This side of the new year, it’s pretty standard that we start looking towards the months ahead and what’s coming up, and in doing so, forgetting about the year that has just passed; particularly with music. It won’t be long until the artists to keep an eye on or albums to look forward in 2018 lists start pouring out, but before you do, take a sec to reflect on some of the gold that came out in 2017 – there was a lot of it.
One album we really dug was the debut from Melbourne duo Slum Sociable. Recorded between London and their hometown with Russell Fawcus (The Temper Trap) and Rich Cooper (Mystery Jets, Banks), and mixed by Ben Allen (Animal Collective, Gnarls Barkley), the album is a cornucopia of sonic delights.
Defying genres and exploring sonic palettes without limit, it’s truly a record that you can sit down and listen to countless times and always find something new that excites you. We caught up with one half of the duo, Ed Cregan, to find out a little more about how it all came together, the influence of Fawcus, and some of the gear that shaped its sound.
Chatting to Slum Sociable about their genre-defying, explorative debut record, working with Russell Fawcus and finding discipline in your music even when you’re all over the place.
Hey guys, congrats on getting the new album into the world. It’s such a sonically rich record, so much to take in. Tell us about some of the gear that you feel really shaped the album?
I think the Prophet 6 was something that appears all over the record. Especially in a song like Treated Like The Weather, which was pretty much built upon it. The Moog Sub 37 and Sub Phatty are also on there a lot. We also used some vintage Neve 1073 and 33115 pres and EQs, and some API 550a EQs. Also a Teletronix LA-2A Compressor was used a bit.
Lots of nice gear there. Can you give us a run down of how the album was recorded? I understand you worked between Melbourne and London. How did working in different studios affect your process?
Working between a few studios was pretty great because it kind of streamlined what were you looking to achieve in that particular session. For instance, we had some days at Sing Sing Studios in South Yarra to specifically work on drums and acoustic guitars, so it was nice to forget about other elements of the record that needed working on and just hone in on a few elements.
It also kind of exemplified the way in which a lot of these songs were created; some initial chord structures would be started on a train into the city, or a particular drum beat made whilst touring. I guess moving around whilst recording is the only way we know how to do it, if that makes sense?
How was working with Russell Fawcus – how did he influence the final product?
I don’t think we could have worked with a nicer, more intelligent producer really. We’d had experiences working with producers who try and overproduce and take away the elements that you find special within your songs, so we were initially hesitant to Russ’ thoughts on re-recording certain elements. But once we got to know each other a little better, it really was a great environment to make a debut record. He has a far superior ear for detail than us, and taught us so much about production and mixing, and how much effort and discipline goes into creating a record. He also genuinely loves what he does and has an excitement for what he is working on. I don’t think the record would have sounded half as good as it does without Russ to be honest. He took it to another level.
Is there anything you guys were listening when you were recording that influenced sounds, vibes or techniques?
I’d say probably Tame Impala’s Currents for synth sounds was referenced, Jungle’s chorusy guitar tone in some of their tracks, Glass Animals’ attention to detail with all of their quirky little add-on sounds. If I really like something I hear in a track, I instantly try and put it in every song to see how it’ll fit, so I almost had to stop listening to music whilst we were recording to avoid storming into the studio like ‘I know what this song needs now!’.
Let’s talk drums. A lot of the record sounds very ‘live’ in terms of percussion. Did you track acoustic drums, or was it all drum machines/samples – or both?
We tracked live drums which you can hear on songs like Moby Bryant, 14 Days, Treated Like The Weather and A Hearing. The demos of those songs had sampled drums from a session I did with a soul band in Melbourne three years ago, and while they carried the groove well enough, Russ was adamant on upping the overall quality of them. We’re really glad he pushed us on that one, because everyone seems to mention how great those drums sound when they listen to the record.
We used a 1960s Rogers drum kit with a 60s Ludwig Supraphonic 400 snare. However, on songs like Hand It Over, Don’t Come Back Another 100 Times, and Keep Up With It, they’re all programmed electronic drums. It felt right to have a nice mix of live and electronic drums for the record.
How do you approach vocal processing?
We love to have a bit of natural distortion on our vocals, so using older microphones that work with Miller’s vocal tone is always something we strive for. A touch of natural reverb with a slapback delay is something that seems to work with Miller’s voice too. Soundtoys is a godsend.
Heavily layered sounds is such an important element of the record. When arranging the tracks, was it a process of thinking about how the different synths, sounds and effects would fit into the frequency spectrum, or did it all fall together organically?
I guess it all fell together organically. We certainly had to take some stuff out that wasn’t benefitting the track’s narrative, but we trust our ear in terms of what works and what doesn’t, what’s clogging up the mix and what’s creating space within it. Russ is a mad synth head too and would spend hours at a time focusing on one synth sound. I’m not sure we have that kind of discipline yet!
How about your guitar rig? I love the fuzz riff on Don’t Come Back Another 100 Times.
Most of the guitar lines were played on my 63′ Fender Jaguar and Fender Deluxe Reverb with minimal processing. I find it more interesting to mess around with chord voicings than layered guitar effects I suppose. Nothing against effects of course, I just thought that there were so many interesting synth sounds on the record that I probably didn’t need to add to the confusion with some warped guitar sounds. That fuzz riff on Don’t Come Back Another 100 Times is actually Miller’s improvised vocal solo through a vocoder and distortion! How about that!
Hectic, I totally get that now. How does the guitar fit into your workflow – live or in the studio?
It’s always at the ready I suppose, but with chord progressions and stuff I’d probably opt for a MIDI keyboard or synthesiser. It’s my main instrument, but I think when I was in other bands I’d come up with so many guitar parts for each song that I may have become a little fatigued by it. There’s a naivety for me on synthesisers, so transferring the very non-theoretical chord voicings I come up with onto the guitar can give my guitar playing new life in a way.
I love playing it in the live setting of course, but I use it more to compliment other elements of songs when we’re in the studio. For instance, if I’m stuck with a chorus or melody, I know I can always go to the guitar and get something out of it because it’s what I’m best at, but relying on that all the time can lead to some pretty stale ideas I think.
I think the bass plays a super important role on the album. It sits nice and dry and prominent in lots of the mixes and pulls everything together nicely. What gear were you using here?
Hey thanks a lot. I absolutely love writing bass lines. I’m certainly no bass player, but I look at the way someone like Kevin Parker injects so much life into his songs through his basslines and I get really inspired by it. Songs like Name Call and Keep Up With It were built around the bass. That bass is nearly 10 years old and cost around $250 to buy. It just has something about it that really suits our style. We tried a lot of others but they just didn’t work.
What’s the cheapest piece of gear you feel like you’ve gotten the best value out of?
Definitely that bass.
Nice one. And lastly, if you had to grab a new piece of gear right now, what would it be?
We don’t actually own the Prophet 06 that we used, so I’d say the Prophet 06.