Heel have recently released their brand new EP Stranger Just The Same, which is the follow-up to their self-titled debut. Here, guitarist Dan takes us through the recording process with his studio diary:
We got back from our Japan tour at the end of last year and all went to sleep for about 24 hours straight. When we awoke, we were straight in the rehearsal studio practising for the new EP. We practised the arse off the songs 4 times a week for a month straight; changing little bits, adding some colour here and there, developing ideas. Also, we go to the studio to be recorded, not edited, so it’s about getting the music down so well that the performance can shine through at all times.
We hit the studio a month later and recorded the EP over ten eight hour days. We recorded it with Justin Hill in his old studio in London where we did our first EP. The first 5 days were all business getting the bones of the songs down. The big shame was Margarita had a ridiculous flu going in and we all agreed she should go home and rest her voice for the first 6 days. It was ultra-lame not having her around for that time, but we got by constantly WhatsApp-ing and getting her take on things as we went along.
The first two and a half days were spent getting the drums down. We spent day one prepping the room, setting up the kit and mics, and then getting the right sound. Tom has a custom SJC kit which sound utterly mint. Justin was saying in particular the Kick sounds EQ’d without even touching it. Tom brought a ton of snares and cymbals but he was very clear what sound he wanted and we all agreed with his choices pretty quick. When it comes to recording, Tom’s an absolute machine so he went in day two and laid down the first three tracks with ease. We spent more time pissing about and bantering than we did getting takes. The whole 10 days had a really relaxed vibe as we’d just got off this crazy busy and intense schedule, so being together in the studio was a blessing to us.
On day three, Tom banged out the last track in an hour or so and we started setting up the bass gear. Yuta uses a G&L L2000 bass through a borrowed Ampeg SVT head & Vintage 70’s style Ampeg bass cab. Throw an EBS Multi Drive into the mix and we had the sound we wanted! Yuta has always played finger style, which works great live with just one guitar, but we agreed a couple of months before the recording that as the tracks would be layered, with loads going on, there’d be more punch and drive if he used a pick. So due to the fact that he’s a complete boss, he went away and taught himself to play pick to the point that he one take-ed pretty much everything he played! We had all the bass down by the end of day three and were sitting ridiculously ahead of schedule.
We spent the first half of day four getting a guitar sound we liked. I played my Parker Fly Mojo through a Blackstar S1-200 head and Artisan Cab. I play a lot of 4 part chords with heavy gain and I find that setup lets me do that with great clarity. I don’t like to use any effects at all. Maybe a bit of verb and a tiny bit of delay here and there, but generally if you give me a guitar and plug it into an amp I’m good to go. We decided to triple track all the guitars with a couple of EQ settings and some through a Marshall 2000 head. Me and Margarita write the songs to sound like what we are, one guitarist, one bassist, one drummer and one singer. We don’t want to get on stage and play to a backing track or sound totally different to our studio stuff, so instead of recording loads of different parts to fill the sound we tried to do it with layering the one guitar part. You’ll all have to tell us if it worked or not!
We had everything but the solos down by the end of day 5. By day 6 Margarita was much better but still coughing, so we decided to hold off on vocals for one more day. Instead I recorded all the guitar solos that day. I decided to double track all the solos in their entirety as we didn’t want the sound to thin out following on from the backing guitars. Everything was down that day and ready for Margarita to take over!
Margarita came in at the beginning of day seven and the first thing we did was record a bunch of practice takes to see where her voice was at. She was feeling good but not 100% so we all agreed that if we heard any strain on the recordings we’d have to delay the vocal recordings for a few weeks. We really didn’t want to spend the rest of our lives knowing the EP wasn’t the best EP we could have done at that time, but we were also so excited to get it finished. Luckily, the decision was easy cos she sounded great straight away so we went for it.
For the next four days, we tracked a song a day. She’d record the main vocal the first few hours, then we’d all decide where we wanted the backing vocals to go and she’d go knock em out the last few hours. She’s incredibly talented and knows what she wants so it all kinda flew by. A lot of vocals went down, a lot of Fred Durst impressions were busted out, and a massive amount of fast food and coffee were consumed. All in all a great session.
On the last day we all came in and had a listen to the tracking, had a bit of a convo about where we thought the mix should go and then let Justin go away and work his magic!