Sak Pase: Diamond Production

Production Focus: Double Black Diamond

Paul Watson talks to LA-based Producer Sake Pase (AKA Sham Joseph) about his latest work on up and coming artist Jake Troth's new EP, Double Black Diamond.

I told his management company that he would be a legend: he's charismatic; and his songs connect with people and bring out the most honest emotion that people have..."

thumb Sham In ElevatorSak Pase (AKA Sham Joseph) is fast becoming one of US' most sought-after producers. With credits for Kanye West, JAY-Z, Rihanna, Verse Simmonds, Busta Rhymes, Swizz Beatz, and more, there may be no limit to his talent. Now LA-based Pase has turned his attention to North Carolina's Jake Troth - a brand new multi-talented artist that has taken his breath away.

“When people ask me to describe him, I always end up saying 'imagine Paul McCartney grew up listening to JAY Z and Lil' Wayne but was very true to his acoustic roots,” smiles Pase, adding that Troth will immediately appeal to an indie crowd, yet his lyric and melody is 'so pop'. “It's hard to bottle up what he does; he's written hooks for JAY Z and he actually wrote a song with Stargate for Kylie Minogue as well, so he is a pretty dynamic songwriter as well as an artist – without doubt one of the most exciting projects I'm working on now.”

And that's saying something when you look at Pase's recent production credits: JAY Z, Chris Brown, Rihanna - the list is long and impressive. He's also about to work on the new TLC movie soundtrack, and has just cut a record with Sean Garrett, which he is hopeful will end up on Beyoncé's new album.

“The first day I heard Jake, I told his management company that he would be a legend: he's charismatic; and his songs connect with people and bring out the most honest emotion that people have,” Pase insists. “I heard one or two songs and we built a friendship - he parted ways with his management group, but we stayed in contact; I would give him advice and stuff. Then one day I sat down and talked to my manager and said that I needed to develop an artist and I wanted to make the connection. We did, she fell in love with him, and the rest is history.”

The jewel in the crown...
we wanted it to sound like 100,000 people could enjoy this body of music at a massive show.”

thumb trothCoverThis was around October 2012, and by March 2013, work was underway on what would be Troth's first EP, Double Black Diamond, which has already caught the eye of many a record company.

“The first thing I wanted to identify was the space in which his music would flourish the most. There's a difference between recording artists and performing artists: recording artists won't project their music on big stages; and Jake is a real performer, so when we wanted to work out the sonics of this project we wrote down ideas when listening to Muse, Foo Fighters, and watching Coldplay's live shows, just trying to figure out the sonic space.

“We wrote on a chalkboard things like 'Glastonbury', 'Wembley' - huge arenas, you know? And then we wrote song ideas and melody ideas that were meant to fill up stadiums. When you hear the project, you hear a lot of big drum sounds and the guitars are aggressive, but yet his voice kind of carves out a space where it can project; he has a very unique tone, and we wanted it to sound like 100,000 people could enjoy this body of music at a massive show.”

From here, the pair started to write material that didn't alienate him from the pop world but at the same time didn't follow any specific music trends:

“We took it back to simple guitars and great melodies - just a very honest rock project. It was very important that we created a body of work that 'older ear' rock peers would appreciate, but the younger ear wouldn't feel was too rocky or not current, you know?”

Getting vocal...
we recorded some songs with him lying on his back too, so he wanted to have a lot of fun with it, that's for sure!"

thumb U87 ZPase was keen to test several mics before cutting any demos, therefore went to Vintage King Audio and sat down to figure out what preamp and mic combination would work the best with Troth's voice.

“We tried some Wunder Audio mics, which sounded awesome, but for the texture of his tone I wanted a bit more of a brilliant sounding mic - one that was amazing for the songs where he had a low register tone or projection – so we used a Neumann U87 along with a [Neve] 1073 on a lot of the record and we kept the mic consistent, then also used some API 512 pres,” Pase explains. “I like to record as natural as possible and ease off on the compression, and generally my vocal chain is a Telefunken 251 going through a 1081 and then a Tube Tech, but I didn't want compression on his voice as I was afraid of squashing any dynamics he might have had; we recorded some songs with him lying on his back too, so he wanted to have a lot of fun with it, that's for sure!

“We used a number of techniques when recording guitars and live piano – actually, we did a couple of songs where the piano really wasn't in tune, but it sounded really dope, so we kept the takes; then we rented a house for him and he went in with a couple of engineers, a U87 and a 1081, and just rocked out.”

thumb SterlingAudio ST55Pase cut guitars on his Sterling Audio 55 microphone “at the last minute” because he felt some of the songs just needed guitar presence on top, though he was pleasantly surprised with the performance of the modestly-priced mic.

“I was actually astounded at the clarity I got with the 55; you can easily get caught up in just using the biggest names, but I needed something on the fly and that's what I had available; and now I actually cut guitars on my 55 every pretty often – it's a great utility mic.”

New DAWs
Studio One is such a monster workhorse; it does everything, and as I say, I can rewire other programs into it very easily if I need to..."

thumb studioOneScreenShotFor the entire project, Pase used Studio One – Presonus' new DAW; and he's been entirely blown away by its user interface and indeed capabilities:

“I'd only recently got it so we really experimented with it. I did lots of pre-mixing in Studio One and what an amazing learning process it was; it's got a really awesome sound, and a lot of the textures and dynamic stuff I did on the album was done on Studio One before I sent it to a mixer.

“It's still a very new DAW and Presonus seem to be updating it constantly – every 60 days or so – so it's always improving, but in terms of pure sound and flexibility, being able to get an idea into your computer, it is by far my favourite program right now; I have been a Logic user for years but I'd seen Teddy Riley demo Studio One at the NAMM show in January and I just dived right in.

“Genuinely, the user interface is absolutely amazing; if you are a Logic user, the transition is so easy – there is no learning curve at all. I love how it sounds, and you can do some amazing thing with the editing of audio. It's a very exciting program; whenever you have ideas, you can just shoot it open and there is a forum where you have all these ideas and you can see your ideas help shape the program, which is very interesting.

“Presonus have excelled themselves – I was a sceptic as a Pro Tools, Logic, even Cubase user – and because these have all been around for so long, new DAWs don't often get the opportunity to compete. Even Ableton I've tried to use and I couldn't get a hold of it, but since using Studio One I've been able to rewire Ableton into Studio One perfectly. Studio One is such a monster workhorse; it does everything, and as I say, I can rewire other programs into it very easily if I need to. It's impressed me so much, in fact, that I've even started to take interest in some of the Presonus hardware products – that's the kind of impact the program has made on me.”

Box clever
I heard Rick Rubin say 'write songs that last for the ages and not for the times', and that's what I want to be a part of.

Pase does a lot of his mixing 'in the box' as he likes to make sure the audio that leaves his hands is exactly the same once it gets to the mastering engineer.

“I do have a lot of analogue keyboards though: Prophet 5s, Junos, and various outboard gear that I tweak, push, and distort in certain ways,” he says. “I am a firm believer that music was meant to run through voltage, so even if I mix something in the box I might route it out, run it thru a Distressor or a Tube Tech just to kind of get current through the music, then I run it back into my DAW. Even with instruments, I definitely print all my reverbs and all of my effects just because I am afraid the mix guy will change it and it won't sound the way I left it.”

Pase is very proud of Double Black Diamond - a project which started life as a body of work that the pair were going to give away free to the public, and quickly turned into “an awesome record that people will really appreciate”.

“I just don't believe the real recording process is appreciated enough; people try to get albums recorded in three or four weeks and I am proud to say we haven't started writing his first album yet, but this experience has helped us understand what it takes to make a great melody that sticks; and when you have a number of these awesome melodies then it really connects with people,” he says, enthusiastically. “I am super-down with that, and I just want people to fall in love with the process of recording music again. We are in a space now where we consume so much music so fast that I don't believe it's possible to create the kinds of music that last for their ages. I heard Rick Rubin say 'write songs that last for the ages and not for the times', and that's what I want to be a part of.

“A lot of times, when you have responsibility to make an album, sometimes the creativity is restricted – I did not want to do that with Jake; whatever he created, if it didn't fit the project, it could be explored another time and would probably end up on his first actual album. I wanted him to be totally free creatively and get every idea out, then we trimmed the fat, kept what we needed to explore - ideas that could be enhanced - but for the most part it was a case of creating an amazing pile of colours; enough to figure out what colour the album should make, basically.”

Drumming up ideas
MASCHINE is awesome, but because on Studio One the use of audio is so effortless, I found myself just programming drums using strictly audio

thumb Maschine ScreenshotThe drums on Double Black Diamond were initially all programmed, though on four of the 10 tracks, a real drummer was brought in to replace the programmed audio.

“We used a variety of kit for the drums - I used Studio One again as the interface is just so cool; I painted a lot of my drums just dragging in audio actually. Then I used [Native Instruments] MASCHINE a lot as well, which I also used for the new Kanye album. MASCHINE is awesome, but because on Studio One the use of audio is so effortless, I found myself just programming drums using strictly audio,” Pase says. “Sometimes I might create a certain drum using my Jupiter 6 just to get a certain type of tone, and then we kind of blended it in with a tom to try and get this real like destructive big tone drum; that's not something you can necessarily get with a live drum set.”

Monitoring the trend
if the sounds can translate through my laptop speakers then they should translate at every listening medium

Pase is old school in that he still uses Yamaha NS10s to get his sonic space right, though he has some uber-cool custom monitors that he also uses when he needs to rock out.

“I think a lot of times when you have powered speakers they add characters that aren't necessarily there. I use NS10s to pick the sounds and when I program the drums; and I had some custom tri-amp speakers built by Tom Carlisle, this guy who's been in the game forever. He built me some awesome floor-standing monitors that have a really killer, and very clean sound,” he continues. “I like the Tannoy 215 DMTs, and the reason I love them so much is when we were doing the [Kanye and JAY Z] Watch The Throne album, I was amazed at how well they were able to get low-end and mid-range frequencies without any harshness, so my brief to Tom was that I loved these speakers and he went away, researched them, and made me something spectacular; they have two 15s and a 12-inch top and they sound amazing. I choose sounds at a very low level with the NS10s and when I want to see how much they fill the room then I run those big guys [which are powered by Pricetown amps] and they just really pound the room up, so that's kind of how I monitor.”

In addition, Pase always references on his computer speakers “because everyone listens to music now via headphones”.

thumb beyerdynamic-dt990pro“I have this theory that if the sounds can translate through my laptop speakers then they should translate at every listening medium: headphones, NS10s, or at a venue even,” he concludes. “It's very important the music you create translates through all these different mediums because you don't know where the consumer is going to hear that music first – it could be Spotify, at a gig, or even on the subway when someone's earbuds might be too loud and they might hear it there. There needs to be a constant referencing between all the mediums; I use beyerdynamic 990 Pros that sound awesome, but also I have a cheaper pair of Audio-Technicas as a variation. You've got to think about how people are listening to their music - that's the bottom line to a successful sound.”

Double Black Diamond was all recorded in Los Angeles: some at Challenge Record studios; some at a project studio in Silverlake; and the majority at Pase's personal studio.

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