Los Angeles-based AM and Joey Waronker’s neighborly friendship has turned out a wonderfully analog album, Precious Life, recorded at Waronker’s curated studio occupying an entire floor of his home. Here, Waronker performs drums while engineering and producing, and AM plays all other instruments as well as sings. The goal was to keep Precious Life as organic as possible. The inclusion of a finger-picked six-string banjo on the instrumental “Aqua Velva” and ’70s-steeped “Your Misfortune” adds an acoustic element without overpowering the songs on which it appears.
“I’m into using banjo and ukulele not in the context you would normally hear them,” says AM. “I like to do jazz-tinged chords or melodic lines. On ‘Aqua Velva,’ I doubled the banjo with a Nashville tuned acoustic guitar where the B-string is tuned normally and the rest are tuned an octave above. That gives you this really chime-y, shimmery sound. The banjo is the lead instrument, which sounds exotic in that song rather than country. Those two together had a really nice sound.”
“We were going for something a little darker, so I used a beyerdynamic M 160 ribbon microphone,” says Waronker. “You can EQ ribbon microphones quite aggressively. If the lead guitar is going to be brighter, I can do that dramatically without having it sound harsh. That goes through AMS Neve 1081 then UA 1176. We have the same chain on everything. I was putting a lot of the spring reverb on the banjo, which mellows it out and makes it fit without sounding overly affected or super-processed.”
On “Your Misfortune,” the banjo is tucked in as an accent piece with its percussive side poking out. Says AM: “An acoustic guitar starts that one off. The banjo works well with other acoustic instruments. It’s a melodic, sad line with a very minor chord progression that you wouldn’t associate with a banjo.”
Waronker adds, “We got the effects of the sound while we recorded. Mixing was about balancing and getting extra sheen rather than any kind of automation or rides. I have an Auditronics console that is heavily modified. It’s gritty but pretty open and touchy sounding. The final mix is a combination of that and in the box with UAD plug-ins like Pultecs, Neve EQs, with Fairchild and 1176 for compression and nothing on the master bus.”