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Sam Roberts Band on a Tone Quest

Making the Sam Roberts Band's album TerraForm

“They’re so good, it would be a tragedy not to track them all at the same time,” says H*ly F*ck’s Graham Walsh, speaking of his fellow Canadian musicians Sam Roberts Band. Walsh co-produced the group’s sixth album, TerraForm, with songwriter/frontman Roberts. The lead singer had written the songs in his rudimentary basement home studio and then recorded at The Bathouse, The Tragically Hip’s live/work studio.

Sam Roberts Band is known for their commanding performances, recording live off the floor, straight to mixing, with minimal experimentation. For TerraForm and its predecessor, Lo-Fantasy, produced by Youth, the group has pushed its sound with its choice of producer. “There is always going to be the essence of spontaneity that comes from playing with five guys and recording the heart of the record that way,” Roberts says. “But then you can work around that.

“[Walsh] introduced the concept of tone questing: never settling on the choice of sound that comes along, recognizing the nature of the sounds influenced by the role any given part plays in the song. An innocuous keyboard line can become the main component of the song if you treat it the right way.”

Walsh explains using Eric Fares’ synth arpeggio on the song “Fiend” as an example: “We record the synths in stereo through DI and pan them left and right. Took that line and ran it mono through a tap echo set to one repeat full well and recorded it through a gnarly, almost distorted chorus tape sound. That mostly gets blended in; taking on a whole new character by pitch warbles a little bit and fits perfectly in the midrange of the mix, evoking emotion rather than just being a really nice synth sound.

“I also like taking drums from a Pro Tools session and running them through a cable that’s got 10 guitar pedals plugged in,” he continues. “You can make a performance on the pedals by dubbing out snares with delay or reverb or maxing out the mixer and getting cool distortion effects from there. Sam Roberts Band is a wicked band for doing that.”