Jason Bittner is pacing in the control room of Studio 606. Shadows Fall has been holed up here in the Foo Fighters’ private recording Shangri-la for a while now, making a new album, Threads Of Life. The facility is completely locked down, the schedule is flexible, and the down time is driving our award-winning drummer crazy.
Really, though, it’s his own fault: Bittner nailed his drum tracks in only three days. And now there’s nothing for hima to do.
“I got sounds the first day,” he says. “The second day, we started tracking, and I did five [songs]. I did three songs on the second day of tracking. I’ve listened to all the tracks, and I’m 110 percent [happy] with everything. I did what I wanted to accomplish on this record. I don’t think I can play the parts any better. I gave the band the foundation to build a house on, so now the rest of the work is up to them. I did my job.”
Helping Bittner get the job 110-percent right was the recording team of producer Nick Raskulinecz (co-owner with Dave Grohl of this astonishing enclave) and engineer Paul Fig. Raskulinecz has worked with a lot of big-time beaters − including Matt Sorum, Taylor Hawkins, Neil Peart, and, of course, Grohl − and when he was formally hired on as producer for Threads Of Life, he hoped to direct Bittner in what will be a true landmark performance for this genre of music. Indeed, Raskulinecz embraced the possibility.
“I love metal,” he confesses, “and I’m a drum freak … I’ve spent more time and more energy trying to get a good drum sound than anything else. If your drum sound sucks, you’re f****d. It doesn’t matter how much you put on top of it, it starts with that.”
What did Bittner want to hear sound-wise on this new album? “Wide open,” the drummer says. “That is definitely one of the characteristics. My kicks, I like them with good low end with a really good punch and attack, which I have achieved on every record, I think. As far as toms go, I like them wide open. I don’t like to muffle them at all. Maybe a little piece of moon gel here and there, but I like to keep them as open as possible. We did put a little bit of tape on the bottom heads on this record because we found that this kit was ringing a little bit too much in the studio. But it still sounds great. The snare drum fluctuates; it depends on what I’m feeling at the time. I like to have a really good crack and I like to have some body there. I like it a little bit more higher-pitched than lower. I don’t like muddy-sounding snare drums. And it really depends on what I’m feeling at the time when I write the drums parts and what I’m using at the time.”
Raskulinecz realized that in order to capture Bittner’s sonic suggestions, he had to start with step one. That is, was, and always will be finding the “sweet spot,” that magic location in a studio where the drum set resonates and sings and responds to a player’s particular style. This precedes all the miking, masking, and muffling. Every drum studio has one — you just have to experiment and search for it. And that’s exactly how Raskulinecz uncovered 606’s secret spot.
“[It] comes,” he says “from the last two-and-a-half years of recording other bands here and saying, ’Okay, let’s do the drums over here for this record. Okay, for this next record, let’s do the drums over here. Okay, well over here has this and this and this. But over there has this and that.’ It’s basically putting the drum set all over different spots. The sweet spot [at 606] is that center position in the room, not quite in the middle. I’d say [it’s] about maybe a third of the way into the room, center, about 15 feet off the glass.”