May 6th, 2015
Mutual Benefit - Not For Nothing
They had a lot of unexpected attention from their self-recorded debut in 2013, but for all they know about touring, their time in professional studios has been limited. Recording "Not For Nothing" with Weathervane’s production crew proved to be a great experience “on the other side of the glass”.
When they arrived at Miner Street, Mutual Benefit’s Jordan Lee and crew (Dillon Zahner, Jake Falby, and Mike Clifford) were a little shy to talk about their ideas for the song they’d be recording for Shaking Through. Not for Nothing was brand new - so much so that Dillon had never heard it, and the others had only spent a day or so rehearsing it.
In 2013, Mutual Benefit released the critically acclaimed Love’s Crushing Diamond. They recorded it mostly themselves, just like most of us do these days, and while their options for studio gear were limited, the amount of time they gave themselves to make it the best it could be was not.
Shaking Through sessions have their own limitations, only instead of gear, instruments and professional engineers being scarce, our limiting factor with these recordings is time. Having a variety of resources on hand but limited time to achieve your goals puts decision-making front and center, which tends to drive recordings to completion better than anything.
The day began by bringing Dillon up to speed and finalizing an arrangement for Not for Nothing. Within a few minutes, they were playing a song that was spontaneous if not logical in structure. It sounded new to our ears, but familiar, like it had been on the radio for decades before.
Jordan, Dillon and Mike laid down a basic track of drums, piano and bass. Apart from some sonic balance issues (Dillon hits the hi-hat very hard), the final track emerged after six takes. In the end, everyone settled on the fifth take, as it had the most natural pace and feel.
Mike played the acoustic guitar next. He was the first person we’d seen who has his strumming hand fitted with press on nails by professional manicurists. They are like permanently installed guitar picks that, according to Mike, have become an added incentive to just pick up an instrument and play. And they come with their own variety of sounds, as there was audible “scraping” when he strummed with his index finger nail as opposed to his thumb nail.
When it came time to record violins, Jake had a rough sketch of the parts he intended to double and triple track in the recording. The idea was that the combination of takes would result in something that sounded like an orchestra violin section. We found that this was largely the case, though repeating the performances on the same instrument with the same mic also resulted in a build-up of certain frequencies that had to be tamed. Most of this problem was solved by having Jake change his position relative to the mic with each take. In the end, with a little bit of careful EQ and ambient effects, the final result sounded beautiful.
“It was a really cool experience...in less than 24 hours, this thing that was only a half idea in our minds is now this fleshed out, gorgeous song.”
The recording of Not For Nothing went quickly, which the band wasn’t expecting. For them, recording is typically more drawn out and involves a fair amount of searching for better parts and sounds. But the hunt for that ever elusive piece of the puzzle isn’t always productive. If this session showed us anything, its that Mutual Benefit are immensely talented, and that beautiful things can happen when they trust their intuition.