Hey, Studio Rat! It's Spring!

Shot on my iPhone a few nights after daylight savings time. I look forward to more evening strolls like this.

Shot on my iPhone a few nights after daylight savings time. I look forward to more evening strolls like this.

Happy Spring, people! Per usual, the Minnesota winter sucked every last drop of Vitamin D from my corpse-like structure, yet all of a sudden, there’s daylight after 7 pm, gentle rain and birds, open patios ripe with local brews...I kind of want to crack a smile, possibly sneak in a laugh or two. However, before I get too drunk on spring, here is what’s been happening in the studio.


Edelbrock

is a new project that’s been brewing for a while, starring guitarist/bassist Charlie Bruber (of Tabah), vocalist/guitarist Joseph McQuillan, and lyricist Ben Carlson. It's Nick Drake’s warm acoustic guitar meets the commanding and heart-wrenching vocals of Jeff Buckley, sprinkled with spacious, gritty analog synth pads. We hope to have their debut full-length wrapped up this fall.
 

GRAPE WHALES

is a fiery power trio starring Gabe Schmidt on guitar and lead vocals, Mitch Schumer (of my band, William Within) on bass/vocals, and Mike Cyrs on drums/vocals. Not only are these guys extremely fun to work with, their songs are highly infectious. Only a few overdubs -- their live sound is plenty huge without the extra noise. Did I say huge? I meant more of a "YUUUUUGE". We hope to have this record done by the fall too.
 


I’ve also done some shorter tracking days with Andy Engstrom (of Whitetail), Sadman & The Gonzo Experiment, and Derek Rohlf, and I’ve been assisting on a few sessions for the new Sonny Knight & The Lakers LP over at Secret Stash Recording Studio.

I’m looking forward to a few upcoming live recordings I’ll be running and Tabah demoing later this month. 
 

April is booked up, but let me know if you want to work together in May or June! Shoot me an email at alex@apsimpson.com for dates and rates!


Photo by Gary Bingner

Photo by Gary Bingner

william within is heading into the studio

After four successful shows at the Entry, Kitty Cat Klub, Triple Rock, and The Cedar, my band William Within will be hitting the studio later this month to start tracking for our next release! I’m not exactly sure what form it’s going to take, but in some ways that’s the best part. We’re eager to get working on the songs we do have prepared, and hopefully everything else falls into place with greater speed and ease than last time (our most recent EP took nearly three years).

New Year, New Knobs To Turn To The Right

2016 is off to a busy start, which means all knobs to the hard right position. It also means I keep forgetting to be cold and miserable! Pretty sweet problem to have in Minnesota. Here's what I've been up to in the new year:
 

My band, William Within, shared a new song called "Amuse Me" by way of an NPR #TinyDeskContest video. We had local advertising veteran Gary Bingner and his colleagues/skilled videographers Dave Dennison and Andrew Hatling shoot the video. It was somewhat of a dream come true to turn our house into a two-story recording complex for the day: control room upstairs, live room downstairs, 100 ft. XLR snake and a screen-sharing laptop connecting the two. It was a lot of work but everything turned out great! Thanks to Gary, Dave and Andrew for their talents and time. Check out the final product and share it around!

My friends in Straya put out this face-melter of an EP we recorded at Secret Stash Records and my attic. Listen up: 

I wrapped up a big audiobook project with local poetry publishers Milkweed Editions.  I gained a serious appreciation for engineers who do primarily long-format work like this -- the editing process is no joke! Keep an eye on Milkweed's site for the finished books.
 

I recorded the Tabah Tiny Desk Video in Duluth, the Julian Manzara Quartet at Jazz Central, Tara Loeper's 416 Commissions show at The Cedar Cultural Center, a video mix for folk duet Joseph McQuillan and Charlie Bruber, and I'm five sessions in to the new Grape Whales record. 


One of my main spots for freelancing, Secret Stash, has just launched a website and Facebook page for their recording studio. Check it out and spread the word! If you'd like to tour the space, shoot me an email and we'll set up a time!

 

Hope everyone's 2016 is off to a great start! Cheers!

New Straya EP "I Don't Know What Anyone Is Talking About Anymore" Out Today -- Release Show at Kitty Cat Klub Tonight!

Photo by Taylor Donskey

I haven't been this excited about a local release in a long time. Maybe it's because I had way too much fun working on it, but also it's just really f**king good. We tracked basics at Secret Stash Records and finished dubs and mixing at my place. Yes, this is a short release -- only 12 minutes -- but Straya cover a ton of genres, grooves and moods in that amount of time, which, as long as I've known them, has always been their specialty. Lend them your ears.

 

Tonight is the release show at the Kitty Cat Klub in Dinkytown. My band, William Within is kicking things off at 9pm. Then, Strange Relations, Straya and Maeth. Amazingly enough this show is $0.00 so you'd be foolish to skip. 21+ 

 

The event page is here.

 

The new EP is here: straya.bandcamp.com

Poster by Aaron Musickant

Album artwork by Rose von Muchow


Recording TABAH in Duluth

A few weeks ago, I went up to Duluth with Minneapolis-based TABAH to cut sounds for their NPR Tiny Desk Contest submission. Here's the finished product! Thanks to Black Feather Creative for shooting the video and Charlie, Murphy, Cecilia, Jeff, Andrew and Cole for bringing me on for the audio portion. I love what this crew is doing; keep an eye on them this year. 

My Tascam M312B getting some mileage! Photo by Black Feather Creative.


Let's Keep It Groovy From The Start

looking into the new year like "What the fuck is that? Is that you, 2016??"

For first-time visitors, welcome to my website. I launched this site a few months before graduating college in 2014 in a last minute effort to look presentable to prospective employers and freelance clients. Luckily, I had some help from my multi-talented friend/roommate of two years Stephen Thunder Nixon who created the spectacular branding you see at the tops and bottoms of these pages and on my business cards. 

 

Now that I've been out of school for almost two years, I'm trying to take advantage of all the things I spend precious money on. One expense is this website; $96/year to the web savvy folks at Squarespace. It's certainly not my biggest expense (and I'm very pleased with Squarespace products), but as my site sits quietly in the ether, I realize I'm coughing up a generous amount of coin for a mere digital business card.

 

Until now, I've kept no central log detailing my recording work and music adventures, just sporadic Instagrams and Facebook posts, content that is briefly showcased and quickly forgotten. Though this may sound stale, I truly love my work and naturally, I want to keep track of it and hopefully stir up some more business in the process. Two birds, one blog. Welcome to my first post: a fashionably late recap of my 2015.


time for a good ol' fashion highlight reel


Photo taken by Jaak Jensen at a rehearsal for Toby's piece

January

My Indian-German drummer, friend and roommate Toby Ramaswamy (the one and only) received a grant to compose a piece for 15 electric guitars based on Indian Classical music. I was hired to record the only performance at the Cedar Cultural Center. It was incredibly difficult to capture a piece that unique, even after sitting in on a rehearsal. It's not just a matter of close-miking 15 guitar amps. No single guitar is really that important; it's an orchestra, not a Saturday at Guitar Center. It's all about room mics and I didn't have them quite where I wanted them due to lack of snake and limited flexibility from front-of-house. Even so, how do you capture a space you've never recorded in before? Many times you don't find out until mixdown when your EQ curves start looking like seismograph readings. I know I could have done better, but I was still really pleased with how the final mix turned out. More importantly, I found out that I've been living and performing with a bonafide badass composer. Toby, I love you.

 

April

I had the privilege of opening for veteran folk singer Mason Jennings at Coffman Memorial Theater. I’ve played The Whole and The Great Hall (both in Coffman Memorial Union) several times before but never the Theater and never with such a reputable headliner. Mason’s management requested we play a stripped down set since he was flying solo that night, so it was just me, my violinist Derek Rohlf and my bass player Matt Blake in front of an attentive seated audience. I realized how badly I want to tour on a theater circuit one day. The attentiveness of the audience, the acoustics and the overall ambiance make for a much more intimate, detailed performance. I rarely find that in clubs and bars.

 

May (and the 30 months before it) 

It took six studios over two and a half years but my band, William Within, finally released its sophomore record. The title we slowly agreed upon was “Lost In Writing”, pulled from a lyric in the third track “Narrate My Nights”. It just made sense given how long and difficult the recording process was for our overly-ambitious 20 minutes of original music. I almost scrapped this record several times out of frustration, so it nearly was lost in writing.

Tracking basics for Lost In Writing at The Terrarium, September 2013

 

We tracked basics for all five songs at The Terrarium in Northeast Minneapolis in September 2013, keeping only the drums, double bass and electric guitar. The plan was to record the remainder of the instruments at Essential Sessions (where I was interning) and Radio K’s Studio K (where I was working) to save money. We certainly kept costs low but at the expense of my sanity. There was a lot riding on me.

 

When you transfer large session files from studio to studio, back and forth, for months at a time, as your band knocks out bits and pieces of songs, your Pro Tools sessions get messy...really, really messy. My string players wanted to recreate an orchestra between the two of them, which meant those two alone had an average of 10-15 tracks each (many parts were double tracked). That’s a lot of CPU, jumbled I/O, labeling and color coding, levels to balance, and a lot of headaches. But I went with it. The overdubbing dragged on, following me from internship to internship.

 

When it was finally time to record my vocals and guitar (the two instruments I write all of our songs on), there was barely any room left and I struggled to record after the arrangements had been built around what was then my year old scratch tracks. Tons of people record themselves (I still do), but when you’re making a formal full-band record with a complicated mix, it is incredibly difficult to give a compelling musical performance when you’re wearing multiple hats in the studio. This is why a good engineer is truly invaluable; they allow you to focus on making a great performance.

 

It was clear if we were going to finish the record, I needed to hand the faders off to someone else. That someone was Neil Weir, owner/engineer at The Old Blackberry Way. Hilariously enough, I used to live three houses down from his studio and had no idea until Neil trained me in at Radio K. Neil’s calm demeanor and extensive knowledge of recording was exactly what I needed. The dim lights and exposed wood in his cozy live room provided the perfect ambiance for the parts I had in mind, too.

 

Holding the masters for Lost In Writing at Magneto. Phew.

Not surprisingly, we were done with tracking and mixing in a short two months and the record was sent over to Bruce Templeton at Magneto, a mastering suite housed in The Terrarium (it has since moved). In April 2015, I walked out of the same studio door I walked into two and half years earlier, 20 minutes worth of mastered WAVs in hand. How's that for coming full circle?

 

WW Lost In Writing release show. Photo by Darin Kamnetz

We brought on a cello, viola, trombone and trumpet for the release show at Icehouse on May 31st. It was stressful and crowded on that proscenium stage, but the show was a huge success and nearly everyone walked out with a copy of the record. It was worth the long journey to get there.

 

September

Photo by Benjamin Mueller at Colle McVoy. This was our second show with the new lineup.

WW acquired two new band members: Mitch Schumer on electric bass and Mark Engelmann on rhodes.

 

Thank you, Matt Blake, for all you have done for me and the rest of the band. We continue to wish you the best on the road with Davina and the Vagabonds.

 

October

My studio at Audio Ruckus

This month marked my first work anniversary with longtime Minneapolis voiceover studio Audio Ruckus. Though I struggled to bring in much business, I grew a lot as an engineer. People tend to think recording voiceover and mixing commercials is just a dumbed down version of recording bands. Sure, you are dealing with fewer mics and fewer tracks, but you have an entirely different set of variables, constraints, clients and audiences. You need to be just as organized and precise (if not more) than a music engineer. You need to be able to slice the tag from take 16 onto lines 4 and 5 from take 8, then export that and splice it onto the remainder of the script recorded two years ago by a different engineer in a different room, all while a small crowd of advertisers and their corporate clients watch your every move. What happens if you can’t find a take? What happens if the voice talent won’t stop ruffling their shirt during takes? What happens if your ISDN patch with a major agency in New York has too much line noise? This is why Audio Ruckus exists; voiceover is not as simple as one mic, one take.

 

Aside from learning from my rookie mistakes, I got to perform and record an original jingle for Holiday Stationstores’ “Get Happy” coffee campaign! You can hear it all winter long on various commercial radio stations in the Twin Cities.

 

November

I had the pleasure of recording, mixing and mastering the new Straya EP to be released in January 2016. My band has played a handful of shows with them over the past year (and now we share a keyboard player) so we were all friends before we hit the studio. I did basic tracking at Secret Stash Records in Loring Park, my first record in their new space. The analog focus of that studio really brought out the grit of Straya’s sound; I was super pleased with the tracks we got there. We did overdubbing and mixing at my place. I’m excited for everyone to hear the results!


Yeah, so that was my 2015. I could probably find more to write about but I haven’t written anything this long since college and I’m starting to scare myself.

 

I will add that 2016 already looks promising. WW recently sold out the Entry with help from our friends in Tabah and General B and the Wiz, writing/arranging for our next record is well underway, and I have the pleasure of working on the next Grape Whales record in the next few weeks too.

 

I’ll be posting more regularly as projects develop. Shoot me an email if you want to work together!

 

Peace and lots of love! 

Alex