Singer/songwriter Andra Day’s career has been steadily ascendant since her breakout success on the YouTube Music Charts in 2012, followed by her eventual signing with Warner Bros./Buskin Records and the release of her debut album, Cheers to the Fall, in August 2015. Cheers to the Fall paired Day with veteran producer Adrian Gurvitz, who brought in artists such as Raphael Saadiq, Questlove, James Poyser, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Dap-Kings horns for the project. The album received a 2016 Grammy Award nomination as Best R&B Album and launched the hit singles “Forever Mine” (whose video was directed by Spike Lee) and “Rise Up,” the latter of which was Grammy-nominated for Best R&B Performance.
Day, a native of San Diego, began performing on major stages in 2015, including the Sundance Film Festival and the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles. She raised her profile on national television with appearances on the 2015 BET Awards, McDonald’s 12th Annual 365Black Awards on BET, ABC’s Good Morning America, and in an Apple commercial that aired in November and December, in which Day co-starred with Stevie Wonder, performing Wonder’s song “Someday at Christmas.” On the live scene, Day and her band opened for Lenny Kravitz’s Strut Tour Live in August and September.
Heading into the summer, Day and her touring band—keyboardist/vocalist Charles Jones, guitarist Dave Wood, bassist Nando Raio, and drummer Shay Godwin—are back out on the road in the U.S., visiting the Sasquatch Music Festival over Memorial Day weekend at the Gorge Amphitheatre in George, Wash.; the Bonnaroo Music Festival on June 10 in Manchester, Tenn.; Silverstein Eye Centers Arena in Independence, Missouri, on June 17 (a co-headlining date); and Burton Cummings Theatre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on June 23.
Supporting Day and her band on the road are production manager/front-of-house engineer/monitor engineer Caleb Morris, and backline tech/stage manager Scott Burton—both of whom Day met in the fall of 2014 at Biola University in La Mirada, Calif., during Biola’s monthly outdoor concert called “The Eddy.” “She didn’t have an engineer at that time and I was her engineer for that evening, and it kind of just took off from there,” says Morris, a guitarist and a 2014 graduate of Biola with a Bachelor of Science degree in music and worship. “She’s been the first big artist I’ve had the chance to work with, but the act of engineering has been a passion of mine since I was a kid.
“I got my first microphone when I was 10, and a copy of one of those recording programs from Target or Wal-mart, when they used to have all the software on the wall,” Morris recalls. “I got a job in my first studio when I was 15, and then another one when I was 17, and then worked in studios all through college. I helped [Biola’s music department] build their first studio, and then did live stuff for different artists and churches all throughout Southern California. It’s been more of a lifestyle for me than anything else.”
Morris notes that he and Burton, his friend since preschool, both worked on Biola’s event services staff to pay for their education. “I worked about 40 hours a week, just mixing and doing sound for the university while I was going to classes,” he says, adding that he learned about setting up and tuning a P.A. system on Biola’s d&b audiotechnik rig. “I spent more time learning about the instruments and how they were supposed to interact together, before I started figuring out how the technical side applies to them,” Morris says. “Without that basis, you don’t have a foundation to build off of. If somebody’s sitting in the room and they can’t experience the conversation that everybody is having onstage, then I’m not doing my job well.”
Production manager/engineer Caleb Morris is pictured with a DiGiCo SD5. He is currently mixing Andra Day and her band on an SD10.
Morris extends his straightforward approach into his work in sound reinforcement, declaring that he chooses not to use console plug-ins: “I would rather spend more time focusing on the instruments and the microphone placement, and hopefully by the time that reaches my console, I’ve already gotten 95 percent of the way there. The console had better be able to pick up that extra 5 to 10 percent, and if it can’t, I should probably go find another one. Nothing [on the console] is automated; there are no snapshots. If I can’t engage with [the musicians] because I don’t know the music, then not only am I doing them a disservice, but I’m doing the audience a disservice as well.”
For Day’s recent and upcoming dates, Clair Global is supplying a package with all of the essentials, save for P.A., including a DiGiCo SD10. “I love the algorithms in the processing, I love the preamps, the converters are stellar—they’ve got tons of headroom—and it’s a very workable sound,” Morris says. “The SD Series consoles give me the [greatest] amount of options, in bridging that sonic gap between the artist and the audience. I usually travel with a TC Electronic System 6000 that gives me four engines of reverb and plates that cover all of the band’s needs. And I have a Smart C2 with two Amek channel strips that I use as sidechains for vocals and the bass. And that’s about it. I use maybe two or three compressors on the entire mix because I think music is supposed to be dynamic. I don’t add any compression to the master bus. It allows the center to speak really well. If something’s too loud, turn it down.”
Morris’s microphone package includes models from Ear Trumpet Labs (ETL), Shure, AKG, beyerdynamic, Electro-Voice, and Lewitt. He cites the ETL mics as especially well suited for guitar amp, for which he uses ETL’s Edwina large diaphragm condenser; drum overheads, a special custom phase-aligned X/Y pair (“That’s one of the things that I actually do compress,” Morris notes); and Day’s crucially important lead vocals, also an ETL Edwina.
Of Day’s mic, Morris says, “A condenser responds very differently than a dynamic microphone does, and with it being a larger diaphragm it picks up much more low end. The body you are able to get—especially in the case of a female vocalist like Andra—it’s amazing. I’m not fighting to put low-end in. If anything, I’m actually fighting to take it out. There’s a beautiful presence to the microphone that’s not overbearing. I’m very reliant upon Andra’s high-mid presence because she’s such a dynamic singer, and I don’t use plug-ins to try to compensate for this. The ETL captures Andra’s voice so beautifully at quiet volumes and at loud volumes.
“I want to know how Andra’s sound is going to interact in the room,” Morris says of his live mix. “I’ve spent the last year just learning to understand Andra’s sound and the sonic palette that she’s trying to develop, and what she thinks is musical. It’s not about me pushing my agenda, or just doing what I think sounds good; it’s about bridging this gap between her vision and what she wants people to actually hear and see in her music. I think the biggest compliment I could ever be paid is, ‘This is one of the best sounding shows this venue has ever heard,’ because that means I’ve interacted with the pros and the cons of the venue to the best of my ability.”