Although songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/producer Marco Benevento has just released his sixth album, The Story of Fred Short, it’s his first to be recorded in his own studio, aptly called Fred Short Studio, in Woodstock, N.Y. “I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to do it here,” Benevento says. “Vibe is really important; I’ve got that here.”
“Dropkick” is the first single off The Story of Fred Short, a pop-y, synth-driven track reminiscent of LCD Soundsystem. “All of our songs are pretty simple,” Benevento says, “compared to our previous record, Swift, which was more psychedelic and reverbed out. ‘Dropkick’ especially is really minimalistic and simple. I just used one drum machine track, one analog track, one bass track for that song. I kept it pretty simple.”
Benevento began constructing the song on a Casiotone RC-1—his secret weapon, he says, on this record and on Swift. “It’s a rare drum machine attached to the Casiotone 8000. I use it basically on every song; I love it.
“Obviously touring with that Casio keyboard, it would’ve been busted many years ago,” Benevento continues. “So basically I’ll sample my drum machine and trigger it with a loop pedal with my foot and have it loop throughout the entire song. There are essentially two drum tracks going on, as well. There’s the Casio drums recorded through the Ampex 620 amps, and then there’s the real drummer. So you get a cross between a DJ sound, or a band that uses a lot of samples and a real-deal drummer.”
With regard to the Ampex amps: “They made them in 1954, and they are these sort of ugly, brownish suitcase amps,” Benevento says. “I run the synths into those and then mike them; I really like the tube fatness you can get out of an amp.”
A big part of Benevento’s drum sound came from his friend Kenny Siegal, who owns Old Soul Studios in Catskill, N.Y. He helped to oversee things, and was Benevento’s “training wheels.” The first day Siegal came over, he brough an Altec 1567a tube mixer. “We ran three drum tracks through it so it came out one channel…it was the best drum sound I’ve ever gotten in my studio,” Benevento says. “I immediately went online and got one for myself. All of the drums went into the Altec. With the demo tracks for all these songs, there was something off. It sounded thin. When Kenny brought that summing mixer over, it was a real eye-opening moment.”
Benevento used a Coles 4038 as the overhead on the drums, an SM7 on the snare, and an EV RE20 on the bass drum. Those went into the summing mixer, and then into the Digi 002 (heavily modded by the guys at Black Lion Audio) and then through some Tascam 388 EQs. He played the bass and drum parts in the studio by himself to lay down ideas, then invited friends Dave Dreiwitz (bassist for Ween) and Andy Borger (drummer, Tom Waits and Norah Jones) to the studio to re-record his parts. Dreiwitz and Borger play live with Benevento all the time, so they slip back into a groove rather easily.
“I probably re-recorded this song three or four times. I really wanted to get that drum sound right—a very direct and very clean sound, really saturated. Almost like something you can bite into. I messed with it a lot because I really wanted that dry, pop-y sound.”
Benevento likes to consolidate his tracks during recording, bouncing upwards of 24 tracks down to four or five stems, then to a tape machine. “I normally use a low amount of tracks for the drums anyway, maybe one, two or three tracks, and I’ll bounce them down to one track on the tape machine as well, bounce down all the vocals to one track. I’ll put all of the consolidated files into the tape machine, and then I’ll show up to the mixing studio with only four to eight tracks at most for the record. Everything is pretty much mixed at my house.”
Though he did rough mixes while tracking, he took his final tracks to Applehead Recording, where he worked with Applehead engineer/co-owner Chris Bittner.