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Beth Ditto’s ‘Fake Sugar’

When producer Jennifer Decilveo met Beth Ditto, they were instant friends, despite their musical differences. Decilveo had composed for and produced successful female R&B and pop musicians, including Andra Day and Melanie Martinez, which didn’t seem to complement Ditto’s experience as one-time frontperson of garage punk-cum-dance group The Gossip. However, it’s just this combination of talents that gives Ditto’s first solo album, Fake Sugar, its ferocious bite. Ditto and Decilveo did their songwriting, demoing and pre-production in Decilveo’s home studio in L.A. and at Capitol Studios. They then decamped to Barefoot Recording to track and overdub the instruments separately.

The focus of Fake Sugar is on Ditto’s remarkable, versatile voice. According to Decilveo and engineer Cian Riordan, there are two distinct vocal chains. For modern and polished vocals, like on “We Could Run,” it is a Telefunken ELA M251 microphone into an UnderToneAudio mic pre. For vintage/warm vocals on songs such as “Savoir Faire,” they used an RCA 44 into an Altec 1567A mic pre. Compression for both was via a Universal Audio Blackface 1176 and LA-2A; Decilveo EQ’d with the studio’s UnderToneAudio console and captured everything to Pro Tools.

“The approach was to record dark and old sounding, and then bright.en up with analog gear and overdubs,” says Decilveo. “Michael Brauer did some epic analog mixing, like taking stuff that was stereo and making it mono, which made everything sound rich and took the songs to the next level.”