I spoke with producer/performer Bill Denison (guitarist for prog-rock group Zen Carnival) a few days ago to talk about his upcoming project, the country-influenced Tenderfoot, and the recent installation of an SSL AWS 948 in his private Massachusetts home studio. The band—which comprises Denison on 6-string, mandolin and steel guitar; his wife, Christine, on keyboards; Joel Nielsen, front vocals and guitar; Sarah Nielsen, drums; and Mark Golden, guitarist in Birmingham, Ala.—just finished pre-production and is heading to the Nielsens' home studio in Wausau, Wisc., to start a week’s worth of sessions and then splitting engineering duties between the two home studios.
Bill Denison in his home studio at the new SSL AWS 948
Photos: Christine Denison
The new SSL AWS 948
How did this project come about?
A couple of years ago, [Joel, Sarah, Chris and I] were fooling around in the studio and we started doing a rock tune in a country fashion, and it really seemed to work. At that point, my studio consisted of outboard preamps and a 32-channel mixing board running audio into a 16-channel AD/DA unit and a PC set up with Cubase, and stemming out to a second 16-channel mixer, and so we did a little demo with that. We talked about the project at length and basically put the band together. We wrote six or seven songs, and in the process of experimentation, we came up with seven or eight really killer rock tunes and we’re sort of country-fying them, a process we now call “Tenderizing.” This process started in April 2009.
In the process, Joel built a really great home studio; just a wonderful space. We had a session last summer [August 2010] and we were using a Mac setup with Logic and the last-generation Apogee converters, and we were using some pretty decent mic pre’s. We got really great results. I was astounded! I had sort of been not a believer in the “chi chi” equipment until that point. And we were listening through ADAM S3XMs. I was just blown away by the sound.
So I started thinking that I had to upgrade my studio and I did a lot of research and looked into all of the mid-level, decent, smaller-format mixing consoles, and I was interested in control surfaces, as well. I liked the idea of an SSL because of its sound, so I started thinking about the 900 Series. I actually had a deal going for one in October 2010, and on the day of implementing and inking the deal, the AWS 948 release came out. [Laughs]
What is it about the board that interested you?
I love in-line recording; that’s just the way I’ve worked. The problem for me with the 900 is that it is one direction: Either you’re going to or coming from the converters. Now I can mix and match and do whatever I want. I was dealing with David Lyons at Sonic Circus and he switched gears very easily and we started looking at the AWS 948. I was lucky enough to get one of the first ones in December 2010. A week after that, I rigged the board to get audio in and out of it with Aurora converters and the PC set up with Cubase. Joel, Sarah and Mark came out to the studio, and we had a Tenderfoot session and it really sounded great. The first tune we tracked, we were playing it back and I couldn’t hear anything: The indicator was moving along but I didn’t hear any of the characteristic hiss of my old system. So I turned it all the way up thinking there was some adjustment I needed to make, and then the recording came in—boom! Super loud, super clear and just awesome!
The really interesting part of this story is that Joel listened to this board and he really loved it, so he and Sarah got one. So now we have sister boards. I now have a new Mac and the new Apogee converters—24 in and out—and we’re probably going to be recording in Logic. We’ll probably do most of the tracking at the Nielsen’s studio because it really sounds great in there, but I’m going to do the main part of the mixing; Joel and I are going to split the engineering and mixing for this demo and hopefully the final CD.
Stay tuned for updates on the upcoming Tenderfoot sessions.