Phase 7: Backing Vocals

Comment

Phase 7: Backing Vocals

As we explored and developed our style of funk we found ourselves adding more and more vocals in the songs, either as choral harmonies, or as counterpoint. This is of course characteristic of the styles that funk originated from, i.e. Soul and Gospel. From the very earliest songs by James Brown and the Famous Flames, Sly and the Family Stone, as well as later acts like Earth, Wind and Fire and The Commodores, funk music has always had a multitude of voices singing together or responding to each other.  It was only natural that we would include more singers into the project, in order to increase the variety of voices and achieve rich textures in the vocals. 

The first step was to establish the actual notes and lyrics to be sung. This was done mostly as a collaborative effort between Keith and Kenny who were still quite fresh from the previous sessions of recording the main vocals. Most of the backing vocal tracks were established during this early session, paving the way for the additional singers. Both Kenny and Keith were pleasantly surprised by the progress of this early session as it was a very natural yet challenging process. The end result was a lush and exciting arrangement for the songs, which is reminiscent of the style.

The next step was to replicate the tracks with other voices. The main contributors to this were Janice Debattista and Cheryl Camilleri, who have been singing backings with us for a few years now. Whilst both singers have unique and beautiful voices, when they sing together it becomes something else entirely. Their voices just blend perfectly together, as well as with our songs. Being familiar with our music and with a few of the songs already, they also brought their own ideas to the studio, making the vocal tracks even richer and more beautiful.

Finally, the other members of the band also had a go at recording backing vocals as a number of the songs feature some fun crowd effects, and multiple overdubs on the harmonies. This means that some of the songs have as many as seven different voices, which is a massive tribute to the various funk bands mentioned earlier.

As the vocal tracks kept piling up, the songs were sounding larger and more dynamic, but it also meant that Kenny was faced with countless hours of editing. Further adding to the agony, Kenny has a work habit of recording the same takes a minimum of three times, in order to capture the best performance possible. Though faced with this imposing task, Kenny stayed positive and pushed all the singers to give their best performance, piling on the vocal tracks and achieving rich textures and exciting counterpoints. #hardworkpaysoff #weloveyoukenny

Comment

The Code of Antics Mini Series - Episode 2

Comment

The Code of Antics Mini Series - Episode 2

The second instalment in our mini series titled "The Code of Antics"! In this episode we discuss the album title, its inception, as well as what it represents. Our hope is to give you guys a closer look at who we are and why we love doing what we do. Enjoy, and stay tuned!

Filmed & Produced by Jean Claude Vancell
All music is property of Relikc.

Sponsored by Costa Coffee Malta & Antonio's Barber Shop
Supported by Madliena Lodge Restaurant and Lounge & KuYa Asian Pub

Comment

The Code of Antics Mini Series - Episode 1

Comment

The Code of Antics Mini Series - Episode 1

The first in a series of episodes describing our journey as a band through the years, and throughout the process of writing and recording our debut album 'The Code of Antics', which will be released in summer 2017! Our hope is to give you guys a closer look at who we are and why we love doing what we do. Enjoy and stay tuned!

Filmed & Produced by Jean Claude Vancell
All music is property of Relikc.

Sponsored by Costa Coffee Malta & Antonio's Barber Shop
Supported by Madliena Lodge Restaurant and Lounge & KuYa Asian Pub

Comment

Phase 6: Horn Section

Comment

Phase 6: Horn Section

With the core band finished, the next step was to record the other musicians in the extended line-up, starting with the horn section. Though typically a five-piece band, over the years we have been increasing our numbers, inviting additional musicians to our performances. This was mostly a result of being inspired by bands and musicians like "Earth, Wind and Fire", "James Brown", "Stevie Wonder", "Tower of Power", "The Temptations", etc. Throughout the 70s, live music performances were possibly the largest form of entertainment, and funk music was at the forefront of this movement. The extended line-ups, up-beat music and entertaining performances evoked an almost tribal response from the audience. Given our style of music, it was only natural that we would extend our numbers in order to achieve the same effect. 

During the pre-production phases, Joseph scripted out the parts for the horns, a quartet consisting of two trumpets, a saxophone and a trombone. The parts were very much inspired by the funk bands mentioned earlier, but perhaps the most prominent influence is the band "Tower of Power", one of Joe's all time favorite bands. Two members of the quartet actually have quite some history with Relikc, as they have been joining us on stage for a couple of years, ever since we started experimenting with extended line-ups. Mark Farrugia (on trumpet) and Clive Micallef (on saxophone) have performed with us many times and were a key component of our inspiration during the songwriting process of a few songs. Alex Taylor (also on trumpet) and Joseph Borg (on trombone) are our latest recruits and they fit in with the other two very quickly. 

The horns were recorded over the course of three days, playing the parts as transcribed and making some small adjustments along the way. Each instrument was recorded using a total of three microphones; an AKG C414 EB as a close mic, and two Cole STC 4038 ribbon microphones set up inside the room to capture the natural ambiance. The tracks sound good on their own, but of course, the vibe created by the horn section together is greater than the sum of its parts. We're very excited to hear how the horn section will complement the core band, at times carrying the hooks, and other times playing counterpart melodies and harmonies.

Comment

Phase 5: Vocals

Comment

Phase 5: Vocals

The tracks from all the core band members had been recorded, and it was now my turn to lay down the vocals. Four days had been allocated for vocal tracking and I was raring to go. The lyrics for the songs had already been written throughout the months of songwriting and pre-production, so I was focused and well-prepared. As a band, we typically write songs through a collaborative effort by most members, with some songs perhaps having varying degrees of input. Joe deserves a special mention here as his was the biggest input when it came to songwriting... #grazzijoseph!

While my band mates had to go through the arduous task of carrying all their instruments and equipment to the studio for their recording session, I came to the studio almost empty-handed, except for my trusty thermos. This is, of course, one of the perks of being the singer, alongside being the centre of attention most of the time (:p). However, being a singer also means that my performance is more prone to fatigue, as it is largely dependent on the general state of my vocal chords. Over the years, I have developed my own routine to keep my voice performing optimally for extended periods.  Before any performance, be it a gig or studio session, I enjoy a hot cup of my famed water / honey / ginger / lemon cocktail (#grazzima), which really helps soothe the throat and jump-starts my vocal chords. A quick warm-up then follows, in which I sing a few scales and stretch my face muscles. For recording sessions, a small bottle of port also accompanies me, specifically for some random sips throughout the session. This helps to keep my vocal chords warm, although admittedly I just think it's a great excuse to drink port, which is one of my absolute favourite drinks. Plenty of water bottles were also readily available at the studio to keep my mouth and throat hydrated throughout the long hours.

Jubox Recording House has a variety of microphones available, which are used for different applications. However, Luke's favoured microphone for vocals is his AKG C414 EB, equipped with a pop filter for eliminating noise pops. Kenny chose to drive the microphone through Luke's Neve 1073LB. Having already recorded draft vocal tracks for guide tracking purposes prior to the whole recording process, Kenny and I started going through the songs one by one. After listening to the guide track, we would go through it step by step, one verse at a time, to get the right feel and also establish the exact timing of each syllable. We frequently discussed alternative phrasings and explored some different melodies too. Following this, I would go into the vocal booth and sing each part (be it verse, chorus, bridge, etc.) three or four times until we got the best performance possible. The benefit was two-fold; as I got more familiar with my parts, I could focus on the tiny details, incrementally improving the takes, whilst also providing Kenny with an assortment of takes to choose from during the editing stages. The whole process was of course tiring, but the constant urge to get better tracks was enough to keep me going.

On the morning of the fourth day, all the main vocals were done and dusted, and this gave us practically a whole day to work on backings. Contrarily to the main vocals, the backing vocals were mostly still not established, so this required a very creative and intense process. We recorded most of the parts there and then, but these would have to be doubled by various other voices, namely some other band members and also our backing vocalists. Though exhausting, coming up with different harmonies was thoroughly enjoyable and hearing them all in sync instantly gave the tracks a funkier, and at times even anthemic, dimension. I just can't wait to hear the choral parts in the final mixes!

Comment

Phase 4: Guitars

Comment

Phase 4: Guitars

Guitars were up next. The last time Kenny and I were in the same room working as a producer and guitarist was almost four years ago, when both Joseph and I were active in a band called Scarlet Sally. This eventually led to a working relationship with Kenny as soon as Jubox Recording House started building its own client base. Over the years, Kenny has mentored me into the local recording business which led to a number of collaborations between us, making the process of approaching him as a producer for the album quite a straightforward decision. 

This album with Relikc, led me to focus on reproducing iconic funk tones as well as classic crunch sounds. In fact, the recording rig comprised of various vintage gear as well as a number of current tools and gadgets. The overall workflow was very smooth throughout the recording process, and of course enjoyable.

Β 

Amps

- 1965 Fender Twin Reverb
- 1964 Vox AC30

1964 Vox AC30

1964 Vox AC30

1965 Fender Twin Reverb

1965 Fender Twin Reverb

The amps were positioned back-to-back in order to minimize audio bleed as much as possible and they were both mic'd up with a Shure SM57 and an AKG C414EB each. The SM 57's were plugged into API 512c preamps whereas the 414's were plugged into both channels of an Avalon AD2022 dual-channel tube preamp. Then, the outputs of all external preamps were routed to the line inputs of the mid-80's Trident Series 65 analog console where they were EQ'd to taste and finally, from the console's direct outs, everything was sent to the Digidesign 192 AD/DA converter into Cubase 8.

Β 

Guitars

- 1974 Fender Stratocaster
Mods: Mint Green Pickguard loaded with Seymour Duncan Pickups (SSL-1 in the Neck & Middle; SSL-5 in the Bridge)

- 1983 Fender Top-Loader Telecaster
Mods: Gotoh Dual-Load In-Tune Telecaster Bridge with Brass Saddles

- 2007 PRS Custom 24
Mods: None

- 2012 Gretsch White Falcon
Mods: None

- 2010 Yamaha SG1820
Mods: None

- 2005 Martin D-28 Marquis
Mods: K&K Ultra Pure Mini Preamp and Pickup System

Both the Strat and the Tele were used predominantly all throughout the album. It goes without saying that these two were indeed an integral part of the overall timbre, given that the style of the album is mostly a mix of funk, pop and rock. However, a couple of tracks did eventually branch out to other musical genres, although still somewhat related to the sound that we were going for. For example, the Gretsch White Falcon was the perfect choice for a jazz guitar sound a la George Benson, due to its hollowbody. It also added a nice touch to specific sections where just the addition of some broken chords were blended in. Also, the Martin D-28, mic'd with a vintage Neumann KM84, proved to be a great tool for laying down doubled rhythm tracks which ended up giving a couple of songs a vibe that was better than what we originally envisioned. Finally, the PRS and the Yamaha were mostly used to fatten up certain passages and make them sound bigger, within particular tracks which Kenny felt needed that extra edge.

Β 

Signal Chain

Due to the dual amplification, the signal chain was split in two by making use of a a Radial JD7, whilst also keeping a D.I. out which was fed straight into the console. However, my pedal board was placed between the guitars and the Radial JD7, meaning that each amp received the same altered tone. Most overdriven tones were achieved via an Ibanez Tubescreamer Mini, however an Xotic SL Drive was also used for even more saturated tones for specific leads. Apart from these two pedals, the Xotic EP Booster was occasionally also used at its lowest settings, which added just the right amount of sparkle and pleasant colour.

Even though I actively use a variety of effect pedals in my live setup, it was decided that any modulation and delay effects would instead be added in post-production via software plugins. This gave us the flexibility to experiment with different effects using the raw sound from the amp. Luckily all of my pedals are hooked up to the BOSS ES-8, which allowed me to use just the overdrive/distortion pedals within the signal chain, without needing to dismantle the whole board.

The current iteration of my pedal board.

The current iteration of my pedal board.

Comment

Phase 3: Keyboards

Comment

Phase 3: Keyboards

Next up was keyboards. Once more, this proved to be quite the speed run. The keyboard tracks for 10 songs were recorded in one day, making it quite an intense session. Over the years I have assembled a small collection of keyboards, most of which managed to feature in some way in the recorded tracks. 

Starting from left: Korg CX-3, M-audio Axiom 61, Yamaha Motif XS Rack, Novation Ultranova, Nord Lead 2 and Rhodes mk.II Stage 54.

Starting from left: Korg CX-3, M-audio Axiom 61, Yamaha Motif XS Rack, Novation Ultranova, Nord Lead 2 and Rhodes mk.II Stage 54.

Perhaps the most prominent instrument in the album, is the Rhodes mk.II Stage 54, which is quickly becoming part of my signature sound. This was particularly exciting as it marks the instrument's debut, following restoration done by myself. The piano was restored mostly making use of Vintage Vibe as a supplier of materials. Whilst the Rhodes sound has always been one of my go-to sounds, I had only used samples. Although my Yamaha Motif XS rack has some of the best sampled Rhodes sounds on the market, the real thing just feels better. The mechanical response and the inherent flaws of the instrument just give it that much more character than the best sounding samples. Whilst the listener may not particularly notice the difference, it is more about the playing experience, which in turn alters the way the player performs.

Alongside the Rhodes, is a clonewheel; a Korg CX-3 which also features greatly in the songs, emulating the sound of a Hammond B3. A few other sounds including piano, clavinet and strings were achieved using my trusty aforementioned Yamaha Motif XS Rack, which I drive using an M-Audio Axiom controller.

Along with my passion for electric pianos and hammond organs, I am also quite the synth geek, which has in some ways contributed to the band being transported to more modern and electronic genres. Needless to say, synthesizers are quite prominent in a number of tracks. Both Kenny and I had a great time shaping the sounds for the album, making use of my prized Nord Lead 2, a Virtual Analog synth with a great interface and a fat warm sound. Alongside the raw sound of the Nord, partly due to its limited features, I also used my Novation Ultranova; a sophisticated VA synth which was used for more complex and automated sounds, such as pads and vocoders. At one point I also fondly reached out for his Alesis Micron for a very specific pad sound called Vocojam which makes use of Sample and Hold to automate the filter, achieving a very vocal-like sound.

Comment

Phase 2: Bass Guitar

Comment

Phase 2: Bass Guitar

Next member to lock himself up in the studio was Ivan. Following three intense days of drum tracking, it was now time to lay down the bass tracks. 

The pressure was on. Completing the bass tracking for an album in just two sessions was not an easy feat, but our producer Kenny was there to guide me throughout the process, closing off the foundation of the album's groove section. This was achieved using my Fender Elite Jazz Bass, the latest addition to my bass collection. This baby is extremely comfortable and versatile, having 4th generation pick-ups and an active/passive toggle switch, including pick-up blending options, and full frequency tone control. 

The bass was recorded directly through the DI box. Kenny wanted to capture the sound of the bass without coloring it, with its full tonal characteristics, so a basic signal chain was used. Any effects or coloring would then be added in post-production depending on where the song was heading.

The recording process was quite smooth overall, except for consistent reminders by Kenny to "tune up" and to adjust the placement of the plucking hand. Given the speed and tightness required by the style, Kenny was quite adamant in reminding me to keep my plucking hand towards the bridge pick-up, which helped achieve a more defined tone. Initially I was a bit outside my comfort zone, as I'm typically more inclined to play closer to the neck, probably due to the easy switch-up to slap bass. However the resulting sound was worth the extra attention.

Comment

Phase 1: Drums

Comment

Phase 1: Drums

We kicked off the recording process with drums. Prior to the actual recording, Kenny our producer spent a whole day setting up the live room, changing drum skins and positioning microphones. Late into the night, I then assembled the drum kit, and had a "brief" jam.

The drum kit comprises of a beautiful Yamaha Oak Custom kit with an Amber Sunburst finish, including a 22" Bass drum, 16" Floor Tom and a 12" Tom. Apart from having a killer look, the sound is tight and melodic. The snare drum is a 14"x5.5" Yamaha Oak snare with a Natural finish and was kindly lent to me by Joseph Bezzina. All drum heads were changed to Remo Powerstroke skins specifically for this recording session.

Finally, the kit includes a set of Paiste cymbals which we really fell in love with. They have just the right amount of shimmer while still being dry enough for the style. These are a set of 14" Hi-Hats, 16" Thin Crash, 18" Crash, 20" Ride from the Paiste Twenty Series and a 16" China from the 2002 range. 

I really liked this particular combination of drums, as even in the room, they have a great overall balance with a deep and decisive kick, precise and well-rounded snare sound, and beautiful shimmery cymbals. Right off the bat, we knew that the drums were going to sound GREAT. See for yourself!

Comment

Debut Album: Recording to begin this week.

Comment

Debut Album: Recording to begin this week.

Over the last few months, Relikc has hinted that it was working on an album multiple times. All the songs are written and we're very excited to start the recording process next week.

You could say that this album is long over-due. The band has been active for almost ten years, and an album has been on our wishlist since the very beginning. Over the years, we've released a number of singles, as well as an EP titled "It's Not Misspelt". For the majority of 2016, we've gigged our hardest, whilst also finding time to write some songs. Following a month of pre-production in collaboration with Kenny D'Ugo from Beehive Productions as our producer, we're ready to kick off the recording phase at Jubox Recording House. As we do with our live acts, we are excited to have a sizable crew of friends and musicians helping us out, and will feature throughout the songs. 

We'll keep you updated so stay tuned!

Comment