Matisyahu’s ‘Akeda’

“When a performer forgets where they are and really puts it down the wires—that’s what we try to preserve at all costs,” says Joel Hamilton, who engineered and co-produced Matisyahu’s latest, Akeda.
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Photo credit: Mark Squires

“When a performer forgets where they are and really puts it down the wires—that’s what we try to preserve at all costs,” says Joel Hamilton, who engineered and co-produced Matisyahu’s latest, Akeda.

Hamilton ran the sessions in Studio G—the 5,000-square-foot Brooklyn, N.Y., facility he co-owns with musician/engineer Tony Maimone—along with co-producer/bassist Stuart Brooks of Dub Trio.

Arrangements on Akeda interweave pop, electronica and reggae with elements displaying the artist’s essential connection to Judaism. Songs began with pre-production, where Brooks and Matisyahu developed electronic tracks that would guide the production.

“Some of it was built in Ableton, some in Pro Tools,” Hamilton says. “Even though there was laptop-y stuff in the writing process, [tracking] was much more organic.

“When the writing process is electronic, you rely on the snare timbre to establish the vibe,” he explains. “It might be an 808-type snare; or a big bashy clap—a ‘We Will Rock You’ sound. We would prepare the acoustic drums to meet in the middle with the electronic, so for that dry, tight 808-type snare, we would use tons of duct tape and a towel over the snare, for example.

“I will overprint during basics for a record like that,” Hamilton continues. “There might have been 15 mics on the kit, but then we’d use the four that matched the right era, place, time and technique.”

Matisyahu’s vocals were overdubbed in a booth assembled from gobos in the middle of Studio G’s live room. “The vocal chain was primarily a Telefunken long-body 47 that has recorded singers from Mos Def to Dan Auerbach to Elvis Costello,” Hamilton says. “I also put a Placid Audio Copperphone next to it; the Auratone of microphones: limited bandwidth, looks like a pipe bomb. It adds a mid character and a blown-out tweeter sound that’s really fun.”