The Hounds of Finn this last year was a remarkable experience. I was constantly inspired, educated, and allured by the four core members and their unique way of blending the very best aspects of folk, Celtic, and rock music. All musical juggernauts in their own idiosyncratic way, they came together to create something so original, arresting, and real it would have been hard to go wrong. A single mic, a room, and a two-track tape recorder could have worked. If you get a chance to see them live you’ll get my drift. However, I quickly sensed the quality of album they were capable of making, (Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours-esque) so we went with a pure individual tracking approach and used every mic and pre-amp combination in our arsenal to help reveal their technical charms. We started the journey by opening up the studio to live pre-recordings of all the song candidates. We like offering this to our artists and Stephen manned these sessions. It gave them a chance to get a feel for the space, work out some final kinks, and us a chance to get familiar with their new material.
The album really got rolling when I recorded Leslie Rich. He laid down rich, acoustic guitar tracks over some simple, four-on-the-floor-bass-drum and high hat/shaker grooves I programmed in structure. These served as rhythm beds, form templates, and final guitar tracks for the entire album. Some of the organic kick drums samples sounded so nice they ended up in the final mix, like on the song “Ocean”- which is also a great guitar track. Recording this way certainly beat using a click track and gave us the chance to get the full-bodied, uninhibited acoustic guitar tones necessary for D-droning Celtic rock. Leslie’s playing is strong, raw, and intricate all at the same time. Transformerless AKG 414’s up-close, above and below with a pair of Neumann KM-184’s high overhead created a great balance of potent lows with warm ambient highs. He used his Gibson Hummingbird and our dreadnought Taylor to keep things big! We figured we could always take a little away when we added other instrumentation and we weren’t decided on which tracks would have bass – so capturing a lot of low end gave us arrangement flexibility. We also added some basic vocals to give the other musicians additional cues.
The first of the four to jump in “bed” instrumentally with Leslie was Pete McCauley. He can play anything with strings, but his Mandolin work is sublime. He tracked an armada of precise Irish reels, smoking solos, funky chops, and layered ambient lines. The transient accuracy of our small diaphragm 184’s through our very transparent Nightpro pre-amp worked for everything. He used a modern Collings and older Gibson for some tasty coloration and tonal varieties. Steve and I shared the tracking time. Tuning is hard with Mandos and we set some high standards so the only thing that took a little time was twisting pegs between takes. Luckily, Pete plays with such technical consistency he never lost his flow. Check out “Gravity Pulls” where Pete seamlessly dances between melody, rhythm, and tremolo parts.
After Pete, Stephen and I tracked Michelle. Her fiddle literally brought it all together. The reels brought forth energy and her beautiful lilting counterpoint melodies gave life to song transitions and choruses. We used our Beyerdynamic M160 ribbon mic through our warm Drawmer 1960, placing the mic close on the f-hole to keep things warm and to diminish the inherent fiddle squeaks. We added 184’s on top for a little more breath and her attached ATM 350 to pick up all the subtle stuff. This trifecta allowed us to capture tight reels, lead lines, ambient bowing, and punchy chucks. In the mix, I brought different mics in and out to reveal these distinct techniques. “Where it burns” exemplifies this, her chucks push the verses, bowed melodies perfectly counter the vocals in the choruses, and she burns through the reels. We tracked her in the same spot as Pete to match their natural room ambiance. Having a large room with a lot of reverb control gives us the opportunity to make separate tracking sound live and unadulterated. This created an alluring oneness between the two diverse instruments essential for the Celtic/Scottish side of things. Besides the various reels, “Fairview Gypsy” is a great example of “Fidolin”, were Pete and Michelle connect souls and sweep you away in an eastern direction.
The final member to record was David Dreager. He’s the heartbeat of the group and his Bodhran playing gave the tracks authenticity and groove. He used a variety of sticks and brushes to create melodic and rhythmic tones out of his drum that were surprisingly talkative. We needed to get close with a SM57 to here the bubbly stuff and used his direct mic to enhance it further. Listen to “My Father’s Coat” to hear what this unexpectedly complex instrument gives to a song. David likes to track songs as a whole, giving him a chance to build through the form and allow the instrument to get more and more involved in a song. From there Leslie and I made some great groove templates, leaving in David’s creative transitions. This “best of both worlds” technique is often used on vocals and was uniquely fitting for this highly vocal drum.
The songs come into full force with Leslie and Pete’s vocals. Both sounded great on our classic Neumann U87 through the Universal Audio 6176. Leslie’s voice is deep and rich and plays well with Pete’s higher, fiery tone. Leads went very smooth using full takes and picking from playlists. Stephen helped hone in the harmonies they hadn’t already worked out and Molly Clancy came in to add the final sheen to some of Leslie’s brilliant originals. Finally, Stephen completed some subtle but crafty vocal editing to please the pitch perfectionists out there. Check out “Ocean” for the symbiotic harmonies between Leslie and Pete’s opposing tones. “My Father’s Coat” not only shows off Leslie lyrical genius, but the marriage between his voice and Molly’s is exquisite.
James Towns added both fretless and upright Bass to several tracks. James is a ringer and extremely easy to record. Direct through the 1176 was perfect for the fretless. There wasn’t any reason to do more with such a clean tone. Upright Bass was trickier; it always is. The M160 saved the day. We kept it close to the f-hole and near the bridge. It was full, but warm enough to keep the groovy slaps. For room ambiance I left the 184 slightly above his head and we had what we needed.
Wolf Loescher’s (Sweet Colleens) drum talents are featured well on “Fairview Gypsy.” Check out his transition from ambient Udo to rhythmically ferocious Dumbek. Sm57’s caught all the close stuff and we used our room height with 414’s to create some natural ambiance that related nicely to the mandolin and fiddle.
With some final instruments added, including Caleb Peterson on whistle (flute) Jimmy Sherman on small pipes (bag pipes), Steve Laven on Cello (recorded off site), and Andy Bergman on clarinet (also recorded off site). We had all the elements of a great record, barring a successful edit and mix.
We like to increase the size of our Droptone Family. Ultimately creating a studio co-op of like-minded, talented, and kind-hearted musicians and producers. Every once and awhile we get the opportunity to work with someone we know would fit in our family. Leslie Rich was a clear choice and in exchange for teaching him some of the ropes he took on some of the hard work. We are open to this and believe it creates a symbiotic relationship between our artist and the studio. Ultimately, Leslie handled the bulk of the editing work and helped me perfect the mix. Mixing this album had more to do with what not to do then what to do. It had to sound as real as the characters involved. It had to be as alive and as unique as they are. The only way to do that was to let them simply sound how they really sound. If one mic wasn’t working, I didn’t tweak it, I got rid of it. If I needed to add delay to make rhythm parts fit then I replaced the rhythm part with something else. All the tools where already there, the Hounds had already played everything I needed. It was just a matter of bringing the right parts forward. This left us with a truly organic, but nearly perfect picture of their incredible nature, their incredible sound, and their incredible songs. We ended up with an album that relentlessly pulls you in as if it had always been there, you know like the way gravity pulls. -David
released 01 March 2013
Recorded at Droptone Studios, Excelsior, MN
Produced by David Kellogg and Hounds of Finn
Engineered by David Kellogg, Leslie Rich, and Stephen Helvig
Mixed by David Kellogg and Leslie Rich
Mastered by Greg Reierson at Rareform Mastering, Minneapolis, MN
Additional cello and clarinet recorded on location in Boston, MA
“The quartet’s second full-length album, ‘Gravity Pulls,’ boasts elegant fiddle and mandolin parts around the heartstring-pulling original tunes of Belfast-reared singer Leslie Rich and his American compatriot, Pete McCauley.” —Chris Reimenschneider, Minneapolis Star Tribune, March 1, 2013