The Sojourners – 2009
The Sojourners are a great gospel trio – in the style of the Dixie Hummingbirds, Golden Gate Quartet, etc. They nail those old-school harmonies really well. I’ve been playing with them since 2005, when we got Marcus Moseley to put a group together to sing on Jim Byrnes’ “House of Refuge” album, and they’ve been at it ever since. We made a record in 2007, which turned out really well, but had some serious limitations. We tracked it live in my studio, which is quite small… so the drums were about 5 feet away from the singers with no separation, so everyone was playing super quiet, and there’s not alot of ambience in my room, so it was fairly dry sounding. Cool, but we wanted to get something a bit more lively this time around.
Off we went to The Factory, where I do almost all my live tracking. When we do full-band shows with them, it’s usually me, Geoff Hicks on drums, and Keith Lowe on bass. That was the core group that I wanted to record with, but we also wanted some organ/wurlitzer as well. My usual guy for that kind of thing is Chris Gestrin, but the guys had some experience with another great player who is well versed in gospel music – Mike Kalanj. He’s a killer B-3 player. So I got everyone lined up to come in, and the idea was that we’d record the band live, but we’d do the vocals later. Most of the tunes we were going to record were songs that the band had never played, so I knew that trying to work out the tunes with the band and nail the vocals would be way too much. We put aside 3 days to do all of the band tracks.
I had in mind some old Staple Singers records, but also some funkier Al Green-type soul records as well, so I wanted to try and get that kind of sound, without blatantly trying to make it “retro” sounding. Some unconventional drum/percussion sounds were needed, a wide range of bass sounds, different kinds of guitars, and pretty straight-up B3 keyboards and wurlitzer.
We set Geoff up in the corner of the big room with his drum kit facing the centre of the room. He has a nice sounding Yamaha kit that we augmented with some new toys of mine – Gregg Kepplinger had just made me a nasty little ride cymbal out of stainless steel that sounds somewhere between a garbage can lid and a gong. perfect. He also sent me a bunch of metal scraps bunched together on a ring, so we hung those from cymbal stands as well. I mic’d up the drums with 2 setups in mind. One was a mono drum sound, with a Coles 4038 overhead, a Sony C-37 under the snare, and an AKG D12 on the kick. Sounded great, but the D12 died after about 5 minutes, so we moved on and used a D112 (more modern version, and not quite as cool) close up, augmented with an AKG tube mic about a foot away, and a Yamaha NS-10 speaker for some real low-end. Too much, really, but I figured that would give me a few options for sounds.
The stereo kit was going to be needed for a few songs, although I preferred the simple mono setup. We used a pair of U87′s as overheads (top and side) for that. We also ran a Green Bullet mic from the snare to a Fender Blues Junior amp off in the corner. That sounds great as always. No close mics on toms, hi-hats or anything (we did throw up an SM7 on the hihat,but never used it), just enough to get an overall kit sound.
A pair of AKG 414′s went 20 feet up behind Geoff in a stereo X-Y configuration to get some room sounds. We used some heavy compression from a pair of 1176′s on them with the “all-in” setting.
That room is about 30′ x 40′, so there’s plenty of space. We built a little baffle and put Keith in there about 15 feet away from the drums. That was for his acoustic bass station. There was bleed from the drums, of course, but all very manageable. Then we just DI’d him for his electric basses – a Rickenbacker, a Hoffner, and an Ampeg lucite bass. We used my favourite bass DI – a Chandler TG-2.
Next to him, we set up Mike Kalanj on his B3 and Triton keyboard for a wurlitzer sound. The Leslie was put off in a room beside us, mic’d up with 3 mics, and the Triton was plugged into a Fender Vibroverb amp (and cranked!!) to make it sound more authentic.
I had a little acoustic room for when I played any acoustic guitars, and I had 2 amps for my electrics. A Fender Deluxe Reverb, and a Flot-a-Tone, an old 50′s accordian amp that sounds unreal. They were both mic’d with a 57 each and a ribbon mic as well – a 4038 on one, and an Apex ribbon on the other (one of my favourite electric guitar mics).
The sojourners sat in the control room and sang along so we had an idea of the melody. phrasing etc.
That was pretty much it – that was the setup for the whole session.
The main session lasted for 3 days, in which we tracked most of the main parts for all 12 songs. All 4 of us in the band played together in the main room, unless I was playing acoustic guitar, in which case I moved over to a small booth, and played my tricone, weissenborn or acoustic guitar into a vintage U47.
After the Factory sessions, I took the tracks back to my place, and got prepared for the vocal sessions. We’ve worked together quite a bit over the last few years, and have become pretty comfortable recording their vocals at my place. We always set them up together, with no isolation between them, so they can blend on their own, the way the song will sound in the end. The only time we recorded separate vocals was on the few songs where there were definite lead vocals – “Strange Man”, and “Another Soldier” are examples of that.
In the past, I’ve recorded the 3 of them with one mic, and also with 2 mics as a stereo pair, but this time we decided to get a bit more control and each singer had their own mic. Marcus sang into a Peluso 2247 into a Neve 1066 pre-amp, Ron sang into a U87 and a Chandler TG-2 preamp, and Will into an Advanced Audio CM-47 into a Helios 69 preamp. I used some compression, depending on the song – an LA2A, a Purple MC77, and an API 525 were the main ones.
It took about 5 or 6 days, since we didn’t want to fry their vocal chords. It’s a lot of singing to do when you’re trying to nail 3 singers at once. But they were well rehearsed, and the songs went quite smoothly, at the rate of 2-3 per day. Some of them were a breeze, and some that had some new arrangements and a few that required some harmony adjustments took longer, but it worked really well, and we got some killer vocal takes.
I mixed the entire record in Pro Tools HD, sending the mixes through a Chandler TG-2 via a Universal Audio 2192 converter. I really like mixing this way now. Those last pieces of analog gear add so much to the mixing process, and really bring it all to life.
I love the way the record sounds – it’s a good mix of old-school gospel and raunchier electric stuff that really keeps the traditional side intact, but bumps up the energy and performance level a whole lot from the last record. It’s called “The Sojourners” and will be released in early 2010. Enjoy!!