|ELLIOT MOSS’S CRUCIAL AUDIO GEAR|
NEVE 33114 Mic Preamp
For some songwriters, writing good songs is simply not satisfying enough – and besides, that’s not how their creative process works. These musicians feels compelled to wrap those songs in complex arrangements and original sounds, and sometimes arrangements are actually the starting points of what then become songs, in a beautifully bizarre reversed music production process. In their tracks, sound design has as much importance as lyrics, chords and structure. 21 years old Elliot Moss belongs to this category, so we thought he might have something interesting to say about his creative process and the gear he loves.
What’s been inspiring the music on your debut album?
I try to learn new things as much as I can, it feels good to keep my brain going, even if it’s something unrelated to music. As for lyrics, they usually focus on one experience / thing for me. One line that really hits home can be enough to fuel the rest.
What comes first: music or lyrics?
That goes either way – an inspiring instrumental bit can blossom into a song, so can some words that I feel are working together. Often times, one sparks the other.
Is inspiration some kind of random blessing, or is it possible to set it in motion?
If I need it to happen, I can usually start something going, though it’s a lot harder. Sometimes it’s just an “a ha!” though, and that’s the best.
Tell us about the process of the one song from your repertoire that came together in the most surprising way.
My favorites are the ones that sneak up on you. ‘Highspeeds’ [streaming below] happened so quickly, I had this lyric in mind and sang it over a drone a few times. Spent a few hours fleshing it out after the vocal was all set… then that was it. Tunes like that are nice because they feel like a moment, suspended in time. I can listen to it now and remember everything that happened in a very clear and linear way. Then there are others that require a lot more finesse and thought, things can get blurry as you go mad trying to get it just right.
Where do you look for lyrical inspiration?
Strong images or feelings that fall apart into words nicely. When there’s a picture or emotion clear enough, the song writes itself.
What is your DAW of choice and why do you prefer it to others?
Ableton Live / Pro Tools I’d say 40/60. I write in both. Up until recently, I’ve been at least finishing everything in Pro Tools but that’s changing.
Izotope stuff is fantastic, Fabfilter is also really good. I like the more transparent stuff, don’t find myself using a lot of analog-modeling plugins, though the API 2500 from Waves is a nice one. Max MSPa go-to also. Do you like synths? If so, which ones do you use in your recordings?
I love synths. I built a modular Oberheim SEM rig that’s been a big part of things recently. Also love my Tetra from Dave Smith, that’s on ‘Slip’ and ‘I Aan’t Swim’. Hm… the Teenage Engineering OP-1 is great… it’s cv outs with the oplab are inspiring with the modular. Love my Casio SK-1, Cheetah MS6 is a favorite for lush pads and squeaky stuff, Moog Little Phatty for bass quite often… How much time do we have? What one piece of hardware would you most like to add to your setup?
Some Eurorack modular stuff! I don’t have any Eurorack(s) so it’s a community / format I haven’t explored yet at all.
Electronic music opens so many sonic possibilities that some musicians find it hard to know when a sound is “the best it can be.” how do you refrain from constantly trying new options for the various sounds in your arrangements? Is this process more intuition, luck or self-discipline – or a mix of the three?
I spend a lot of time playing with noises, pedals, synths, plugins, etc. And writing time is spent cashing in on all that playtime – hardly any of the time I spend working up a song is fussing with sounds. During that time, the sounds that happen are quick and pretty permanent. They become a part of the song, it’s timbre, personality, and vibe. So it would be hard to change them somewhere down the line… like pulling a tablecloth. Sometimes, things change and sounds change with it, but it’s usually part of a greater re-think.
Normally, how long does it take you to realize if a sketch deserves to be developed into a full song or not?
I have folders and folders of stuff that is either half-done or in the garbage. Hundreds of songs probably. That’s a hard question because a lot plays into it – for me there are ideas that carry themselves into the “safe zone” where they’re sung, and mostly tracked. That’s when I can back up and look at it from afar. Sometimes, that new perspective results in me canning it, however. Then there are things on the back-burner that I find and say “hey wait, I can grab this and that” and reanimate parts of a tune, so to speak. Bottom line is, if I can come back to something in a couple of weeks and I’m still digging it, then I can feel good about it.
I play guitar mainly, and in the live show. I also play bass, drums, and keys.
What are your favorite guitar pedals?
Red Panda stuff is a new favorite, Patrick uses the Particle and Devin and I both use Context reverb… the RAT distortion, my bass player Evan’s Pigtronix Echolution II is really nice, Boss SD-1… the Analog Man delay is fantastic, also love the Eventide Timefactor with the little remote.
I just got a 5-string bass which I have fallen in love with. Have always wanted one.
RECORDING SET UP AND MIXING
When recording, do you rely on just one microphone/mic preamp or more than one?
Neve 33114 is my vocal preamp. I have just one channel that I built a box for and adore. I don’t use it for much else. Sometimes bass. I have an Audient ID22 which doubles as an interface so it’s really nice to bring around. Great for synths, really all-around nice, clean pre. I have other pres but the one that deserves the final mention is the Apogee Duet. I recorded like half of my record on it just based on the fact that I can carry it around with me and it bus powers.
Not really, whatever fits the song. I’ve been trying to record certain things similarly across songs that belong together lately (i.e. same vocal brightness, tone… same reverbs, filters)
What do you find to be the most challenging aspects of the recording process? On the flipside, what aspects are the most rewarding?
The most challenging situation for me is what to do when I’ve been working on something for too long. Losing perspective and being too “in” it to make any real decisions is a drag. Usually works out okay after I give myself some space from the song, but it can be really frustrating. The most rewarding things are overcoming this same problem… when a song comes together effortlessly, and a successful car test to confirm at the end of the day.
Many recording musicians find mixing extremely frustrating, what’s your approach to it and do you rely on a “fresh set of ears” (i.e. External mixing engineer) or not?
The way I work, the big parts of a mix are finished by the time I’m done recording it. It’s part of getting the song to ‘stand up’ and feel done. Afterwards, there are more microscopic parts to then zoom in on and improve, but the bold moves are done. I really love mixing, usually.
THE LIVE SHOW
As of now you are a one man operation, where do you feedback for your music when composing?
The guys in my live band are my closest friends and are great to bounce music off of. My manager Nate has an amazing ear, too so it’s always nice to hear what he thinks. But aside from all of that, there’s this thing that sort of clicks when you know you’ve got something and it’s kind of like “hands off, stop messing with it” and you stop.
It’s often challenging to translate programmed music to a live setting, what’s your approach to it?
I tried a lot of different approaches in the beginning. Samplers, drum machines, loopers, etc. And that stuff is really fun to play with… but, I ended up realizing that it’s much more rewarding, and feels more genuine, to really play these tunes with human beings. I’m lucky enough to have found a super talented bunch to do this with. Now that I have that as a base for the live performance, I think it would be fun to start to introduce some more electronic stuff back into the equation. The drummer (Devin) running and programming a drum machine, for instance, for the duration of a song would be an interesting bit of variety.
Do you consider the live show as a faithful translation of your recorded material or simply an opportunity to let your songs free to follow new directions?
The latter. While we were working up the show, we wanted to get it as close to the record as possible. Once we felt we’d hit that point, it was comfortable to build on what we’d learned, change forms around a bit, invent new noises and rigs. I play guitar very differently live than I do on the record. Evan has come up with some baselines that work really well live over songs that had little or no bass on the record. On our most recent tour, Devin took a drum solo over ‘big bad wolf’ every night.
What pieces of equipment do you find particularly useful on stage? (please mention the brand and model name and say why you like it)I have a TC Helicon Voicelive 3 that I’m using to process all of my vocoder harmonies & do delay throws. That’s a very useful tool. The Nord Stage 2 is also a wonderful keyboard because of the sampler and split ability. Noah is able to cover a lot of ground with it as we have many sounds from the record loaded in, in addition to many made special for the live show. It’s really solid. We use all radial direct boxes and splitters, Devin’s Roland SPD-SXis packed with electronic drum samples. There’s one tune where he uses every possible sample slot. And Patrick and I built a big box of pedals to run his guitar, sax and my vocals through, it’s not any one device but he operates it like an instrument. BEYOND MUSIC
Are there any vintage formats that you’re interested in pursuing for the band, like, say, vinyl or cassette? If so, why?
Vinyl – I should actually have them in a week or so, it’s very exciting. Was a very magical feeling to hear my record (from the test pressings) play on vinyl for the first time. Hearing the needle lift up after the last tune is something I didn’t realize the record was missing all this time. Now it feels like it’s with all of its friends.
With bands doing more of everything themselves these days (recording, performing, self-promoting, etc.) And the evermore multimedia nature of the world, how much effort do you put into the visual component of your band: fashion, styling, photography, graphic/web design, etc.?
I do all of my own web / graphics / packaging / visuals. I’m a bit of a control freak about it actually. There’s a really talented artist Hendrik Van Leeuwen who took the photo on the front of ‘highspeeds’ though, he’s really fantastic. Currently meeting and talking with directors about getting some videos together for the songs on the record which is very exciting for me, too.
Any comments about the current state of music and art in nyc?
I think it’s a lovely time to be making music. With Soundcloud and Bandcamp at our disposal, we can get music out there like never before… to people who would have never heard it on the other side of the world. That’s beautiful to me. And I consider myself very lucky to be able to play shows at home and meet so many talented people who are all, at most, an hour away.