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Noise complaints, free plugins and $10 mics: meet the gear behind Vacations’ DIY album Changes

Words by Campbell Burns of Vacations

This gear guide contains a lot of equipment that was essential to recording our first album, Changes (which you can listen to here). Writing and recording mostly took place at my home on York St in Mayfield, Newcastle. This was over a period of three to four months towards the end of 2017.

Over time we (aggressively) got noise complaints from some old people who were living next door, all of the recording then got moved to a studio I interned at called Sawtooth. I literally hauled all of my gear over to keep it as close to the home recordings as possible. The only thing that changed was the rooms and monitors.

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Photo: David Fulham

Vacations’ coming-of-age record Changes is yet another piece of proof that excellent albums can be recorded on a shoestring budget.

Tascam 224

I didn’t actually record anything to tape, but I did use the Tascam 224 as a pre-amp. It was mainly used on my $10 TOA microphone that I found at an op-shop (more on that below) so I could shape the EQ before going in and give it some compression by pushing or overloading the pre-amp. This saved a lot of snare recordings because the 57 could sometimes come through lacking the punch we needed, so this second mic set-up would fill in all the gaps with a few adjustments.

Be There is the only song where one of the rhythm guitars was DI’ed through the Tascam it because it gave a particular lo-fi sound, like it was being played through an old radio.

tascam 244 vacations

Matt Freeman Squier P-Bass & Yamaha JX-8P

Even though there are two basses in this photo, we only used Jake’s Matt Freeman signature for recording Changes. The bass was completely stock except for the strings which we swapped out for flat wounds, this gave is a really lovely warm and rich sound. Coupled with an MXR M81, we had a lot more freedom over the tone by splitting the signal, which ran into my M-Audio interface, and blending the two together.

I tried mic’ing the bass through my Roland JC, Fender Twin, and Jake’s Ashdown 420 Rootmaster head (yes, that is a real amp) but I was never particularly happy with the sound and by running a DI, we could always record at anytime of the day without causing a ruckus.

The Yamaha JX-8P was borrowed from a friend of mine after I told him how I wanted to avoid using MIDI Logic/Garageband patches when possible because I felt like it was kinda ‘cheap’. That synth ended up being featured on Anything Could Happen, Telephones, and Soft.

We still ended up using some MIDI presets on album and once again, like with the bass, blended the tracks together to create a fuller sound. I ran a lot of tape echo and reverb for my synths which were mostly stock Logic plug-ins, I did use a few pedals for ACH like the Walrus Audio Julia and the EHX Memory Toy.

Matt Freeman Squier P-Bass & Yamaha JX-8P

Macbook Pro

My Macbook was the workhorse behind recording and mixing this album, I used the latest version Logic Pro (which I torrented, I’m too poor to buy software) plus a few stock/Waves/Soundtoys plug-ins (also torrented or scored for free).

I was able to take my sessions with me on the go which resulted in a lot of mixing on tour or simply taking it from the home to the studio, I’m extremely appreciative of that because I can’t imagine being locked to a desktop setup these days.

Guyatone Mosrite Copy

I won this guitar thanks to a drunk eBay bid I made at 3am after I went out one night. I haven’t regretted it since, it’s my favourite guitar and a prized possession of mine. After a few services and hack jobs, like salvaging the bridge posts and getting rid of the butter knife tremolo bar is came with, it was up to a playing standard.

From a warm rich tone to something bright and sparkly, it covers everything I need. I can’t find anything else that sounds like it and that’s why it was the only guitar I used for the album.

(Also, if you bend the neck/body in it makes everything sound like a gorgeous de-tuned mess.)

Photo: Charlie Hardy

Random Toa Microphone

I found this microphone at an op-shop for $10, someone must of thought it sounded like trash but remember the saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”.

This microphone was always taped to a 57 and pointed towards a snare (with a shirt over it), running through a pre-amp on a Tascam 224 and then through my M-Audio interface. During sessions we always favoured it over the 57, it had a certain flavour to it and it never sounded too clean or sterile.

 

Listen to Changes here, and be sure to catch Vacations live on their world tour. Dates below – grab all the details on the band’s Facebook page.