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My studio – a tour

I’m always really curious about how people organize their work environments, because (to me) it can reflect so closely what they’re working towards artistically (and if The medium is the message, then the context from which that message sprung is doubly important). I took a picture of my studio and labeled it below with more information about how everything fits together. My setup is fairly modular, and is always changing (right now it’s focused more on editing and demos, occasionally it veers more towards recording). Favorite workspaces? Hit me up in the comments and let me know.

Echo-Bloom-HQ-NoLabels Echo-Bloom-HQ-WithLabels
  1. Glockenspiel
  2. Flight case for keyboard (never get an instrument without a decent case)
  3. Pick Puncher – like a hole punch, but in the shape of a guitar pick. A perfect way to make those unused loyalty cards useful.
  4. Fender Super Champ XD – most of my guitar recording is DI, and I take it to a studio later to reamp at a higher volume. I use an amp to both monitor and excite the guitar (reamping a guitar that wasn’t originally played with an amp in the room sounds pretty strange)
  5. Ibanez Artcore (6-string electric hollowbody). I traded an old microphone for this and a really weird amplifier (that I call the fart machine, which I’ll talk about later). The hollow body makes it really useful for getting feedback tones, which is mostly what I use it for.
  6. Seagull Excursion (12-string acoustic with stock onboard pickup). This pickup also has a tone control on the top with a tuner on it, which is super useful for a 12-string (oh, the tuning). Seagull is the budget model of Godin guitars, based out of Canada. I’ve used their guitars for a while (and endorse for them). When I needed an acoustic 12-string for a recording I called them up and they sent this over, and it’s gotten a ton of use both recording and live.
  7. Martin 000-15S (6-string acoustic). This is my primary acoustic guitar for recording, so I don’t keep a pickup in it. It came to me from Action Music in Falls Church, where I had an Excalibur-like moment when I started playing it.
  8. Squier Bass Guitar. This is a fabulously crappy bass I got about ten years ago (and have yet to change the strings on). The action is really high, which is great for getting those P-bass sounds, but the intonation is so bad that I only use it for demos.
  9. Mike Ramsey “Woody” Banjo (5-string, open-back banjo). Mike Ramsey makes ridiculously beautiful instruments out of his Chantrelle workshop in Pittsboro, NC. Its got a really nice, earthy tone when played without fingerpicks, and has been used on a bunch of recordings. Unfortunately it’s a little fragile, so I don’t take it out on the road.
  10. Seagull S6 Folk (6-string acoustic). This is my beater acoustic (as should be evident by the lacquer on the neck that’s been mostly worn off). I’ve got an LR Baggs Anthem pickup in there, which is decent, but still pretty synthetic. It’s a concertina-size, which is a bit smaller than the average dreadnought, but eliminates a lot of that boomy low-mid range you see in slightly larger acoustics.
  11. Fender ’72 Telecaster Thinline Replica (6-string electric). This is my primary recording and live electric guitar. My favorite thing about it is it’s versatility – it’s got dual humbuckers, so it can be really meaty or really twangy.
  12. Danelectro 12-String Semi-Hollow Electric. This is the most recent addition to the guitar arsenal, and is all chimey and wonderful. The pickup configuration is just right for that jangly Byrds’y thing, and so far I love it.
  13. SE Reflexion Filter, Mic stands, cables. The Reflexion Filter was the first of the portable acoustic treatment products, and I’ve found it really useful for recording small things at home or other weird places where you don’t have a ton of control over the room. Not perfect, but really useful for the right situation.
  14. Akai MPK-61 MIDI controller, wired up to control Pro Tools.
  15. Atruria Microbrute, wired into patch bay (that’s out of view behind the laptop). I use this for sketching out stuff, playing leads, and as an external effects unit that I bus random stuff to (and the internal patching system in it is really nice).
  16. Presonus Studiolive 14.0.2 – this is our brain when we’re on the road. All of our DI’s, microphones, MIDI, monitoring, etc. are routed through here, and we run a 16 track dump of each show. I want to integrate it into the studio setup, but haven’t yet had the time.
  17. Studiophile BX8 powered monitors – nothing flashy, but they do the job nicely.
  18. Glyph drives – my primary recording drive is a obile 3TB Glyph drive. I keep an exact replica that I carbon copy weekly for backup.
  19. The main brain of the studio – pretty vanilla Macbook Pro (running OSX 10.9, PT10, Max/MSP, etc.)
  20. Lexicon PCM-60 (rackmount reverb unit) – for those ridiculous mid-90′s reverb sounds
  21. RME Fireface 800 – solid soundcard with lots of I/O options, wonderful pres, and flexible routing.
  22. Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro – I’ve had these now for coming on 5 years, and wear them for several hours each day. They sound great and are phenomenally comfortable.
  23. Native Instruments Maschine. I run Native Instruments Komplete 8, which is incredibly useful for scoping out demos (their keyboard, string, and bass sounds are excellent) and doing more refined sound design. I’ve yet to get into Reaktor very much (most of my patching I just do in Max/MSP) but it’s on the list.
  24. Kaotica Eyeball – this was a giveaway for CMJ artists last year, and I honestly haven’t used it yet (though it looks awesome).
  25. Various percussion toys – a few tambourines, maracas, guiro, etc.
  26. Mason Jar guitar amp – a friend of mine gave me this, and it creates some really interesting sounds. It basically uses the glass section of the mason jar as a resonator for the amp, but I’ve found if you unscrew it and mess around with the position of the top, you can create some really interesting wah-like sounds.
  27. Tascam Portastudio 414 MK2 – I’m using this for some experiments right now. I was inspired from a video of the Nine Inch Nails keyboard played playing the tape machine like a mixer – could be an interesting way to get some guitar tones.
  28. Pioneer SR-202 – An old reverb unit I got off eBay for $40. It used to be part of component stereo systems, but it’s a great standalone reverb unit for weird shoegaze-y sounds.
  29. Ammo box of instrument strings. I’ve got a bunch of different instruments, and instead of running off to the guitar store every time I need to change out a string, I keep a reasonable backlog of stuff on-hand. Ammo boxes are great for this (and can be picked up at an army-navy store for ~$10). They’re waterproof, nicely constructed, and a good form factor.
  30. Fart Machine. This is a guitar amplifier I got off Craigslist recently that really is a reel-to-reel tape machine with a speaker in the side of it. It sounds absolutely awful, but in a really wonderful way (if all you want is good feedback tones, which is pretty much all I use it for).
Not pictured
  • Fender banjo. A beater, but useful for live stuff
  • 1930′s Playtime student model mandolin – used on a few recordings on Blue and Blue Shift
  • Autoharp
  • Charango – this really beautiful South American instrument popularized in the West by Paul Simon in the S&G song “El Condor Pasa”
  • Vox AC-30 guitar amplifier (which lives at the main studio, because it’s too big/loud for the house)
  • Various Guitar Pedals
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throat

I almost lost my voice a month ago.

I’m at the mercy of my voice. Which I know sounds extreme. But what I mean is that my voice is, to me, like a paintbrush or a hammer. It’s a tool I’m dependent on, but one that I can’t see. If that tool isn’t in good shape, everything musically grinds to a halt. Which is very different than the mechanical problems a guitar player or a cellist has – if they have an issue with their instrument it can be seen – and if it can’t be repaired, it can at least be replaced. But you can’t see your vocal chords (unless I guess you have a lot of mirrors?). And if you screw it up, you definitely can’t replace it.

Which was brought into vivid focus for me recently.

After a rehearsal a month ago I felt a sharp pain in my voice. I sing *loud*, so the occasional hoarseness after a spate of shows isn’t uncommon for me. When we did our recent European tour, we played 27 shows in 28 days, and we were all pretty fried vocally after. But this felt different, and it didn’t go away. I tried vocal rest, hot tea, cold tea, lukewarm tea, not singing, only singing softly in the shower – the pain persisted. I was worried that I had done something that had caused irreperable harm to my vocal chords. Which, as I’m sure you can imagine, was pretty terrifying.

With each passing day I grew more nervous. Music is my life, and I’ve ordered my career around singing. Absent that centralized core, the options looked bleak. Perhaps I would become a jazz pianist, or focus more on electronic music, or work more on production. Perhaps miming? Marcel Marceau undoubtedly isn’t remembered for his singing voice, and Bowie was a mime, so it couldn’t be all bad.

After a couple weeks, I figured that something needed to be done, so I looked around for a recommendation for an ear, nose, and throat doctor who specialized in singers. Which was how I found myself in the waiting room of Dr. Kessler, surrounded by the effusive praises sharpied onto the record covers lining the waiting room – everyone from Mariah Carey to Engelbert Humperdink. Some choice quotes:
  • “Thanks for keeping me on the field” – Justin Timberlake
  • “You’re the best Dr. K” – Madonna
  • “Justin Bieber” – Justin Bieber
This was my first medical experience outside of the typical turn-your-head-and-cough-type situation (fortunately), and as we went through the history of the situation I found myself examining the doctor. Dr. K is impeccably groomed, far more tan than a New York December would naturally allow, and a warm and genuinely friendly man. He spoke efficiently and economically, but not quickly. The initial array of throat swabs and visual examinations provided an unclear picture, and he cleared his throat and said “Well, I just hope we can fix this.”. I felt my throat tighten.

Dr. K’s main weapon of choice is a metal endoscopic wand about a foot long. The device has an incredibly small video camera on the end of it that is used to examine the vocal chords directly. He tilted my head to a specific angle, I opened my mouth, and he inserted the scope into the back of my throat. “Now try to sing and hold a note” he said. At which point I did the best that one can do while a foot-long screwdriver is in their throat.

He then sat back, looked at the video screen, and smiled.

And I felt the cumulative weight of the stress I’d been carrying over the past three weeks melt away.

There wasn’t any damage. I had, Dr. Kessler informed be, an acute, stress-induced case of acid reflux that was bathing the back of my throat in acid. This caused a bunch of irritation, and the consistent pain I had felt. I could treat it mostly over the counter.

I gave him my profuse thanks, signed some forms, and in about 15 minutes found myself walking down Broadway towards Columbus Circle, dodging students entering Julliard on the start of their own journeys. I wandered around town for a little bit, looking at the buildings, trying to soak it all in.

That morning I thought I might never sing again. Now I felt like I’d been given something back – like I’d been remade whole. But as I think about it now, I know that I would have been fine regardless of the outcome of that visit. I would have made new tools to work with. The house of song that I am building would have been constructed out of different materials but would have become equally beautiful.

I would have made a great damn mime.
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Operator

The first single off our upcoming record Red.

It’s been
seven months since
I heard my baby
on the phone

Cradling
the receiver
listening to the
dialtone

Operator get me Caroline
I gotta talk with my baby tonight
I promised her that it would be all right
Operator get me Caroline

Every
bone in my body
wants to only
be with you

But I
get no answer
just the answer
ing machine

Operator get me Caroline
I gotta talk with my baby tonight
I promised her that it would be all right
Operator get me Caroline

Oh my
darling Carrie
you’re so very
far from me

Oh my
darling Carrie
only sixteen
months old

Operator get me Caroline
I gotta talk with my baby tonight
I promised everything would be all right
Operator get me Caroline



Kyle Evans – Tenor Vocals, Optigan, Wurlitzer, Electric Guitar, Tape Loops
Aviva Jaye – Alto Vocals
Steve Sasso – Tenor Vocals, Banjo, Tambourine
Josh Grove – Electric Guitar
Jason Mattis – Bass
Shareef Taher – Drums
Jeffrey Young – Violin
Emily Price – Cello

Recorded and mixed by Chris D. Butler at Butler Recording, Bushwick, Brooklyn, NY
Additional Engineering: Garrett Frierson
Mastering: Carl Saff
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16 Sep – Lox – Bremen, DE

This was a super fun show because Drew was back in tow, and it ended up being the start of a truly ridiculous evening.

  • The place had a large projection of jellyfish on the walls behind us, which was maintained for the entire show. It was completely mesmerizing, and made all of our ocean songs have a little more kick.
  • Remember the Liam Neeson dude from the previous evening? He was back!!! And we learned his secret identity! He’s not going to kill us at all – he’s a driver with the promotion group attached with Songs and Whispers and is just a quiet dude. But his response (or lack thereof) the night before clearly didn’t translate into a critical dismissal, as he was present. And we’re not going to die! Sweet.
  • The sanitized version of what happened later in the evening:
    • Jason pole danced. He is quite graceful.
    • At the best bar in Bremen the band sang “Age of Aquarius” at such a drunken volume that a group of Germans came up afterwards and asked politely if we were part of a traveling theatre group.
    • We chased a train down at 5 in the morning to get home.
The rest of it, well, if you were there you know (and have hopefully destroyed all photographic evidence). Echo Bloom live at Lox
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Windy's Jam

15 Sep – Lilie – Bremen, DE

  • So remember that dude from the last show in Verden named Windy? Imagine an everyman around town, ready with a bike and a raspberry compote for anything that life might throw at him. He showed up at the gig in Bremen to say hi and brought homemade jam for us! In addition to being one of the sweetest gestures, it was DAMN TASTY.
  • Between sets we engaged in an impromptu #chainie and took turns sitting in the back of a trailer parked outside the venue. Our intern minders for the evening thought we were – unique.
  • A dude came to the show who just sat at the bar the entire time and stared us down. No smiles, no real applause, he just looked like he was going to go all Liam Neeson in Taken and be like “I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.” So I as talking to Steve and Steve had no idea who the dude was, and he just left after the show, so who knows – maybe our days in Germany are numbered.
Live at Lilie - Bremen, DE
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15 Sep – Bürgur und Sozialcentrum Huchting – Bremen, DE

We were 50/50 on the Bürgur und Sozialcentrum Huchting being either a bus stop or a hamburger restaurant, but it turned out to be a beautiful YMCA-like venue that was having a community festival the afternoon we were in town. We played the end of it, and had a nice crowd in a huge beautiful room. Things about this show:

  • The ceiling of the venue was decorated in constellations, and at one point during the show somebody accidentally turned on the lights and we found out that each light was positioned as a star. We all immediately began pointing out constellations until they turned off the lights and we continued with the show.
  • Drew’s merch setup is so much better than ours. At least than ours WAS. But her Mom made it for her. That’s right DREW DAVIS’S MOM MADE HER MERCH CASE. But she still totally showed us up (as evidenced by the pictures).
  • The room was huge and had a big light setup, but there wasn’t anyone there to run it. So we took it on ourselves. Jason left about two songs into Drew’s set and started randomly plugging things in up in the balcony. Within about five minutes he had six or seven lights of all different colors pointed at the stage – it was pretty awesome.
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IMG_3235

13 Sep – Liekedeeler, Verden, DE

Liekedeeler is a restaurant in Verden, which is a wonderful independent town of its own (when we suggested at one point that it was a suburb of Bremen, people got all huffy). The restaurant server some *really* good food, and we got to play with some blocks beforehand. Show highlights:

  • We found a hedgehog near the venue, and our bassist Jason (a friend to all animals) immediately tried to go make friends. Personally, I think hedgehogs are super cute (they can roll up into a little ball! Look at their little faces!) but when we told the S&W staff about it, they were horrified. To Germans, that would be like the New York equivalent of petting a pestilence-laden pigeon.
  • We got to meet a real friend on the tour, Windy, who recorded the show for us (and was just an all-around great guy – immediately after we met him we all had that Association song in our heads for the rest of the trip). He played the recording of our performance on his radio show, and then we proceeded to see him all around town. He is a man of action – a man of hair – a man of jam.
Note – in case you’ve never been exposed to that earworm:

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12 Sep – Heimathursch, Köln, DE

Ah, Heimathursch! The name means something like “local heroes” in German, and it was hands down my favorite gig of the tour. We had a rapt audience, played really well, had a wonderful time with the staff (who rock) and had a completely ridiculous evening afterwards. High points:

  • The venue is covered with weird 20′s-era German kitsch stuff – lots of antlers. Jason played with a set of antlers basically up his armpit for the entire show, and ROCKED it.
  • The cathedral in Köln looks like a spaceship. It’s one of the most awe-inspiring things I’ve ever seen – and it has a window done by Gerhard Richter! We are indeed clever monkeys.
  • After the show we:
    • Drove all of our stuff back to the hotel we were staying at for the evening and walked everything back up four flights of stairs (this came to be an organizing part of every evening).
    • Partied with a local roller derby team (who were quite impressed we were from Brooklyn and immediately started asking us roller derby trivia)
    • Drank a truly regrettable amount of Jagermeister at a 90′s themed dance party/rave. We danced our tails off – there is video proof somewhere.
  • In line at said dance party we met a dude who introduced us to a concept of his own creation called “chainie”. The idea is this – you take a picture of somebody, then you get in the picture with the first person, and a third person takes the picture of you two. Then that person hands the camera off to another person and gets in the picture. And so on. The goal is to then look at the chain of pictures that result and marvel at how you can get strangers to do truly ridiculous things if you hand them a camera. We ended up getting one that evening with all of the bouncers of this club, who I’m sure thought it was completely stupid. But it was awesome.
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11 Sep – Grammatikoff, Duisburg DE

This was the first night in a three evening road trip, which we didn’t realize would turn into a completely fucking crazy adventure. And it was our first show with Jason, who was newly passported, and able to get into the country. So we were at full power, and pumped.

Duisburg is kind of like the Pittsburgh of Germany – an industrial suburb outside of Köln. The venue we were at was pretty stunning – we were in the back room of this restaurant, with really atmospheric lighting and a big beautiful stage. Things about this show:

  • We blew out the power for the entire room about an hour before the show because the voltage converter we brought was a complete piece of crap. Aviva had no way of playing the keyboard without a converter that would give it American-style power, so the electrician that was working for the venue went downstairs and, I shit you not, made a plug for the keyboard that would work. Also – an electrician for the venue? Crazy. It was awesome.
  • We got a request that evening for one of our own songs, which gave me a smile so big on my face they’ll have to jackhammer it off my corpse when I die. Really lovely people at the venue.
  • We stayed at a friend of Songs and Whispers named Ketan, who let us all sleep on his floor. Jetlag was really hitting Jason then (and to a lesser extent everyone else) so we were totally wiped out. Steve though had mastered the art of sleeping in a foreign situation, and came prepared (as documented herein).
Live
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Echo Bloom at Zollhaus

10 Sep – Zollhaus, Bremen DE

Zollhaus is a beautiful hostel somewhat near the downtown area in Bremen. Things that happened around this show:

  • We got our first instance of dead tree journalism around this – a writeup in the local paper. It was in German, and we assume it said something like “completely brilliant Brooklyn band poised to rock your asses off”.
  • Everyone in the band was completely distracted when a blindingly beautiful woman walked in about halfway through our first set, and everybody played significantly better after that. So my takehome is this – if you’re better at public speaking when you imagine your entire audience naked, you’re similarly better if you’re playing to a room full of models (even if it’s in your head).
  • We drove the intern Maraike Frederike (who was our minder for the evening, and rocks, and drives a badass motorcycle, and whose name is definitely not Maraike) crazy because we were completely starving and thus REQUIRED food before the show. She must have looked at her watch about thirty times while we were snarfing food down at the mall. Also – German mall food – pretty good!
  • We got our first encore of the tour. That made us feel like seven million dollars, or an equivalent amount of euro.