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Live Sound

Live Sound Showcase: At the Drive-In

At the Drive-In has always followed its own path.

At the Drive-In has always followed its own path. Formed in 1993, the post-hardcore band’s reputation as a must-see grew until the act literally split up in 2001, breaking into two bands—The Mars Volta and Sparta. Now, after a brief reunion in 2012 and a proper reunion tour last year, At the Drive-In is back for good, touring behind its first album in 17 years, In•ter a•li•a, which comes out this month. As a warm-up of sorts before a summer of festival shows, the group hit the road in March for a short run, carrying gear from Clair Global. Scott Edwards, former FOH engineer for Sparta, took the reigns on the house desk, while Jason Brandt pinch-hit on short notice as monitor engineer.

“It’s kind of a weird story,” said Edwards. “We had visa issues with the tour manager, drum tech and original monitor guy—they’re all from all from the U.K. and their visas got denied just before the run started, so I had to hire Jason with four days [notice]. I’d worked with him before doing stuff around L.A. and some small tours with Disney artists. For on this last run, the visa issue meant we had two different drum techs, the production coordinator moved up to tour manager… we got through it.”

Taking over monitorworld on short notice meant that Brandt wound up working with gear spec’d by his predecessor, including an Allen & Heath dLive S5000 digital console—common in Europe but less so in the U.S. “Ben Hammond, the U.K. monitor guy that was stuck without a visa, ordered the desk, so it was already on its way to Austin for rehearsals when I had to hire Jason,” Edwards recalled. “Jason had never seen one. We called the Allen & Heath guys—they were in town for South by Southwest—and they were very helpful answering questions and coming over. I haven’t touched one yet, but I probably will; it looks like they’re laid out pretty well.” While the band was on Shure PSM 1000 in-ears, a handful of Clair wedges graced the stage and drummer Tony Hajjar additionally used a Buttkicker.

For Edwards at the Front of House position, mixing was accomplished on a DiGiCo SD9. “I’ve got about 22 inputs coming from the stage, so the SD9 is almost perfect for that,” he reflected. While he made some use of a Waves SoundGrid Extreme Server for plugins, also on-hand was an outboard rack of gear that included MindPrint DTC (Dual Tube Channel) pre-amps; a TC Electronic M-One and D-Two; and an Eventide H3000 Harmonizer.

Edwards explained, “It helps because there was a bunch of effects on the last records they did, like in “Metronome Arthritis,” where effects take over the verses, so I do a pre-fade effect on the vocal. I had to spend some time with the Harmonizer and try to recreate the effect that they used on the record. It was a challenge, but I think I got pretty close with it. Other than that, it’s just some ’verb, maybe a little slap here and there in the background vocals. Also on ‘Metronome Arthritis,’ I put a flange on the drums—the overheads and the high-hat—to get a sweepy effect going, and it’s fun. They’re a rock band so I try not to be too heavy with effects; I keep it tame and don’t go overboard with everything.”

If the effects were tame, the action onstage was not, as singer Cedric Bixler is one of those frontmen for whom a wired microphone is as much a prop as it is a tool. “He spins them around, kicks them back into his hand,” laughed Edwards. “The pops are pretty much part of the show. We have custom [Metal Dozer] mic stands for him, too, because he tends to break regular ones. He’ll throw those around and jump in the crowd. It’s kind of fun watching him.”

Standing up to the abuse were a slew of Telefunken M80 mics, used to capture all vocals on stage, as Edwards related: “For Cedric, we’ve got about eight of them, because he tends to go through them—mainly windscreens. At any moment, we have four mics ready to go on stage. There’s a main channel and the spare channel, but on that main channel, we have a three-way switch—a Rat Sound SoundTools 3-way mic switcher. If Cedric has to go to a backup mic, the monitor guy flips the switch to B, Cedric grabs that mic and it’s on the same channel. I hardly even notice when he goes to it, and it’s a good mic.”

Over at the drum kit, the kick was captured by a combination of Shure Beta 91 and Beta 52 mics, placed internally using Kelly Shu mounts (“I try to keep as few stands as possible on the deck, because they get kicked over,” explained Edwards). Meanwhile, there were Shure SM57s on the snare, a Sennheiser e 904 on the rack toms and MD 421s on the floor toms, and SM81s used as underheads below stacks of effect cymbals. Elsewhere, bass and guitar were captured with Palmer DIs, with the guitars additionally miked with 57s.

The March run didn’t find the band carrying a PA with it, so local systems were used at each stop. “We did small underplays at the beginning, so it was an ‘it is what it is’ kind of situation,” said Edwards, “but places like Terminal 5 in New York City have a big L-Acoustic K2 rig, which is awesome. We played this club in Toronto called Rebel that actually used to be Sound Academy; they had a big d&b rig in there and that was great. I got lucky at every place we played; we didn’t run into anything that made you say ‘Uh-oh, break out the Smaart and try to realign everything.’”

Well-maintained systems ensured Edwards could make the most of his thoughtful mix, allowing him to maintain a live feel within his mix while keeping a sense of space between all the musical elements in play: “I shoot for full, powerful vocals on top, some effects thrown in, powerful drums and that separation between everything. The guitar player solos over everything, moving around, and I get the rhythm guitar down in there. It can be challenging but it’s fun—definitely a good time.”

Clair Global

Telefunken Elektroakustik

Allen & Heath (U.S. distributor)