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Psychedelic Porn Crumpets – ‘High Visceral {Part 1}’: Engineering the Sound

Join Jack McEwen from Psychedelic Porn Crumpets as we dive into the writing and recording of their brain-melting debut record, High Visceral {Part 1}. 

In 2016 the psychedelic rock space was at critical mass, especially in Tame Impala’s hometown of Perth. Despite this saturation, Psychedelic Porn Crumpets broke through with their debut album High Visceral {Part 1}, declaring their love for monster riffs, references to every substance in the psychonaut’s encyclopaedia, and breakdowns that probably could have been shorter, but weren’t.

But how did the album come together? Where did those gargantuan guitar tones come from? Why in the everliving hell was a SingStar microphone involved? Jack McEwen, the band’s frontman and chief songwriter, joined us from his Leederville home via Zoom to dissect the band’s debut record – and take a few trips down memory lane while we were at it.

Psychedelic Porn Crumpets - 'High Visceral {Part 1}': Engineering the Sound

“Basically I moved into a barn, it was this party house in Southport St”, Jack began, regaling us about the share house/trip den he was living in when High Visceral {Part 1} was recorded. “They used to have gigs there all the time, King Gizzard actually played there in this barn.”

“The guy who basically converted the barn into a studio, he had hung up all these sheets on the outside of the room and kitted it with loads of mattresses on the ceiling so it was soundproof. But it had no windows, so it was freezing at night and infested with mosquitos, but ‘I was like, I need to, I’m moving in’. It was just the perfect place to record an album.”

Although “it was pretty much an opium den, but with no opium”, the Southport house became a central hub for not just Jack and the Porn Crumpets, but for a number of other Perth musicians. While Jack was recording his first album, he was flanked by members of The Wheelers of Oz, Mt. Mountain, and Hideous Sun Demon on the other side of his bedroom walls.

So with this perfectly imperfect locale, Jack had to do some actual recording. The songs on High Visceral {Part 1} were heard by Psychedelic Porn Crumpets’ earliest fans in the order there were conceived, pretty much “because there wasn’t any thought”. Cornflake, Marmalade March, and Cubensis Lenses, the album’s three opening tracks, were the first Jack had written for the band.

But how much gear could Jack pack into his mattress-and-blanket soundproofed room? The answer, as anyone who’s undertaken some form of home-job recording will know, is ‘fuck all’.

“Just a Focusrite little Scarlett box”, Jack described, pointing around the room at the gear he’s still hanging onto from 2016. “I think I had this mic, this is one of the old Audio-Technica [AT2020s] that we used for guitars, and then we had an SM57, just the classic guitar setup. But I was so bad at recording it.” 

“We eventually bought this Zoom handheld recorder, you know that one with the two prongs on top of it? I think it’s called a Zoom H4 or something… That’s what we started recording with! And there was a function on the side which is obviously for if it’s too loud, you could bring it down 48 or up 48 [decibels], but it was the greatest overdrive sound I’ve ever heard. You’d put your guitar straight at the bottom, put it up 48 decibels, like [guitar screech].” 

“For the drums we’d put it under a pillow on the sofa because that was the way the cymbals didn’t bleed into the mic. We got really good at putting the sofa down perfectly onto this microphone.”

The bulk of the album’s recording went into Ableton, simply for its ease of use. Jack and other members of the band, then Luke Parish, Danny Caddy, and Luke Reynolds, would send each other demos and in-progress tracks as they were being worked on. A cracked (sorry Jack) version of Guitar Rig would serve as the primary effects box and amp emulator for guitars and vocals throughout High Visceral {Part 1}, but they also ran a classic Blues Driver/Vox AC30 combo here and there.

Though Jack had a SM57 and a decent Audio-Technica mic on hand, he made the executive decision to record a chunk (Cornflake, Marmalade March, Cubensis Lenses, and Gallop to Southport) of the album’s vocals on a rather unconventional bit of gear – a SingStar mic, courtesy of his sister Ava.

And it wasn’t just for the good press clippings – he’ll be the first enthusiastically lay out the benefits of SingStar mics.

“Those things are great. They have so much range but they cut out so many of the highs and lows anyway because they’re just made for karaoke speakers. So they’re perfect for a voice, you know what I mean? And rather than me having these [Audio-Technica] mics for instance, where they capture everything, and then you have to mix them down… SingStar mics man, they’re already mixed before you’ve plugged them in.”

“If you’re drenching your vocals in delays and reverbs and drives and fuzz or whatever, it kind of doesn’t matter. We went and recorded some vocals for this new record, it was the first time I’ve been in a studio to do vocals, and dude, they sounded incredible… now let’s drench them in delay, reverb, and drive” 

As you’ve probably already guessed, High Visceral {Part 1} was a project in which creativity went hand-in-hand with necessity – and as Jack will readily admit, a pinch of naivety.

“I call it naivety, but it was just free-flowing writing where it was just like ‘this isn’t for anything’, the band wasn’t even around, we weren’t even doing gigs when we were first recording it.” 

“…instead of having the choice of having a million different ways to record a guitar tone or overdrive it was like, that’s what it sounds like because that’s what we can record.”

With Jack in a reflective mood, we started talking about High Visceral {Part 1} more broadly; how it cut through a saturated scene (“Going out here in Perth, it was so hard not to be inspired”), how the band had grown since, and if Jack had any favourite tracks after all this time.

“Oh for sure, I think for me, Denmark, that almost didn’t make it to the record. And I showed my now girlfriend Jo when we’d finished it, like ‘I wrote this song today’. And I hadn’t really been talking to her, for some reason I was like, I’ll show this girl Denmark, and then she fell madly in love with me! I win!”

“I listened back and High Visceral, I think that’s my favourite, because it’s just… it’s right. It doesn’t do anything else, and that reverse guitar thing? That [sound] was a complete mistake, I pressed the wrong button and went ‘what is that and where does it come from?’ And because I was so scared that if I changed anything, I wouldn’t be able to get it back, I recorded the speakers to play it. So that is the speakers playing… it’s like an infinite loop, ‘let’s record the recording’, just so I wouldn’t lose it.” 

“There was a song called Binge which was the opening track and it led into Cornflake so well, but for like, the last 10 seconds of the song”, Jack also shared, “it was like a day before we were about to put it out and we were like ‘let’s get rid of Binge’. I think no one would have gotten past that song, in hindsight.” 

With or without the last-minute changes, home studio accidents, and SingStar microphones, High Visceral {Part 1} was a record that captured a fanbase who were hungry for heavier, more ridiculous psychedelic rock than what was already on the platter. With gallons of flange in tow, it hit with a fresh energy that swept through Perth and very quickly, the rest of Australia.

Four years on it’s a listen that’ll still catch you like a fish hook, belting you with riff after riff until you’ve melted into a puddle. Would Jack change anything with the benefit of hindsight? “I’d change a lot, but I wouldn’t as well, so that’s good.” 

But that’s what makes a debut record so special, isn’t it?

 

Stream or purchase Psychedelic Porn Crumpets’ new single Mr. Prism here.