Mat Edgcomb is no stranger to the flexibility and resourcefulness that is required of a touring engineer. Before going to recording school to get a music degree with an emphasis in recording technology at Lebanon Valley College in 1997, Edgcomb worked at Philadelphia’s Tongue and Groove studios, and with Chris Anderson, a college friend and owner of Anderson Audio (Hummelstown, PA). While working with Anderson, Edgcomb toured with the Anderson-supported Native American dance and music performance, Spirit—The Seventh Fire as an A2 and backline tech and worked with The Whitaker Center for Science and Arts as its production manager.
The latest adventure in his career finds him currently on the road with Australian alt pop/songwriter Ben Lee (who just wrapped a tour with Aimee Mann) rolling through the U.S. and Canada to join Ben Folds and Rufus Wainwright as an opener for their Odd Men Out tour (playing through the end of August).
Edgcomb and Lee recently talked to Mix about the artistic and technical challenges from the current tour for Lee’s release, Awake Is the New Asleep.
How’s the tour been going so far?
Edgcomb: It’s been going well. For Ben, it’s a different audience, it’s a little bit of an older audience for him, but it’s a new audience and they’ve really been digging it.
So, what kind of sound are you going for on this tour? Are you translating the record as closely as possible?
Edgcomb: What’s really nice about this is that it’s not a really loud show. It’s actually a really quiet show. I think the loudest I’m getting is 110 dB, which is awesome because you can really make the mix big without being powerfully loud.
There are some things that are a little different on the record that translates differently live—some little guitar accents obviously translate differently in a live room, and background vocals—but I try to get as close as I can. I just try to mix a really good-feeling show. We got stripped on inputs on the opening slot of the tour, so I had to cut a couple of backing vocals. So we have three vocal lines.
Lee: I went in knowing that I was going to be playing all of these songs live, so we stayed within a palette of sounds that we were really comfortable with. But when you’re in the studio with toys and suddenly you come up with some sound, and you’re wondering, “Damn, how am I going to come up with that [on stage]?” That’s part of the fun. I’m not one of those people that re-create exactly a record onstage. You know, we have these little toy pianos, and it’s “How are we going to get that—the charisma of the song?” We made a pretty organic record and it’s been a pretty natural transition to bring it to stage.
Who’s out in monitor world?
Edgcomb: Aimee Mann has her own monitor engineer and David Mann is actually carrying the PM5D. We set up FOH with that, so I have my little scene with everything in it, otherwise I’m using their monitor wedges and their extra EQs so we just move a couple of monitors around to fit in the footprint of their stage, and we get racks and stacks and a monitor console at every venue.
The last U.S. tour was a club tour, so I was at the mercy of whatever the club had, which in one sense is really cool because it really gets your chops up. You have to adapt so fast to whatever homemade boxes are in the room, and whatever beat-up console and gear they have. We’d have to tune the room well to get the best-sounding show.
Tell me about how the tour is set up.
Edgcomb: We just got Ben on in-ears for this tour. He’d always talked about it before, but he never really had an [permanent] engineer that was ready to take that step. He can sing in his normal quiet voice and hear much better now. He’s really learning about what sounds right.
The one thing that I was really worried about was he stayed connected with the audience. He has a lot of banter back and forth with the audience, so the audience mics are really important and getting that level set right so he doesn’t feel isolated from the audience. So far things are working out really great in terms of the sound. I’ve noticed [the trend toward] perfect vocal performances every night now, because he’s not fighting over wedges, he’s not fighting over the drum kit.
Lee: It’s just unbelievable in terms of the leap of my singing. Sometimes I do get a little freaked out about it because it does seem unnatural. I start thinking “What happens if there’s a nuclear holocaust—will I be able to perform?” You don’t want to get dependant on a crutch like that. But it’s such an amazing experience, though, that I’m willing to risk the nuclear holocaust and be singing in perfect pitch. (Laughs)
Have you picked up any new artistic techniques on this tour?
Lee: Whenever I tour with someone, I learn something. I think on this tour with Aimee Mann, since there’s a real calm professionalism in the way she performs, and I think that’s reflected in her music, too—a lot of her music is about having been knocked around by the industry and just choosing to stay centered within that—and for me that’s a positive thing, especially since a lot of people bring with them a certain amount of hysteria, a sort of manic tour energy on stage…it doesn’t feel in control. What I’m learning from Aimee and her band is this quiet sense of control. The calm of the middle of the storm.
Now it’s just becoming about choosing to be a really good craftsman and no excuse for a bad show, you know? In rock ’n’ roll, people have too many excuses. If you go see jazz or classical music, they’ll never say the vibe wasn’t there or I just played bad. (Laughs) There’s an assumption of craft, and there’s no reason to think that I can’t have that in what I do, too.
Can you tell me about some of your favorite rooms on the tour so far?
Edgcomb: We did a cool room in Australia, called the Tivoli, which is an amazing room—it was like 1,100 people or something. And I ended up using the Nexo R3s, and it was just big and good. Ben got a warm reception there.