The band formally known as Hoochie Coochie Men first picked up their instruments as a group between the Delaware and Lehigh Rivers at Lafayette College in 2012. Rebranded as Little Tower, the self-described folk-tinged, blues rock revival took a break from their most recent tour and headed into Carriage House Studios to record their very first full-length album with Grammy Award winning engineer Brendan Muldowney.
The concept behind the album was simple: take this modern day band and transport their recorded sound back to 1973.
Muldowney made the decision to treat the digital recording as if it were going to a 16-track tape using many of the same techniques that were around in the 70s. Drums were recorded using the technique developed by Rock and Roll Hall of Fame producer and sound engineer Glyn Johns, which involves putting a large diaphragm condenser mic over the top of the drums and one on the side near the floor tom. The mics, which are equidistant from the snare drum, are then panned left-right to give a great image of the drums. None of the other drums are close mic’d – only the bass and snare – and the result for Little Tower was a four track drum recording that added to their album’s authentic, vintage feel.
“Everything went through the 3M16 track tape machine,” said Muldowney, and then was captured by ProTools. “In situations where we had to use multiple mics on a single source, like on the guitar amp [where there were three microphones], those were all blended on the console and then sent out to the tape machine to one track.”
Muldowney and Little Tower also took some cues from Grammy Award winning recording engineer Al Schmitt by concentrating on picking the right microphones while recording, rather than relying on EQs afterwards. The idea is to pick the right mics and use only the faders when mixing. As a result, there isn’t a lot of EQ on the album; the sounds are the sounds.
“There’s some EQ to sit things a little bit better, but it wasn’t like I was really creating sounds in the mix with the equalizers”, explained Muldowney.
In addition to his engineering duties, Muldowney stepped in as producer and suggested a two song a day pace for recording. “It really felt like we were getting stuff done,” he said, and in a few days the band had nine complete songs ready to be mixed and mastered. Muldowney handled that too – a one stop shopping experience for all your recording needs.
Overall the sound was kept simple, with songs featuring The Carriage House’s Steinway piano, Hammond B3, drums, bass, guitar and acoustic guitar to capture the 70s vibe. The band tracked entirely live with the exception of the vocals, and Muldowney made sure that the effects used in the mix were old school.
“I plugged in the old AKG spring reverb… and I had the plate, and I had the Marshal tape delay, and that was kind of it. A lot of the drums didn’t even have reverb. It was pretty much just what was in the mics. I think I used H3000 a couple of times for some of the reverbs for the drums, and maybe a 480 here and there, but a lot of times it was just a plate and the spring. I really wanted to keep a vibe of 1973. I had that year in my mind the whole time.”
Little Tower loved the emphasis on the old school feel – the group is hugely influenced by bands like The Allman Brothers Band. That’s one of the reasons they decided to come to Carriage House Studios; Muldowney had previously worked with Warren Haynes and Gov’t Mule on their album Shout, and Little Tower was impressed by the sound he was able to capture. For nine days, the band set up shop with Muldowney in the studio, tracking their album by day and jamming at The Carriage House’s live-in apartment by night.
“[The Carriage House is] an amazing place for a band to come in and hang out and do that. You don’t get that anywhere” else, especially in nearby New York City, where studio schedules are strict, said Muldowney. “That’s what’s really awesome about this place.”