Shakey Graves

on distortion and transformation

I recently started a recording project with Shakey Graves. His first full length release was recorded using hand-held and 4-track recorders mostly in his home, which he then edited with great care. For some engineers the idea of “improving” the sound on any subsequent albums would seem easy, given the controlled environment of a studio and the use of nice microphones, preamps, tape, etc. For me however, the task of following up a well executed bedroom recording with a “studio” recording sounds like a potential disaster. Which he and I talked about at great length…

There are (at least) two distinct musical audiences that you have to consider when deciding on process: those that value honesty and imperfection versus those that value arrangement and exactness. By focusing on one you often alienate the other. One of the biggest challenges for me is to recognize and limit my own impulse to correct anomalies in a performance or recording. It has never been easier to ruin a good recording, because it has never been easier to fix all the mistakes.

I am finding that being transparent as an engineer is rarely the most interesting approach. Sometimes an awkward edit can make a boring or expected transition seem magical. It is refreshing to work with someone who can appreciate less than perfect edits as compositional tools, as musical phenomenon, and not view them simply as means to an exacting end.

We as a culture have grown to love distortion, whether we are individually aware of it or not. This is why analog still sounds better to most people. The mathematical accurateness of digital recording, reliable and convenient though it may be,  is something that we can appreciate only in theory. A transparent medium is rarely the most interesting… and I find myself distorting what was perfectly clear.

I am conflicted; as an engineer I instinctively strive for some form of perfection while as a listener I am continually drawn to rough edges and personal inflection. Actually, this contradiction extends through most aspects of my life. Perhaps it is a balance we all struggle with; maybe it’s just me. Wish us luck…

You can listen and purchase Shakey Graves’ last album here: