A decade ago, Trevor Hutchinson was playing bass in The Waterboys, an Irish (via the UK) band with “modern rock” leanings that introduced the sounds of traditional Irish folk to many pop music listeners. After leaving The Waterboys, Hutchinson turned to more straightforward traditional projects, recording with another Waterboys graduate, accordion player Sharon Shannon, and then with his current group, Lunasa.
Lunasa's music beautifully evokes all the moods usually associated with Irish trad music: It can be, by turns, melancholy, gentle, joyous or playful. It doesn't commonly conjure images of a Pro Tools-equipped home studio, but that's where Lunasa's latest, The Merry Sisters of Fate, was recorded.
Like many project studio owners, Hutchinson says his facility, Marguerite Studios, “started off just as my own — someplace I could indulge myself. I started to do bits and pieces for other people, and it's gone from there. It's taken over my home.”
The studio was originally centered on ADATs. Hutchinson added a Pro Tools MIX|Plus system a few years ago. “We put it in just before we started working on our previous album, Otherworld, so that was a bit of a hairy ride,” he says. “I was trying to do an album under quite a lot of pressure using a medium with a fairly steep learning curve. But it's probably the best way to learn, just jump in the deep end.”
To make their new album, Lunasa recorded direct-to-disk, and played live all around Hutchinson's home. “I put in about a dozen large sound baffles, just to kill some of the reflection in the living room and to have a bit more separation between the musicians. We usually record the fiddle, flute and pipes together. The guitarist [Donogh Hennessy] puts down a guide track at the same time, in a different room. Often, he overdubs additional guitars, including high string. Sometimes I play along in the control room, on an electric upright bass, because it doesn't take up so much space.” The tracks were recorded and mixed by engineers Ed Kenehan, the band's FOH engineer, and David Odlum, who Hutchinson says comes from an alternative rock background and helped them give a different slant to some of the tunes.
The core of Hutchinson's setup consists of eight channels of vintage Neve mic pre/EQ modules. “It takes quite a lot of work to keep them on the boil, but they're lovely,” he says. Other outboard gear includes the Manley Massive Passive tube EQ (“gorgeous”), UREI 1178, Focusrite Red 7, Lexicon PCM 80 and PCM 70, and the Eventide H3000.
“I'm currently trying to restore a very old Klein-Hummel U100 valve EQ,” Hutchinson says. “It's nearly a two-man lift to get the thing off the ground. It was sort of a salvage; it worked briefly, then gave up the ghost, so I have to get it completely overhauled. But when it worked, the sound was amazing. They don't make anything like that anymore.” The studio also has Quested and Genelec monitors, and mics from Neumann, Sennheiser, Earthworks, Beyer, RØDE and AKG.
Clearly, Hutchinson is still doing with technology what The Waterboys did with musical instruments — effectively blending old and new tools and methods. However, Hutchinson is suitably wary of the effects that modern conveniences can have on traditional recordings. “[Pro Tools] has a lot of really good upsides, and probably a few downsides as well,” he says. “You have so many options that it's hard to control yourself.
“We have to be fairly aware of not overcorrecting things too much, especially in regard to tuning. You can end up with something that sounds sweet but absolutely bland. The idea is to get rid of the worst [mistakes], but still leave enough depth of character in there, enough breadth of pitch difference in it.”
Though Marguerite Studios grew out of Hutchinson's desire to record his own music, the studio also hosts numerous Dublin-based artists, including producer Donal Lunny with singer Frank Harte, singer/songwriter Gerry O'Beirne, Niamh Parsons, The Frames, Ten Speed Racer and Miriam Ingram. Lunasa has to squeeze into the studio in between these paying clients, and in between their own tour dates, which recently included a series of North American shows, opening for Mary Chapin Carpenter.