Typical as it is, having set up and started to learn my new monitors, I fell sick and spent the next couple of days in bed, unable to get into the studio and take advantage of the “new gear buzz”!
Laura is an incredibly driven, talented artist and I wanted to get my teeth into remixing a track for her from the moment I first heard the album. Having heard my remix for Matt Steven’s “Big Sky”, she was more than happy to let me have a crack at a tune, so once the stems were prepared, I grabbed them from SoundCloud and sat down to listen to the building blocks I had to work with.Once well again though, I jumped in the studio to tackle a new remix, the opening track for She Makes War’s album Disarm, entitled “Scared To Capsize”.
Twelve stems were provided – lead vocals, two double-tracks for same, a B(acking) V(ocals) track and a megaphone distorted climax of the lead vocal, along with two keyboard tracks, a guitar track and four loops of vocal build-up. Like Matt, Laura works a lot with a looper and layers a backing track from 4- or 8-bar loops before singing and playing live over the top of it.
Strangely missing from the stems was the opening (and thus defining) ukulele riff, but I knew I could rip that from the original CD if required.
My first decision was to decide what tempo my remix was going to be. The original track is at 117bpm and I wanted to speed that up a little, though I didn’t want to go into the 130s and create a “dance mix”. After playing on the acoustic guitar for a while I settled on 125bpm. This meant I needed to time-stretch all the stems I intended to use by 6.83%. I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to use any of the original instrumentation (which is not as drastic as it sounds, given that a good deal of the original track is layered voices) so I stretched all the vocal tracks and cut them up into phrases, ready for when they were needed.
Then I got down to working out my arrangement. First off, I took two of the vocal loops and cut them up into two bar segments, alternated them on two separate tracks (which I panned 40% left and 40% right in the final mix) and then attacked them with a delay, some chorus, a bitcrusher and some other plug-ins. This created the opening rhythmic bed for the track which I drop in and out throughout, offsetting the lead vocals.
Next up, I played a fairly funky drum track into BFD2 (which was later tweaked to change some voicings, such as the ride in the pre-chorus). The drums were mainly acoustic samples, which I compressed using BFD2’s built-in compressors and added a little overhead mic ambience to before bringing separate tracks out of BFD2 to be further compressed (Stillwell’s The Rocket on both kick and snare). Then, finally they were bussed together again and compressed once more (this time with Stillwell’s Bombadier Buss Compressor) – I wanted a pretty in-your-face drum sound as I was planning on a pretty sparse arrangement otherwise.
(Starting during the first chorus there’s a clave sound, low in the mix and washed in reverb from ValhallaShimmer – they’re actually offcuts from some curtain poles we had left over from a recent bout of DIY!)
The bass sound comes from Vir2’s Basis instrument, hosted in Kontakt 4. Again I tried to go a little funky, with plenty of 16th-note doubles and a tight following of the kick drum pattern. I dialed in a completely DI’d sound from Basis and routed the output from Kontakt into Amplitube3’s GreenBA250 amp and matching cab and then into BBE’s H82 Harmonic Maximiser set for a subtle addition to the low-end (which is often missing from samples). A touch of FabFilter’s Pro-C compressor kept things (more-or-less) under control.
Then I took a look at the ukulele riff that opens the song on the CD and thought I’d record my own version on nylon strung guitars… With a capo on the 5th fret, it’s a pretty easy riff (though I arpeggiated it rather than strumming it). I recorded it twice, panned the tracks hard left and right and added a bit of Bootsy’s EQmkII to low-shelf away any mic noise and add a bit of warmth to the mids, and from there into Bootsy’s NastyDLA for some subtle panning and delay fun. This created another bed to interact with the vocal loop I created earlier.
Now it was the turn of synths and first up was Spectrasonics’ Trilian. I created a simple bass/sub-bass synth sound by mixing samples from a Cwejman modular and a Roland SH101 with filtering in Trilian and EQ’ing in Reaper using FabFilter’s Pro-Q. I took a side-chain from the kick drum to lightly duck away some of this low synth sound whenever the kick sounded as it pretty much stomped over the bass drum otherwise!
On to Omnisphere for the Solina String Machine sound, which I tweaked a little and played a line very reminiscent of Simple Mind’s “Theme for Great Cities” – a nod of the head to my past! In mixing, the pad is constantly being panned from left to right to add some movement to the track.
With most of the instrumentation done, it was time to start dropping the vocals in, tweaking the time-stretching where required and lining them up. I used VocAlign Project to sample-match the tweaked double-track samples (where accuracy is important) but I later matched the BVs up by ear (where a little lack of synchronisation is both humanising and harmonising).
The vocal loops (as used straight, in the breakdown and in the final choruses) were compressed together with a touch of Bombadier and very slightly chorused.
The lead vocals, the double-tracks and the vocal loops were then bussed together and treated as one. I didn’t manipulate Laura’s voice too much – a little EQ to low-shelf any sub-sonic noise and a little high-shelf to give some air and a fast compressor (ReaComp) to tame any peaks followed by a slower compressor (Stillwell’s The Rocket again) to smooth out the levels a touch.
Backing Vocals were compressed separately, with Stillwell’s Bombadier Buss Compressor. All the vocals were sent to Lexicon’s Native LexRoom reverb.
Once the arrangement reached the final choruses I used the megaphone distorted versions of the vocals, playing them straight the first time then cutting and mixing them up and interleaving them together to create a more insistent outro than on the original version.
I recorded two electric guitars (panned 70% left and 70% right in the final mix), both effected differently through Amplitube3, then bussed them together, compressed them (with Stillwell’s Major Tom – for a change!) and added some movement using SoundToy’s EchoBoy plug-in, then dropped them into the mix to add some weight.
Mixing itself was fairly straight forward. I leant towards using filters to control volumes and fades – mainly Schwa’s Oligarch filter (on the bass guitar and synth pad) with FabFilter’s Simplon taking over the duties on the bass synth. The filter cutoffs are fairly heavily automated, carving shapes in the track all the way through the the end of the breakdown (where both are fully open, of course!)
The nylon guitars pad drops in volume during the middle of the song and a little volume automation brings a bit more power into the final choruses, with it, the vocals and the bass guitar all being boosted slightly. I also used volume automation to duck the un-effected vocal loops whenever the effected vocal loops played in the outro section.
Finally, I added some delay to a few parts of the final lead vocal, and a little reverb on the bass guitar and guitars using Lexicon’s Native LexRoom reverb (again – though a different algorithm than I used on the vocals).
Mastering was done using Slate Digital’s FG-X as a very slight mix buss compressor (a ratio of 1.2, tagging less than 0.5dB of gain reduction) and utilising its absolutely amazing transparent limiter to give a 2dB level boost. From there the mix went into iZotope’s Ozone for a little M/S mastering EQ, some further multiband level boosting and stereo widening, and then finally Ozone’s limiter, set on Transparent to raise the levels up to -0.3dB for finalising.