Death To False Drum Reverb! An Interview with Gorguts’ Colin Marston

I may have mentioned how I think GorgutsColored Sands is the best record of the year. And this isn’t just me having bad taste as usual. While there have been some amazing albums that were well loved by the heavy community, if you look at the broad consensus of critical acclaim no other album save Carcass’ Surgical Steel (or Deafheaven’s Sunbather if you look at some more mainstream publications) keeps popping up so consistently on everyone’s lists.

This should have caught me by surprise, since Gorguts were always one of those bands like Origin or Dysrhythmia (who both funnily enough have donated members to the revamped Gorguts lineup) that were respected in a disproportionally high amount compared to the number of discs they actually sold. More importantly, the band’s last album was From Wisdom To Hate, which was released way back in 2001. Yet despite the Gorguts’ modest popularity and 12 year absence, a slow buzz has been building for the last few years. It started as a whisper stirring in the shadows of Mordor.

I’ll admit, up until a few years ago I was unfamiliar with the band. I knew them in name only. But I learned that Dysrhythmia’s bassist Colin Marston and guitarist Kevin Huffnagel, and Origin drummer John Longstreth, had joined and I knew there was no way this was going to be a bad record (guitarist/vocalist Luc Lemay is the sole original member). But that was 2010 or 2011 when I first heard the news. Apparently the songs were mostly done, and they were about to enter the studio, yet for years there was no actual music to be heard. I wonder if that prolonged wait was what helped grow the reputation of Colored Sands to the point where everyone took notice.

Anyway, I spoke at length with Colin, who not only handled bass duties but also mixing, mastering, and additional tracking.

Can you give me the background on how you and Kevin came to play in Gorguts?

Luc sent Kevin a Myspace message back in 2008 asking both of us to join. That was it! I had met Luc a couple years earlier at the first Negativa show, but the request to join Guts was somewhat out of the blue.

How did you approach your bass tone? Were you trying to get something halfway between your usual sound and the Gorguts tone of yesteryear, or did you just dial it in how you thought it would sound best?

I approached it the same way I always do–same setup, same bass/amps/pedals. The only thing I did differently at the beginning was to use only the neck pickup, instead of a 50/50 blend of neck and bridge. But a couple years ago, I had the stock pickups disconnected and a single passive Bartolini installed in the neck position, bypassing all the electronics. so now my bass has no knobs (not even volume), just passive pickup straight to the output. Now I dont have a bridge pickup, so it’s all neck for all bands.

How long ago did you switch from the Hartke bass head to the Ampeg? Which was used on Colored Sands?

I got the SVT Vintage Reissue in winter of 2012 (almost 2 years ago), but we tracked Colored Sands in February of 2011, so I was using the Hartke and my bass’ original pickup… though I got to use the SVT on Horrorscension (Behold… The Arctopus), Test of Submission (Dysrhythmia), and Years Past Matter (Krallice) for Nick [Colin plays guitar in Krallice, and Nick McMaster handles bass duties -ED].

You have a pretty unique amp setup, assuming it’s the same in Gorguts as Dysrhythmia, with a Roland Jazz Chorus 212 parked vertically atop your stack. Is that for more high end and attack?

It is the same, yes. I’ve been using the JC120 ever since I started playing bass. Actually I started using it for the bass side of the Warr Guitar even before I played bass in any bands. Yes, it’s for more high mids/attack/clarity/guitariness, whatever you want to call it. I also like having the ability to add heavy distortion and/or delay JUST to the guitar amp and leave the bass amp with my “normal” tone.

Can you go over your pedalboard? What pedal or pedals are you using for distortion. I’ve always thought your sound is, for lack of a better term, more “hi-fi” than a lot of other bassists’ distortion sounds.

Here’s the signal path:

Bass –> tuner –> Morely Distortion –> Sovtek Big Muff (barely used) –> Boss PS3 (pitchshifter/delay) at the output of the PS3 is where the signal is split:

Half 1: straight to the SVT –> Eden XLT410

Half 2: Boss Metal Zone –> Boss DD5 delay –> Roland Jazz Chorus 120

The only pedal I use all the time is the Morley Distortion. The bass is never clean (save one part on the last Dysrhythmia album and one part on the Guts record). The PS3 is basically only used to split to the two amps, but i do use it for delay and detune very occasionally. The primary effects I use are just the Metal Zone and Boss delay that only go to the JC120. And I only use them maybe 30% of the time. It seems like I have a ton of pedals, but I’m  not super into using lots of effects. I feel silly having them much of the time. Ha!

I forget, is your bass an Ibanez Soundgear?

It’s an old BTB, not a Soundgear. longer scale and wider string spacing than the Soundgear.

Was Colored Sands recorded over a long period of time? I heard about the band getting back together and making an album for what felt like ages before the record came out.

Yes and no. The basic tracking was done up in Quebec in a week, or 6 days, or something back in February of 2011. But then 2 years passed before I could mix the album (due to waiting for all the record contract garbage to get sorted out).

I’m used to tracking my parts live with the drummer, so I’m accustomed to working at the drummer’s pace. But for the Guts album, we decided to all record separately. So I had to record last after the drums and both guitars were done. When it finally came time for me to record i was so excited I just wanted to attack! Personally it’s the fastest I’ve ever recorded an album: I did all my tracking in about 3 hours total, all as complete takes, with only a few punch-ins. I’m not trying to brag, quite the opposite: I wanted to leave mistakes on the record (and they’re there!) [I don’t care what you say about any mistakes, that’s still really impressive -ED]. I’m so sick of hearing perfected performances on albums (especially from “techy”/intricate bands). I really wanted the ends of the songs to feel like ends of songs, where you might be tired and struggling. I wanted the parts that are difficult to sound intense, not effortless: that’s boring!

I also decided to not track in any of the nice big open studio rooms, but down in the cold leaky basement, in front of my amps, sitting on a giant rock protruding out of the ground. Not exactly sure why I decided that was a good idea, but it was brutal I guess!

What kind of amps did Luc and Kevin use?

The main guitar tone is a Diezel (VH4 I think, not totally sure) running to a Mesa and Orange cab. Most of what you hear is the Mesa, but the Orange is in there. There’s also a clean combo amp running the whole time for pitch clarity. It’s automated up and down for different riffs.

Kevin used the Diezel for the solos he tracked in Canada (tracks 4 and 8 on the album). For the other solos (tracks 1, 2, 6, 7) we recorded them here at Menegroth with a Bluebeard fuzz into a Fender Deville 410 (with Jensen speakers).

Pierre Rémillard handled the meat and potatoes tracking, right? What did you record at your studio, The Thousand Caves, afterwards?

We did drums, bass, main guitars, and a couple solos with Pierre. I was closely involved in the recording too, but at the time Pierre was supposed to mix, so I didn’t get too control-freak about it. At my studio we tracked all the vocals, more than half of the guitar solos, war drum overdubs, and odds and ends.

The string orchestra [was also] all done here at the caves. It’s a live string quintet (two violins, viola, cello, bass) layered four times. Twice with a closer pair of Neumann KM184s, and twice with the mics moved back a few feet. I recorded two room mics in the hallways outside the live room. If it were up to me, I probably would have left the mix with only close and hall mics, but Luc wanted more reverb, so I applied a sampled reverb which was fed only by the hall mics.

I did the mixing an mastering here too.

It must have been a challenge to retain all the note clarity in the mix while keeping it sounding heavy, and allowing everything to cut through, like the bass.

Yes it was! I think I spent longer on this mix than any rock album I’ve ever done. Part of that was because everything was over-miced. We really had too many signals to deal with, but I didn’t throw out many mics, so it is a really rich, dense album in terms of timbre. Even more challenging was to achieve the desired clarity without anything sounding over-eqed, which is a major complaint I have about modern (especially metal) recordings. I hate how bright and sparkly most metal records sound.

How did you handle the drum mix? It sound like the kick is sound replaced but maybe most of the rest of the kit isn’t?

The kick is the only (partially) triggered drum. everything else is fully acoustic. We comped some takes together, but aside from that there isn’t any editing or fixing of the performance. And the kick isn’t 100% replaced. We used 2 mics on the kick: an [Audix] D6 inside, and a  [Yamaha] Subkick on the front head. What you hear on the record is a pretty even balance of subkick, D6 and trigger. For the triggered sample, I used a recording I made of [Behold… The Acrtopus drummer] Weasel Walter’s [Ludwig] Vistalite kick which has nickels taped to the inner surface of the batter head. The coins make it a super attacky sample, so if I remember correctly, there’s no treble boost on the kicks at all!

There were two top mics for the snare, one natural, one compressed to tape, and one bottom. Two mics on each of the four toms (top and bottom), a stereo overhead, hat/ride spot mics on each side, and two sets of stereo ribbon room mics. There’s no reverb on the drums, just room mics. Death to false drum reverb!

You mastered the album as well, right? Do you have to take a break after mixing before delving into the mastering process, for perspective?

Yes I mastered it. And yes, getting a break before mastering is important. In retrospect, I maybe should have waited longer than I did, but whatever: it’s done and it sounds good. As the mixes were taking shape, I would often take a dinner break at the end of a mixing day, then load my current bounces up and fuck around with some possible mastering eq/compression. That way I kept giving myself a sneak preview of what the final master might sound like. It gave me a sense of what my options were for how bright/bassy etc… I could make the master without it sounding overcooked. Then when it was really time to master, I think I did three drafts. I sat with the third draft for a couple weeks, not sure whether to make more changes, and then at a certain point, I realized I had to just let it go.

Were you surprised at the huge response to Colored Sands? Gorguts is a seminal band, and you must have known you had a killer record, but the band had been away for so long.

Was I ever! I’ve never wrote, played on, or mixed anything that’s gotten a quarter as much attention. I still can’t believe it, especially since Gorguts records in the past have been NOT well-received. I definitely knew the record was good: I really freaked myself out the night I sat down and listened to my first mix draft of the first song I worked on–it sounded so fucking enormous! But I was surprised at the positive response since I feel just as passionate about Horrorscension (for example) and that album seems to really upset people.

Thanks for your time Colin. Anything to say in closing? Records to promote? I’m assuming you have at least 7 more albums coming from your various projects before the year is over.

All my bands are in the early stages of writing/learning new music, so no releases for a while. I’ve been making more solo records under the name Indricothere. Got a bandcamp thingy for that. Recently I made a metal album and an ambient album which I self-released a few months ago. Mick and I have been doing some improv recordings… those will exist soon.

Gorguts

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Chris Alfano has written about music and toured in bands since print magazines and mp3.com were popular. Once in high-school he hacked a friend's QBasic stick figure fighting game to add a chiptune metal soundtrack. Random attractive people still give him high-fives about that.