Tracking the Singularity: an Interview with Northlane’s Josh Smith

Northlane’s album Singularity came out almost a year ago and the band has been touring on it almost non-stop. I had a chance to talk to guitarist Josh Smith about tracking with producer Will Putney, international touring, and more.

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I heard that you had to fit in the recording of Singularity in the middle of a busy tour schedule. Were the songs all already completed, or were you hammering out details on the road?

The details in our songs are written usually as each part is developed, it was more a matter of actually getting enough songs finished to put together an album that was super difficult, and our first week in the studio had us scrambling to finish the tracks at the last minute. It was a very tight writing schedule.

How did you stay rehearsed for the new material? Did you make a point of playing all of the new material on the road?

Not really, we just sort of banged it out at the studio but did jam a few of the tracks beforehand that were written more in advance than the ones that came at the last minute.

How did you get hooked up with Producer Will Putney? Were you a fan of a specific recording of his or did someone recommend him to you?

He actually did the mix on our first record, Discoveries. He totally transformed the sound of that record for the best so we wanted to give him control over the entire process so we could get the best result possible. Prior to that we were a big fan of his mixes in general.

Last I worked with Will he had a lot of fun as a mad scientist combining a lot of different tones together in the re-amping stage. Were you there for the mixing process? Were the tones re-amped or or did you keep the tracking tones? Do you know what gear was used?

The tones weren’t re-amped. We used a Diezel VH4 into a diezel cab and then a 5150ii into a mesa cab, Will blended these in a summing mixer and then added a Krank revolution into a palmer DI in some bits and a bogner uberschall in others. For all of the leads and any affected tones we exclusively used the Axefx II, can’t really remember which specific amp models.

Was everything tracked at The Machine Shop or were any pieces recorded somewhere else?

It sure was, even the guest vocal spot [from Stray From The Path’s Drew York].

One thing I’ve noticed about the recording is that there’s more reverb on the snare than a lot of other modern metal records. The trend lately has been to leave the snare farely dry. Was this something you discussed with Will or did it just happen organically?

It was organic!

What vocal mic did you use? An SM7? It doesn’t sound like a condenser to me but you can never be Shure (sorry, bad pun).

It shure was!

How happy are you with the finished project? Is there anything you would change if you could?

Honestly at this stage, it’s hard to say. I think live our soft parts are a little more of a pin-drop moment but it’s probably because we’ve over-analysed Singularity to the tee.

What, to you, is your ideal metal recording?

This is a really hard question because every band is different and the production has to match each individual band. I really like the production on Obzen (meshuggah) and although I wouldn’t really call it “metal” you can’t really fault the latest Deftones and Karnivool records. I think these both sound very organic and open which is something I really like to hear.

You guys must fly a lot to make tours feasible. A lot of Australian bands I talk to go the digital modelling route to cut down on gear shipping/rental. What are your guitar and bass setups?

We sure do. For guitars right now we are using new wet/dry/wet rigs we just put together. Kemper Profiling amps for our dry guitar tones, axefx handling all of the effects in stereo. There’s also a special reverb pedal in the FX loop of the axefx. For bass it’s mostly been Alex’s Darkglass Microtubes blended with a tone he gets from his axefx. Everything we run for guitar and bass is direct and there’s usually no cabs on stage, we get everything through in-ears. If there is a cab, it’s a bass cab for some extra stage rumble.

Any flying tips for bands? Do you check your guitars or carry them on the plane?

Make sure you use top quality cases for EVERYTHING! We check our guitars in, we have Scott Dixon triple guitar and bass cases, they’re awesome! With 3 guitars, it only weighs in just over 20kg so they’ve definitely paid for themselves.

I’m assuming rent/borrow most of your drum kit for international tours? What drum gear do you travel with?

Nic gets international tour support from TAMA so he’s usually playing a starclassic maple or his preference – bubinga. He usually takes one or two of his handmade custom snares, Sabian cymbals and one set of TAMA pedals, just in case. We also have a little rig in a small pelican case where he controls our clicks/backings and his own personal in-ear mix.

What’s next for Northlane?

I wish I was allowed to tell you, it sure is exciting!

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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.