Tiny Telephone

Ian and Jay Pellicci, San Francisco recording engineers and brothers, have worked on tons of great local projects including Deerhoof’s latest album Offend Maggie. We were interested in what they do as engineers, how they got started, and their upcoming projects. We got a chance to ask them about all of these things in an interview a couple weeks ago at The Bay Bridged Studio. This is the second of two parts to this interview; click here to read part one. This interview has been edited for length.

TBB: How difficult is time management? Is time management and the idea of the ticking clock one of the biggest challenges

[in a recording project]?

JP: It is, and I think that any band that hasn’t actually been in a recording studio before, always underestimates how much time that it’s going to take. And they don’t realize that the setup time, depending on the arrangement of the band, can take up a huge chunk of the day. And on top of that, almost anybody that I know that’s either been in the studio and recorded a lot or is an engineer knows that things always take twice as long as you think they’re going to take.

IP: Beyond that, no matter how much time you book, you use every last second, and you usually end up going late into the night on the very last day.

JP: You inevitably find a way to use every last bit of time. And the thing that I’ve found is that a lot of bands that want to record a couple of song or an album, they’ll book like two days or something like that. When I first started, from both my lack of experience and the band having never recorded before, it’s like, “Alright, this is going to be a crazy two days, let’s just give it a shot.” You can get stuff done, but realistically I’ve been in the situation so many times where a band will want to book three days to record a record or to do a certain amount of songs. I try to be pretty upfront with people and tell them that I don’t think three days is going to be enough, if we totally hustle we might be able to get through all this stuff, we probably won’t be able to mix blah blah blah. Usually I’m more on the optimistic side because who wants to spend a million dollars on recording a record?

JP [continued]: And musicians are, generally speaking, on the poorer side, so of course they want to spend as little money as they can. But so many times what ends up happening is we run out of time and it’s like, “Okay, we didn’t even start the vocals yet,” or “We didn’t start this or that” so then they have to book more time and figure out how we’re going to finish this record. So time management, it’s really difficult. There’s inevitably that moment where you’re like, “Well, you know, if you want to get this done in three days and not blow time, you’re going to have to start making some decisions really quickly, like what you want to keep and what you don’t want to keep and that sort of thing.

IP: And a real time killer can be arrangements within the song, and bands not really hearing the song and all the instruments and all the parts the way they actually are in the rehearsal space because they’re either in front of their amp and it’s blaring right at their head or somebody else, for whatever reason, can’t hear a keyboard line or a guitar line or whatever. And then they get into the studio and they can hear all the parts and they’re like, “Oh, I didn’t realize you were doing that,” or, “You know, this just doesn’t work.” Then a couple hours go by and they’re trying to find different ways to remedy that. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but that can be a real time sinker.

TBB: So you guys worked together and recorded the newest Deerhoof album [Offend Maggie] right? How was that? What was that like?

JP: It was tons and tons of fun (as Ian adjusts Jay’s microphone). I know, I’m not projecting…In the past we’ve worked on a lot of stuff where either sometimes Ian would get a session or I would get a session and the other one wouldn’t be working that day so we would pop by and help the other person out for a day or a part of a day, or for a few days. But with Deerhoof, we’ve worked with them before, two or three different times?

IP: Well, since Reveille.

[audio:http://i.listentokrs.com/bands/deerhoof/audio/HolyNightFever.mp3] Deerhoof – “Holy Night Fever” (from Reveille)

JP: We’ve worked on some songs from Reveille and Apple O’, two songs that were used for Milk Man but were recorded in the Reveille sessions, over dubs and some other parts on Friend Opportunity, and then we recorded most of the new Offend Maggie. It was really fun. And they’re old friends too. It’s really fun working with them.

IP: We were really able to cash in on the history we have with the band and working with them on kind of figuring out more of what they want and that sort of thing so it kind of feels like, with this latest album, we had finally come to this understanding. We can translate what we know into a natural sound or something and that way they can just record without spending a bunch of time saying, “It’s kind of like this,” or, “We don’t want that.” As far as the music itself, we have nothing to do with that, whatsoever. But yeah, they are the most decisive musicians that I’ve met. There’s nothing that they haven’t considered and labored over.

TBB: Other than the recent Deerhoof record, what’s something that each of you has worked on or is going to worked on or has worked on that you’re excited about?

JP: I think the thing I’ve worked on recently that I’m most excited about is, well there’s this San Francisco band Or, the Whale, and so I’ve been working with them for the last little bit. We just finished with them Saturday. And that was really fun, working with those guys. They’re all great guys, and girls, and super talented and everything. It was just a really pleasant experience working with them. I’m stoked about it because I think they’re a good band and I think their recordings came out good. And I think Scott Solter is mixing the record next month and so I’m excited to hear what happens with it because I’m sure it’ll be good. And just by saying this I’ll probably blow all opportunity of this happening out the window, but I’m kind of stoked because this band from Belgium wants me to record them. And they’re like, “Hey how about we fly you out to Belgium to record,” and I’m like, “Okay…? That would be awesome!” So I don’t know if it’s actually going to happen or not but if it does then that’s another thing I’m stoked about.

TBB: How about you, Ian?

IP: Actually on Sunday, the Rogue Wave session is starting and that’s going to be a lot of fun working with them again. We just did pre-production. Let me clarify what pre-production is. I went over to their rehearsal space and listened to the demos of the songs we’re going to record. So we did that, and I’ve been listening to the demos and stuff and that seems like it’ll be a lot of fun. The demos are really good and there’s a lot of time to really… well I hope there’ll be a lot of time to mess around with everything. Beyond that there’s a tour coming up in May with John Vanderslice, so I’m going to be doing sound for that and uh….tour managing. This will be the second time I’ll be tour managing. I did it once for Dirty Projectors. John is going to be really fun to tour with, it’s going to be a really good crew.

[audio:http://www.subpop.com/assets/audio/2390.mp3] Rogue Wave – “Publish My Love”

TBB: What’s it like when you’re not doing the mixing? You spend all this time recording and developing sounds and even harmonies and overall arrangements, and then it leaves your hands. Do you wish you were doing it? Do you hope that it turns out the way you wanted it to?

IP: Yeah, it’s sad to see it go. You spend a lot of time on something and you’re forming and idea of what it should be in the end, and then half way through, somebody else gets to take it. It’s kind of your baby, you kind of put it on tape or into Pro Tools, and then, yeah…I hope it comes out well.

JP: I pretty much feel the same way about it. Like, sure, I’d like to mix it.

TBB: Do you guys do a lot of mixing without the recording? Is it weird taking someone else’s recording and finishing their work?

JP: I’ve done a fair amount of that too, I really like doing it. When you’re recording, you start to know like, in this song, where all the tracks are, where this part comes in, “Oh there’s a weird cough on this track at this point that’s annoying, they have to remember to take out.” And then when you’re mixing, and getting these tracks for the first time and listening to them for the first time you often say, “Oh! That’s that guitar part right there,” and it’s really fun.

IP: It’s kind of like playing memory, in a way. More recently, when recording, I usually try to really commit ideas or the way I want to hear it or the way I think everything should sound as a whole. Committing to the tone so that you don’t need to have a bunch of processing to make it sound a certain way. You bring the faders up or you bring the tracks up completely clean and flat and it’s got this sound that is either, well you know, it’s hopefully what you have in mind and it’s something that exists without having to say, “Oh but what was that setting?” and that sort of jazz. So if you’re not mixing it, it could box somebody in, but at the same time, maybe that’s a good thing, maybe it’s not.