Pro Audio

Going DIY: Last Dinosaurs break down the making of ‘Yumeno Garden’

Last Dinosaurs are heroes of Australian indie rock. A decade into their career they’ve released three excellent records, the latest being Yumeno Garden. The album sees the band navigating new sonic territory, and this time they were very much behind the steering wheel.

Veering away from the confines of professional studios that had birthed their previous releases, the band ended up recording much of Yumeno Garden themselves – a move that gave them far more wiggle-room than they’d experienced before. And it shows. The album is smattered with creative sparks: whacked-out guitar tones, psychedelic synths, lo-fi beats and more.

That being said, the album is as focused as anything the band has done before, if not more. It features some of their finest pop hits, singles Eleven and Domino, the production is tight and harmonious, and everything exudes a familiar charm. But most of all, it sounds like they are enjoying the shit out of themselves – and this shines through the most.

We had a chat with lead singer, songwriter, guitarist, and in this case, producer, Sean Caskey about the making of the album.

Last Dinosaurs
We had a chat with Last Dinosaurs about DIY, embracing lo-fi, and the gear that shaped their awesome third album, Yumeno Garden.

ENMORE AUDIO: Hey Sean. Loving Yumeno Garden. How are you feeling now that it’s out?

SEAN: Feeling like the leash has come undone and we’re ready to take off.

ENMORE AUDIO: Tell us a bit about how the album came together. Where did you record, who was involved?

SEAN: Yumeno Garden is our third crack at recording a full album so we were itching to create something that was more expressive and different enough from the previous two. We knew we had to make a musical progression but we didn’t know which direction to step. For a little while our songs were all over the place, ranging in styles and feels but when recorded properly I assumed they would fit together nicely. So we grabbed a few songs, flew to Japan with the producer of our first album (and good friend) Jean-Paul Fung and set about making album three.

I’d be lying if I said it was amazing and we smashed out a stellar album because we came back with only a couple of tracks to use. We, unfortunately, have grown a lot in different directions creatively so that magic we once had back in 2011 was all but a distant memory. There’s something special and nice about that though, like trying to get back with your ex, you just gotta let it go and remember the good times. We still had a great trip and we are still really good friends but it wasn’t till we got back that we realised how this album was gonna go down.

In desperate times I tend to swing into action, and it’s only then that I become truly active, unfortunately. I started tracking the remainder of what I thought the album was gonna be and eventually realised the whole album was gonna have to be like this. It had to be produced by us and only us. It had to be a product of our hearts and souls, and it had to come from our hands and straight to the fans. So I am really proud to say that we made this album ourselves.

ENMORE AUDIO: When you started recording, was there something you set out to achieve in terms of sound and production?

SEAN: After landing in Australia thinking we didn’t have the goods to put together an album I was kind of stressing. I didn’t have any faith in my recording abilities let alone songwriting abilities to do it all solo. It took a good few months of tracking and writing in my little studio before I hit that threshold of thinking “hang on, this is good enough!!!”.

At some point you gotta think, are the people listening gonna care about how crystal clear this vocal is? Are people gonna froth on this kick mic setup? Are people gonna lose control of their bowels when they hear this vintage Vox amp? NO! Maybe, I dunno. I do lose control but a while ago I slowly got into more and more ‘lo-fi’ sounding bands. That word annoys me now but yeah there’s no synonym.

Soundcloud was a huge influence on us, you might be able to hear it. But Lach and I were heavily digging the Soundcloud community of bands. So much untouched gold out there, and I say untouched because you know no one has come in and gone “yeah cool good stuff but here’s a tonne of money, go do it again but more like this”. The songs we like on Soundcloud are dripping with authenticity and soul. That is what strikes my chords and pulls at my strings. Even if it is rough around the edges, I can still feel the realness.

So there’s a tonne of cool people making great music at home, why not us!? That’s what motivated us to make this album the way we did. Lo-fi wasn’t the agenda, just more DIY and accepting the quirks of recording things yourself. The price you pay for not going to the expensive studio is far outweighed by the potential for creativity. I’m mainly talking about time for creativity, time to create a vibe or a unique sound. You lose all that in a studio, just ticking boxes on a chart so you can dash out of the studio before the next band.

If anything, I would love to just broadcast this about Yumeno Garden. When we got to about halfway I decided to make this recording process and experiment. I just wanted to use very basic gear, super simple plugins, super cheap software (if not free) and try to create something that passed as ‘professional enough’. I wanted to prove to myself that you don’t need a big studio and a big producer to create a sound that’s worthy. I want to show any aspiring musicians out there that you just got to work hard and find your groove. Make your own sounds, develop your own method. Just make it yours.

ENMORE AUDIO: Speaking of that warbly, lo-fi quality laced throughout the album, where was this coming from?

SEAN: It’s all coming from Logic and sometimes for the wrong reasons. In some cases, audio from demos had to be kept (because the vibe was just right) and we had no desire to re-record. Some files were stretched out or squashed to match new tempos and that created some modulation in the sound. Lach is pretty crazy about just vibrato on guitar too so you’ll hear a lot of that on his songs.

I make a modulation pedal that he plays a lot when we are performing live. It was designed to give a bit of a ‘tape’ sound with a triangle LFO modulating the pitch. It really helps to make his guitar stick out live and generally gives the guitars a nice wavey sound [Editor’s note: Sean makes his own guitars pedals under the name Ryusuke. Check them out here].

ENMORE AUDIO: What were some pieces of gear that you really felt shape the record?

SEAN: I reluctantly bought a Universal Apollo audio interface a couple of years ago. I have to say I was idiotic for being reluctant. I was fully aware of its capabilities and all but man it is a Swiss army knife in a tight situation I tell ya. That thing emulates a tonne of different real-life equipment, new and old, but at a fraction of the cost. Thanks UA for making this beauty, couldn’t have done it properly without you. Just DM if you’re interested in endorsing me.

The software I used for the whole album was Logic. I was pretty new to the program but it was really easy to get around that learning curve because it looks almost identical to GarageBand, and I grew up on that basically. I knew Logic was totally sufficient for recording good demos but I didn’t realise producing a ‘pro enough’ sounding album was possible.

It took a lot of constant tweaking over the months of recording but it got to a place that I was pretty happy with. Oh and I’ll also say that ProTools was no good to me. It always felt like walking into a brightly lit, carpet floor, dead quiet chemist. No vibe. No inspiration. Logic is like a party by comparison.

ENMORE AUDIO: The drums stick out as being really strong – there’s this nice balance between hi-fi and lo-fi. What helped shape the drum sound? Did you favour live drums or drum machines?

SEAN: The whole album was programmed because Lach and I don’t have enough gear or skills to record a drum kit. As much as I would love to record drums well, I don’t think it’s realistic for us. Especially for me since I can’t drum at all and I like to record on my lonesome.

As the recordings progressed we were constantly refining the drum sound, choosing different drum kits and using different chains of plug-ins. Eventually some songs were sounding considerably better in the drum department than others so all I had to do was import the good drum settings on any of the songs and bang we had the same drum kit.

The versatility of having programmed drums was incredibly convenient. At any moment, we were able to adjust the feel of any song. If the guitars changed slightly then the drums could be adjusted to match. It’s probably not the best thing for a guy who can’t settle on things but ultimately it saved a lot of time and heartache.

For the freaks out there who want to know, I found the best thing to do was to use the deadest kit, pitch the snare up 420 cents so it was really high pitch but lower snare velocity range from about 30% to absolute max 70%.

Chris from the band Seaside was talking about the ‘sweet spot’ the other day for drums. The idea that a tuned drum should have an optimal velocity. He’s an amazing drummer who knows his shit so that theory quickly made sense to me. I like to keep all the drums in one track too, just adjust the individual drum levels in the instrument plugin itself.

On Logic you get a better more organic sound I think because of the sidechaining aspect. Also, like 50 compressors and tonnes of distortion. Huge low cut to like 100Hz and high cut to somewhere that sounds like it’s coming from dad’s music collection.

ENMORE AUDIO: The guitars are brilliant too. Was there anything different you were using this time around.

SEAN: Absolutely. It’s something I have done for my whole musical life but never ever considered it a good enough way to record guitars for an album. All we used for the guitars were the stock guitar amp plugins on Logic. WHAT?! I obviously had to tweak the sound for quite a while because they often sound very synthetic at low gain settings but we got the sound to a place that was satisfactory.

It’s kind of contradictory to my guitar ethos considering I’m a guitar pedal maker and love my analog gear and my tube amps, but that side of my passion is now left to emulating the album guitar sounds. If I had the patience and the skill to craft a perfect guitar sound with my amps and pedals then I would have. But having these virtual amps meant that I could quickly and simply track guitars and slowly massage those guitar settings into a good place as the song went along.

Another method that I learnt from Jean-Paul was to bypass the amp simulation all together and just use a Rat distortion. UA has one which is best, but Logic has one that is pretty different but sufficient. You get a very close, sharp, nasally sound which is excellent for leads that reach out and pick your nose. I used that sound a lot. It was fun to pair with the dumbest effects I could think of on Logic like flanger. I used that quite a bit, used it in a manner it wasn’t exactly designed for but it worked. You’ll hear it most prominently on the Eleven intro.

ENMORE AUDIO: The synthy guitar tone on Bass God really struck me when I heard it. What are we hearing there?

SEAN: Ok, so when we were workshopping that I was struggling to create a decent sounding lead guitar line that wasn’t gonna hurt the ears after a while. There is a lot going on in that song and everything was clashing so I had to keep it melodically ‘simple’ but I wanted it to be fast. It sounds crazy because it was just a guitar plugged into a Rat distortion clone plugin and probably a Roland Dimension D plugin. The dimension sound is like a non-modulating chorus which creates a uniquely cold, but colourful sound.

The fast lead line was me playing at half speed then the whole lick was sped up double speed to what it is now. I did that because I knew what I wanted but totally couldn’t play it. I’m struggling with it these days but I’m getting close! It’s challenges like this that makes playing and rehearsing really fun. My housemates hate me for it cause I’m playing that lick over and over again but then I play Sweet Child of Mine or Sweet Home Alabama and they forgive me.

ENMORE AUDIO: More synths pop up on this album than any other Last Dinosaurs release. What were you playing around with in the studio?

I had a couple of vintage synths in the studio but found I was never using them, to be honest. I’m definitely a plugin synth kinda guy. Mostly stock Logic synths as well haha. They are all the same synths as you’d find on GarageBand which are surprisingly great. Sure if you put some synth freak in the room to listen they could pick out the digital sound but the general public wouldn’t have a clue. So I’m totally stoked about using stock cheap synths to prove to those aspiring musicians out there that professionalism is achievable with stock plug-ins.

ENMORE AUDIO: What’s next for you guys?

SEAN: We’re getting ready for a few festival shows coming up over summer but we are particularly excited about our Yumeno Garden tour in March. It’s going to be something special. Now we have 3 albums worth of songs to choose from we can finally play a fresh set and pepper it with some of the old classics. Before that though we hope to tour Asia and of course the US.

America has been so patient but now they are getting angry like a wild beast in a cage. We gotta get out there and see those faces. We desperately wanna play to all the fans around the world, we are just trying to make sure we put on the biggest and the best show we can so they remember it forever.

Yumeno Garden is out now via Dew Process.