Producer/engineer/musician Ronan Chris Murphy (King Crimson, Lucas Lee, etc.) recently produced Gwar’s first album without longtime lead singer Dave Brockie (aka Oderus Urungus). Murphy kindly sent Mix a detailed account of the tracking and mixing work in Virginia and California. Find more about the making of The Blood of Gods at mixonline.com.
As Gwar geared up for its 14th studio album, they had to figure out how to do it without their longtime lead singer, a creative focal point of the band, who had passed away in 2014. Brockie was adored by fans and many chimed in that the band should have called it quits. However, Brockie himself had said that Gwar should go on even after all of them were dead and gone, and we planned to honor his wishes.
Gwar has been on a short list of artists I dreamed of producing for years, and at the end of 2016, I was brought on to produce, engineer, mix, master and perform on the the survivors’ next album, The Blood of Gods, which features their new lead singer, Michael Bishop (Blothar the Berserker).
When I heard the songs the band was working on, I could tell that Gwar was tapping into their punk roots as well as a lot of classic rock from bands like Sweet, Motorhead and Celtic Frost. Of course, the album needed to bring the shock, comedy and storytelling that define the band, but my goal was to help make a music-first Gwar album.
Sessions commenced with drum recording at White Star Sound in Louisa, Va. White Star is built inside an old barn set in bucolic countryside and caters to singer-songwriters—a seemingly unusual choice to host Gwar sessions. Owner Chris Keup says that no one believed him when he said Gwar was recording there. But the studio was well-suited for our project: It has a big wooden live room, a solid mic closet and a rack of API mic pre’s from the old console in Sunset Sound’s B room.
All the drums were tracked through those pre’s except for overheads, which were through a pair of Shure KSM32s into A Designs Pacifica pre’s (a combo that’s been part of most of my drum sounds for 15 years). An AKG D112 for kick drum, the overheads and a single Shure SM57 on snare make up the majority of the drum sound on the album.
After tracking drums and some of the guitars at White Star, we moved to Richmond to work on overdubs at Gwar’s own facility, the Slave Pit. We took over the rehearsal room and lounge to record. I brought in a small rack consisting of A Designs Pacifica mic pre’s, an Empirical Labs Distressor, a Pete’s Place BAC 500 compressor and Electrodyne 511, and A Designs EM-PEQ EQs.
Guitars included several Les Paul-style instruments from Love Rock, as well as Gwar Signature models from Schecter. The sound on each song is mostly two guitars hard-panned left and right. We also spent a lot of time working on tones and scaling back the distortion; this maintains a lot of percussive punch. About 5 percent of the electric guitars were recorded through a Fractal Ax-FX, where guitarist Mike Derks (aka Balsac the Jaws of Death) had programmed some special effects. The rest were captured with a single Shure SM57 on a Marshall 4x12 cabinet and various tube guitar amp heads.
We used a Peavey 6505 for a few super-saturated sections, but most of the album was done with vintage Marshall heads. Guitarist Brent Purgason (aka Pustulus Maximus) had a nice collection of old JCM800s with different tubes, transformers and power configurations. The guitars usually got a couple dB of compression from the BAC 500 compressor and often one or two dB of EQ from the 511 or the EM-PEQ.
One of the challenges with vocals on The Blood of Gods is that Michael Bishop has such a huge range as a vocalist—not only in terms of dynamics and the notes he can hit, but also in terms of style. I brought my Pearlman TM-1 mic along for the task.
We set high standards for ourselves to make this album and averaged about 14 hours a day in the studio for a couple months. In the end it was worth every minute. The Blood of Gods honors the band’s past and moves the band forward. Gwar lives!