When I begin preproduction for a new record I try and figure out what the most important elements are in what a given artist does, to make sure I capture that essence to the recording medium. What happens on stage in a live performance is infinitely different than the way we experience music at home or in the car. Although I had seen Dom several times with the Carolina Chocolate Drops and was familiar with their recorded output, I knew that working with Dom on a solo project would be another experience altogether. Finding the best way to capture what he did live was essential to the success of the recording. Not only do I feel like we did that, but Dom and I pushed each other in different directions and I couldn’t be happier with the final results.
The Prospect Hill Sessions happened in 3 different stages. Two tracking stages with different groups of musicians at Sound Pure Studio in Durham, NC, and the mixing, editing, and overdub sessions at my home studio in Efland, NC. The first session took place over 5 days in early 2014. The session consisted of the core band of:
Dom Flemons: Guitar, Banjo, Jug, Percussion, Vocals
Guy Davis: Guitar, Mandolin, Percussion, Vocals
Ben Hunter: Fiddle, Percusion, Vocals
Joe Seamons: Banjo, Vocals
Over the 5 days various configurations were experimented with, but the core sound for most tracks was Dom and Guy facing each other. I wanted to capture the interplay between these two great musicians. Dom generally had a Coles 4038 and a Schoeps MK4 on the banjo or Guitar and sang through a Brauner VMX. Guy had a similar setup on his guitar with a Telefunken 251 for vocals. Tracking sheet below shows the starting setup sheet that was used. Occasionally, Ben was also recorded on fiddle in the booth next to Guy and Dom. My primary preamps for the whole session were Chandler TG2, Great River, API, and the LaChapell 992. An assortment of compressors and EQ’s were also used including the Distressors, Purple MC77’s, ADL 1500 and 670, Great River MAQ-2NV, and Avalon AD2055.
Although overdubbing was used on both records, the albums still feel live as all the basic tracking including Dom’s final vocal takes were cut live for Prospect Hill with the exception of one tune. “What Got Over” was a little different, but more on that in a few…
Once we had gotten through the first session we decided that several of the tunes could use the full band treatment to flush out the record. We pulled in the following band for a 2 day session:
Keith Ganz: Guitar
Ron Brendle: Bass
Kobie Watkins: Drums
Brian Horton: Sax, Clarinet
We then recut several of the songs from the previous acoustic session. The new tracks were once again cut live with everyone in the room together and the drums in a booth. Dom’s vocals were also cut live in the room with the band. The only exception was Horton’s horn parts, which he overdubbed in the evening due to scheduling conflicts. Setup sheet below list gear from the session. Much of the same gear was used as in the previous acoustic setup, except a Royer 121 was swapped out for the Coles 4038 on Dom’s guitar. Drums were primarily recorded with Josephson mics and Coles 4038’s. Double bass was recorded with a Neumann 149 by the bridge and 184 on the neck. The tracks recorded over those 2 days include:
Till The Seas Run Dry
I Can’t Do It Anymore
Have I Stayed Away Too Long
San Francisco Baby
Clock On The Wall
In the recording process I tried to make use of natural ambient space as much as I could for a more natural record. Tracking live with controlled bleed was helpful. Sound Pure is a very dry studio and was not my first choice for the project, but due to scheduling we had to make it work. One way I made things work in the dry space was to utilize their kitchen, which is very live. One example of this was Keith Ganz’s electric guitar work. The amp was close miced with a Royer 121, but I also put a Royer out into the kitchen and left the door open. What you hear on the record is primarily the mic that resides in the kitchen. This made the electric guitar sit much better with what is primarily an acoustic recording.
After the recording process was complete, I took the project back to my place where Dom and I began listening to the some 30 pieces or so that had been recorded. Dom narrowed down Prospect Hill to 14 cuts that he felt were the strongest and we shelved the rest for the time being. Mixing was primarily done in the box with an assortment of plugins including MDW EQ, Massey, Waves, and Brainworx. Most mixes ended up with the Crane Song IBIS on the master buss. LA based mastering Gavin Lurssen mastered “Prospect Hill” from my 96k 24 bit mixes. The vinyl was cut from a 44.1 24 bit master.
When it came time for us to dig back out the tracks and put out “What Got Over,” we began looking at everything that had not made it onto Prospect Hill. We had several tracks of “Beats” Dom had created in the studio, many of which used this beautiful old kick drum of Dom's. We took these drum beats and began to overdub vocals, guitars, and Big Head Joe the banjo over the top to create several of the tracks that you hear on “What Got Over." We also added banjo to several other cuts from the Prospect Hill sessions. There was a little more experimentation in the mixing process as well, particularly on the drum beats and “Clock On The Wall,” with added distortion and heavy compression.
Once again, “What Got Over” was mixed primarily in the box with the addition of several 1176 compressors and the Crane Song IBIS EQ as outboard. The album was recorded, mixed and mastered by me at 96K 24 bit. The vinyl was cut from the 96k 24bit digital master with no down conversion anywhere along the line.