Ray LaMontagne (right) in session at home with drummer Jay Bellerose and bass player Jennifer Condos
Photo: Ryan Freeland
When singer/songwriter Ray LaMontagne decided to self-produce an album at home, he asked around, looking for an experienced engineer with enough equipment to capture his five-piece band live in the great room of his house in rural Massachusetts—this was not a job for a DAW and a few mics. LaMontagne’s drummer, Jay Bellerose, and another friend, Elvis Costello, agreed that LaMontagne should give Ryan Freeland a call.
Freeland, who won a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album for engineering Ramblin’ Jack Elliott’s A Stranger Here, operates his own studio, Stampede Origin, in West L.A., and he has designed his rig to be portable; he is producer Joe Henry’s go-to engineer and often hauls his gear over to Henry’s Garfield House studio to record.
Rock-It Cargo brought Freeland’s gear, and all of the band instruments and amps, from Southern California to the East Coast. “Then we set up in the great room,” Freeland says. “There was electricity, but not much else. I brought my racks, mic stands, cabling, speakers, headphones—basically my entire studio. I have 24 of everything—24 channels of mic pre’s, 24 compressors and 24 Apogee inputs. We recorded to Pro Tools HD 88.2kHz, 24-bit.”
LaMontagne wanted to sing in the middle of the room with minimal isolation on the musicians so Freeland went with it: “You embrace the bleed and it becomes a big part of the sound,” he says.
Drums were set up at one end of the room, with some low baffling, and Freeland was at the other end. The two guitarists, Eric Heywood and Greg Leisz, set up on either side of LaMontagne, and their amps were placed under a stairway in the back of the space. Bassist Jennifer Condos sat on the floor next to the drums. “Everybody still used headphones,” Freeland says, “so they’re hearing what the mics are picking up and they can play to the room. On the title track, for example, Jay is doing really powerful drum hits and you hear them exploding beautifully into the vocal mic; I think that was because he could hear the bleed when he was doing it.”
Guitar sounds also benefited from the setup: “I put two mics on each of the guitar cabinets,” Freeland says, “a [Shure] SM57 and a Fathead ribbon. Then I ran them through this old Ampex MX10 tube mic pre that adds its own natural tube compression. On a couple of songs, Eric and Greg crank the amps really loud so you hear all of that bleed spilling out into the room and creating this welling guitar vibe.”
On LaMontagne’s vocal, Freeland fed his Neumann M49 into an Avedis MA5 mic pre and a Retro 176 for compression: “Not much, just kind of light,” he says. “Especially with the bleed, I couldn’t hit the compressors too hard because the room would get sucked into every single mic.
“Ray’s record represents that great time that we all spent together in Massachusetts,” Freeland concludes. “I love that about recording: You take a sonic snapshot, and every time I hear it I think of that time with my friends.”