The Glitch Mob on Production, Performance, and UAD Powered Plug-Ins
Technology has always been a driving force in the music and creative process of The Glitch Mob. Band members Ed Ma (edIT), Justin Boreta (Boreta), and Josh Mayer (Ooah) perform their instrumental electronica compositions in a high-energy stage show that combines live instruments (guitar and bass) with a ton of sampled sounds — courtesy of various MIDI controllers, Roland V-Drums, and Ableton Live.
In the studio, synths, samples, and loops play a huge role, but the band members also rely heavily on analog emulations from Universal Audio’s UAD-2 Powered Plug-Ins collection to shape unique sounds and warm up their digital sources. This processing gives Glitch Mob mixes a frequency signature that’s more "old-school" than most contemporary dance material. But this willingness to go against the sonic grain is typical for the band, who strive to set trends rather than follow them.
The Glitch Mob, who have been around in one form or another since 2006, released their first full-length album, Drink the Sea in mid-2010, which remained a fixture on the iTunes Top 10 Electronic charts for nearly a year. UA sat down with the Mob to hear about their latest release, studio workflow, and their life on the road.
What’s been going on for the band since Drink the Sea was released last year?
Ed: A lot has happened. We’ve been very busy — two nationwide tours as well as tours of Europe and Australia. We’ve had lots of success with the album, and now we're gearing up to head out on tour again this summer.
Tell us about the songs you’re releasing this summer.
Justin: The EP is called "We Can Make The World Stop" and will be dropping on July 12th.
It’s just going to be a precursor to our next album, which we will be working on very shortly. For now, it is just a smaller release to keep the momentum going before the next album comes out.
When do you expect to begin work in earnest on the full album?
Justin: We actually started working on it already. We've got ideas and sketches that we've put together. But, it probably won't come out until early 2012. That's the game plan.
Will the production be similar to Drink the Sea, or different?
Josh: A little of both. I imagine there will be a lot of tricks and tools that we used in Drink the Sea. At that time it was very new for us, but since then, we’ve been figuring out so much more, and we have new tools and toys and things to add to that. I think it will be just another step and another phase in us continuing to learn.
How has the response been to the album?
Justin: There's been a wide swath of different types of feedback. Because we made an album that was meant to be listened to as a whole — and to be listened to in headphones — we didn't really think about it as something that was made for the energy of the live show. It was more of a story or a narrative or something. I think it definitely took a lot of people by surprise. But now that people have had a chance to sit with it — it's one of those albums that doesn't fully unravel itself on the first listen — it's still doing well, and people are still discovering it. And now when we go out and play shows, those are the songs people want to hear, as opposed to some of our older, more dance-floor oriented stuff. So it's had a really good lifespan, it's fun to see it progressing. It's kind of hung around in the Top 10 of iTunes for a full year now.
Josh: People are still discovering it. It's cool to see on a Facebook page or Twitter that people are still like, "Oh, just heard Drink the Sea for the first time and am excited about it," and things like that. So that initial excitement from when we first put it out, still carries on and on and on.
What was the material that you did prior to Drink the Sea? Was it more like four-on-the-floor style dance stuff?
Ed: No, it wasn't, but it was definitely a little more dance-floor friendly in the way that it was engineered. It definitely had much more of a traditional dance music mixdown and sensibility to it. Whereas I think with Drink the Sea, we spent a lot of time trying to make the mix sound a little bit more timeless, where you couldn't tell if it was made in modern time or whether it was made in the '60s or '70s. That's what we were shooting for. Our old stuff kind of has a clean, crispy, very modern-day sound to it.
Talk about how you EQed the album — notching out some of the high frequencies.
Justin: When we were mixing and mastering the record, we would take the songs and A/B them against other stuff like Dark Side of the Moon, or a White Stripes song, or Led Zeppelin. The kind of stuff we purposely were using for comparisons was completely different from the circle of our genre and peers, from a creative standpoint. When you compare it to something like that, it sounds totally reasonable. Kind of just in the highs and lows. If you compare it to a lot of current electronic music, it sounds really dim, but that's kind of what we wanted to do.
Justin: I think a lot of the traditional DJs and producers were definitely a little bit dumbfounded by it. But I think that the average listener who isn't going to DJ this music in their DJ set — I don't even think they really noticed. We definitely got a lot of flack about it from DJs and producers, who were used to spinning our old tunes and stuff.
"I think there's a fuller characteristic that the Universal Audio plug-ins have that a lot of the other host emulations just don’t...The attention to detail that they've taken into making these faithful replications is impressive."
Josh: I think a lot of the listeners haven’t noticed the difference. They just love the music for what it is.
What were the main frequencies you were reducing to get that kind of effect?
Ed: What would be perceived as the “air,” so to speak. A lot of stuff in the 8-10 kHz range. We’d just subdue it a little bit, and notch out a lot of stuff around the 3-5 kHz range. But a lot of it was achieved through the various Universal Audio plug-ins that create the analog warmth, like the Fatso Jr. / Sr. Analog Tape Simulator & Compressor plug-in, as well as various compressors and stuff. And even some of the EQs on their own — running the signal through them will create a fuzziness and a loudness to the sound that you normally wouldn't get with a super-chiseled, precise, modern-day EQ.
How do you typically find yourself using the Fatso?
Ed: Well, generally, we use it for bus compression, whether it be on the master bus, drum bus, or synth bus. In settings like that, we'll usually have like the longest attack and really fast release, and just compress a little bit. In those situations, we typically won't turn up the warmth. We'll use it just as a traditional bus compressor. But occasionally if we have really abrasive sounds, whether they’re snares or hi-hats or synth sounds that are really squelchy, we'll hit the Fasto really fast and really hard with a fast attack and fast release, and we’ll turn up the warmth as well, probably to about four or five. It even de-esses a little and really tones down the really squelchy frequencies. It dulls things a little bit, in a really nice way that you normally couldn't achieve through a standard de-esser or just through EQing something.
At the time you were producing Drink the Sea, the Studer® A800 Multichannel Tape Recorder plug-in hadn't come out yet, but I bet that's something you would like to mess around with now.
Ed: We've actually used it since on some of the newer material. It's on all of our newer stuff since then. You can get some really interesting effects when you push it and distort it, and the UA people showed us some of those.
I imagine that you like to crank up the input control on it?
Is there a particular setting or sound on the Studer plug-in that you like to use a lot?
Ed: I think the setting that we used the most was 30 IPS [tape speed], and we used 250 [tape type].
Did you generally have it set on the repro-head?
Ed: Yeah. That's what we always keep it at. And then basically turning up the bias, up or down. Cleaner sound, more bias; really dirty, less bias.
Justin: We also use the hiss and hum generator in it, that’s really cool too. A lot of times we'll take a sound that sounds really digital and we'll throw the Studer in there, crank up the hiss, and then compress that so that it adds this really strange, noisy quality. But it sounds awesome. It's actually like the best white noise generator that we have now.
What are some of the other UAD plug-ins you use?
Justin: We use the Pultec Pro EQ plug-in a lot. The Pultec is great for all kinds of stuff. Even on its own, you can stack up a couple of Pultecs on a sound and add some really cool color to it. It's also cool for just beefing up kick drums — the bass you get out of that thing is gnarly, it's great. It’s also useful for adding a really nice sizzle on top of sounds. We use the Pultec because we dull things out, then warm them up, and then, for synth sounds that we really want to chop through the mix, add the Pultec on to give some boost on the top.
Ed: Running signal through several instances of the Pultec you can truly hear the color of it. Whereas if you use the URS FullTec, and you slap five or six of those together, nothing is going to happen to the signal until you start turning knobs. The same thing can be said about the Waves stuff as well. We've A/Bed the Waves version of the LA-3A, 1176, even the Pultec. They sound drastically different than the UAD versions. I think there's a fuller characteristic that the Universal Audio plug-ins have that a lot of the other host emulations just don’t. Not to talk poorly about a lot of those other companies — because I think they're all making good stuff — but it's just a different thing.
So you find that with the Pultec and some of the other UAD plug-ins, by stacking multiple instances of them, you're able to get more of that character?
Ed: Yeah, just for coloring the sound. That's like a general trick that we'll do. We'll stack multiple Pultecs, which will very drastically alter the color of the sound. Even multiple Neve 1081, 1073 Classic Console EQ, or Harrison® 32C Channel EQ plug-ins will do the trick. The same can be said of the Helios Type 69 EQ plug-in. The Helios will drastically change the sound without actually turning up the gain on the low end at all. Basically, if you just pick a frequency, like I think 30 or 60 Hz, it will instantly beef up the bottom significantly. But it's not something that you would notice like, "Oh, I'm turning up the bass, two or three dB, there it is," it's just this kind of subtle oomph that it adds to the signal.
Justin: There's a lot of things about the UAD plug-ins that are like that. The attention to detail that they've taken into making these faithful replications is impressive. Take, for instance, the Teletronix® LA-3A Classic Audio Leveler plug-in. It does some really strange things when you crank it all the way up. When you have both knobs all the way up and the signal is blasting through it, it starts to break up and it has this really interesting effect [see The Glitch Mob Share Tips and Tricks about Using UAD-2 Plug-ins]. So a lot of times we'll have a really loud signal that's pushed through a couple of stacked LA-3A plug-ins. Often that's how we end up using the stuff, really pushing the plug-ins to an extreme level and seeing what happens. Because of the attention to detail of Universal Audio, it's amazing what the plug-ins can really do. Even on the EMT® 250 Classic Electronic Reverberator plug-in, which is amazing, it’s the weird stuff that it does that we really like, like when you turn on the noise. One of the things we really like is to use the plug-ins in unconventional ways.
Have you tried the new Lexicon 224 Digital Reverb plug-in yet?
Ed: It’s really great. It can sound very dirty, and obviously very old, too. Especially when you put on the Rear Outs switch, which kind of doubles up the signal in a strange way that sounds very cool.
Justin: It's a good reverb for just fattening up sounds. It sounds awesome.
I know you've had the UAD-2 Satellite for a bit now, how has it enhanced your setup inside and outside the studio?
Josh: The UAD-2 Satellite has been a great addition to our studio because it has given us the ability to be mobile when we are on the road or wanting to just get out of the main studio to have a different surrounding. It's also given us the ability to use multiple computers and not have to constantly bounce down tracks to audio so we can share files and sessions. We are heading out on the road for about 6 weeks on tour and we are really amped that we will be able to get use all of our UAD plugins while on the tour bus or in a random hotel room! It's really given the mobile producer the ability to move around and still have your favorite plugins without having to lug around your desktop! I'm sure the Satellite will get lots of use on this next Glitch Mob tour!
"The UAD-2 Satellite has really given the mobile producer the ability to move around and still have your favorite plug-ins without having to lug around your desktop."
Let’s switch gears and talk about songwriting. How do you typically go about writing your compositions?
Ed: Generally, we come up with a rough sketch of the song. It will usually start from a feeling that we're trying to convey. Eventually, what we'll do is we'll piece a story together with the music. And that basically helps us creatively to pull the whole thing together.
Explain what you mean about piecing the story together. Are you thinking of an actual narrative when you're writing the music, even though there are no lyrics?
Ed: Yeah, definitely. For instance, the B-side to our new single, it all started out with a feeling first. Justin came up with this cool story about a young girl who's learning to be a badass samurai, or something like that, which kind of helps creatively. It gets the juices flowing in our minds about what we're trying to say with this piece of music, and that really helps us out, as opposed to making the cool sounds. I think that's the easy part, making the cool sounds. But really bringing out the feeling about what the song could potentially mean to someone is a whole different bag of tricks.
I guess with instrumental music, it could really help open things up creatively to think about a story line.
Josh: It's different. We didn't always write music to stories, I think it was something that we developed as a tool to be creative and different in the writing process. I think most instrumental artists may not have a story. They're just kind of like putting music together.
Ed: Which is totally okay, too.
I think it's a really cool idea. It’s like scoring a movie.
Justin: And it helps with the creative process if you're stuck in a zone and digging through presets trying to figure out what the next thing is going to sound like. If you have a time and place in your mind that you're trying to illustrate or paint with, it can help move that process along.
Speaking of scoring movies, have you done any of that?
Justin: Actually, we just did a score for a friend’s very short film called Black Sands. That's something we love. I think that's a natural progression from what we do. I'm sure at some point we'll do scoring for a feature film.
Let's talk about the live show. I recall that you typically have a guitar and a bass onstage, and then you have all those controllers that trigger samples of various parts from the song, which could be individual notes or chordal parts, right?
Ed: Yeah. Essentially, everything that could possibly be played by three people at one point in time in the song is played by three people, and then everything else that can't, gets thrown on a bunch of stripes. We definitely try to play as much of it as is humanly possible, which is why we wrote a lot of the stuff with the percussion that we did. We thought it would be fun to perform like that.
So you actually play a lot of the percussion parts with your controllers rather than triggering loops.
Josh: Oh yeah, definitely.
Tell us about some of the controllers that you use.
Ed: Right now in our current setup, the focal point is the JazzMutant Lemur. That's our main controller. We each have one. Those are used for playing melodies and kick-and-snare style drumming. Besides that, we each have two Roland V-Drum snares — I think they're the PD-125SX. That's what we use to play the taikos and the tom sounds.
Are you using internal sounds from the Roland V-Drums or are you triggering from somewhere else?
Ed: No. The controllers are all triggering Ableton Live racks. For the percussion parts, we generally build Ableton Live Samplers that have the taikos and the toms. They're like multilayered Samplers. The softer or harder you hit it will trigger a different sample with a different tonality.
Are you still running everything off one laptop?
Ed: We use one laptop that runs all the audio, and allows us to perform. And then we have a separate laptop that has a Max for Live patch that runs our lights. That takes a MIDI feed from our laptop that's basically on and off notes, to our second laptop that controls our lights with this Max for Live patch. And we have this thing called the uDMX, which translates the MIDI into DMX for the lights.
But as far as the music goes, it's all in one laptop?
And you used to use more, but you had problems with the latency when you each had individual laptops and tried to sync them together?
Last year, you were just starting to mess around with using iPads on stage. Have you started using them more?
Ed: We used the iPads a little bit during the first nationwide tour, but we haven't used them since. There's something still fiddly with wireless networks that has us a little bit hesitant — especially because our setup is already so complex. There's already so much information running through ethernet cables and everything. To complicate things more by having three iPads onstage running through a wireless network, just doesn't sound safe. I just recently bought the Line 6 MIDI Mobilizer and we're going to experiment with that a little bit. But as far as running things wirelessly, we're probably going to stay away from that, at least from a performance standpoint.
"[We like to] piece a story together with the music. And that basically helps us creatively to pull the whole thing together... I think most instrumental artists may not have a story. They're just kind of putting music together."
You guys all come from DJ backgrounds, so how do you compare the experience of DJing something to performing it?
Justin: It's a different feeling altogether, really. When you're DJing, you're up there and you're selecting songs to direct the energy of the night. You have these songs that you’ve tagged in your head so you can rock the crowd the best, or whatever you're trying to do. But when you're up there performing, we're just doing our thing and telling our story over and over again. It's a different feeling of responding to the crowd in the selection and direction of the set. We're just doing our thing, and it's very similar each night. We're playing our songs.
When you come up with your set list, you obviously think about how it's going to impact the audience?
Justin: But it doesn't change on the fly. We just play our songs. And we can also improvise melodically, or sometimes we can add extra drum beats or we can filter stuff to hype up the crowd to make things more interesting. But it's more of a putting-your-heart-out-on-the-line sort of feeling as opposed to a rocking-a-crowd feeling.
So you react differently than a DJ would to the crowd's response. A DJ would say, "Oh they're kind of getting into this particular thing so I'm going to go in that direction," whereas with your own stuff it's more like, "Hey this is us."
Justin: You're right, that is the main difference. And we still play. We like to rock out and jump up and down, and our necks are all sore from head banging this weekend at a festival. We still definitely rock, but that's exactly the difference. If we go to a part of the set that's mellow or something that's melancholy, we just go with it, and if it doesn't seem like people are rocking as hard, that's fine. That’s just kind of part of what we'll do.
You’ve toured all over the US and also in Europe. Do you notice a difference in the way Europeans respond to your music as compared to Americans?
Ed: Yeah, definitely, but at the end of the day it's all the same thing. It's people responding to our stuff, having a blast, and having a great time. Obviously, out in Europe, electronic music has been a part of people's lives a little bit longer and is much more of a common thing. So for an act like us to get up there and do our thing, it's kind of a lot more ordinary. I think they instantly understand what's happening. Although they may not have heard our music before and know how to categorize it in their head, I think that seeing a bunch of people up there playing electronic music, that's more natural for them. Whereas in the States, it might not be. It might be very foreign when you go to various states.
I would assume in the more urban areas people are more hip to what you guys do?
Ed: It really depends. There are some really small towns out there in America where people really get into it, you know? There's either a higher concentration of either college kids or people that are really into what we do. Some of those cities really go off the hardest. It's great when you're on tour to find those kinds of places, it's really fun, because you would never have gone there normally. And here you are in Oxford, Mississippi or someplace on a Monday night, and the whole place is going crazy. It's great.
Would you say that that the composition of your fan base is what you expected, based on the style of music you play?
Ed: Definitely not [laughs]. The fans and the audience pick you, you don't pick the fans. I think, in our younger days, we might have thought that we're writing this kind of music with a specific kind of person in mind, but now we don't even think about that at all. So to us, it doesn't matter if you're yellow, green, blue, or Martian, if you're a fan of ours, we've got a lot of love for you.
Live Photo by Jim Bennett
All Other Photography by David Goggin.
— Mike Levine