Thom Monahan is a producer/engineer based out of Los Angeles. He has well over 20 years of credits under his belt, and 2016 is shaping up to be a strong year for him. In addition to being a TapeOp contributor, Thom has engineered a number of our favorite releases over the past few years--Peter Bjorn and John, Wild Nothing, Psychic Ills, The Donkeys, and the reunion album Absolute Loser from Fruit Bats. We think Thom’s affinities for psychedelia and sonic exploration give him an excellent sense of color and texture in a mix. We caught up with him recently at his studio to see how the Dizengoff Audio D4 fits into his workflow.
What have you been working on lately?
Just finished an EP for a LA artist called Bloodboy, nice and distorted, tons of grit. A good mix of the Iggy’s The Idiot and modern Pop music. Was super fun.
Been working with Andy Cabic from Vetiver on demos and a couple of remixes from the last record Complete Strangers. And last week I had Dave Depper here, who plays in Death Cab now and we mixed his upcoming record which is gorgeous.
Mixed a song with Stevie Nicks singing for a Focus Features film that’s coming out, it is totally beautiful. Really orchestral with tons of synth layers. Nice to hear her singing over something so different.
What’s your process for choosing gear while setting up or planning a session?
I just take it source by source, musician by musician. Starts really with the physical placement of the instruments and players, trying to set up something that will lead the best musical interaction. Might be that the drums are in the center with everyone around, or maybe it’s just making sure that a certain keyboard is on hand and at the right level for someone to easily get to. Take a look around and plan from the microphone or DI on down the signal chain with whatever’s available. I usually pay close attention to whether or not a particular piece of gear saturates and distorts and try to utilize those as best I can. Maybe the old tube pre isn’t going to be your best friend on kick drum. But I’m pretty easy gear wise, you can get to where you need to go if the musician is comfortable and playing well. Doesn’t matter if it’s super fancy.
How many of your decisions are made on the fly?
I think that no matter how much planning you do, you’re going to have to make a lot of decisions in the moment. Recording sessions can be really really fluid and you just have to be able to stay a step in front of it, even if that just means knowing when to get food so no one gets hungry. So much of it is just the flow of the people around you.
How much processing are you doing on the way in?
I used to do a fair amount of compression and EQ on the way in, and then I was working for quite some time with a band that prefers to do no processing at all because they’re writing as they’re recording. Even just compressing the snare a little would change whether it could still get used if they switched tempos, I became very aware that I was painting the picture too quickly sometimes, so I’ve drifted away from that. Usually I’m just doing a bit of compression for tone, but really not that much. And barely any EQ, I’m trying to get most of it from just microphone and preamp choice. I do print multiple microphones on most sources, and use stomp boxes for color and effects sometimes. I’ve been running an old ev mic straight into a spring reverb and just having that in the room so I can print a reverb that isn’t the same as the source and that’s been really fun. So I guess some channels raw and some super processed. I have actually been running a second rig with an Apollo and Ableton and just using plugin processing on auxiliary mics that are just sort of in the corner of the room. Sort of the 21st century version of the EV/Spring reverb chain.
What microphones have been getting the most use lately?
SM57, for reals. It’s sort of all you really need. I may just be swinging back through that sort of sound, but I’ve been digging 57s and 58s everywhere. I also have a pair of these prototype FET Korbys LDCs that were never put into production. Got the from a mic dealer friend in NYC. They’re really lovely for hi fidelity capture. Amazing depth of field. Great as drum overheads, and on vocals.
Which microphones you like with the D4?
I’ve been really into dynamics with the D4, something about their transient response seems to pair well with that pre. I really like the curve of the midrange, it never seems too aggressive and fast. The D4 is great for signals with a lot of sustain, you really hear how lovely the texture of the circuit is.
What have you been listening to lately?
Tim Hecker-Love Streams, Heron Oblivion, and a lot of The Weeknd, pretty much anything he’s on. The latest Factory Floor is pretty great too. I have a gnarly pop sweet tooth but I love distortion so I sometimes find myself listening to Beiber one minute and Sleep-Dopesmoker the next. It all sort of makes sense to me but it drives my wife nuts in the car. She turned me on to that last Kacey Musgrave record. I love singing along to that.
Tacos or Hot Dogs?
Tacos. The place around the corner from mine is banging.