Engineer/Mixer The Misfits, Death Cab for Cutie, Butthole Surfers
Burl Audio Interview with Will Kahn 2011:
Please tell me a little about yourself, what you’ve been up to and a brief recording history.
Well, I’ve been working in recording studios for a pretty long time, I started in the early eighties, in Media Sound, in New York. And now I’m a partner in a studio called Cowboy Technical Services that I own with another producer named Eric Roscoe Ambel and we pretty much just do our own projects there. We’re still into analog recording, by that I mean we do use a console when we’re mixing, and sometimes we go to tape, both when we’re doing basic tracks, and bouncing, and things like that. And I always mix to tape. And that’s one of the things I really love about the B2, when I mix to tape, and then put it back in, and I just love what it does to my mix. It opens up the top end, and just makes it much wider.
There are a lot of folks using the B2 at different stages, some have a love/hate relationship with tape. They just don’t ever want to touch it again, so they like the B2 because it can have a similar coloration to an old tape machine in a sense, though it doesn’t sound like tape, it has a lot going on with it. And then there are people like yourself, and myself who use tape here and there. What tape machine do you mix to?
I have a Studer A-80.
½ inch or ¼ inch?
It’s a ½ inch, I have ¼ inch heads as well, but we usually use the ½ inch now. For a long time I used B67, and I used it a lot to mix to, but then I got this one, that Ive been using with ATR tape, mainly cause it’s easier to get than anything else (laughter). My studio’s in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. And there’s a store there called Mikey’s Hookup, where the guys is a musician. There’s so many places for bands to play, so many rehearsal studios, I think there are more young bands in that neighborhood than any other area in the United States. I remember reading a magazine and it was calling Williamsburg the Rock Capital of America, or something like that. But this musician guy figured out that “I can sell all kinds of computer accessories and music accessories, and this neighborhood really needs it. He sells analog tape, and laptop computers, and any little cable you might need, usb, mic cables, he’s got it all there. He stocks tape, and it’s one of the only places in town that does.
Do you ever track using the B2?
Oh yeah, I do most of my overdubs through it. I do vocals, guitars, things like that through it all the time. I love what it does. I just seem to get a warmer sound. I have my Pro Tools rig, I have an apogee clock, into 192, so I have 24 ins and outs, but I much prefer the sound when I go through the B2.
Yeah, it’s definitely a really warm quality, and it’s nice cause you can hit it harder or softer, the 192 you can only hit so hard, but the B2 has that headroom where you can slam it if you want it.
Yeah, I love the sound, cause I’m a transformer type guy, I would say. I don’t know what that really means, but I always gravitate towards them. If I plug in a piece of gear, and I say “hey, I really love the sound of that”- 9 times out of 10, there’s a transformer in it. If I mix things that other people record, maybe they recorded at home with their LE system, the guitars don’t have the muscle that a nice mic pre would give to them . And the B2 gives me a little more muscle in electric guitars than I would get with the 192s. I have used other converters, and I go “Oh, that’s really nice”, but one of the reasons I use tape, and old Neve mic pres is because they color the sound naturally, and when I got the B2, I thought, “ooh, I LOVE what this thing does to the signal path.” It wasn’t so much like it was purely transparent, and… it just does it, that’s what I love. The people that I work with, most of the music I do is guitar based, so it helps me out a little bit, gives me that little extra that I like.
Have you ever had any experience with the Burl B1 mic pre’s?
Oh yeah, actually in the last week or so, a friend of mine, another producer I work with, who has a brown stone up in Harlem, called Harlem Parlor Records, has a 500 series rack with API 512s. Sammy Merendino and I recorded everything through the 512s- he has a couple of Neves as well. So last week I went over and we listened to the B1s and I really liked them. Actually I preferred them over the 512s. Which, you know, I thought, ÂPI!, you know, like all your life you’re like “API! API!” and then, it was like night and day when I put it up. I really liked it. Of everything we tried out in the 500 series, the B1 came closest to the Neve module. We kept going back to the Neve module. Ok, here’s the kick drum through the Neve, here’s the kickdrum through the Burl (B1), here’s the kick drum through the API. We had one of those “Wonder Modules” which is supposed to be a Neve type thing too. But the Burl was the closest thing to the Neve of all these things. Like I said I started at Media Sound, and we had 8068s, and that’s where I learned what a sound is supposed to be.
The 512s don’t have separate Gain and Level knobs. With the B1s, you have both, so you can crank the saturation, and then choose how you want to hit your converter, so that combo is really great for picking the color you want to get on something, and then committing and recording it.
Right, that’s something that I love with any mic pre, being able to turn up the gain on the input, and turn it down on the output, or vice versa depending on what I want to do. Sometimes I want to hit the mic pre much harder to get that sound. Yeah, that’s one thing I enjoy.
Yes, as I understand from talking to Rich (Williams), he had to start Burl, because when he learned recording, you had your Studer tape machine, and your Neve board, and by the time you listened to playback, you were basically done! You know, you didn’t have to add those plug ins, and your tube simulators, and your tape saturations button, and all these things. You have to make up for the fact that you aren’t recording really great sounds right away…
The thing is, with tape, we would record what we wanted to hear. I remember reading articles with Phil Ramone when I was young, and he always said “think mix”. And I never got past that, and I always do that. And when you go into digital, you can go and overdub for 3 weeks. But with tape, you can’t do that. The tape starts to loose a little, so you have to go back and tweak the EQ. But with digital, it’s there, and you still have the integrity. You can just put a great sound in there, and it there! I love the editing and things like that, don’t get me wrong. You know, but I look at what they tell kids to do with their boxes, you know, “You can put this many plug ins on one channel”. I had this one band I was working with, and of course, one of them has an M- Box, and they looked over at my screen, and there was no plug ins. And they were like “Woah, how do you do that without plug ins?” All these companies say “Buy all these plug ins, and put them on all your channels” (laughter). But that’s not really making the sound great. That’s not what a Neve board hitting the tape and coming back sounds like.
What are some of your projects that you’ve worked on lately that the B2 has been an important part of getting that sound?
This thing I’m really excited about right now, is a kind of blues rock singer named Dana Fuchs. Did you see the movie ‘Across the Universe’ with all those Beatles songs?
Yeah, I did.
She played Sadie in that. She sang ‘Helter Skelter’ and ‘Oh, Darling’. She’s a great singer. And especially with a voice like that, I did all her vocals through the B2, and I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t had it, because there is so much growl in her voice, without being able to get the roundness to come through… If I’d had gone straight to the 192 I think it would have thinned it out too much.
And then you have to use your plug in!
Well, I have a Fairchild, so.. (laughter), you know, I don’t use plug ins too much.
Yeah, we are the same way!
I use an 1176 when I track, but when in the mix, I use my Fairchild; something I’ve enjoyed lately.
Any other artists come to mind?
There’s this band the Delords which was Roscoe’s band in the 80’s. Last summer they did a reunion tour, and they did an EP together, and that was really great. One of them lives in LA, one in Houston, we got all these things put together. We did drums here, but the singer is in LA, and in the end, I mixed. That through the B2, that was interesting, cause some of the tracks were recorded professionally, and some… not up to my standards. But when we put it through the B2, it really rocked it a lot. Roscoe and I just finished a record with a band called Spanking Charlene. They are a local band here in New York. They also did something with Little Stevens Garage Band label, putting out a single on that label, but then they did their own record, and we did that. And it’s pretty heavy, and the B2 was definite part of getting that together. Let’s see, we did Chris Barron from the Spin Doctors, and once again putting the vocals through the B2 was a big thing. One thing I noticed about the B2, when I first got it, when I played my tape back through it, the vocal would pop out a little more. And I had to get used to mixing, “the vocal is fine, cause the B2 is going to take care of it”. And like I said before, the BASS… When we got the B2, before we bought it, when Brad (Albetta) heard the bass through the B2, he was like, “woah, yeah! I like that!” Cause I was like, “I got 2 things here, listen to this, and listen to that”, and he was like “number two!” And I was telling you about Harlem Parlor Records, we did this band called the Harlem Parlor Music Club, a band, and we did this side project with two girls called “Al and Anne”, and my partner there has a HD3 rig there, with a HUE control, so we don’t actually mix through a board, but I always take what I mix, run it to tape, and through the B2 before I send it to mastering, and that’s been a major coloring factor to it. It just adds a little extra something. Because, when we do that, when I’m still not happy with the mix, I’m like “ I gotta take this back to my studio and put it through the B2. When I first got the B2, and heard a mix through it, I was overwhelmed. It just made such a difference, as opposed to “Oh, yup, that’s my mix, that’s really great!” (laughter)Wow, the B2 just bumped it up a bit. And the fact that you can drive it a little, you can goose it up and get more muscle out of it… just by going through it.
Where do you typically keep it attenuated?
It’s at -18 all the time. If I need more gain, then I’ll turn it up. It depends on what I’m recording, but -18 usually comes out the right level. Usually, if I turn it up, it seems to be more than I need. If I’ve already got a good healthy level, then right there, I’ll be going over. But sometimes I’m like “gosh, this little acoustic guitar finger picking thing” then, I’ll turn it up (laughter) I tried to drive it from what I’m putting into it. I just learned playing with the box. Anyways, it’s great. Thanks for listening.