March 9, 2014

Regolith A1E2: Reuben Bettsak Writing Songs Under The Gun

Regolith A1E2: Reuben Bettsak Writing Songs Under The Gun

Hello, indie rock fans. We are just about halfway through our first installment of our new Regolith feature, wherein we are challenging a favorite songwriter to write and record as much great music as she or he can in just 30 days. In the middle of February we launched the inaugural episode with Boston scene mainstay Reuben Bettsek of Guillermo Sexo, Future Carnivores and Emerald Comets. If you need to get up to speed on Mr. Bettsak or Regolith, we direct your attention back to A1E1 (that is, in Regolith parlance, "Artist 1, Episode 1") right here. If you know what's going on, well then, it's time to check in with Reuben to learn how things are progressing. There's a lot of interesting stuff in his responses below, in terms of how the tight timeline has actually enabled him to forge a pretty strong bond to the material. There's also some insight into setting priorities and gear choices. Fans should note that Reuben is playing an Emerald Comets show at O'Brien's in Boston at the end of the month [details]; Guillermo Sexo's next show is April 6, the opening night of the 35th Annual Rock 'N' Roll Rumble at TT The Bear's Place [ditto]. With that said, we invite you to read on, and remind you that later this month we will wrap up Reuben's 30-day experiment and premiere the resulting music. We're excited, and we hope you are excited, too. -- L. Tiburon Pacifico

Clicky Clicky Music Blog: How has the project been going up to this point? Are you finding it easier or harder than you anticipated? Have there been any particularly big challenges?

Reuben Bettsak: I'm really enjoying this project. It's refreshing because I've tried to create a little sonic world in a bedroom... Even though the 30-day limitation has forced me to write and record faster than ever before, it has also given me the opportunity to zone in and focus on an overall sound for this "album." Both the music and the lyrics definitely work with each other. They tie together the strings of this shoe that you could call an album.

The biggest challenge for me has been the actual recording process. With the 30-day time limit you have to do a bit of sacrificing between the recording quality of the material and focusing on writing the songs. I'm recording with Pro Tools so it sounds better than the quick demos I usually do on GarageBand, but things like weird microphone noises, imperfect vocal levels [and] messy mixes have been a challenge. It's hard for me to focus and clean up that stuff when I'd rather focus on the music and the content. However, for the most part, I've decided to say "fuck it," and embrace the weird microphone noises, imperfect vocal levels, etc. I think some of this stuff might sound like it was recorded on an old 4-track instead of Pro Tools… but I'm loving the imperfections. I feel like, as the project moves on, I'm getting better at getting better sounds....

CC: Can you describe for us your recording setup (feel free to get as "techie" as you like, or not)? Are there specific reasons you are using the equipment or software that you do?

RB: My setup for this project has been:
Pro-Tools express with an Mbox
My guitar pedal board with various pedals like the Memory Man, Digi Delay, Big Muff, etc.
Acoustic guitar
Boss Drum Machine
Guitar slide
All vocals done via a (horribly broken) Optimus dynamic microphone
Nord lead keyboard
CC: Describe techniques you employ (mic placement, mixing, effects, etc.). Would you use these same techniques if time were not a limiting factor? How did you learn to record this way?

RB: Seeing the words "mic placement" makes me laugh because there is no mic placement in my current setup. I've used the microphone for vocals through my pedal board, and for the maraca (shaker). Everything went guitar/drum machine/keyboard via my pedal board to Mbox/Pro Tools. I'd say my techniques have more to do with years of layering [and the] ability to kind of create the sound my mind wants to create, and lots of fun delay/Memory Man/distortion pedal manipulation to achieve interesting results.

I'm happy with the songs that are coming out... so the time limit is actually helping me create some really cool songs. If I didn't have a time limit, I'd try to hone in a bit more into the recording process and try to clean things up more, and get a better microphone.

I learned Pro-tools on my own a few years ago. I owned a setup like 8 years ago or something. This is actually the first time I'm using it to record my stuff at home. I think watching great Pro Tools wizards like Justin Pizzoferatto and Bo Barringer has helped.

CC: Do you have any unusual tricks or rooms/spaces you record in that are exclusive to your home studio?

RB: I've just been recording in one room. No fun room tricks, but my dog does hop on my pedals when I record sometimes, so I hope his unplanned collaboration doesn't get me in trouble with you guys at Clicky.

CC: What instruments have you been using to this point? Do you foresee introducing other instruments?

RB: I'm minimizing the amount of instruments I use partly for continuity within these songs, and also for the sake of convenience. I've only been using the acoustic guitar with a pickup going through the effects pedals, the Nord lead (when Noell doesn't steal it away), drum machine and maraca. I think that's about it. I've been thinking about grabbing some more percussion stuff from the Guillermo Sexo practice space, and have even contemplated recording live drums for a song or something, but we'll see if that happens.

CC: Do you find that the time limitations change your approach to writing and/or recording?

RB: The limitations have fully forced me to record as a write. Instead of sorting everything out before recording, I just go for it. One of the powerful things about this limitation is that I don't have time to think about the "type" of song I want to write, like I kind of do for Guillermo, because the band has a history. I also have little-to-no idea what the song will sound like by the end. I'm often writing melodies line by line.

The interesting thing that kind of blows my mind about this project is that I feel like I'm inside a little world. It's hard to explain. But the connection to these songs is immense even if they are in a more raw stage of development. It's like I'm in this room constantly creating songs, and the lyric themes connect with each other, and the music starts working together. At times I feel such happiness creating this little world in a room, but at times I feel isolated, and I think these emotions show through in the songs and in the lyrics. It's weird because I often have that internal struggle in regards to how polished and produced songs should sound. I guess production and polish help the end listener enjoy the product more, but for me, I love raw unpolished songs. I love the rough edges of recording in hi-fi. I feel such a connection to the "way I was feeling" when I sang a line that it makes it difficult to polish the line later when I realize it could be more on pitch, for example. And this is why I work with a producer/recording engineer like Justin when making a record.

CC: Do you feel that the songs are turning out differently than they otherwise would if you weren't restricted to 30 days? If so, what do you think would be different about them?

RB: It's possible my writing approach would have been a bit different, but if I approached the writing the same day, the only difference would be polishing things up on the recording end a bit.

CC: At this point, do you find the time restrictions to be a hinderance your process? Or do you find them to be liberating in some way?

RB: I find the restrictions to be very liberating for me. I think these are great songs that sound different than stuff I've done previously. And, as I mentioned before, I feel a deep connection to these songs because they feel like a little book written in 30 days.

Related Coverage:
Premiere: Emerald Comets | Emerald Comets EP
Review: Guillermo Sexo | Dark Spring
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Review: Future Carnivores | Future Carnivores
Review: Guillermo Sexo | Secret Wild

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