Interview with Dave Schiffman on Pup's New Album, "The Dream Is Dead"

Dave Schiffman is a Grammy winning record producer from Los Angeles, California with so many records under his belt, the list would certainly exceed the word count of this interview. Read on to hear in depth detail of how he went about recording Pup’s latest full length album, “The Dream is Over

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What drum kit was used in this record? Do you recall dimensions of the snare and kick?

We used a mixture of drums depending on the song and what we were going for.  For the faster tempo songs we used a YC 22” Bass drum. It had a nice focused thunk and good attack so it sat in the mix really nicely.  On slower songs or simpler Bass drum patterns (Pinepoint) we jumped to a 24” Bass drum to get a little more height out of the bass drum and excite the room with it a bit more.

For the snare its always a bit of a puzzle.   A lot of times in rehearsal with a band, the snare will sound great in that little room with low ceilings, but when we would go into a more expansive room for tracking, the snare would disappear.  The challenge is always what works for the room and how the rest of the kit resonants with the snare. A big part of that is cymbals.  If the cymbals are too “loud”, they dwarf the sound of the snare. Depending on tempo and snare pattern we moved between a YC custom 14x5 aluminum snare, and MJI custom mahogany 14x5 snare and a Ludwig Suprophonic 14" as well as a YC Maple custom. Jordan Gauthier who owns YC drums came and teched the session. He was amazing for tuning and putting together options for us to try. His custom drums were outstanding.

I noticed that something sounded different about the kick drum in this recording.  There’s a much deeper “thump” overall, and a subdued click from the batter head. After some sleuthing on Pup’s Instagram, I saw that there are 2 mics on the kick, one on the outside resonant head, and one barely inside the drum. How did this become your method for micing the kick drum?

Zack was using a pretty hard beater. So I found that the inside mic worked better further away from the beater. My mic'ing method is not consistent. It changes depending on the drum, room, and style of music. Zack’s bass drum patterns are super critical to flow of the song. I needed to make sure that the bass drum and bass complimented one another.

In this same picture it appears your overheads are closer in to the middle of the kit, pointing outwards. Could you tell me more about this technique?

The overhead mics are placed more like an xx rather then an xy if that makes sense. I agonize with overheads. They are the first snapshot of the kit and really setup the image. Zack plays cymbal heavy drum parts. I needed to capture them in a way that they were impactful yet didn’t overpower the rest of the band. After moving around and trying a number of different angles the inward out took the best picture. The bass drum stayed centered and the cymbals pushed left and right clearly. This technique also lets the toms breath within the image. Whenever possible I leave my tom mics wide open for mixing. When the toms are tuned right, the close mics add really nice harmonics to the overall kit sound.

How crucial is the room sound in your drum mixes? Clearly you have a very large live room, but do you add any room sounds post production?

I will use ambience to widen the drum sound. Sometimes it’s cool to trigger the ambience with the snare or toms to make them pop out a bit more but again, it really depends on the part Zack is playing. A super busy aggressive part usually cuts better when it’s drier.

What microphone(s) did you use to record bass guitar, and what is their general placement on the speaker?

For Nestor’s bass we used a combo of a Neumann fet47 and a Sennheiser 421. Both mics maybe 3-4 inches off the cone and a clean Di sound. 1073 mic pres on all three 1176 on amp and a 2254e on di. We went between his Orange head and an old traynor head he has.

How do you get your kick drum and bass guitar to keep out of each others way in the mix?    

I tried my best to record them so they worked together but ultimately when I mixed I would use roll off filters on both and go back and forth rolling off one or the other. Usually with Nestor’s tone I found rolling off around 77hz and Zach’s Bass drum around 47hz they fell together nicely. Another thing I found was to pan them both slightly off center.

What microphone or pair of microphones was used on this album for tracking guitars?

SM57 and 421 for close cabinet mics and an ambient mic (I forget what) that I printed to a separate track. I always combine my close mics.

How insane was keeping track of all the different guitar tones for this record? Do you mix them all on separate tracks or just let them all ride together?

If the part was performed in a single pass I usually kept it that way. Part of keeping the live energy was letting Stef and Steve play like it was a live performance. Making pedal switches on the fly always sound more exciting. Some parts we wanted to flush out we would double. Also- I liked them in the room In front of the amp. Hearing the amp kinda push back also made for more energy and excitement.

How hard do you compress your rhythm guitar tracks, and what compressor do you like to use?

For heavier guitar tracks I rarely compress to tape. The sound kinda compresses itself. I’ll compress in mix a little bit.

Was microphone did you use for tracking vocals?  

We went between an Sm7 and a u47. For the more aggressive stuff the sm7 sat better in the track. When we had a bit more room, the 47 worked nicely.

What is your workflow for recording and comping/editing vocals?

I like to let the singer steer that a little bit. It’s important for them to be comfortable and focused.  For Stef we would focus on sections of the song. For example: we would start with verses, go to bridge or chorus next and outro or aggressive parts last. That way he could warm into the louder parts. Sometime we wanted a raspy approach on verses so we would do the chorus first to wear him in a little. I always like to run through song top to bottom once or twice to get a sense of dynamics but in Stefs case we really got the best stuff when he could focus on smaller pieces and really pick and choose words and enunciation. Once we felt as though we covered everything I would comp. listening through all takes and cutting together the best performance. Stef and band and I would listen back and make tweaks and sometimes Stef would re-sing a part or two once we heard the flow within the song. Also we were pretty tweaky on lyrics. Always pushing to make sure everything made sense and sang good. Sometimes the lyrics on paper seemed great. Then Stef would get on mic and we would realize that they felt rushed at that tempo or not enough syllables here or there or enunciation was too complicated to flow right. You never know until you hear it.

How did you go about recording the gang vocals/group chants in track 8, “Can’t Win”?

I set up a pair of AKG 414s and moved band around until the balance sounded good. Then we would switch up places and track it 2-4 times to thicken it up. On some songs I didn’t use the doubles or triples because we wanted it sound like just the four of them in a room.

What kind of effect did you use on the vocals in track 2, “DVP”? There seems to be a subtle slap back/spring delay that gives the vocals a great sense of intensity, and I’m curious how you achieved it.

I had slap and a tight room on Stef. I think I used the cooper time cube plug in from UA. All the UA plugins are great. I’m addicted.

Did you record each song all the way through before moving on to the next? And did you start off each song by finding unique drum and guitar tones? There is so much variety on this album.

We would track each song live with Stef doing a scratch vocal . We were always open to keeping great guitar or bass performances but the drums were most important to start. I would cut between takes listening to entire band and then we would punch bass in places it felt wonky. Guitars- we would usually take another pass and build from there after drums and bass were good.

Were there any aspects of recording this album that were wildly different than any others you’ve done in the past?

We had a lot of time signatures on this record. Songs had Multiple time signatures sometimes in 7/8 or even 11/8. When Stef writes with an acoustic Gtr he writes to vocal melody. The melody would move around so he naturally changed the time. Zach and band would decipher it for the rhythm section and then together we set out to make the time changes seem invisible.

What was the most challenging part of recording this album?

Trying not to overthink things.  It was important to keep looking at the big picture. Maintaining energy and making very complex parts compliment one another and staying musical was a challenge but that’s what separates this guys from run of the mill punk bands. A great pop sensibility combined with aggressive, unabashed power.

What reference tracks did you mix this album alongside, if any?

A lot of Britney Spears and Pet Shop Boys

What plugin or processor would you be totally lost without?

I would be lost without my monitors- PMC AML2s. As long as I’m confident in what I’m hearing, I’m pretty flexible with what I need. I do love the UA plug ins for mixing. Also my 1176 for vocals always seems to do the trick.  

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I would like to extend a huge thank you to Dave for taking the time to talk with me about this amazing record. If you haven’t heard it yet, you can find it on iTunesSpotifyApple Music, and just about anywhere else you buy digital or physical media.