When I met Whalen & The Willows, they had come fresh off another tour across the country. With a collection of new songs at hand, they approached me to produce a short EP of songs for them. We scheduled a pre-production meeting well in advance of the recording sessions to demo the songs they were interested in recording. We experimented with new tempos, keys, and forms to make sure we had every song in the optimal condition to be recorded. I made sure to check out a couple of their shows while they were in the Twin Cities to get a live perspective of their songs and style as well. I loved everything I was hearing and we blocked out a few days for them to crash at the studio and start recording.
We started with Joshua’s acoustic guitar tracks. Keeping it pretty simple, this process went smoothly. I used a stereo mic setup with AKG 414’s, a direct line on the acoustic/electric, and a center room mic. Utilizing the hardware at Droptone, I captured a warm, but defined sound that set a solid foundation for the rest of the recordings. After guitar, came Joshua’s lead vocals. He’s got such a rich texture to his voice. I went with my classic vocal chain – a U87 Neumann through Universal Audio’s 6176 tube preamp/compressor. Hard to beat that. We spent a little time working on new phrasings and variations to keep the songs interesting to the listener by the end. Joshua was brilliant to work with and I’m very pleased with how his vocals turned out.
The next steps involved the most thought. We spent a considerable amount of time working out the best possible harmony and string arrangements. Even though there is only a guitar and violin, the songs sound so much bigger than 3 people. Jessica Williams’ voice is so pure and angelic, I felt it needed to occupy it’s own lines as much as possible, instead of doubling Joshua or the violin. Once we found the right voicing, the songs really started to fall together. Victoria Torkelson is a fantastic violinist and singer as well and was great at adapting to any new ideas/parts that were thrown her way. I used two different ribbon mics on her violin for extra warmth and a stereo pair of Neumann KM184 microphones overhead. We took advantage of the studio process to layer in extra violin parts in some songs – make sure to check out “Old Man Crow” to hear Victoria’s stellar performances.
In addition to guitar, violin, and vocals, the group entrusted me to add a little extra production work. I programmed some sparse drum arrangements for an extra layer of energy and excitement on “The Oak.” I wrote and arranged an extra string section for “Old Man Crow” and together we added a simple piano melody to “Mr. Bluebird.”
I really hope to continue work with Whalen & The Willows in the future. The progress they made in the little time we spent together was inspiring and rewarding. I encourage everyone to listen, download, and support this band when they come to your town. Beyond their musicianship, these three have a great dynamic and are enjoyable to watch and be around. I can’t say enough good things about them. Find out more info and follow them on their website.