My favourite band
Anyone that knows me knows I’m a massive fan of Bon Iver and the work of Justin Vernon. Since discovering them through Birdy’s cover of ‘Skinny Love’ back in 2011, I’ve adored all their releases and consider them to be one of the most influential artists of our generation. As much as I love the songwriting and composition, the thing that always stands out to me from them is the production. I’ve picked 2 of their albums to talk about and how they’ve influenced my music.
For Emma, Forever Ago
As legend has it, Bon Ivers debut album was recorded in a remote cabin in Wisconsin by Vernon himself with only a Shure SM57 and ProTools. He recorded drums, guitars, vocals and percussion with the one microphone creating a unique and heartfelt sounding record. With multi-layered vocals, dark acoustic guitars and muddy drums, it opened my eyes to a new style and feel of music. The production and sonic aesthetic creates a vivid picture in your mind and that was something I have always tried to re-create.
I find inspiration in this when recording as I only have one microphone and a very minimal set up but FEFA proves how important the strength of a song is, and that more often than not, less is more. From this album I began double tracking guitars and vocals, trying to mimic the choir sound that Vernon nails.
22, A Million
This album was a radical departure from the bands distinct style. With a heavier use of electronics, synths and processed samples it was a turn away from standard recording and mixing practice. For me, this album changed the way I listened to music and what I want to write and release. At the core of the making of 22, was Vernon, Chris Messina and engineer BJ Burton however the album involved many people with it being a hugely collaborative experience.
They used some crazy techniques for making the album like recording parts on a cassette tape, crumpling up the tape and messing it around then playing it back. This created so many weird artefacts, distortion and complete dropouts of audio. Speaking to Sound on Sound Messina said, “There also are a couple of places where Pro Tools dropped out when it wasn’t happy about something, and for whatever reason it recorded that unhappiness, and we just left it. It’s the vibe of the record, it’s where we were at. ‘Just leave that!’ Yes, we’ve heard from many listeners that they think there’s something wrong with their playback equipment, and we’re OK with that.” Hearing this was an eye-opener for me and things that I used to think of as imperfections now make a song it’s own. They utilised old samples and hardware to make something new which is why it sounds so refreshing, “We were using old stuff to make these new, weird sounds, which was our way of bridging that gap.”.
One of the most exciting features on the record is a mad vocoded, auto-tuned vocal effect which sounded otherworldly. Looking into what created the sound I read about an instrument called ‘The Messina’. Speaking on the instrument, Chris said, “Inspired by what Francis did, Justin and I got together and we tried every single vocoder that was listed, but they all sounded like a vocoder, which was not exactly what we wanted. Instead we wanted to be able to keep the character of whatever input signal we used, whether a voice or a saxophone. So instead we developed this thing which basically is a glorified vocoder. The input signal goes into Ableton Live where it is treated by two Auto-Tune plug-ins. The first just tunes the vocal, in the way Justin has always done it, and the second plug-in creates just a single note, the tonic of the key of the phrase that is sung or played, and that then is sent to an Eventide H8000, which is set to a MIDI harmony program.” I loved this sound so much I tried to re-create it in a song I released a couple of years ago however knew I was fairly far off in terms of replicating it. It was worth a try.
Reading into Sound on Sound’s article on the record is a deep dive into the world of 22, A Million because to me the album does sound like it’s own musical world. I rarely tend to look into producers, behind the scenes stuff but for this album I’m so glad there was a full in depth article on it.