Guitar wizard and producer Doug Aldrich talks about recording Whitesnake's new album 'Forevermore', coming March 29 2011. Visit Doug's site (www.dougaldrich.com) and Whitesnake's official homepage (www.whitesnake.com) for more information!
Who are you?
I was born in North Carolina. When I got out of school I was supposed to go to college in California but the attraction of playing guitar all day just got to me. Little by little I landed in Whitesnake in 2002.
I had a guy over here and I pulled up the Trident and we both were like 'wow, that sounds amazing'. It's just a great plugin.
My first record was with a band called Lion. After we broke up I played with a couple of different bands and sessions for different bands. Down the road I had been doing a lot of sessions in Los Angeles. By the 90's home recording was getting big and I had guys coming over to my place and record. It was fun for me to capture their music. I had a lot of rap guys coming over too. There's a couple of records that I played on but it was just really good to be around other musicians to see how they record and achieve their sound.
I played on a lot of these records as well. One was a tribute record I did and the bass player from Rainbow and Dio, Jimmy Bain. Jimmy said that Dio might be looking for a guitar player. After a few months he called and said "let's get together as soon as possible" We met at a pub and originally Ronnie tested me and said, "you wanna play a solo on the record?" I said "no, I'm gonna do the whole thing!" Ronnie just said "alright, come down to the studio tomorrow" [laughs] That was it!
I started recording through dual tube amps and then use the Vintage Amp Room for the sound in the middle. This way it got a lot of clarity in the middle with beef on the sides.
Ronnie said they needed some help in writing the guitar parts, so I worked really hard on crafting cool guitar parts for the 8 songs they had drums for. Later I wrote two songs with Jimmy and Ronnie. I tried to put as much fire into that record as I could even though most of the songs were written. After that, Ronnie was pleased and I really felt good about joining the band.
While on tour with Dio, Whitesnake was being reformed by David Coverdale and he invited me to do a 2 month tour. Dio was schedualed to be off and at home at that time so I agreed. In the end, David offered me a position in the band. The kind of music that Whitesnake does is exactly the kind of music that I do. I'm a huge fan of his singing. As much as I loved working with Dio I just had to do this.
So you were a fan of Whitesnake before you joined the band?
A friend of mine had all their records. The one I really loved was "Come an' get it", I just thought it was a great record. Then "Slide it In" came out and blew me away.
Vintage Amp Room really helped us get a great clean or crunchy sound.
Can you talk a little about the recording and mixing of the new Whitesnake record?
I've always been an analog tape type of guy. I have a 24-track machine that just sounds amazing but the limitations just started to get to me. I used to sit there and clean the tape heads like three times a day!! We did the last three or four projects using Pro Tools. Analog still got a great sound but digital is getting better and better every day.
If you got a good Pro Tools rig and a fast computer, there's all these kind of plugins that work really well, and that's how I got into Softube.
What Softube plugins did you use for this album?
We had started writing and our demo sessions usually end up being the master session. We'll clean up a bunch of tracks and replace tracks. But say that I have a guitar going through Vintage Amp Room, or a bass going through Bass Amp Room, those tracks can stay for the entire record.
We met at a pub and originally Ronnie [James Dio] tested me and said, 'you wanna play a solo on the record?' I said 'no, I'm gonna do the whole thing!
There was a couple of other Softube plugins that I tried for this record. Acoustic Feedback worked out really well on some spots, it's really unique. And their version of the Trident A-Range Trident channel. I really loved that. I was actually using it on a session yesterday and I had a guy over here and I pulled up the Trident and we both were like "wow, that sounds amazing". It's just a great plugin. We used it on this Whitesnake project extensively. A lot of time for guitars and also a lot of times on vocals. The saturation knob on that plugin works really well.
Say for instance on a demo situation, if you are singing some parts really lightly, you can slam it through that plugin and crank it and suddenly it's this big ballsy sound. Really cool. When we all started singing properly we had to back that saturation of a little but it's such a great tool.
Have you ever worked on a real Trident A-Range?
Yeah, I have, but more so as a player. I haven't really twisted knobs on them that much. A couple of times I've met people who had some modules that were in a rack and I've used them a couple of times but mostly for the mic pre. But I know they were famous for guitar.
He's one of those singers that can sing into a crappy mic and he'll still sound amazing.
What tube amps do you use?
Marshall, kind of exclusively, and including the Marshall JMD:1 Amplifier. I have my favorite Marshall, a '79 JMP that has been modded and it's just an amazing sounding amp. I've used it on every record I ever made. Through the years I've let various people use it, like Joe Satriani and Godsmack. It's just a killer amp. And I brought that and the JMD:1 to pre-production. I got a setting on the JMD:1 and I can't really tell which was better.
When it got time for the real recording I used my vintage Marshall, the JMD:1, a Randy Rhoads and did try some other things as well so I had a good range of amp but the real intricate tone you get a lot these days comes from plugins. Vintage Amp Room really helped us get a great clean or crunchy sound.
Both the Vintage Amp Room and the Metal Amp Room are really cool. I started recording through dual tube amps and then use the Vintage Amp Room for the sound in the middle. This way it got a lot of clarity in the middle with beef on the sides. I really used that a lot on the latest Whitesnake record.
Lastly for amps and plugins, when it came to bass we used an Ampeg and a plugin of somekind, and a lot of time it was the Bass Amp Room. I really like on all of the Amp Rooms that you can move the mic around.
So you use a lot of plugins these days, but how much outboard gear do you still keep around?
I have a couple of Neve 1073 that I record into, some basic compression like Urei, dbx and the Distressor by Empirical Labs. I have various different mic's that I will stick onto the cab like a Royer, 421, and a SM57 obviously.
But no, not so much outboard gear anymore. The last time we went with a big analog mix, we used a big desk, Pultecs, a lot of outboard compression, and we always had to chase down problems. "Oh the bass is off, because the compressor is messed up or the patchbay..." it was always chasing stuff down. [Producer] Michael McIntyre said that we should just replace all the analog stuff with the plugins. And I think that's when David thought he wanted to minimize this stuff by trying to work with plugins.
Take a typical Whitesnake track from the latest record. How many channels would you be using there?
It varies but they're pretty big. I think there were 16 tracks of drums. We were experimenting a lot with the drums. We tried some of the old school less is more techniques and it sounded good but since we are in Pro Tools and tracks is not a problem we decided to get some more mic's on the kick drum and experiment with blends so we ended up using four mic's on the kick drum. Obviously you got two mic's on the snare, you got all the toms mic'ed up, then there's a stereo pair of overhead, stereo pair of close room and then there's the far room, there's a mono room mic that we would compress a lot and blend in with the rest.
So 16 tracks of drums or something like that. We didnt end up using all 16, but it was good to have options for the kick and room mics. Brian Tichy loves room so I wanted to make sure that we had it covered. There were three tracks of bass. Probably eight different keyboard tracks. For lead vocals, it could be lead double, a harmony, a special effect version or something. Then there would be a whole bunch of backing vocals. Everyone sang. Then later we would weed it down to the best background vocal parts for the songs.
The session in the end might have 60 tracks or so, maybe more, but we tried to thin it out to let the rhythm section really breathe. A lot of that comes from the guitars not being so big. We might have 12 tracks of guitars, a set of acoustic guitars, stereo cleans, guitars for big chords in the chorus, a vibrato track or something else. David prefers to record everything and then we can go through and mute tracks or parts that don't need to be there.
Do you have any go-to chains?
There's a couple of different ones but I really love this API compressor that makes the guitar punchy. Right after the attack it squeezes down a little bit but then it opens back up. It's kind of like an old Van Halen sound. The API compressor and the Trident EQ together.
Originally I went for a kind of old school tone. It was cool but Michael suggested that we fatten up the guitars a bit. I tried adding a little bit of beefy low end to my guitars. It's going to sound weird but even below the bass. It's a feel thing, maybe around 75 Hz or so. Then we might shelve it out or scoop it out later to make room for the bass. Then around the 4.5 kHz just feels like a good guitar frequency to make a guitar more in your face.
David is such a great singer, what do you do to process his voice?
The things that I like the most is the ones you don't hear that much. At first it sounds like it's nothing there but really there's some cool ambience that makes the voice sit better in the track. He's one of those singers that can sing into a crappy mic and he'll still sound amazing. He can make that crappy mic sound huge. The trick is to capture his real voice. I think he sounds great on this record. Its a real honour to be around when he is recording.
There are times when he'd say that the vocal was to loud and he wanted to be more part of the band. He really liked the vocal treatment on the Good To Be Bad record, but on this there's a little less processing going on here and its kind of more in your face.
For the ambience on his vocals, it works to have a nice bright plate with some nice top end that you can blend underneath, as well as maybe some delayed reverbs or something that have the size. Between those two you have this nice bright shimmer.
So you got your reverbs and some delayed reverbs or some delay that can be stereo and add some width. Sometimes we put an electronic doubler on his voice. Sometimes we would put a delay that's kind of like a 50's type slap delay. He loves that kind of slap for certain parts.
As far as EQ and compression goes. He just needs a nice warm compressor. Maybe a little bit of top end or maybe scooping out the low mids and the honkiness or something. It depends on the mic. But if you can just capture the way he sounds in the room it will be great.
You've talked a bit about how you record guitars, but how do you transfer that to the live stage?
The way you want it to sound on record is that it sounds live but maybe a bit more polished because people will be listening to it over and over. So maybe instead of a single guitar it might be doubled or tripled.
It's kind of like in the school of rock guys from the 70's when multitracking came about. You would double your guitars, but live you wouldn't need it because you got the excitement of live. With Whitesnake we have a big live sound with two guitar players and keyboards that fatten it out live as well. Live is therefore in certain senses fatter sounding!
Thanks very much to all the great people at Softube!