“I particularly like trying to find what a band should sound like before we start recording, to have some sonic touchstone,” says the great post-punk producer Brad Wood (Liz Phair, Veruca Salt, Smashing Pumpkins). “In the case of Skating Polly, I realized we were spending a lot of time talking about music that probably predated the birth of even their parents—’70s punk rock and post-punk that had a drier sound and more naked guitar parts, less layering.”
The aggressive rhythms of Skating Polly’s latest album, The Make It All Show, definitely show those early punk influences, and it’s no surprise: This young band of step-siblings—Kelli Mayo, Peyton Bighorse and Kurtis Mayo—has been touring with X, and Exene Cervenka has produced them. But Skating Polly have their own thing going, as well; the way they blend harmonious backing vocals with screeching leads is quite powerful, and these young musicians are talented songwriters, too.
“I wanted them to roar on the record, of course, but I also wanted them to sound like maybe you couldn’t put your finger on when it was recorded. Was it recorded this year or back in the ’80s?”
Wood engineered, produced and mixed The Make It All Show in Seagrass Studio, the personal space that he has owned and operated for the past 14 years, and where he helped Veruca Salt make their reunion album, Ghost Notes, in 2015.
“They sent some demos and I could tell they had a fairly strong idea about what songs we would record,” Wood says. “We set up in my studio and spent about a week working on the songs—a little bit of pre-production. We made some arrangement suggestions, worked on the feel of things, the tempo, just trying to tighten everything up so when it came time to record we could focus on a fun performance and less on the mechanics of the song.”
After that, the songs went down mostly live, with a scratch vocal, the idea being to capture that raw performance aspect of a live three-piece. On most tracks, Kurtis Mayo drums, while Kelli Mayo plays bass and Peyton Bighorse plays the guitar, but as they do onstage, occasionally two of them will trade places. Wood shared a few of the favorite mics and secret weapons that he used to capture Skating Polly’s tracks.
Kick drum: “I’ve been using the same inside-the-kick drum mic since 1988: the Audio-Technica ATM25. I travel with it. I have two, but I still use the one I’ve had all this time.”
The room: “My preferred room mics are two Studio Projects CS5s, set in omni mode. They have a really low noise floor. I make sure they’re spaced pretty wide and as far back as I can. Then there’s always also a mono room mic, my 1985 Radio Shack Realistic PZM, which I’ve had for 33 years. Highbrow meets lowbrow.”
Guitars: “Guitars had mostly my Fender amps, but then I also have an Alessandro Beagle 10-watt custom amp that I use a lot for heavy stuff. It goes through a Mesa cabinet, and those are miked with sE Electronics ribbon mics.”
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Bass: “All the bass was through my Line 6 Bass Pro. That usually goes into a Universal Audio LA3A; that thing’s freaking old and it sounds great.”
Vocals: “I don’t think they make them anymore, but my favorite vocal mic is an sE Z3300A that I bought in 2006. A sales rep came by with a bunch of microphones. I tested some and I bought a few. I actually forgot about it for a while, but eventually I pulled it back out and I was shocked at how much I liked it. To me it sounds like an old [Neumann] U87 combined with a 47 FET. It just has this zing to it and it stands up in a loud rock track really well.”
“But one of the main things I provided was hot water. I use a hot water dispenser called HomeImage. You push a button and boiling hot water comes out. I’ve got different kinds of tea and honey and slices of lemon. I work with a lot of singers who scream and yell; they are pushing themselves in the studio, and this allows them to get more mileage out of their throats. I’m not joking. Client comfort is so valuable to me because it gets stronger performances from the musicians. Every recording studio should have one.”
Skating Polly • www.skatingpolly.com
Brad Wood • www.bradwoodmusic.com