When you're in a band that's used to self-recording, it's gotta be somewhat nerve-racking when it comes time to turn the reigns over to someone else. I imagine it's easier when the engineer is a friend, someone whose ethos is aligned with your own, someone who can help make your recordings sound cleaner but not, like, too clean. For a lot of bands—at least within a specific and loosely Philadelphia-centered scene of scrappy, hook-driven punk and pop—that friend is Kyle Gilbride, a producer and engineer who also splits songwriting duties with Allison Crutchfield in Swearin'. Though quick to describe his operation as "extremely unprofessional," Gilbride is clearly doing something right; he's become the go-to guy for recording assistance in his corner of the DIY rock universe.
Gilbride's role shifts depending on the project. Sometimes he's pretty hands off, like when he recorded New York state indie pop crew Quarterbacks in a shed in New Paltz. In other situations, like when he helped his bandmate's twin sister Katie record songs as Waxahatchee, he played a much more complex, producer-like role. "I sort of have to read the situation to gauge what the band wants or doesn't want from me," he told me over the phone from Philly, where he was working on the new All Dogs record, and had just wrapped production on the still-unannounced debut full-length from Girlpool. "I don't have any preconceived notions about what we should or shouldn't do. It's like, whatever you want to do, let's do it—I'll help you." Below, Gilbride offers up some behind-the-scenes insight about six great songs he's labored over recently.
Ivy Tripp, 2015
"'Air' was a really weird one. We knew we wanted it to be a more pop-oriented song and that it was going to be based around this real punchy, over-the-top-sounding sampled drum sound. That was the beginning of everything. From there on out it was like, 'Let's try some guitar. Let's try some bass,' and we ended up using a synth bass. We experimented with a bunch of synthesizers, and I had my first moments of really appreciating creating a sound out of nothing. There's nothing quite as 'constructed' in any other Waxahatchee song.
"There was a point when we didn't know what the song even felt like. It was an organic process of trying stuff out and seeing how it sounded until we ended up with this big, reverb-y canyon of sound. It's almost hollow in some places because it's got those big drums, tons of reverb, and all this space. The way it turned out surprised all of us."
"The Quarterbacks record was a cool thing to work on. They had just been doing things so lo-fi for so long. I love the opportunity to work with a band that I've never heard recorded in a way that really lets them shine. I was excited to put up mics and hear a bigger version than I'd ever heard. I'm always looking to make it sound the way the band sounds live.
"All the songs sound pretty much exactly that same on Quarterbacks, but I happen to love 'Center.' We recorded in a shed in New Paltz and it just sounded beautiful in this room with [bandleader] Dean Engle doing one pass at a vocal. That's what every single song on the record is. That's all there is."
Surfing Strange, 2013
"Recording with my own band, Swearin,' is a more relaxed process. 'Echo Locate' was the first time I felt like I got a really good drum sound. It was really when I discovered how influential space was when recording drums. You can record drums with just three or four microphones if the space sounds good. I was always overcompensating by putting up more mics then I needed to and not thinking about how the room sounded, or how the drums sounded in the room.
"At our old house—one of those huge stone houses from the early 1900s that are all over West Philly—we had this big, wooden front room with huge ceilings. We recorded all the drums in there and hung microphones down the stairwell and went looking for places where the drums sounded cool. You don't need to use EQs as much, and everything doesn't sound all phase-y and freaky. Everything started to sound more natural."
Torch Song, 2014
"'The Eye' was weird. Sam Cook-Parrott and I had recorded all the songs that the band was playing live at the time, but there was a handful of songs where Sam was like, 'You and me are gonna sit in my room and figure out what they are.' For 'The Eye,' he had some ideas. We listened to some music. We had some references. It was supposed to be a big expanded version of what Sam's four-track recording sounded like, but with better mics and amps. We plugged in some bass guitars and some practice guitar amps and made this teeny, trashy-sounding song."
She's Gone, 2013
"Sometimes records, or certain songs, will really impress me with how they came out, given the circumstances. The Upset record, She's Gone, was probably one of the most ramshackle assemblages of music I've ever been a part of. It came out great, for no reason. I flew to L.A. to make the record with only an interface and as many microphones I could fit in a backpack.
"I think 'Tobacco' just sounds good. We went to [former Hole drummer] Patty Schemel's practice space and for some reason the room was just working. The drums sound great on this song. There's a lot of little things that we added together that were funny. Me and Ali Koehler, Upset's bandleader, were hanging out like, 'Whoa, wouldn't it be funny if we put a telephone vocal calling back, because it's, like, two different characters.' Or, 'What if we put in organs?' It's the little details that make you remember working on a song."
Untitled Full-legnth, 2015
"When recording with Girlpool, it was hard not to repeat ourselves, since it's only a few elements and you're using them over and over again in different ways. We did a pretty good job of making the record cohesive but colorful enough so that each of the songs have a different feel. It was cool because I love recording harmonies, and Girlpool had them all ready to go. Their dynamic is very interesting. It's not like any other band that I've recorded. They communicate really well and they compromise a lot, it's cool, they're very mature. Their musical sensibilities are so different but they have this common script.
"'Cherry Picking' was very difficult for us to record. Harmony and Cleo have all these moments that they do in a live setting where they read each other for timing and take completely irregular pauses and just sort of ebb and flow through the songs. The whole beginning of 'Cherry Picking' has those lurching stops and starts. We ended up just doing it live, because we couldn't do it any other way: they were both playing their instruments, and I had them singing it on RE20s, a dynamic mic, to keep it a little more reigned in. We did the whole track like that and kind of layered some stuff on that foundation. It's this big, bombastic song that started off with a really organic foundation, which I think is cool."
Lead image: Jesse Riggins