Vampire Weekend & Justin Gerrish
L to R: Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij and Ezra Koenig
with engineer Justin Gerrish

Justin Gerrish is collecting accolades for his work on the indie release of the moment, Contra by Vampire Weekend. Band member Rostam Batmanglij produced and co-mixed the album. Gerrish recorded most of the drums and mixed the record at Avatar Studios in New York City. Indie rock tinged with a world beat influence, Contra is faithful to the exciting sound of Vampire Weekend’s debut album, but maintains a fresh and experimental flavor all its own. Gerrish was kind enough to share some of the techniques that he used while recording some of the drums, bass, and vocal tracks.


The drum sound on Contra is pretty unique. How did you get it?

The band wanted to try and get that kind of trashy-sounding, in-your-face hi-hat. So we actually ran one of the hi-hat mikes through a Neve mic pre, and then into an 1176 and compressed that. Which I normally don't do--I don't really compress the hi-hat. But they wanted to try it, and get this really aggressive sound on the hi-hat. It ended up working out well for us. Also, Chris [Tomson, drummer] does a lot of side-stick on the snares, so I was using a separate mic just to capture that, and I was compressing it quite a bit with an 1176 to get that sound. I also always have one mic in the room, my "crush mic" that I run through an 1176, absolutely, completely limiting that to pick up all the ambient noises and sounds in the room. Every hit sounds like it's right next to the mic, but it's actually across the room.

Was it a traditional rock-drum set? It seems to sometimes have an ethnic drum feel.

We used a vintage Ludwig kit that I kept tuning for different songs. We'd throw towels on it for some things, and then no towels. They wanted to sound kind of tribal for some, so that's when we tuned it really tight and put a towel over it to get this different sound from an actual floor tom or a rack tom, so it wouldn't sound like a normal rack tom. A lot of the percussive stuff, like the djembes, and hand percussion, they did over at Tree Fort, with the percussion player that they had come in.

I also always have one mic in the room, my "crush mic," that I run through an 1176, absolutely, completely limiting that to pick up all the ambient noises and sounds in the room. Every hit sounds like it's right next to the mic, but it's actually across the room.

Justin Gerrish
Justin Gerrish and a mixed rack of vintage and reissue UA gear
That record must have been hard to mix, if it was recorded in so many different places.

Yeah, it was kind of done all over the place, and Rostam [Batmanglij], he's the producer/co-mixer and also a band member [keyboards, guitar, backing vocals], he recorded a lot of the stuff after the fact. He's the one who did all the overdubs later on.

Were you using any UA gear in the mix?

In the mix process, I put LA-2As on the bass. I also used an 1176 and an LA-3A on the vocal, together in series.

Did that help you get more continuity between the songs?

Yeah. It helped me get that familiar sound of vocals being very present and clear. That comes from just using an 1176.

I use it in two different modes. One I'll just do a 4:1 ratio, and then the other one I'll do an all-button-in mode. Sometimes I'll switch it up and do a 10 and 4, or something like that.

Vampire Weekend & Justin Gerrish
Justin Gerrish leans on a second tower of
vintage and reissue UA hardware.
Contra is getting so much attention. I hope you're getting a lot of attention as a result of it.

Starting to. I wasn’t expecting it. I don't think any of us were really expecting it to get this much attention this fast. With their first record, it took them a while to start getting recognition. It was out for like a year before people finally started finding out about it.

Thanks Justin. People are certain to keep talking about you all now: Contra made its Billboard 200 debut at Number One, becoming only the twelfth independently released album ever to do so. To find out more about Justin Gerrish and to hear songs from Vampire Weekend’s Contra, visit http://www.myspace.com/justingerrishmusic.