RAC Records 2020 Album with Apollo & UAD
Learn how the Grammy-winner sculpts mixes, vocals, and guitars on his latest album.
On his latest full-length original release, BOY, Grammy-winning producer RAC (André Allen Anjos) pays homage to the spirit and sonics of his childhood in 1980s Portugal. To that end, the bossa- nova-schooled guitarist and producer tethered old-school ‘80s synth, chorused guitar, and TR-808 drum sounds of his youth to an eclectic mix of vocalists including Jamie Liddell, LeyeT, Emerson Leif, and more.
Using a liberal amount of UA gear — including an Apollo x8, two Apollo 16s, an Apollo Twin, and a 2‑610 Dual Channel Preamplifier hardware — Anjos has crafted what he calls “an album with a concept and a theme, that you listen to all the way through. That’s the kind of record that impacted me as a 15‑year‑old, and I hope I’m able to pass that torch to another 15‑year‑old today.”
Your music seems driven by melodic figures, often played on guitar, rather than beats.
Typically, I’ll hear a melody in my head, perhaps something I’ve heard somewhere along the way, and I try to bring that into what I'm writing now.
All the melodies on BOY are ones that somehow took me back to my age of musical discovery and innocence in Portugal. I discovered this when I was five or six songs into the album, because I didn’t start out with any particular direction. But it quickly became apparent that my childhood in Portugal was the underlying theme of the record.
Your vocal sounds are extremely present, even though they have space on them. With so many different vocalists all flying tracks remotely, how do you keep the sound consistent?
Yeah, getting vocal tracks from the singers, I’m a bit at the mercy of how they record themselves or get tracked. But when I travel, I bring an Arrow interface with me, and it’s amazing for tracking vocals remotely.
What do you do with a vocal track once you have it in hand?
I usually start by adding a bit of Neve 1073 EQ at the individual track level, just to get the high end somewhere in the spectrum of what I want. I really like the high end on the 1073 EQs.
If I need to do any “maintenance” to the vocal track I use Antares Auto‑Tune Realtime Advanced, but I try not to use too much, as I’m really not looking to make it sound robotic. Then I’ll use a bit of dbx 160 Compressor on a parallel channel, just to get it in the rough range of where I want it.
"Having a mix template is super valuable, and I recommend it to everyone."
How do you process your vocal sub groups?
I like to use the Eiosis AirEQ plug-in, which feeds into the SSL G Buss Compressor, where my settings are pretty subtle: maybe a 2:1 ratio on the SSL, and I’ll mess with the Threshold to get it right. It’s just about nudging the needle at this point, and that’s true for how I use compression across the board. Just a nudge every time.
From there, the vocal group goes into the Sonnox Oxford Inflator, which I’m only using at, like 20-30%, and I don’t set it to Clip at all. I like it to be very clean going through the Inflator. I’ll frequently add a little bit of Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor Compressor, too.
We'll talk about guitar stuff later. But first, tell me how you create the amazing, consistent low end on all of your records.
It's consistent because I work off a template, and it’s a framework that I’ve built over many, many years. So in some ways, the drums and bass are all pre-mixed to some degree. Having a template is super valuable, and I recommend it to everyone. I mean, part of this just comes from the huge amount of remixing I do. I’m on constant deadlines, so anything that helps me speed up my process is a good thing.
Can you describe your template?
There are group tracks for every single instrument type already pre-made by me. Levels are more or less adjusted, with a good amount of parallel compression in place. So for every instrument group, there’s pretty much a sub-mix in place, so that when I go to do my final mix, I don’t have to completely reinvent the wheel — it’s more or less there.
Do you have EQs setup in this template?
Well, the key is just using EQ to give everything space in the mix, right? And the way I do that is through filtering. It’s not that complicated. I mean, yes, the kick is pretty subby, but that’s its space — it's the only thing in that really low range, from say, 20Hz to 400Hz.
The bass instruments may have a little bit of overlap with the kick, sure, but all the midrange instruments like synths or guitars are only going to live in the low-to-high midrange. I want to leave a ton of room for the vocal.
So basically, every instrument has to have its place, and the vocal occupies a big part of it.
Exactly. If you listen to my records, you’ll hear that nothing — no hi-hats, cymbals — is happening in that higher frequency range except for the vocals. This approach allows for a lot of separation. A lot of mixers have a tendency to want to open up hi-hats really wide, but I like controlling them.
There’s a warmth to the kicks, snares, and basses.
I always group the kick and snare together, and then I add a little bit of parallel distortion. In fact, I have a lot of distortion on nearly everything, and I think that’s where I get a bit of grit on the recordings.
Why do you use the distortion in a parallel channel?
Using distortion on drums, you risk losing all the dynamics, and that’s the wisdom of doing it on a parallel channel. I don’t want to lose the punchy low mids on the snare, and that’s the first thing to go when you put distortion directly on a snare and it gets too crunchy. I typically use the Raw Distortion stompbox plug-in to add the right amount of grit.
Do you also use parallel compression?
Yes. The way I deal with compression on the bass and drums especially, are lots of small increments of parallel compression at consecutive stages, from channel to sends to sub-groups to master bus.
Back to the guitar. You use it a lot on BOY.
The guitar is the easiest way for me to bring the melodies that I hear in my head into the physical world. And if it sounds good played on guitar, I’ll just keep it. So much of the creating process is truly improvisational, trying a lot of ideas, messing around, and seeing what sticks.
The guitar’s central role as the album’s theme instrument was an emergent thing for me, and I actually wrote plenty of ideas on synths, but as I got into it, it all just felt better on guitar.
The guitar sounds are great! What is your recipe?
I only use one guitar, a Gibson SG I’ve had since I was a kid. It’s a guitar I know and love and it’s been with me forever. I may run a BOSS CE-2 Chorus or a couple of MoogerFooger pedals, but generally not a lot of effects before the amps.
My amps are all heads, no cabinets and I use a Fender Deluxe Reverb and Princeton Reverb, a Roland JC-120, and Vox AC-4 and an AC-15. All of these heads are sent into an Ampeg System Selector, which lets me select which amp I want to send to OX Amp Top Box.
"The guitar is the easiest way for me to bring the melodies that I hear in my head into the physical world."
Do you use the OX app for different tones?
I don’t really use the mic, cabinet, and speaker modeling in OX. Instead, I simply use its attenuator to bring the volume down about 30dB , and send the signal to a Rivera Silent Sister 1x12 iso cab loaded with a Celestion G12T‑75. I can position the two interior mics and get a really clean recording. Then the signal goes into either an API 512C lunchbox preamp or a Chandler TG‑2 500 Series preamp.
Once the guitar sound gets to Apollo's Console app, I like using the filters on the Neve 88RS Channel Strip to filter out a little bit of low end and shape the sound a bit. I may also use a touch of Fairchild 670 Tube Limiter if I want a more compressed tone.
Once you hit your DAW, what do you do to the guitar?
I’ll use some subtle parallel compression like we talked about earlier. And I almost always double the same part twice to give it that stereo feel, although as a general rule I always prefer mono signals.
I don't particularly like very "wide" recordings. Sometimes with stereo signals you lose a lot of presence in the center of the stereo field. I just want it right in front of me. I would rather pan several mono sources to create a stereo feel.
I like to process the guitars with plug-ins like the MXR Flanger/Doubler the Brigade Chorus Pedal, and the Raw Distortion if I’m going to add distortion.
Tell me a bit about what plug-ins live on your mix bus.
There are a few things, but it centers around the API 2500 Bus Compressor. I used to have the hardware version, but I got tired of the routing issues and the noise I would often get, so I use the UAD plug-in now and it’s sick. I actually A/B’d it with my hardware 2500 so I could copy my hardware settings as closely as possible, and it sounded amazing.
What are your settings on the API 2500 plug-in?
The threshold is set to 0, which is where I like things to hit. Attack is super low, around .03. The Ratio is set to 3. It could be higher, but keep in mind this is the final glue, but not the final limiter. And the Release is .5, and I’ll mess with the Variable release if I need to.
The Knee is hard, the Thrust is Normal. The Tone Type is Feedback/Old. I’m not using the Link. And I crank the Make-Up Gain until it hits my Limiter, which is just one of the built-in Ableton Limiters. This is just for using while I record and mix, to make things congeal, a baseline “glue,” if you will. For mastering, though, I work a lot with Joe LaPorta at Sterling Sound. Mastering is not really my skill set, and Joe is incredible!
I know you've been working with LUNA Recording System recently. What are your thoughts?
I didn't think I'd be looking at a new DAW in 2020, but LUNA is such a breath of fresh air. Switching DAW's is a big undertaking, but there's a ton of features with LUNA here that I could see finding a place in many people's workflows. I really love the Ravel grand piano and Moog Minimoog LUNA Instruments and Neve Summing. It works seamlessly with Apollo too, which makes my life so much easier. I love to see a company with such a rich history at the cutting edge of recorded music.
— James Rotondi