The alternative rock scene of the late 2000s has etched it's mark on music history for producing a wave of both commercial successful and critically lauded bands, be it Daughtry, The Cab, Parachute, The Airborne Toxic Event or Augustana. Thanks to producer Greg Archilla's work on Safetysuit's debut album, their 2009 "Life Left To Go" adds them to that list.His credits extend beyond Safetysuit however, to include the likes of Matchbox 20, both of whom are the subjects of my latest interview with him.
Safetysuit were a new band that burst onto the scene in the late 2000s and made waves with "Life Left To Go". How did you become involved with creating their "Stay" EP prior to that, and then the album itself? More specifically, where and how was that EP recorded and how did it differ from the debut album?
Someone brought by a prior demo that the band had done and I liked the voice I heard, so I ask who this band was. They where known as CREW at the time. I set up a meeting with them threw their manager and that’s how we met.
As for the “Stay” EP, we worked for a couple months in a rehearsal room on the songs then recorded them at Quad Studio in Nashville. We tracked in the "A" Room and did overdubss in the "D" room. Then back into the "A" room to do the mixes.
I was then involved in helping them secure a record deal with Universal/Motown. I was able to stay on as the producer of the “Life Left To Go” album. The EP versions of the songs actually made the album.
With a few albums in the rearview, I think the widespread verdict is that "Life Left To Go" is the standout album from the band. It distinguishes itself as quite the classic alternative rock album of the 2000s, alongside output from the Augustana's and Daughtry's of the world. Can you walk me through some of the considerations and procedures that were taken for that album, as opposed to the bands later ones? The sound of the album evokes imagery of recording studios decked out with gear and big analog mixing consoles.
Well thank you, I guess, haha. I can only speak to the “Life Left To Go” album. We did record through outboard gear and it was mixed through a console, not in the box. We tracked drums, bass, some rythym guitars and some vocals at The Tracking Room studio in Nashville. The overdubs were done in a few different studios, including, The Castle, Quad Studio and at my home studio, ChillHill.
We went through many songs that the band had prior to our meeting, in order to find the tracks for the EP. During the build-up to the band's record deal showcase, songs Like “Anywhere But Here” “Someone Like You” and ”Something I Said” where written and worked up. After we secured the record deal, we felt we needed more material and that’s when songs like “Find Away” “Annie” and “What If" were written.
We only considered making a SafetySuit record; never anything else. The sounds and imagery where just part of who and what the band was as far as I was concerned. I tried to capture what they where live and recreate the emotion and character of what they presented at the time.
As to the bands records after “Life Left To Go” — I was not involved in the making of those records.
Was there any particular reason for choosing the studios you tracked, mixed and mastered at?
Reasons where good gear and good rates! As for the mixing, I went to Vancouver, Canada. We had Randy Staub mix the record up there at The Warehouse Studios, which is owned Bryan Adams. Then I came home and re-mixed a few tracks myself at Quad Studio. We had the record mastered by George Ludwig at Sterling in NY.
Aside from compelling vocal performances, the guitar sound is exceptional on "Life Left To Go". How were the wide stereo image, crunchy density and atmospheric leads attained? Not just in terms of amps and mics, but also recording chain, pre-amps and mixing.
We had a variety of cabinets out in the room, and amps and pedals in the control room. We would literally plug into each one of them for every sound to find the combination that worked best for each part. As for mic’s, I usually use a Shure Beta57/58 and a Sennhieser 421 up close to the speakers and a U87 out in the room somewhere. I bus them all to one track. I like to run them through API or Neve pre amps. Across the bus is usually an 1176, and used as needed for each part. Some parts are doubled and even tripled at times.
It's hard to discuss every process of the mixing. Imaging came from panning things as wide as possible.
Can you talk about the mic choices for vocals and drums? Did you change models through-out the tracks?
I believe we used an old Neumann Tube U49 for most of the vocals. We would change things constantly so as to not do the same thing over and over. We recorded drums in 3 different rooms. We recorded guitars and vocals in 3 or 4 different studios.
The reverb on the guitars and vocals are quite audible through-out the album. Do you remember what reverb units or plugins were used?
It's mostly delays on the guitars. A lot of different verbs where used for vocals. Again, whatever worked for each song is what we used. I like the EMT 250, Lexi 224/480 and the AMS reverbs, to name a few.
I'm curious to know if there was any digital processing used on the album, in terms of plugins, pre-amps or otherwise. If so, how would you say this impacted the sound of things?
In today's environment, it’s hard to stay away from plug-Ins. We did try to create sounds naturally but there where definitely plug-ins used. As to the impact, I guess I’ld have to leave that up to the listener.
Tracks like "Stay" and "Anywhere But Here" feature quite the lush string section. How did you accomplish that? Were they real or digital? Also, what were the considerations when mixing them?
The strings are real. David Campbell did the arrangements and we recorded them at BlackBird studios in Nashville.
The main mixing consideration was to have them feel lush while still cutting through the wall of guitars that where present. Strings are tough to mix in, as they can easily get too loud or too soft. It’s a fine line where to place them in most rock mixes.
How did you become involved with mixing Matchbox 20's debut album and later projects?
Where was "Yourself Or Someone Like You" mixed, and what kind of equipment was used? I'm guessing the time period would have required you to stick with analog gear?
We mixed the record at The House Of Blues studio in Memphis. It was mixed on a "G" Series SSL console, off of analog tape, and there was plenty of outboard gear to choose from. We had two 24-track Studer tape machines locked together and we printed the mixes to a half-inch analog Studer tape machine.
What were the expectations you had to deal with on mixing Matchbox 20s album? Did those expectations change as they got bigger? Were you ever in competition with other mixers for that spot?
I believe expectations are all dreams in the beginning. As dreams come true, expectations become bigger. It comes with the territory.
I think I was the only consideration to mix the first album.
As the years have past, a few others have mixed records for them.
What can you tell me about projects you have in the works or that are coming out soon?
I just finished a new record with Jonathan Jackson’s alt rock band, ENation. Jonathan plays "Avery" on the hit TV series, "Nashville". I’m currently working with a new country band, that we’ve just signed to our company, 16 Minutes Ent., named Broseph E. Lee.
I also have a pop single coming out on a female artist named Jennafer Lynsey this summer titled "Face To Face" as well.
I’m always looking for new artist to help and be creative with. Feel free to send music and bios to: firstname.lastname@example.org