db from The Sun Came Up Upon The Left, Populace, Dreamhaunt, RRAAO, and Aisteach: An Interview

db is a musician from Portland, OR.

So, db is seriously prolific both as a musician and as a recording engineer. And because db has worked with many of the bands and on many of the records that have been brought up over the last several interviews here on Growls and Shrieks, I was especially looking forward to our chat.

Weirding: You cover a lot of ground in your music. How do you manage that? Do you hear something and say: "that belongs in one project vs. another"?

db: I’m never satisfied with doing just one thing and I have an interest in a wide variety of music. Which usually ends up with having multiple projects and bands going on as conduits for that output. I try to make sure there is an identity to each one that is distinct and I think that helps me when I’m writing. Sure I could push something to fit in three different bands, but typically I’ll create something and it sounds like it should go a certain way. More often than not I’ll create with intent, “Ok, now I’m writing a TSCUUTL song.”

Another thing that helps is I have a different creative role or different way of writing songs for each one. For example, in Revered and Reviled Above All Others, I write the lyrics and do the vocals to what Abe has already written. In Populace we do something I haven’t done in a band before. Instead of writing songs out on guitar or bass first what we do is Mitch will write or improvise and record the drums in one session and one take. Then I take that and write guitar parts to it. Then we both will write lyrics. And finally I’ll take those lyrics and fit them into the songs with my vocals. 

TSCUUTL is more of a ground up approach where I will write riffs or drum patterns and start piecing them together to make a cohesive song.

I find that having different styles as well as a different writing process is really exciting, but also really helps keep everything separated. If I was just writing riffs on a guitar for each one I probably would have a much harder time with it.

Weirding: Talk to me about how you got started. I'm especially interested in your work mixing and mastering.

db: Recording in general is something that was mostly inaccessible to me. A lot of what it takes to record was fairly expensive for most of my life. It was basically I could try to buy some sort of 4 or 8 track device or I could buy a guitar and amp. I chose the latter, but eventually I came upon a Tascam 4-track which I would use to record live shows of friends as well as my own bands.  Eventually it broke. So, it wasn’t until DAWs became cheap enough that I started getting back into it.

I have been recording, mixing, and mastering my own stuff for quite a while — but it wasn’t until recently that I started to reach out to other people.

Weirding: And now that’s really started to take on a life of its own.

db: My goal is to use my experience to help out other people in the underground music community. I really believe that we all should be working and growing together. Lifting each other up. 

There is a satisfaction that comes from supporting your friends and your community. It's great. My eventual goal is to build a dedicated space where I can record and mix stuff consistently. I have a decent desk setup now, but having the space to record a band with live drums would be fun. I started work on the space last year, but like many things, the pandemic put the project on hold.

Weirding: How do you know when you've got a mix where you want it?

db: It depends if I’m doing something for myself, or for other people. When I’m mixing a song that I created by myself it is very much I have a specific idea about what it should sound like at the end. I have a rough idea about what I can do to the mix to make it that way. There are times where I will still play around with sounds and balances because perhaps I don’t quite have the vision of where it is supposed to be, but for the most part I have a goal in mind.

Weirding: So, does it match up with an ideal sound you are working towards in your head or do you find yourself at the end in a place you weren't expecting to be?

db: When I’m working on music that involves other people — even if it is something I’m playing on — I will take it to a certain point where it sounds decent and then share it with the band.

If I’m not a part of the band, I don’t want to take it too far — in that I’ve put my impression of how it should sound, but it might not match up with what the other people had in mind. 

There really isn’t a right way of doing a mix. Even in big studios where people are doing this as their job there will be a different outcome if you give the same thing to different people. What I want to do is to work with the other people, listen to what they want, and hopefully bring it there.

Weirding: Do you think that the inaccessibility of recording to you earlier on has had an effect on the way you think about recording when working with other musicians now?

db: I don’t really think so. If anything it has just limited the years of hands-on experience I could’ve had if I had access to the tools I needed. Perhaps I might be swayed by older habits, but I can not tell. I feel like I’m saying something similar to when they asked one of the Beatles, “What’s it like being a Beatle?” And they responded: “I don’t know, what’s it like not being a Beatle”. 

I guess I’m not really sure since I only know the life I know.

But I can make guesses. I have a big drive to record and mix albums for people. I think it's fun, but maybe if I’d been doing it all these years I’d be burned out by now? After all, I still have a big drive to write music and I have been doing that for a very long time. Sure, I’ve taken breaks, but that was mostly due to life situations and not necessarily that I got burnt out making music.

The way I look at recording and making records is that the whole process is a chance to be creative and do something interesting. I like working with people to create — as our combined opinions on something can create a thing each of us might not do on our own.  

Working with Mae from Everson Poe on her records is great. She gets to do all the hard work of writing and playing these great songs. Then I can come in at the end and help sew it all together. I have a great time doing that and I’m very thankful because there is so much good stuff to work with. 


Weirding: And what about mastering? That’s sort of the dark arts as far as I’m concerned.

db: Mastering is something that should be seen as a final touch. Just enough to bring everything together. If you are doing too much in a mastering session, then what you really should be doing is going back to the mix — because you messed something up. 

Fixing things isn’t something you should be doing while mastering. Unless you are mastering for vinyl — which then you need to consider some limitations of the medium and make your adjustments as needed. That’s one of the reasons re-masters of old 80’s bands aren’t necessarily a band thing. Most of those albums were mastered specifically for vinyl — or if they did multiple masters, the CD version was very limited based on the technology of the time.

Weirding: I totally agree. It's definitely not the time to be fixing things. It's also very challenging. I don't know about you, but I often find my ears not quite agreeing with what the multimeter is telling me. So as a practitioner, I'd really like to know your thoughts on how to properly prepare for mastering like from a mind, ear, heart (and patience) standpoint.

db: I look at mastering as the final touch. Just enough to bring everything together as a cohesive piece, but also make it sound open and full. I rarely look at any sort of tools and just use my ears. The ultimate decision is: “Does this sound good and on the level of the other albums out there?” 

A reference track will definitely help with that. 

I’ll also try to limit the time I’m mastering something. My goal is to not take longer than an hour when mastering a track. Sometimes even less.

Some other random things... I do mastering in the morning while my ears are still fresh and I won’t spend more than two to three hours a day doing it. And I have a few templates I use to kick start the session. At the beginning of the project, I’ll take all the songs and listen to parts of each song through each template. If one is calling me more than another, I’ll stick with that template and then dig in on each song with the subtle tweaks each song might need. With the music I’ve been dealing with lately the songs are roughly the same sonically and generally recorded the same way. Otherwise I might use a different template for a song that is completely different than the rest… but that only has happened once so far.

Weirding: So, my mind is wandering and I want to get back to something you said earlier. I love the approach of starting with drums in the songwriting process like you mentioned in Populace. On our first album, that was exactly the order of operations for us as well. So as a musician, what are the kinds of challenges and opportunities that you see in that approach? Do you feel like the drums compel you to make decisions on where you go with the guitar?

db: I think it depends on how locked in you decide to go with those drums. With TSCUUTL I have started writing some things with drum patterns. I will create some patterns and try to figure out riffs and chord changes to go on top. Perhaps I decide that I want a fill to accent a riff — well, I can go back and add that fill in. When doing it that way the drums are just a fancy metronome. It still is a fun way to give yourself a different starting point and to push yourself to write things you normally wouldn’t, but there is a lot of leeway to play with.

The approach with Populace on the other hand — and perhaps you also did this with your first album — is once those drums are done they are done! No going back. Now it is a real challenge to fit with what has been laid down. You have to pay attention to accents that are already there. These are improvised drums, too, so you have to be aware of odd lengths of patterns. 

The hardest part is that we haven’t used a click track — so the variance in tempo can be a challenge. That’s where I will sometimes go in and create my own click and beat markers to help hear the changes. Mitch plays really fast and will do some subtle changes, so having that extra click will help me hear the changes and I can really capitalize on them. 


Weirding: So it sounds like in some sense you’ve put some parameters in places that force you to work a certain way. 

db: I’m a big fan of putting in limitations when writing. 

First it helps having a starting point. If I gave someone a guitar and said “Write a song,” they might have a hard time getting going. Most bands are already putting some limitations on the songs they write. They say: “We are an OSDM band,” or “We are a grindcore band.” 

Those labels carry connotations that will dictate some limitations. 

Now if you give yourself some additional ones, you might help take your songs to the next level. For example, say to yourself: “Ok, this song can’t use 4/4”. 

Or to try using a scale you don’t normally use as the tonal basis. For example in the Dreamhaunt album Upon The Monolith of Time, almost all of the songs are using the double harmonic major scale as the basis. Some songs I switched the key and mode, but that was the starting point. It turned out to be a great scale and is one of my favorites now.


About

db is working on a number of projects, including: Revered and Reviled Above All Others, The Sun Came Up Upon The Left, Populace, Dreamhaunt, and Aisteach.

IG: @EuphoriadicStudios

Twitter: @WhatFreshHell


Bandcamp

https://thesuncameupupontheleft.bandcamp.com/ 

https://reveredandreviledaboveallothers.bandcamp.com/ 

https://dreamhaunt.bandcamp.com/releases 

https://populacegrind.bandcamp.com/ 

https://aisteach.bandcamp.com/releases 


Recent split releases:

The Sun Came Up Upon the Left split with Everson Poe 

https://eversonpoe.bandcamp.com/album/ancestral-memory 


Revered and Reviled Above All Others split with Cyttorak

https://sleepingvillagerecords.bandcamp.com/album/split-2 


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