Project name:

The Sota Boys – Sitting On The Amp

Project description:

Written By Drew Schmalz: After the success of our first project in 2010, we were ready to take things to the next level. Over the course of more than 2 years, we wrote almost 3 albums’ worth of songs, and narrowed it down to 14 of the best. Throughout this long and winding road, we applied what we had learned about the value of patience from Always Say Always, and took our time to perfect each track. Despite our desire to release new music, we were disciplined in sitting with (or rather, sitting on) the album and letting it develop itself. Rather than making quick decisions and moving on to the next task, we forced ourselves to leave songs unfinished and come back in days, weeks, or even months to re-evaluate the production with fresh ears. Much time and effort were poured into crafting that perfect synth riff, creating that ideal pad texture, testing the best 808 drum sample for each track. The philosophy behind the production of this album was that there’s nothing gained by skimming or rushing. As a result, nothing was by accident or without purpose; there was meticulous attention to every facet of the track. We recognized that the opportunity for creativity extends beyond the noticeable elements – the lyrics, the beat, the chord progression – to every detail of the track. Every transition, every background vocal, every ghost note in the drum groove – everything matters.

I interned with Stephen Helvig at Droptone in 2011 and co-produced the group’s first Droptone release with him. This time around, I wanted to challenge myself to step out on my own, and rely less on the guidance and input of other producers. Collecting demo tracks from Haglund, Skoog & Johnson, I first familiarized myself with the character of each song. Once I understood the song, I started from scratch and rebuilt the track piece by piece. Using Logic Pro Studio and a MIDI keyboard, I would program a loop to represent a certain instrument. While looping the performance I just programmed, I tweaked the settings of the instrument I was using, or cycled through every relevant sample, until I found the perfect tone for that instrument. Once I had programmed all of the parts and set all of the tones, I exported the audio out of Logic piece by piece and moved to ProTools for editing and mixing. My efficiency with the workflow of ProTools allowed for much more creativity in the arrangement phase of the production process.

In addition to all the electronic programming, S.O.T.A. features more widespread use of live instruments. In a way, this was a representation of the group’s more serious approach to this record. Several songs are built on the energy of live drum and guitar performances; for example, “Kings” is made up of completely live intstrumentation (drums, bass guitar, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and electric piano). This was an exciting change of pace for us to experience. To take that change even further, we entrusted Helvig with the production of one of our most raw & vulnerable songs, “Runnin.” Helvig decided to go against the grain and produce a stripped-down piano ballad, and it turned out great. This emphasized the emotion of the song and showed that we don’t always have to mask our true thoughts behind a densely layered track. Helvig also provided his advice whenever I wasn’t completely sure on the direction of a particular song, acting as a silent executive producer on arrangements and stylistic direction.

Once there was a working draft of a song, the artists came in to Droptone to record vocals. In addition to the three core artists, it was a great experience to collaborate with several other local artists for this record, including Nels Leafblad, Matt Moberg, and Josh Tarp. After the session, I spent a great deal of time sorting through every recorded take for the best possible performance of each part. Once I had comped the perfect vocal, I went through a painstaking process of breaking up almost every word of each verse and adjusting the timing, while listening to the main rhythmic groove, so that the rhythm of the verse was perfectly synced up with the groove. Although subtle to most listeners, this greatly improved the way the vocals connected with the track, and made for a much tighter feel to the songs.

When it came to the mixing process, Helvig stepped in as the lead mix engineer. Having fresh ears, Helvig brought a perspective to things that I had lost after hearing everything so many times. The combination of my deep connection with each songs’ parts and Helvig’s professional experience mixing, made for a great team and a sonically rewarding mix. Each song was filled with a lot of hooks and counter melodies, layers, changing textures, and diverse percussive elements. Helvig was able to bring focus to each track, preserving our vision, but still pealing away unnecessary parts while pushing forward the best performances and most interesting sounds. Our songs became bigger with each revision of the mix, more powerful, punchy, yet still maintained the subtleties that we worked so hard on. Helvig also helped rearrange instrumentation, re-sample drums, and didn’t hesitate to ask for better samples if the originals weren’t working in the mix. The album grew in the mix process creatively, emotionally, and professionally.

Sitting On The Amp is a very genuine representation of the growth of The Sota Boys, individually and collectively. We all experienced another three years of life in our mid-twenties, and authentic experience is exactly what S.O.T.A. conveys. It also stands as our last body of work. We ended with our best music yet, and we’re all proud of that.

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Sittin On The Amp is also available on iTunes