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William Elliott Whitmore, ‘Radium Death’

On his own with a banjo, or fronting a rock ’n’ roll band, singer/songwriter William Elliott Whitmore sings about trouble—in love, from the government, for the average human. He’s got a raw, wounded sound that knocks you flat, like in the song “Don’t Strike Me Down,” on his new album Radium Death (Anti), when he sings, “Get ready to lose what you love.” It’s brutal, but also uplifting; it feels good just to hear songs this great.

Whitmore makes his albums in Flat Black, the studio he and his cousin/engineer Luke Tweedy built in Iowa City. Tweedy says the facility is “extremely modest, but each step of our process has seen improvements, and I would not be where I am without an even more modest past. Just as Will started with a hand-me-down banjo, I remember saying to myself, ‘Are you really going to drop $100 on a mic?’ Now I have piles of mics in the four digits.”

Tweedy’s recording/mixing platform is a Pro Tools system with UA Apollo Quad interface and Lynx Aurora 8 converters. “When there was a band involved, we cut live with a scratch vocal in the control room, so Whitmore and the band could see each other, but we could still have options for his parts. After tracking the vocals [to a Pearlman TM47 and an API channel strip], we would route them out of the DAW and into Whitmore’s point-to-point Champ clone, totally dimed so it had this crazy distortion. That little amp was sitting in the control room, and we would put an AEA R84 mic two rooms away and record that; it is dirty and distant. That is the reverb on several songs, and it’s only possible with an isolated vocal.”