I normally just jump right in but I wanted to tell you about how I discovered this band. I found out about The South Hill Experiment through the Spotify algorithm (yep - it works sometimes!) must've heard them on the radio station of another band I liked. I thought their music was super space-y and cool and reminded me of a mixture between BADBADNOTGOOD and Stereolab or something. I ended up including one of their tunes on the Synth History "New Synth" playlist a while back, one thing led to another and here they are, part of the Recommends Series.
In addition to making their own music as Baird and Goldwash, the Baltimore based duo have worked with a number of artists like Arlo Parks, Danny Brown and Brockhampton.
Without further ado, their studio essentials...
1. Yamaha AN1X
We inherited this synth from a friend, who had himself inherited it from a friend and it became a secret weapon on a bunch of South Hill songs. It’s got all the 80s/90s 12-bit digital presets you could want, plus a bunch of programming options if you aren’t afraid to menu-dive. It’s responsible for the FM-y space-bells on "Tired of Stars" and the laser-sawtooth on "Aeroplane". It’s an early attempt at analog emulation and those shortcomings give it a charm that juxtaposes with the expensive sound of our OB-6. And like all instruments, it loves getting re-amped.
2. Oktava MK-012 matched pair
These mics are probably on every song we’ve made at South Hill. Small-diaphragm mics like these are great at controlling transients, and the Oktavas have got to be the best deal out there for a matched pair. We love them as overheads on drums, pianos, or set up in an XY array to record vocal layers from different corners of the room.
3. Yamaha CP Reface
I (Gabe) bought this little keyboard to turn MIDI into Wurlitzer and Rhodes emulations for our live shows, but it quickly became a staple in the studio. Don’t let the tiny speakers fool you: the sounds are excellent. The effects are also good for the price - we use the “analog” delay rather than the reverb, and we go light on the built-in distortion. Then there’s the easter-egg: a hidden acoustic piano preset that only appears when you power up the keyboard with the dial halfway between RDI and RDII.
4. Mexican Strats
Another workhorse from tour that’s found its way into our recording setup. I (Baird) bought a severely beat up one from a man in Agoura Hills and it’s never let me down. I love the bridge pickup DI with about 30ms of delay and feedback set to 0 for phasey stabs.
5. Garage sales/Craigslist
A lot of our favorite tools are things we’ve randomly happened upon: this Eko 12-string electric, a severely cracked crash-ride that gets used practically every day, a 1950s PA amplifier that we run guitars through. We got both of our upright pianos for free on Craigslist - one’s bright, and one’s mellow (with craft-store felt over the strings) and they’ve been huge in our writing and recording process. Sometimes the gear finds you!
6. No Wi-Fi
We never got Wi-Fi at South Hill, which was mostly a choice. Ideally you step into the studio and you can forget about your plans and obligations. We’ll even lock our phones in the mailbox downstairs so there are no digital distractions.
7. Using monitors for feedback
Sometimes it’s good to let the room talk back! We’re big fans of re-amping, especially using the studio monitors and doing a few passes with a hand held dynamic mic, getting feedback swells where it feels good. We recommend having one hand on the master. Protect your ears!
We’re terrible surfers, so we recommend foam surf boards for maximum fun and minimum pain. We keep these at the studio - it’s on the way to a decent break and there’s not much room at either of our apartments.
9. Ear Breaks
We usually need more perspective. If you’ve been chipping away at the same sound world for too long, try putting on your latest playlist or a favorite album while stretching your body. Better yet, start something from scratch! We’ll often jam and take voice memos to get out of the dreaded “editor mode.” If an ear break isn’t enough, step outside. We have a fire escape; you may have an alley or a field or a garden. Whatever you’ve got will help.
10. Pei Pa Koa
Herbal vocal syrup you can find in Chinatown. Take a spoonful before a show or a long day of vocal takes and your throat will thank you. Also good for head colds in general, but we’re not doctors…
Their album Sunstrikes is available now.
Synth History Exclusive.
Photos by Nic Khang.