Featured Story - Friendly Fires
Mercury Prize nominees Friendly Fires' eponymous debut album is an intriguing blend of skittish nu-rave dance beats, shoegaze textures and pop melodies. The album was largely self-produced, with the exception of the opening track Jump In The Pool which was produced by in-demand UK producer Paul Epworth.
Lead singer Ed MacFarlane gave us the rundown on recording the album and the equipment he used to do it, which includes Universal Audio's 6176 vintage channel strip and the UAD-2 Solo Laptop DSP plug-in system: "We recorded the album in our garage on a very minimal setup. I'm a big fan of things being done in a minimal way," says Ed. "I don't like it when there's too much equipment around because it can detract from the creative process."
Ed mainly used the 6176 for the album, recording into an Apogee Ensemble. "All I really used was the 6176 as my preamp and compressor, and I've been using the UAD plug-ins in Logic 8 once the track's in the computer," he explains.
Initially sceptical of plug-ins, Ed was converted to the quality of the UAD plugs after going into the studio with Paul Epworth, and has since started using them as his go-to treatments on every track. He's particularly keen on the FATSO plug, which re-creates the qualities of analogue tape compression, class A transformer saturation and valve circuitry to give audio signals a warm, pleasing character as if they've been recorded using an all-analogue signal path.
"I've never thought compression plug-ins would actually do anything, but I've been proven absolutely wrong by Paul, and I've ended up using the FATSO plug-in on all of my drums as a buss-compressor," says Ed. "I really like what it does – it can change the whole timbre of the drum kit."
Ed's also keen on the UAD Plate 140 plug. It emulates an EMT 140 plate reverb, based on plates from Plant Studios. "We usually record toms separately, and to get that big washy Serge Gainsbourg sound we've used the UAD Plate reverb on them," explains Ed. "I've never had the money to try this stuff out in hardware, but now I'm really intrigued to find out if there is a difference from the plug-in version."
For electronic drums the band uses Universal Audio's VCA VU plug. It's an emulation of the dbx 160 VCA compressor, the very first commercially available VCA compressor, and is still a staple in studios around the world for its simple aesthetic and distinct, solid compression characteristics. "I really like it, and it's really simple to use. There aren't many knobs to play around with, but it beefs up the sound and makes the dry signal from an 808 or 909 more interesting," says Ed.
Aside from drum processing, one of the other key areas where Friendly Fires have used the UAD-2 Solo Laptop is for creating the synth pads that are a staple of the bands' signature sound. To create the lush shoegaze pads, Ed has been using the DreamVerb plug. This is the UAD's flagship reverb processor enabling you to create any room sound you require, selecting from a variety of materials and shapes and enabling you to blend or even morph in real time between different reverbs. "If you record a simple synth stab and put it through DreamVerb with the decay up to max, you can change the EQ of the reverb, creating huge washes that are very Brian Eno-esque," Ed explains. "I've been using that for creating odd drones, washes and spatial sounds."
While a new album is in the works, you can hear the fruits of Friendly Fires' recent experimentation with the UAD-2 Solo Laptop on a new split single that is coming out in association with the New York band Holy Ghost. For the single Friendly Fires are covering Holy Ghost's Hold On, while Holy Ghost will be covering Friendly Fires' On Board. "FATSO is all over that single, and all the guitars are recorded through a Roland Jazz Chorus with the UAD Roland Dimension D plug-in on them," says Ed.
For the fast funky guitar lines, Ed enjoys using the Dimension D, which creates a thick stereo chorus sound, which he likens to the Talking Heads sound. For these new recordings, Friendly Fires are using a Røde NT-1A, which is a huge step up from the previous album, which Ed claims was recorded entirely on a Shure SM58.
Look out for Friendly Fire on their up-coming tour, which will be taking place around the UK, the US and Canada throughout November and December. For tour dates, please visit www.wearefriendlyfires.com
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Photo caption 1: Friendly Fires' Ed MacFarlane with his project studio setup
Photo caption 2: Ed MacFarlane