Thursday, January 1, 2015

Grant's Tomb: Panthallasa and The Nerve Wrecking Process of Recording

Recording is nerve wrecking. It’s one thing to bash through a song during rehearsal, but to actually sit there with an engineer or producer while you fumble through your parts can be extremely embarrassing.

When it came time to record our first demos, on the advice of Brad West from Heartland/ex-They Will Repent, I sought out Griffin Landa who owns and operates The Establishment Recording Studios. I’d known of Griffin with his prior time playing in Too Pure to Die, and currently Shut In (also featuring one of my favorite vocalists, Vincent Bennett of The Acacia Strain) and IVA, but I’d never actually met him. I had no idea what kind of a person he was or how he ran things.

Admittedly, I am not the greatest guitar player, not by a long shot. Other than our drummer, I’m probably the least qualified to even be holding a guitar in the band (both my vocalist and bassist actually went to school to learn and play classical guitar), but I had at least learned my way around the instrument enough to know what I was doing.

So, here we were, going to recording with a guy who has toured across the States (and most likely outside of the U.S.), produced and engineered several local and regional bands and I had to play in front of him, a guy who has seen the best of the best play their instruments. To a click. The click is the mortal enemy of any person who can’t count, and I cannot. The running joke is that when I bring a riff to rehearsal, I’m the one who asks everyone else what time signature it’s in.  Fortunately for us, myself especially, Griffin is one of the easiest going people you’ll ever meet. Never a harsh or condescending word left his mouth during the initial recording sessions for the first three songs. It had been such a positive experience we knew he was definitely the guy to do our first official release.

Matthew Burkett of Panthallasa (Photo by Bigfoot Diaries)
I’ve always had an affinity for electronic music, industrial especially. I still remember the first time I heard “Adios” by KMFDM and the chills it gave me with the swirling electronics and machine like guitar riffage. We have three guitars players in the band, including our vocalist, and from the first rehearsals I made it clear I wanted to incorporate some form of electronics into our brand of aggressive music. I wanted to add texture to a genre that in my mind had gone stale by relying too heavily on drop tunings and mindless chugging.

We had been jamming a song since our first rehearsals as a full band that was far different from anything else we were doing, it had more in common with Nine Inch Nails or Massive Attack than it did the obvious Botch or Deftones worshiping the other songs had, but when we first started playing it we weren’t entirely sure it would actually be recorded in a studio. It started randomly enough one rehearsal, I had been messing around with electronic drum software on my laptop that I was running through a bass amp and our vocalist, Matt, started playing these two chords on his guitar with the reverb on his amp cranked all the way up. It was an extremely haunting melody. After Joe, our other guitarist, added his part and the live drums came in, I switched over to an organ snyth using the same software to avoid having too much percussive sounds going on and muddying up the tune. The first few runs of the song stretched out to about 10 minutes oddly enough…it was just so hypnotic and catchy.

Joe Curry of Panthallasa (Photo by Bigfoot Diaries)
For shows we managed to cut it down to just over five minutes and used it as our opener to draw people to the front before we pulled a one-eighty and starting playing our noisy tunes, however we still didn’t have lyrics or a title. As a joke (you’ll notice how this becomes a recurring theme), I suggested we call the song “Closer” because we played it as our opener. The title stuck.

When the song is played live, the electronic drum intro that I play is completely live. I should probably explain: I’m physically pressing down on the pad to trigger the sounds for each and every bar of the phrase instead of looping them or playing a pre-recorded sample. It’s kind of a backwards approach, but every time I’ve tried looping it or triggering a sample, something gets lost in the translation of the part.

Recording the song proved to be a lot less complicated than I initially anticipated. The actual drum phrase was played twice and then looped for the rest of its respective part in the song. The next section of the song features a slight guitar break before the main chorus kicks in. For that section, Joe, Matt and I are all playing guitar. I used a Boss OC-3 octave pedal to add more texture and thickness to it. All in all, I probably only play guitar on that  song for around 10-15 seconds, other than that it’s all Joe and Matt (Matt even plays the incredibly tasty lead towards the end). Dan nailed his bass line for the song, its silky smooth and has a very R&B flow to it. Just what the doctor ordered. If a remix of this track were ever to be attempted (hint hint), I’d direct the primary focus to be on his lines. My favorite part of the song however occurs within the last few seconds. Our drummer, Shane, starts an incredibly on top of the beat snare pattern that just grooves. It is so fun to listen to and the space that Griffin utilizes for recording works perfectly to capture Shane’s drum sounds.

I can’t comment on the lyrics because I didn’t write them, that credit would have to go to Joe. I do know they are probably the most personal lyrics you’ll find in a Panthallasa song. I’ve always tried to stay away from overtly personal lyrics when I write, but sincerely admire people who write them and make them work. Most of Matt’s vocal melody was already in place during the first jam sessions for the track, including the “GO!” to signify the guitar break.

Daniel Powell of Panthallasa (Photo by Bigfoot Diaries)
“Closer” is kind of an oddball for us, not only for the reasons stated above, but stylistically more so and depending on who we are playing with we may not even play it in our set live. I loathe to try and classify us as this or that genre (I’ve heard everything from progressive rock, to post-metal, to hardcore, whereas I just prefer the word “aggressive”), but if you’re going to play with other bands, you need to have some common themes musically. Most of our songs fit comfortably in the hardcore/metal realm, but not “Closer.” It’s very melodic and has a distinct industrial or electronica rock sound. We chose it to open the EP for the same reasons we typically open our set with it, it’s the perfect song to grab the listeners attention and draw them in, almost lull them into a trance.

- Text written by Grant Peter 


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