Interview with Dave Trumfio ( Wilco, OK Go, Patrick Park)
Blue: In general terms, does your overall approach to miking and
recording change from genre to genre, and even sometimes from artist to artist?
Dave Trumfio: Yes. It all depends on what the song needs, so I try to approach
each song individually. Is it music or beat driven? Is it vocal and lyric driven?
Or both? I personally like records that take the listener on a sonic journey
rather than 10 to 12 safe carbon copies (sonics-wise) of the first song. I'm
a sucker for depth of field. Depth of the recording is all about miking close
vs. amb and using DI's when needed. Those three elements when used tastefully
create great depth, even before the mix stage when I go even further with spacial
FX and reverbs.
Blue: Do you track with EQ and compression? Describe your audio chain.
Dave: Yes. In the last five years or so I've found myself wanting to print sounds
as close to the finished sound as possible for two reasons. I want the front
end character. Especially to digital, but even to tape there's just different
rules and I like making the artist comfortable that their recording is sounding
great from the beginning. No "We’ll fix it in the mix," just,
"The mix will even sound better!" Also, If you’re not mixing
the project, I find it's good to print crucial aesthetic choices and FX as long
as they sound good and/or are what you want.
My chain varies, but normally consists of the right mic for the job through
1084 or API pre and EQ on to the right compressor for the job, then sometimes
to a Pultec-type program EQ -- this gives a great openness – on to converter
or tape machine.
Blue: What do you look for when choosing a microphone?
Dave: I like mics that have a sound. Flat is not a good sound to me. Whether
it's small or large, dynamic or [something else], it has to bring something
to the table. Super-clean is boring -- unless it's what’s called for,
of course, like "books on tape" or something...
Blue: What's the craziest sound you've gotten, be it accidental or planned?
Dave: The craziest sounds happen when something breaks. If you’re lucky,
you can catch that. My friend Mike Hagler once had an old broken fuzz wah that
you didn't know what would happen when you plugged it in, but you were guaranteed
it would make some crazy sound. We called it the Exploder. If only you could
mass produce that! I've heard some granular plug-ins that come close. Room mics
always have the potential to sound crazy. I love putting them outside the room
of the sound source and maybe using a half-open door to control the delay.
Blue: Can you give us an instance in the studio where an unconventional idea
was suggested, all the technical pieces fell into place, it was the right idea
at the right time, and it turned out exactly as you hoped?
Dave: “Hey! Let’s capture our live sound in the studio!” This
may have been common practice 35 years ago, but once multi-track hit the mainstream
[that] was all over, really. It’s pretty unconventional nowadays. As a
producer, I would say, “When’s your next gig?” But as an engineer,
I say bring it on, we're going old school! I've had mixed results, and it really
comes down to the players…but when it works, it's a great thing.
Blue: How about an instance in the studio where an unconventional idea was suggested,
all the technical pieces fell into place, it seemed like the right idea at the
right time, and it still bombed miserably?
Dave: See above! It really doesn't sound good miking a wash tub in front of
an SVT, trust me.
Blue: Have you had an instance where a crazy idea was tried and the result ended
up really great but totally different than you expected?
Dave: Sure, happy accidents happen all the time. You just need to be open to
Blue: How do you know when you’ve just experienced one of those magic
moments in the studio that you’ll look back on as a turning point in the
Dave: I guess anytime I get goose bumps or weep it's a memorable experience,
and I'm lucky it happens a lot.
DAVE TRUMFIO began his career leading his own band, the Pulsars, to a deal
with Almo Sounds/Geffen Records in the mid-Nineties. He wrote for, produced
and engineered all the band’s material, paving the way for more engineering
work on stellar albums like Wilco’s masterpiece, Summer Teeth. He has
since discovered, produced and engineered major label artists such as OK Go
and Patrick Park, and is now in the studio with LA buzz band and V2 recording
artists the Adored.