We caught up with Tony at The Looking Glass Studios in downtown Manhattan to discuss his latest project, We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things by Jason Mraz, for which he was nominated for his third Grammy. Tony brought up a few sessions from the album and walked us through them. As an extra bonus, Tony was also kind enough to share the EQ settings for The API Collection plugins he used on the album, available as downloadable presets!
How did you get involved with Jason’s record?
Craig Kallman of Atlantic Records wanted the record to sound heavier sonically than Jason’s previous records, so they thought maybe I could contribute to that end. They sent me two songs to start, ‘I’m Yours’ and ‘Dynamo’. I ended up mixing the whole album.
Jason’s an amazing player, by the way. His voice, for one, is perfect. He plays guitar like I wish I could, but while he’s singing. And he’s a pleasure to watch and listen to. Almost every performance on the record is unedited.
So he did vocals and guitar at the same time?
Yes. Martin (Terefe) played some of the electric parts and Jason did all the acoustics. Jason did vocals and guitar together on about four tracks. And the others have separate performances, but mostly unedited, one pass. Very, very few punch-ins. He’s just THAT good.
How did you come to use The API Collection on this record?
I’ve recently been listening to old records again – Motown, etc. – and was inspired by that. I was planning on mixing on an API console I used for a Craig David record that I loved the way it sounded. Martin was used to the API console, so I thought it’d be a great opportunity to try the Waves API plugins. I read some great reviews, so decided to give it a shot.
My assistant and I ended up throwing it on every track just to see how it sounds. It sounded great, very similar to what I remembered working on an API sounding like. We used it a lot on acoustic guitars and on drums—almost all the time.
I still sometimes use the Renaissance EQ and API on one track – the Renaissance EQ for cutting and the API for boosting. We started messing with the APIs, and I would put them on several things, not sure if I would use them. Sure enough, I ended up using them all over the place, and saved presets per song and track name.
On this first track, I’m boosting quite a bit on the kick drum. We had two mics; on close and the other outside the shell. I’m using the outer mic for most of my bottom end, and the inner mic for most of the top. So I’m cutting the highs on the outer mic while boosting the lows, and doing the exact opposite for the inner mic, accentuating each of their strengths and having them complement each other. I am then sending them both to a compressor. In this case it’s an Alan Smart compressor.
I use a 550B on the DI bass and a 550A on the amp bass. On the DI, I’m EQ’ing in a pretty extreme way and then I combined them. I used the B when I was doing more dipping, it gives me more flexibility. On this song I use the A on nearly every channel.
On the Wurlitzer for this song I used the 2500 compressor to get a little grit. On the electric guitar track on I’m Yours, I’m doing quite a lot of boosting. And this is the first song we were working on. Normally I would use a Neve and an LA3A, but here the API settings worked out perfect just like this. I normally wouldn’t do that much drastic boosting on software EQ’s, but here it works so I did.
On the vocal I’m using the Waves DeEsser, then to the Neve 33114, and then to the Chandler TG-1. Sometimes for vocals, I’d use the GML 8200 to the Distressor. I always use the DeEsser on the vocals before going to my outboard.
different because on Dynamo, there was a drum loop and I had to make things sit with that in a cohesive way. There’s a drumbeat interlude on this track that I used the API for, and added quite a bit.
It kicks you in the chest now.
Right. That API makes a big difference on this breakdown. On the sample bass and electronic drums in the breakdown of Dynamo, they’re both heavily relying on the API. Same on the acoustic guitar: a pretty drastic boost at 5K and taking out a lot of mud in the low mids.
For the most part all my EQ’ing is done for shaping.
For example, on the kick, I’m using the outer mic primarily for low frequency. The inner mic is for punch and upper click. I’ll even make room in one to allow for what the other has. This makes for a complete kick drum. I’m not sending the outer mic to the compressor. I’m compressing the inner mic with the outboard 1176 as well as via an aux to the Alan Smart. So I’m using the inner mic as my knock and my click, which is obvious, because it’s closer to the beater.
On the snare I have the Waves 550B in this case. This snare is slightly different than the Dynamo snare, even though it’s the same kit, and the same drummer. I’m pushing more top because this song requires a brighter snare. We’re shaping that primarily with this overhead track. I’m pushing all the top from the snare channel, and not any on the overhead. Allowing for a more natural sound from the overheads but still getting the brightness I need for this more upbeat track from the close snare mic.
So you take two mics on the same source, and EQ one to sit inside the other, boosting or cutting so they complement each other?
Depending on the distance from the source. For example, the snare in this case, I use the overheads and close mic combined to give me the full ring. I use the on-snare mic to give me the ‘shhhh’ and the pop. I also wanted to hear the drag and the snap of the stick on the head. When I added the overhead, it give air and more distance in a round way. The only thing I did to the overheads here was reduce the lower mids and lows to keep the kick out, as well as to keep the track brighter. The whole track was recorded brighter. That was a conscious decision by Dyre (Gormsen) and I followed his lead. It’s all shaping. On this one acoustic guitar, I’m shaping out a hole for the vocal to sit.
With that big cut at 240Hz.
Right. I want a nice warm space for the vocals to sit. The API plugins worked out really nicely for me in that regard.
This was probably my sixth mix. On this kick, I’m boosting 100Hz and I’m taking out 12db at 5Khz on the shelf. Very drastic. Added a sample as well. So I’m using the live kick with this shaping for the roundness, because it’s warmer than the sample. The approach varies depending on the song and what it needs, as well as what kind of energy I’d like to hear coming from it.
I really like this song, it’s a beautiful song and very well-produced. I have the MondoMod on the upper Hammond, very slow subtle movement. The strings are live; I think Martin went to Cuba to record these sections.
I’m pushing 14db on the output of the API 550A on the acoustic guitar, and pushing 5.5 on the trim because it was recorded low. So it added something pretty just gain with the API gain with it. I felt comfortable boosting 14db with this plugin, so that’s pretty good.
You’re pushing 14db on the output of the API 550A on this acoustic guitar!
Yes, and pushing 5.5db on the gain because it was recorded low. I felt comfortable boosting 14db with this plugin, that’s pretty amazing for me, because normally I use plugins for cutting only.
On many of your R&B tracks you use lots of delays, but not here.
Right, that’s mostly the genre that dictates it. Jason’s album shouldn’t sound flashy, just intimate and honest. That was key, particularly on a song like Sewing Machine.
Thanks for taking time out to speak with us. The album sounds amazing! I’m sure our users will get plenty of insight from your presets.