sound of yore

During this beyond bizarre time, I, like presumably many of us, have been afforded the time to do a little reflecting. For better and for worse, but time nonetheless. Today, I thought I’d reflect on a project that came out earlier this year. I play in a 10-piece soul band called York Street Hustle. Last fall, we were approached by Max at Brewerytown Beats to do a recording project. Max is on a mission to shine a light on the Philly Soul Sound, paying special attention to songs and artists that may have slipped through the cracks. The thought was to use York Street Hustle as vehicle for re-recording some of these tunes from a bygone era. Max was also interested in original material from the band.

I offered up my engineering services in addition to playing the bass. I was practically salivating at thought of working on this project. As a young bass player, watching Standing in the Shadows of Motown forever changed my outlook on music, both as a player and as a producer. I quickly became obsessed with that sound, which was further nourished through subsequent discoveries of Sharon Jones and the whole Daptone roster, really. This was such formative material for me that the idea of being able to help shape the sound world in this vintage style presented an incredible opportunity.

Admittedly, the band lacks a real catalogue of original material. So, members of the band offered up old demos and quickly wrote tunes to add for consideration. The easiest choice was a song by Ryan, one of the singers in the band. “Cruelty” had the perfect mix of vintage modern, and a nice hook. To my surprise, a tune that I wrote was agreed upon to record. This was an old demo of mine, written about 3 years ago. It began life as a psychedelic rock jam, and I morphed it into a groove centric soul/surf/funk tune that I called, “All Beak.” The band also learned, “There’s Nothing Better Than Love,” a tune from the late 60’s that was part of the initial inspiration for this project.

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All photos by Paul Best

We worked with producer Aaron Levinson at his studio in Ardmore, Range Recording. I had never worked in that room before, which is always a thrill for me. Part of what I love about being an engineer without a “home” studio is that I enjoy adapting to each space. I think that it forces me to stay present with what a studio offers and how to pair that with what the project needs, instead of perhaps reaching for the same setup that I might do if I always worked in the same space. Aaron, Max, and I all agreed that we wanted to embrace vintage production techniques. We put almost the whole band in one room together, and recorded all of the music in one day. I employed as many old school production techniques that I could cram in (minimal setup, green light on mic bleed, tube driving, roominess, and lots of compression), but I did not want to be precious or disingenuous. I truly wanted to nod to the vintage sound, but not replicate it, nor ignore the developments in recording technology over the last 50 years.

We turned around the whole EP in a month, from tracking to mastering (with product in hand!). Working quickly also forced us to commit to certain production and mix choices, rather than trying things from different angles, as modern recording technology affords us to do. Without the extra time, decisions were made, which I think was also a nod to an older style of making records.

This EP was a blast to make. It pushed me creatively in so many ways, and to that I’m grateful. We have received a few nice write-ups so far. Here’s hoping it’s the first of many more to come.

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