Monday, June 24, 2013

What just happened? The Making of A Separate|Divide

I know, I know...I made this whole blog so I could document the process and methods and fun of recording our new album, A Separate|Divide.  That seemed to be going along OK for approximately 3 posts and then....nothing.  It's really quite a shame because there are a lot of really great moments of euphoria when you get something right in the studio and then when things don't sound right, utter hopelessness.  One could imagine a reality show based on the recording experiences in the studio, "Watch Bands Implode!".  Anyway, there is a big reason that more posts did not occur before the completion of the album.  This album was incredibly difficult and time consuming to make.  Every time we make a record, I swear we are going to be smarter and more efficient at making the album, so I won't lose my mind at the end of it.  But then it all collides with our vision, scope, and Since we don't compromise on our vision or scope, then it means we give way on our sanity.  And, with this album, our sanity was quite quick to exit. However, the album has been done for a few weeks, and that sanity and perspective is starting to seep its way back into out brains.  So, I would like to revisit some of the highlights of making this album and how things panned out overall.
Liquid Casing finishes basic tracks for the album, and loses its collective mind.

Here is a compilation of some of my favorite moments in making this album:

1) Finishing the vocals for Checkpoints and Borders.  I knew this song would have the most difficult vocal track on the album and I worked tirelessly to get my best performance.  I was so happy when I got a good take.  But, there are some really bad out of tune wailing that I had to work through in order to get there.  I did not just walk in and belt that shit out.  The song pushed my voice in a way that it had not been pushed before.  I also knew that the performance wasn't just relying on hitting the perfect notes, but also connecting with the tone and substance of the lyrics.  It took awhile to get happy with it, but it was an enormous relief to have completed that.  I know the vocal take on the album isn't perfect, but once I was able to connect with it emotionally, I didn't need to go any farther.  When you see us play it live, it will sound even better!

2) Finishing the basic tracks for album.  Our schedules our ridiculously tough to work around.  It was nice to finish the parts that required everyone's presence.  The last song we recorded was called "Non-Linear Solution" and I feel like our recording ability and prowess in the studio had grown significantly.  We were more confident and it was easier to get the sounds we had in our head, but it felt like that confidence came at the last possible moment in the recording process for this album.  Also, Jim's bass playing and tone....WOW! 

3) Recording overdubs by myself.  We track everything as a band to capture the dynamics and feel of real people connecting musically in a live space.  That's a big part of our recording philosophy.  However, after the live tracks are done, we layer a lot of stuff on to complete the vision of the song.  Sometimes this is additional instrumentation or extra bongo hits (hell yeah!) or vocal harmonies or whatever.  Also, if you have a tricky solo and don't want to fuck up the rest of the band while you perfect some tiny note, it can be good to do this after the band has nailed all of the major parts.  During this overdubbing process, I really enjoyed just being by myself in a room with a wonderful recording just trying to add nuance and detail with the additional guitars and ambiance.  I also tracked my vocals on my own, and it feels safe with no one around, belting it out at the top of my lungs.

4) Hearing how massive the end of Non-Linear Solution became.  Holy shit, it blew me away at the end when I finished the last bit of overdubs. Between the strings, drums, and noise, Damn, that was intense!

5) Jim showing us his painting.  I struggled with the cover artwork.  I took a lot of photographs for the album looking to tie it into the theme of borders and separation.  But, none of the photos I had, really worked as the main cover.  So, when we saw Jim's painting, we were blown away and we immediately knew that was the cover. It was so colorful, which flew in the face of the sadness.  It was stark, vivid, and really telling all at the same time.

6) Recording the gnarly bass for "A Path of Footprints Forged in the Midnight Sun".  Thank Steamboat amps for that piece of gorgeous fuzzy tone on the bass.  Holy cow!  We plugged an old gibson bass into the Steamboat Classic 50 guitar amp and cranked up the gain.  I had a ribbon mic and a condensor mic on the speaker cabinet.  That track didn't hardly need any post work.  Just turn that shit up and go!

And here are my not so fondest memories for the album:

1) Giving up, on the song called "Surrounded".  This one hurt pretty bad.  We had everything recorded and mixed and mastered, but the drums were just not popping out like they should.  It wasn't apparent until the mixing stage, that drums were just poorly recorded and the drum take was not as strong as it needed to be.  Even though there are some moments of drumming brilliance on that song, the take wasn't there.  Our schedules couldn't line up to totally redo the drums.  I also didn't think the song added new element to the album.  But it is such a fun song and has a quick kinetic energy to it that it really hurt to not put it on the album. It shall be reborn, though.  We will re-do the drums and put it out with another song we did called Cascade Fire on an EP we are calling Kontrollpunkt EP.  We will add some interlude music too!  Don't worry, it will be great, and we will make this EP available for free when we finish it.

2) Trying to make "Jam 4" work.  This is a cool little jam we had for awhile, and it NEVER worked like it did the first time we jammed it.  And we got in a rut of trying to force this thing to sound like something and it resisted us every time!  The inability to make headway on turning this jam into an actual song created some tension in the band because some of us didn't see it anymore, while others recalled how badass it had originally sounded.  On a positive note, we came back to the song after we were finished with the main songs on the album, and just had fun with it again.  We hit the record button midway through rehearsal and had such a blast that we took that small little recording, reversed it and made a little interlude on the album. Listen for it in between "The Line Which Divides" and "For a Memory Erased". 

2) Struggling with inexperience.  Recording is an art.  Mixing is an art.  Mastering is an art.  On top of that, there is a whole foundation built on science that one must understand to make music sound like music on an album.  Bottom line, we do all of this stuff ourselves and we are novices.  But, we are always trying to learn and get better each time.  Well, this bit me a few times during the mixing phase, where I would do the best I could do and finalize a mix.  I'd listen to it and think it was passable, but a few days later learn a new mixing technique and find out the mix could sound incredibly improved.  The only problem, is that I would have to employ this new approach on all the other songs.  It's fine the first time, but by the sixth or twenthieth time, I get pretty bummed about re-doing everything.

4) Deleting guitar tracks on "Alambrista".  So, I was fiddling around with our recording software and was playing with the time stretching functions to see if I could play with the tempo a little.  I had thought that the song might have been a little fast or something of that nature.   Well, I left the song alone for several weeks.  When I got back to it, I noticed that the song sounded "funny", especially the guitars.  I wrongly attributed it to a phenomenon known as phase cancellation.  It sounded so bad to me, that I just decided to delete the offending guitar tracks.  It dawned on me after I deleted those tracks, that the problem was associated with the stupid time stretching that I messed with.  Once the tempo went back to normal, it was perfect again....and then I started to kick myself for deleting perfectly fine tracks.  Grrrr!  And what the hell was I thinking deleting anything, it's not like we needed more space.  Apparently, I'm still mad

5) Losing Non-Linear Solution.  The final take of NLS is take 13.  However, we "nailed" the take somewhere around take 8 or 9.  Well, in the process of backing up our hard drive and doing a bunch of stuff, those files got corrupted.  I was so bummed that they wouldn't open up, and it seemed like the backed up drive had copied the corrupted file.  I was UNHAPPY to say the least!  I felt horrible having to tell the rest of the band that we had to re-do it.  On the bright side, we added some additional nuances along the way, which made it

Overall, we are really happy with how the album turned out.  The sounds and ideas that we had in our heads are well manifested onto the recorded music and even artwork.  We are really sorry that we didn't write more during the process and provide a look inside the madness, anxiety, and fun.  We had to endure some rough times, including Okiki and John who had to deal with separation from their families and immigration making things extremely difficult and costly.  Somehow, we focused and kept trucking along.  So, we hope you enjoy the new album, A Separate|Divide.  It can be listened to at  If you want to contact us, send us an email at or visit our website at

-Alvaro "Mind Now Intact" Rodriguez

Liquid Casing:  A Separate|Divide

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Somewhere in Between

Working (Posing) Really Hard for the New Album
The record is well underway now.  We have 4 songs pretty much all recorded, including: "Checkpoints and Borders", "An End to a Means", "Fingerprint Armada", and "Surrounded".  It has taken quite a bit of work just to get to this point, but in the scheme of things we are just about 30-40% of the way there.  Even those songs are by no means completed, though the major recording for them is done (basic tracks plus overdubs, vocals, animal tracks, harps, bitchin' solos!, etc.).  There is some cool percussion sounds missing, a couple "oohs" and "aaahs" and "doo-waps" that still need to find their way into the recording (or maybe not). 

Our recording setup (yeah, it's about to get geeky here) is nothing really special, but we put in some forethought to help make the recording process more about capturing an awesome performance and less about the hardware and software; equipment and dials.  Since recording our previous album, An Empty Sparking Light, we have moved to a computer based recording system.  We had used stand-alone recording hardware and mixers, but moving back and forth between monitoring and playback was always a buzz killer.  Pre and post setup was a pain too.  For the longest time, we had used Reason by Propellerhead for our live synth/keyboard sounds. We were really comfortable with its interface, sounds, and reliability.   Propellerhead then folded in a total audio production capability as part of Reason, which made it a no-brainer for us to move to Reason for our recording software.  We now use a Tascam US-2000 audio interface, a critical tool because we record all of us together and it lets us record 16 tracks simultaneously.  We use 14 tracks just for basic tracking, because John's drum setup uses 9 individual mics, leaving 5 to split between sax, bass, and guitar.  On the snare drum, I use either an Octava MC012 condenser mic or a basic Shure SM57.  For the all of the toms, I use sennheiser e609 flat capsule mics.  I had previously used the e609s for guitar, but holy shit, they kick as on toms.  Collecting enough e609s for all of John's toms was daunting.  Drum overheads use AT2020s (cost effective large diaphragm condenser mic). !! GEEK OVERLOAD WARNING!!  For guitars, I use the sennheiser e906 (an improvement over the e609) and a groove tube condenser mic. The combination of those two mics in the mixdown makes the guitars sound HUGE! We use a wide spectrum (read: mainly cheap) of individual preamps (bellari, pre-sonus, and a wonderful UA 610), but beefed up some top notch vacuum tubes.  It has taken us awhile to figure out how to record the sax properly.  We dual mic the sax using a Blue Baby Bottle condenser mic in front over the sax (not too high), and then use an AT4040 (really pleasant darker sound) off-angle towards the side of the sax.  !! FULL-ON GEEK CORE MELTDOWN!!! The combination allows us to blend in the right amount awesomeness in Okiki's sax. For the bass, we go direct from the amp to the Tascam interface.  Jim has three different amps to work with, so we get a different set of sounds, but I really love this Electro-Harmonix tube pre-amp pedal that he uses to dial-in a little grit and some roundness to his bass tones.  ?!?IS ANYONE STILL READING THIS SHIT?!?  I figure everyone has either killed the internet at this point or fallen asleep, so I will stop here.  But, there is a whole other world after the recording in making sounds within Reason to bring all of these recordings to life including effects, processing, eq, everything.  I am always trying to learn new approaches or methods to recording, mixing, mastering, so we can make this album the best it can be.  Sorry for geeking out a bit, though I did warn you last time.

The next post will be, uh, readable and focus on the songs, lyrics and ideas themselves that will form the basis of the next album. 


Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Liquid Casing Recording Way of Truth and Justice

Another take for Jim, with his prized Staalsen "Stet" bass.
Got some more recording done.  It feels great to keep chipping away at the new album.  Jim fixed some of his bass lines to a song called "An End to a Means".  This brings me to the Liquid Casing approach to recording. Our approach is basically, record the four of us playing together, essentially live.  I think this is so very important to get the most energetic sounds.  I deeply believe that if you can hear your brethren rocking out and hitting their stride, it brings the best out of your own playing.  However, the downside is that you tend to foresake a bit of perfection.  This is especially a big deal for us, since a lot of our songs are lengthy (i.e. > 5 minutes).  Playing "perfect" for a long time becomes nearly impossible.  There will be squeaks and nicks and oddities and dogs barking (don't ask).  I deal with this by isolating all of the different instruments using three different rooms (big room for drums, small ones for guitar, sax).  Once, we have recorded several takes, we will go back and listen for the best take with the most energy and feel.  Then, I will listen very closely to all of the instruments and look for any peculiarities that stick out and become distractions from the song.  From there, we can go and punch in fixes to the small imperfections.  The idea is that fixing these small distractions does not impede the feel or energy of the live take.  After all of the little things have been touched up, then we add/overdub additional instrumentation to meet the vision of the song.  Sometimes this means a ton of guitars layered, other times it is orchestra stuff, synthesizers, or a room full of monkeys (there is a song somewhere that needs 'em).  The last thing I add are the vocals since they need to be able to sit properly in the mix with everything else.  In a future post, I will go through some of the recording setup and geek out on that shit, which will likely bore EVERYONE.  I can't wait!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The New Album Begins...So Much Uncertainty!

We are still in the beginning stages of recording the new album.  Anytime we start this process, there is just so much uncertainty about what the finished album will be like.  Will it match up to our own expectations?  Do the songs really represent a leap forward?  Is it going to sound OK?  I think I drive myself crazy sometimes thinking about that non-sense.  It's only heightened by the fact that Liquid Casing does EVERYTHING for each album.  Writing, arranging, producing, recording, mixing, mastering, scheduling, artwork, printing, folding, and cutting those fucking little annoying u-cards for the CD trays.  I know that in each little area, I want the new album to be better than the last.  (That's right, the next U-card is going to beat the shit out of the one from An Empty Sparking Light.)   The only way to stop thinking about the uncertainty of what the new album will bring, is just to put our heads down and start doing it.  At some point, we might look up and realize, this is starting to make sense and the vision has become clear.  Unfortunately, we're just starting and there is a long road ahead.  But, on the bright side, I like the songs we are playing, and we've played most of them live, so it's not a mystery as to what works.