone…special thanks to “Billy Loosigian” for lending us two fine examples of this pedal and also to Chris Tatoyian of Black Cat Guitar Repair for connecting us. Well it looks like the topic has already turned to “gear-talk” (it was inevitable). Let’s start with that Mick Ronson guitar tone. In addition to the Tone Bender pedal we also used a Crybaby Wah-Wah pedallespaul-bender-wah-350 that was engaged and set in a fixed position. I referenced several pictures of Mick, and the order in which the pedals were connected was inconsistent, so we tried both ways and ended up hitting the Bender first. We used a 100 watt Marshall head set totally clean (Mick used a rare 200 Watt version btw) and used a vintage EV RE-10 dynamic mic close to the lower right cone of a Marshall 4X12 cabinet and an AKG C12 tube condenser mic about 4 feet in front of the cab in a figure 8 pattern. Both of these mics were eq’d heavily (boosted) in the 700hz range and we of course cut 200hz (Ken Scott has documented his disdain for that specific frequency). The severe EQ boost on both microphones helped us produce a comb-filtered effect…much like the one on “Queen Bitch”. Josh Hager aka “Garvy J” played a 1978 Les Paul Standard (thanks to Pete Weiss) with the true spirit required to achieve the slinky bursts of attitude that we were looking for. The other notable sound challenge was recreating the acoustic guitar. During a critical listening session we noticed that the marshal-c12-57-350wguitar sounded like a 12-string…but with some of the octave strings missing. Later that evening, I went “You-Tubing” for live clips of Bowie playing “Queen Bitch” and discovered a clear enough shot of the guitar to notice that the octave strings for the low “E” and also the “G” we’re removed…rendering it a 10-string. This is a huge part of the Hunky Dory sound…it’s all over the record. It creates a nice contrast between low rhythmic “chugging” of chords and the “chime” of the higher unison/octave strings…like two guitars in one! Special thanks to Mr. Music for loaning us that guitar. The drums were interesting to approach because Ken Scott typically used condenser mics on snare and toms. We found evidence of him placing both large and small condensers on the snare drum and we did both. He typically would use U67s on toms, AKG D-12 on kick and Coles 4038 ribbons on overheads. Much of the sound is attributed to the low-pitched tuning and the somewhat severe deadening of the drums. We also didn’t use any compression when tracking drums…Hunky Dory is a very dynamic album. Bass was recorded with a direct signal with minimal EQ. Heavily compressed with an 1176 Rev.D (F.E.T.) compressor at 4:1 ratio Aaron’s vocal was recorded with a Neumann U47 into an 1176 during tracking and we used a Gates Sta-Level vari-mu limiter during mixing to achieve a close and up front vocal with plenty of harmonic distortion. This original track “Heavenly Devils” was recorded on a 2-inch analog Studer A80 tape machine and mixed the old fashioned way…by hand(s). Please enjoy the video below by Will Claflin and help yourself to a free download of the audio as well.

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