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Dwight Yoakam

Vocals for country star's bluegrass album

On Dwight Yoakam’s latest album, Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars, the country star covers himself, reinterpreting his hits, and adds a cover of “Purple Rain,” in bluegrass arrangements. Yoakam and his co-producers, Gary Paczosa and Jon Randall, put together an all-star band, including guitarist Bryan Sutton, strings player Stuart Duncan, bassist Barry Bales, banjo player Scott Vestal, and mandolin player Adam Steffey. Yoakam plays acoustic guitar.

Band tracking took place with Paczosa at Zac Brown’s Southern Ground Studios in Nashville, and then Yoakam took the tracks to L.A., where Marc DeSisto—who also worked on Yoakam’s 3 Pears and Second Hand Heart— engineered all of the album vocals. Those sessions started with lead vocals at Capitol, with Paczosa and Randall on hand. And then Yoakam and DeSisto kept going after the co-producers went home, visiting EastWest Studio 3, Henson Studios, and Capitol again to get the final takes.

“We moved around a bit because of schedules and studio time availability,” DeSisto says. “Dwight likes to spread the vocals out a bit because he is producing his vocals as we record, making changes and trying different approaches. He would listen and make sure the vocal had energy to it, come up with ideas and work on the phrasing he wanted.”

DeSisto’s vocal chain for Yoakam is the go-to setup that he’s been using for the artist for several years, with slight variations, depending on studio inventory: a Neumann U47 (or 48 at Capitol), a Telefunken V78 mic pre, and then a Fairchild compressor.

“Each studio had a Fairchild, and they are all calibrated a little differently,” DeSisto says. “So before each session, I’d put a tone through it and see where unity is, and try to match my setting to the notes I had on what I’d done from room to room, also keeping serial numbers of the microphones we used in each studio.

“All of those studios have independent headphone mixers,” he adds. “We’d have a rough mix going in the control room, and we can patch in separate inputs to the mixer so Dwight can make a headphone mix he wants to sing to.”

For backgrounds, Yoakam enlisted Jonathan Clarke, Brian Whelan, Davey Faragher and Brian Joyce; they worked in various configurations, with Clarke in the center. “Jonathan is so good with Dwight’s direction,” DeSisto explains. “Brian Whelan was touring, so Davey came in, and then we added Brian Joyce for another texture.”