Toontrack Metal Month: Exclusive Interview with Producer Jocke Skog

As part of our partnership with Swedish recording software company Toontrack for Metal Month all November, Gear Gods will be bringing you a series of exclusive interviews and features to highlight Toontrack’s new products designed specifically for the metal recording engineer and player. Check out our interview with Jason Suecof, Mark Lewis and Daniel Bergstrand about their Metal! EZX pack and our interview with Andy Sneap about his own guitar and bass tone expansion pack if you didn’t yet: must-read material for any aspiring recording engineer.

The latest of Toontrack’s metal-focused products is the brand new Metal Amps expansion pack for EZmix 2, a collection of 50 guitar and bass tones based on impulse response and modeling of some of the most well-known, high gain amps and speaker cabinets of the past several decades. All presets were custom-made by renowned engineer Jocke Skog and designed to cater to a broad use spanning all the fragmented genres in classic and modern metal. Learn more about the Metal Amps expansion pack and purchase it right here.

Check out our interview with Skog below about his new Metal Amps pack, how he achieved the tones therein, how he gained his engineering skills over time, his influences and more.

You have spent years and years recording guitars, modeling tones and looking for sounds. Where does your fascination for guitars and guitar tones stem from?

Jocke: From hearing awesome tone, starting with Scott Ian, James Hetfield, Dimebag Darrell and Fredrik Thordendal palm muting their way into my brain stem. When we made all those Clawfinger albums I heard guitar sounds in my head but we weren’t able to achieve them and I couldn’t understand why. We had awesome gear and still… My dad taught me to always ask myself “why” and I couldn’t answer that question, and no one that I knew could either, so I just had to start digging.

Explain briefly what an impulse response is and how it is possible to capture a frequency and translate that into a guitar tone.

An impulse response (IR) is a way to capture the acoustic characteristics of a location, or in our case, a cab. It works fantastic on rooms, like halls and churches, but anything that a microphone can record can be turned into an IR. I think. It’s used to measure the frequency and phase curve of transducers (speakers), speaker cabinets and rooms. That’s how we get a 4×12 into the computer. We play a special audio file through the gear we’re using to make a great sound and the resulting audio is compared to the original file and the difference is compressed into a small audio ”finger print” and voila, an IR, ready to be used!

With today’s tools, even someone not very familiar with mixing or recording technology can achieve album quality productions. Some can even outdo productions from big-name producers and studios right from their bedrooms. Others fail epically. Why do some fail when it clearly doesn’t come down to gear?

Practice, practice – and good ears. Oh yeah, being crazy helps. I think that some people just have that ability – like artists that can paint a wonderful painting with whatever pen, paint or crayons. We producers/engineers are painting with sound instead.

What are some positives about the development of mixing more “in the box,” software with modeled guitar tones and sampled drums?

You can put the music you hear in your head into a working demo in a fraction of the time it would take to set up real gear and rehearse the individual parts with real musicians.

You said once that you have somehow managed to specialize in making cheap productions sound expensive. What are some of your tricks?

Haha, I use my ears and the technology provided by companies like Toontrack. That’s the simple truth. People are not paying for my studio; they’re paying for my expertise.

How much of someone’s guitar tone lies in the player and how much comes from actual gear?

50-50 IMHO. I have played on Meshuggah gear, but it didn’t sound like Meshuggah. Meshuggah have played on my gear and it didn’t sound like me. The gear is important of course, but if you can’t palm mute in the awesome way some of us can, it’ll sound “womp” instead of “CHUNK”. But without the right gear, it’s hard to get the sound needed to be able to do it. It’s all in the wrist.

Would a world-class player sound better on a crappy tone compared to a lesser player on a perfect tone?

Absolutely, but I always say that if you play stuff you’re good at, not too many will notice. So, if you’re good at shredding, don’t play rhythm, and the other way around. Did I mention that I play bass in Feared by the way? Awesome bass sound, worthless technique.

Talk briefly about the new Metal Amps EZmix Pack you just produced for Toontrack.

I’m a big fan of rhythm players. That’s what I like and that’s what I’ve always enjoyed listening to. The problem with rhythm sounds (or with presets in general) is that when you make a good one, you make it for the actual song/idea/production you’re working on so if you change any of the components (cab or amp or microphone) the chances are that it’ll sound… less perfect. The good thing about EZmix 2 is that I make a basic sound, and I decide what components you as an end user can mess with. Awesome! So I’ve tried to make rhythm sounds that will work on pretty much anything rhythmic, depending on who’s playing of course. I went with what I like in the character of a rhythm sound. Then I added cab IRs from some of my productions and from more than seven years of testing out different IRs in Fear and Loathing studios in which I worked for about ten years.

All of the cabs in the pack are made with the best gear I could get my hands on. Microphones and preamps from Germany, Austria, Great Britain, USA, Russia and even China have been used and the cabs are the brands/models that you hear about in all productions that sound AAA (if we’re talk gaming terms). Many of those cabs have been on albums that have defined genres and other albums that just sound badass. The controls I’ve allowed to be changed are mostly Drive, EQ and FX sends, but I’ve also added two cabs with different characters with a blend control, making it even more versatile. I’ll stick my neck out here, but if you can’t get a good sounding rhythm guitar with the Metal Amps pack… you need to hire somebody. Like me ;)

A big shout out to Ronnie Björnström at Garageland Studios in Umeå for helping me with some of the IRs included, and of course Fredrik Thordendal who has lent me his ears from time to time and who gave me many clues on how to get the results I’ve been searching for.

Learn more about the Metal Amps expansion pack and purchase it right here

Check out this video of Feared’s track “Mylingen,” from their new album Vinter (streaming in full here), mixed by Jocke Skog using exclusively Toontrack plugins:

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