Attack of the Garage Bands - "Machines Dream"

Posted: Thursday, January 6, 2011 by •»¶hê ƒRëq»•-)•–––– in

2011's first edition of "Attack of the Garage Bands" starts off this year with local prog rock band "Machines Dream" who have been working hard recording their debut album. Craig West (pictured right) the band's vocalist, bassist and second guitarist was nice enough to let me invade the band's rehearsel and recording lair which is situated in an attic space of a beautiful old war time house. Craig West has been a staple in the local music scene for many years and an accomplished song writer. In this new band, Craig also handles the engineering duties for this project. I talked a few hours with him and got the low down on the gear and some of the software the band uses to record which is the basis of this topic.
The first thing I noticed about Craig's studio is the atmosphere it has. The attic is roughly 3 room sections but with an open concept and every corner has something related to music. I could just tell it was a great place to create music. One area in the central room is dedicated to the main recording rig, computer and monitor speakers. Around that are guitar amps, keyboard area and a jam space for the everyone to stand. In one smaller room off the main one is the vocal room and on the other end is the drum area. Being that the band is all about progressive rock, the guys seem to address technology with open arms. With that said, I noticed that electronic drums were being used for the album. The kit which is a Roland TD4 set, just relays the midi data to the recording computer in which Toontrack's Superior Drummer 2 software takes over and supplies the sounds. This process eliminates the headaches of trying to achieve drum sounds from a real acoustic kit which can be a nightmare in some situations but also loud and uncontrollable in a small room. Craig says electonics are easier to record and control in their situation. Superior Drummer is quite popular amongst home studio engineers as there are unlimited combinations of drum sounds and editing you can use. The sweet thing about this software is that you can also control mic bleed in toms, snares and cymbals to help create room ambience from tight jazz situations to huge Led Zepplin sounding drums. You also get plug ins like EQ's and Noise Gates to help dial in your drum sound. Real drummers record the "samples" used by the software but it's the band's drummer playing his parts on the Roland kit that triggers these sounds through Midi. Understanding MIDI confuses many but if you just keep in mind that MIDI is control data being sent and received by hardware such as keyboards or electronic drumsets and not an actual audio sound, you will have an easier time grasping it. That sent data then triggers sounds in the software which in Craig's case is Superior Drummer. This modern technology using software products like Superior Drummer or keyboard software synths like Native Instruments is the wave of the future.  The physical keyboards or electronic drums are just controllers of the software on your computer.  No sounds are needed from these physical hardware devices.  You just play them, it sends the data to the computer and the software and you have rich full sounds without the hassles.

The main computer rig "Machines Dream" uses is Apple which is running Logic Pro software. This is the software that allows all the multitrack recording, effects and mixing.  There are so many programs to choose from and we all have our favourites but Logic Pro is a great program. The interface that brings all the sounds received by the mics and line ins and brings them to the computer is called the MOTU 828. This converts analog audio sound into digital. There are many combinations you can use to achieve this so do a lot of research and find out what suits your needs. MOTU is only one brand name. Craig tells me that some of their songs were recorded live off the floor as ghost tracks where as others were done in stages. Where tracks off the floor were used, layering of other instruments and vocals were added later.  Some of the ghost tracks were so good they were actually kept and used on the final versions. He also mentions that the entire band writes together for the most part but there are a few ideas that were created on his own.

Main vocals are recorded in a small room off the main room like I mentioned earlier. The microphone used is an Audio Technica AT4033 which Craig says was formerly used in a blues club in London England and sent over to him by a personal friend. Instruments are recorded with SHURE SM57 mics and a few pencil condensor mics. Shure SM57 are an industry standard for studio and live situations.  They are great on snare drums.

I noticed a group of speaker combinations in Craig's studio which included pairings of house speakers but the main recording rig utilizes Berringer Truth Monitors that handle roughly 150 watts of playback power. In reserve, Craig has a set of Tannoy 6.5 inches, and a KRK system with a sub.  Many studios use multiple speaker setups just to help make sure the recordings sound good on a variety of systems for example, car, home and ghetto blaster set ups. Also used in Craig's studio are Berringer Ultragraph Pro Equalizers with the main rig.  Equalizers are a much needed device in home recording.  Do your homework on these before you buy.

Craig let me listen to numerous tracks the band has been working on including "Everyone Says Goodbye" which has some edgy guitar happening in it, "Mad For All Seasons" (previewed on their Facebook pag) and "Traping Stars For Solitude" to name a few. My first impression was the dynamic factor of the music. There is a lot of depth to their music. My impressions of what I heard were simply that no one locally sounds like them and that's a good thing. Their influences to my ears are from bands like Alan Parsons Project and Pink Floyd for starters. Finding an audience locally might take a bit of time but in my opinion, the local music scene is due for a change and you never know, "Machines Dream" might be leaders in the direction people may want to explore. I know for me, their music is a breath of fresh air over what is out there currently. The musicianship is top notch and the material is well thought out and well written. I wish more bands took the care in writing as these guys seem to be doing. Another key fact to this bands recordings are that they aren't afraid to use layers of instruments. Keyboards are featured heavily in a lot of the music but acoustic and electric guitars also have magical moments. The bass and drum parts remind me of Pink Floyd and cradle the songs beautifully throughout some of these 8 to 10 minute epics.  The material is very experimental and it appears to me they are trying to give each instrument a chance to shine in each composition while not taking away from the lyrical content.   Yes, I like to call their efforts "music that makes you think".
I'm not sure when the album will be completed but I do know you won't be disappointed by the product and I know first hand these guys are puting a lot of time and effort into this judging by the tracks I've heard.  Thanks to Craig West for letting me pluck his brain for this article, letting me visit his studio,but most of all letting me hear the original material of the upcoming Machines Dreams album.

The idea of these articles for my topic "Attack of the Garage Bands" is to simply help those starting out in music to get into writing and recording their own material but to also give some insight into what certain bands use gear wise and software wise to aid you in building a home studio of your own.

Glen "the Freq"