Papa Mali on Tracking and Tricking Out Time- Honored Tones

July 7, 2011
<p><em><strong>PAPA MALI USED ECHOES AND REVERBS</strong></em> <em>to otherworldly effect on his two swamp-blues solo CDs. Now he&rsquo;s fronting the jam supergroup 7 Walkers&mdash;featuring members of the Grateful Dead and the Meters&mdash;and he produced the band&rsquo;s vibey eponymous debut. </em>&mdash;Jimmy Leslie</p> <p><strong>How would you describe the sound and style of your production?</strong></p> <p>Well, some have called my sound &ldquo;voodoo electronics.&rdquo; I&rsquo;m inspired by Lee &ldquo;Scratch&rdquo; Perry as much as I am by people such as [jazz producer] Norman Granz. My production style runs the gamut from state-of-the-art circa 1958 to extremely low-fi , but I do try to go for a modern approach to retro sounds.</p> <p><strong>What&rsquo;s your M.O. regarding basic tracking in general, and guitar tracking specifically?</strong></p> <p>I aim for good levels and flat sounds that I can manipulate later in the mix. I cut basics with <em>all </em>the musicians in the same room tracking to 2" tape&mdash;preferably a Studer machine. It sounds awesome and forces everyone to commit to a take. I prefer a room with wooden floors and high ceilings. I place a couple of microphones near the ceiling where I can always find a little special magic. Oftentimes, when I&rsquo;m tempted to use a tight reverb effect, I&rsquo;ll try panning the ceiling mic hard to one side instead.</p> <p>For <em>7 Walkers</em>, I tracked a lot of my electric parts with an early-&rsquo;60s Strat through a &rsquo;60s blackface Fender Deluxe. It&rsquo;s the perfect blend of clean and dirty at a reasonable volume. &ldquo;Mr. Okra&rdquo; is a good example of that tone. I use a &rsquo;74 Marshall 50-watt head onstage, but in the studio I have better luck with smaller amps, including a Supro Thunderbolt. It has a lot of grit, but it&rsquo;s not as throaty sounding as a Marshall. You can hear it on &ldquo;Sue from Bogalusa.&rdquo; Small speakers are key to getting &rsquo;50s-style overdriven tones. If I wanted distortion, I&rsquo;d use a vintage Tube Screamer, or my ProCo Rat pedal for heavier sounds.</p> <p><strong>How would you describe the vibe you went for on &ldquo;Someday You&rsquo;ll See [Prelude]&rdquo;?</strong></p> <p>I wanted it to sound like Neil Young starring in a spaghetti western film. I used my Strat, the Thunderbolt, and a Fulltone Tape Echo to track my guitar. In fact, the Fulltone was almost always in my signal chain because it has an amazing tube preamp that makes everything sound better. I remember blending in a lot of the ceiling mic on that guitar track as well.</p> <p><strong>What&rsquo;s an example of a &ldquo;modern approach to retro sounds&rdquo;?</strong></p> <p>I do a lot of re-amping. I&rsquo;ll send a flat signal back out through a vintage Space Echo, or to an amp in another room with the reverb turned up, and re-record that. Then I&rsquo;ll blend the two. Sometimes I&rsquo;ll even take a pristine sound and subvert it by running it through some ridiculous stompbox. That&rsquo;s the kind of procedure a lot of modern producers will replace by using plug-ins in Pro Tools, but I prefer the mad professor approach.</p>
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