A Conversation with King Tut

king tut

Michele: Thanks so much for doing the interview with me. Can you talk a bit abou tthe new self-released EP coming out very soon, which is your first studio recording, which you recorded in Ashville, NC. What can we expect?

Drew: Mark and I had talked countless times about doing professional recordings of our "live material. The majority of our music that has been heard online are recordings done at home, track for track, and can't be played live. Because of our equipment limitations, we'd never been able to produce a recording that represented/resembled our live music in a way we wanted. So, we went into the studio, surrendered our wallets, and enjoyed the experience all around. Minus the whole wallet issue...

king tut 2Mark: We decided it was time to get a real nice studio recording of a couple songs from our live set, and we ended up at Altamont Recording. The studio is owned by Todd Kelley, who also owns Smashing Guitars and Endangered Audio. The record was engineered, produced, mixed, and mastered by Clay. We recorded over the course of a two days, and spend another one and a half mixing and mastering. It was a nerve-racking experience, spending so much money on such little time. The studio's rate was $60 an hour, and the final bill for those two songs came out to a little over a grand. That doesn't even include the cost of pressing, which is another $700-800. But it was well worth it--it was definitely one of the most enjoyable musical experiences of my life. The songs are "Francis" and "Rue the Word" and both are available for listening or paid download on T61. Because we love T61 so much, it's literally the only place you'll be able to listen to the songs for free. We're only going to charge for the downloads until we have paid off the recording and pressing, and then the songs will be free again. We're not interested in making lots of money, but we're not all that keen on losing money either. We feel it's not a bad trade to offer 60+ songs for free and humbly asking for help paying for these high quality recordings.

I was surprised to learn that you had been recorded your first album Chopping Wood & Carrying Water on a Mac Laptop in Garage Band and with built-in mic. Were you recording, mixing and mastering everything yourselves?

Drew: The majority of CW&CW was done on Mark's laptop, or my Mac Mini. Although a fair amount of the recordings used the laptop mic alone, we eventually began to use more "sophisticated gear such as USB interfaces and basic/entry level microphones.

Mark: I definitely had access to a few decent entry-level mics (Shure SM57, 58, some AKG condensers) which I ran through a Tascam USB-122. It only has two inputs which meant sometimes I'd record things in stereo, but more often than not, I'd just record two tracks of the same part in mono and then pan them left or right. That's where a lot of the jingly-jangly-fullness of that album comes from. Some of the guitar parts and most of the vocals are overdubbed five or more times--usually one in each headphone, one set a little closer, one closer still, and one directly center. I still do that a lot because it's a great way to cheat and make a poor vocal sound appear more full. I can't remember specifically what parts were recorded with the in-monitor microphone, but probably a lot of the singing and handclapping.

Drew: We certainly weren't working with anything special, and a lot of time was consumed by trial and error, but it was a necessary learning process for both of us to go through. I had no previous experience with recording besides previous projects, and by fitting the stereotypes of the drummer, I had to learn a lot more about audio, electronics, etc. It really has been a positive thing for both of us though. I'm able to give a lot more input with things, and began working on a solo project (Charles Martel) because of it.

Mark: (Apple's) Garage Band was basically what got me started playing music. My friend Luke Brandfon (who wrote the original chord progression for Luke's Hymn) introduced me to it. I saw how he could build a full song pretty quickly by himself and I was floored. He also was the one who got me into looping pedals as well. Those two discoveries made a huge impression on me, and it comes through if you listen closely to the music. The way I began writing music was to find a 4-8 bar phrase that I liked, and I would just play it over and over again until I felt like I had enough time to "play" with and develop the first theme. Then I'd just overdub different guitar and singing and whatever parts until I felt like the first section was done, and then I'd move on to the next part and do it over again. That's why so many of our songs have anywhere between 2-5 distinct parts and no choruses.

It's both an interesting and lazy way to write songs--and I say lazy in that I felt like my composition skills were not (and still aren't) up to the same level of intensity of the feeling I want to express, and so I fall back on easy, great-sounding, happy chord progressions, mostly based off of I-IV-V or its variants. I learned how to hide it well by adding these intense, fast, trippy guitar parts that would draw attention away from the fact that I was doing the same thing over and over again. But a part of me loved that in a way, that you could take the same basic ingredient and each time come up with something different. "The Ocean of Motion" was my celebration of that chord progression, and I just said fuck it and embraced it. I've never really taken lessons in guitar, but in a way, Garage Band were my lessons. I can't say that much mixing or mastering actually happened on that album -- we really had no clue what we were doing. No matter what it was, I almost uniformly boosted the high end, cut the middle, and boosted the bass.

There was one song we recorded "in the studio" but to call the Kenyon College studio a studio in the same breath as Altamont (where we recorded our recent EP) would be, uh, kinda silly.

Drew:The song, "It's All In Your Head, as well as a few drum tracks were recorded at Kenyon College's radio station.


Mark: The laptop setup was great though, because it let me record in a variety of places (some good, some terrible). I wrote "Monsters" and "Koen E Ikimashyo" as well as a few others on my windowsill at my mom's house in Bay Village, Ohio. At the end of "There's No Mountaintop to Yell It From" you can hear my mom calling upstairs to me. Other places I/we recorded were: in my mom's garage, in Drew's basement, in my dorm at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, in the performance space at aforementioned college, at my dad's house in the "fen" (what they call their mix of the family room and den, though I'm not quite sure of the difference anyway), and some other places I'm forgetting at the moment. I wouldn't say the album is mastered in the least, as the levels of the songs vary wildly, and the CD was actually pressed using mp3 versions of most of the songs because I'd lost a lot of the original GarageBand files (they had become corrupt for some reason). All in all, I'd say the music survived the massive uneducated beating I gave it.

Since then Drew and I have both read a lot more about the art of recording and got better equipment along the way too. I now use an Apogee Duet with a Rode K-2 tube condensor microphone. I'm still mixing on headphones, but I think the sound is getting better and tighter. I understand the wonders of compression and light EQ'ing more now, and how much the room you record in influences the outcome. "At the Gates" is one of the better recording jobs I've ever done I think, with the new gear and everything.

Michele: So King Tut is just the two of you: (Mark Boyd on guitar, synth, and cocals and Drew Veres on drums and synth). It's pretty impressive that two people can crank out so much sound and such a variety of music! I mean, your first album had 21 tracks! Do you have a process for writing music?

Drew: Mark definitely gets all the credit for that. There was a time when we lived almost 3 hours apart, and almost every week, anywhere from 1 to 3 new demos would end up in my email or on MySpace. I think the variety of our sound comes from a few other things too. Our musical tastes are pretty broad. I couldn't tell you the last time I listened to the radio or turned on MTV, but there are times when we're on the road to a show and we go from Oscar Peterson to LCD Soundsystem, and then switch on Godspeed You! Black Emperor to finish with Black Moth Super Rainbow. There's definitely a solid list of main influences, but the range of styles we enjoy is just as important. Mark and I both love to record on our own. I think it'd be safe to say for the both of us, that it's incredibly therapeutic. In some ways, it's oddly similar to obsessing over videogames as a child. You're sitting in front of a screen for hours, playing/listening over and over to get to that level/sound you want. Also, whenever some new piece of musical equipment comes in reach, we immediately try to incorporate it into something new.


Mark: Drew hasn't played much of a part in the "recorded" songs so far, but that's rapidly changing. In the past, I've written and recorded a majority of our music by myself, which was silly, because Drew's probably all-around a better musician than I am. Long story short was we wanted to overdub a lot of the songs with drums, but, being the recording amateur I was, I never recorded to a click track, so the result was these songs were incredibly hard to play along to.

One success, however, was "Weeknights." Drew did not do the drums on "Luke's Hymn" (he would have done a much better, less repetitive job)--that was just me recording a single drum/cymbal at a time and overdubbing them. Drew has, however, always had more input on our "live" sound aka what we do when we play live. This might not come as too much of a surprise, but most of the songs we have recorded are never going to be played live. They're just songs for people to listen to. We have definitely neglected our live set for far too long, and we're working on a new direction that is much more jazz-influenced. The songs from our EP can both be played live, though there was some overdubbing in the middle of "Francis" and at the end of "Rue the Word."

"Luke's Hymn" we can also do live, but we haven't played it in a while. The variety of our recorded stuff has resulted mostly from a lot of experimentation with different programs and ways of recording. We used Reason for all of the electronic sounds, and sometimes would combine them with live stuff later in GarageBand. Drew always wants to start side projects for the different genres we do but I'm just like "Whatever dude I don't want to start a whole 'nother MySpace and T61 account just for that." Also, he and I don't like the band name, it sounds kinda stupid, and we want to change it, but I kinda feel like we're too far in and I don't really care all that much, be he still wants to change it. King Tut is easy to remember, I guess it's got that going for it.

Michele: You have plans to include a lot more guest musicians in the future? I would think it would be difficult to perform live if there are just two of you, with so many layers to the music, but maybe not. I saw the Ting Tings last year at Lollapalooza and they're just 2 people knocking out a wall of sound.


Drew: I'd like to think our sound is pretty full for two people. If we didn't use live looping it would be a stretch, but it's something we don't want to seem dependent on. I try to approach drumming as a melodic addition to Mark's guitar playing when applicable too. If you were to add more players to the situation and have me play the same parts I do with just Mark, I'd come off as a total asshole, but at the same time, just playing a steady beat would be a tedious hour of music. For a while, we were determined to find a permanent bassist, but after nothing came through, we ended up feeling it was better to see just how far we can push things as a duo.

Mark: When we play live I use a Boss RC-50 looping pedal, which allows me to record and play up to three independent phrases at a time. Think of it as three normal looping pedals chained up and synced together. As I said before, our live sound is purely instrumental and very different than our recorded stuff. That will change a little as we add more guest musicians, namely, my friend Lorca LH, who will do some singing for us, mostly on the new folk set I'm trying to put together.

Drew: I really like the idea of playing with new musicians to change perspective and approach of playing and listening.

Michele: Speaking of Lollapalooza, any plans to play any summer festivals?

Drew: I'd be interested in playing... Just won't be attending.

Mark: Drew and I always talk about how we'd love to play festivals but never actually go to them. The sound like cesspits to me, with creepy people selling drugs, and people coming to listen to bands but to get fucked up first and foremost. That's cool if that's your thing, no disrespect, it just doesn't sound like a fun time to either of us.

Michele: I've been to a lot of rock shows and festivals and I haven't really come across people selling drugs, smoking a bit but not selling. I think that's probably true about the young kids, but I go to see the bands. After you're married and have kids its tough to get away and see a lot of shows, so by going to a festival, I cram a years worth of concerts into a weeked.

Mark: Playing a festival would be awesome, but we can't even get our act together to get a summer tour going. We've actually never toured and have only booked 2 shows in our history as a band. People ask us to play shows often enough that we don't feel like going to the trouble of booking them around town. The summer tour didn't happen because we waited too long on getting a booking agent (once again, we don't like booking shows) and plus we didn't even have money to press our vinyl, so why waste time touring if we can't sell our new record? I think late fall/winter will be a much more open window for touring. We'll start regionally then work our way around the East Coast, then to the middle and eventually the West if we ever actually get that popular so we're not spending thousands and thousands of dollars on gas 'n' shit with no return moolah. Yeah.

Michele: On the second track on your new album, Rue the Word, you use a sample of Amelia Earhart. What is the significance of her speech to you?


Mark: None whatsoever, it just sounded cool. Drew had a CD called "Great American Speeches" he had to study for his speech class at AB Tech, and we thought it sounded good over it.

Drew: It was just a last minute decision in the studio. It worked out in the end, but we've talked about shortening the length before releasing the 7.

Mark: It actually leads into the Apollo 10 (I think?) Christmas speech, because we were recording it from Drew's computer through a few effects and then into the mixing board, which was a bit of a happy accident because it ends on a pretty cool note.

Michele: You use samples from old movies and that type of thing. Where do you find them?

Mark: We used one sample from an old radio show that was a knockoff of the Twilight Zone I think. Drew will probably remember where he got it. That's in "It's All In Your Head." There are a couple of Timothy Leary speaking on "Here It Is & There It Goes" and I just found those by searching "Timothy Leary .mp3" in Google. Drew found out about this archive of sound which he'll tell you about that is pretty awesome, and I'll probably start using more of that soon.

Drew: I find a lot of samples online, and recently was introduced to freesound.org, which is an amazing resource. The sample used on "It's All In Your Head was from an archive of radio shows originally broadcast in the 50's and 60's. I can't remember the name of the show, but I know it was under science fiction...

I'm also always looking out for things to use at thrift stores and such. I actually have a fair amount of records I've collected with voice samples I'd like to use, but haven't had the time to transfer them onto my computer.

Michele: I love the textured guitar rhythms you create. They are just beautiful. What inspires you?

Mark: I love the band The Books, and I love how they can create these really intricate melodies. They do their stuff with the help of computers, of course, so I don't sound as amazing as they do, but yeah. I basically just take fingerpicking patters and speed them up and then layer different patterns on top of one another, and pretty soon it gets real dense.

Do you have any music videos in the works for the release of the EP? The Luke's Hymn Lonely Monkey video is very cute.

Mark: Haha yeah that video is cute. There is a music video a friend's boyfriend did a while back for "It's Strange" and we have one in the works for "Rue the Word" that our friend Blake in Charolette is going to do.

Michele: I work in the video post production industry, so I'm always interested about videos. The day of the big post house is over in a lot of places. It seems the same for the recording industry. Bands no longer need to have a full studio set up and a superstar producer riding the faders. Bands can self-produce and distribute music at various places on the web. But, you're pressing vinyl. Why do you love vinyl?

Drew: Things have changed a lot in just the past decade, and continue to change at a rapid pace. Although the convenience of recording on your own and being able to control the entire process is a huge part of King Tut, we still have a strong appreciation and admiration for the qualities we couldn't provide on our own. Being able to use priceless vintage equipment from microphones to plate reverb is a total high for geeks like us. We joke at times about how the cliché would be for us to get all hyped up looking at pictures of muscle cars in magazines, but instead we get off to the circuitry of an old microphone. We feel the same way with vinyl too. Mark and I have been collecting records for a few years now, and when you make a good find, or get a record you've been waiting for that is 180 gram, has a poster, and sounds better than when you've heard it before it just feels great. It's something that I've never felt when buying a new CD with a plastic jewel case, a lame foldout, and flat audio… CDs have no real advantage anymore. The majority of people who listen to music might buy a CD, but they get home, put it on their iPod, and that's the end of it. Vinyl just seems to have so much more value all around.

Mark: Typically when you're mixing and mastering for vinyl, you want to get with someone who knows the physics of records. You can't make your mix too loud or it will literally make the needle fly off the record in the loud parts. That said, we did go into a real awesome studio for that record, and got a great product from it. The difference is mostly heard in Drew's drums, though the guitar definitely sounds more full. The reason we're not interested in doing CDs (ever again actually) is because: people don't take care of CDs like they do vinyl, vinyl sounds better (mostly because of a kind of micro-feedback that happens between the needle and the speakers which makes it sound more full), there are more art possibilities with vinyl, and it's more personal and physical and just cool. I feel like people will realize eventualy that CDs were always a big waste of time and eventually they'll go the way of VHS. If people want digital copies of our songs, they can have them (we're sending out free digital copies of the songs with the album). There is literally no quality difference between CDs and what can be played and stored now on people's computers. Most people don't even have a good enough speaker/headphone set up to realize the difference between a .wav and a .mp3. People who don't have turntables are still encouraged to buy the album because it'll come with a ton of free extras, like pressed flowers, handwritten love notes, and 100% original, unique custom art on every single cover done by 30 artists from around the world.

Michele: How is it promoting the music of King Tut via The Sixty One, MySpace, Reverbnation, Pandora, and other online music outlets? Do you spend a lot of time promoting the band online? I would have to think it would be easier and more productive than the old school grass roots methods. Has it really helped grow your fan base?

Drew: Promotion online has been a good friend of ours since the beginning. We've definitely settled down in comparison to how we were early on, but we wouldn't be where we are now without sites like MySpace and The Sixty One. I feel were at a point though where online promotion has done as much as it should for now, and we need to begin trying to play for living people, instead of their online alter egos. Of course the internet would/will be a big help in that, but I'm ready to start trying things from another approach as well.

Mark: MySpace used to be cool, but I've almost totally neglected it since I found T61. People on T61 actually want to hear your music, and you don't get pestered by high school scream-o bands that totally missed the wave 10 years ago (and what a wave that was...). I think printing out flyers for shows if you're not hot shit like Do Make Say Think or Mogwai is crappy and a waste of trees. I don't know if this happens as much in other cities, but nothing bothers me more than people who come up to you on the street, pretend that they want to talk to you and get to know you for about 1.5 seconds, and then shove this mini flyer in your hand as if you didn't have better things to do next Saturday than see a stupid jam band fart on their instruments for 2.5 hours. It's a horrible waste of money on an already un-lucrative endeavor, so we do everything free or cheap. We've never used any spam bots and every message I've sent out to our "friends" on MySpace, or our friends on T61 had been done by me sitting at the computer for hours and hours on end. But it really pays off cause cool stuff like this interview happen because of it. I don't think we would HAVE a fan base if we didn't promote the shit out of ourselves. I think Luke Brandfon is the perfect example of this--don't get me wrong, I love the guy, and I know he's not the kind of person to sit on a computer and send the same thing to a thousand or more people, but if he put just a little more effort into promoting himself I'm sure his music career would take off. You can find him on T61, you'll see what I mean.

Michele: I am sure a lot of 61ers were blown away by the number of tracks you uploaded this past week. What spurred that mass upload?

Mark: Think of it this way: we have 51 tracks of stuff we'd want to make available for download for our friends and fans. If we uploaded them at what is generally considered a fast rate of one song every three days, I would be uploading old ass songs for the next 6 months. And it would be a full time job too. I've never been that sure of how T61 works, and that mass upload was never meant to cramp anyone's style, we just wanted to give our songs away for free. It's kinda funny cause although I love T61 to death, it's the only place on the internet where you can get seriously bitched out for giving away nearly 5 hours of your music for free just because you did it all in one day. I know people want to play the game, but I'm sure there are plenty of people on that site that care more about the music. In the future, we'll do the normal thing where we'll tell everyone the date and time of the upload and let them do the whole discovery thing, and really, it'll be better cause they'll be better songs and people will probably get more points or hearts of bumps or whatever out of them. Most of the people who posted on our wall seemed overwhelmed but happy we did it, so I'm down with those people.

Michele: Kind of funny about how people get mad when you upload a lot of music at T61. Some people are really into the game. I can't deny playing myself. Changing subjects... you mentioned that you're building this effects unit called The Gristleizer, which you use in the song "Pages & Pages". What is exactly is a gristleizer? Are you selling them?


gristlizerMark: The Gristleizer is the name given to what is basically a portion of an analog synth removed from its housing and put into an effects pedal. The original circuit was designed by a sixteen year old kid for an electronics project magazine. The effect was popularized by the band Throbbing Gristle, who many consider to be the first industrial band. The thing is, though, the original circuit was flawed (give the kid a break, he was 16), so my boss, Todd Kelley, working under the company name of Endangered Audio, spruced it up to the point that it would keep the same character but sound and work better. It involves a voltage controlled amplifier and filter, which is a fancy way of saying it can go from being a really classy sounding tremolo to a fucked up dirty ass ring mod and anywhere in between. I got involved in the project during our recording session, when we actually used The Gristleizer on the final part of our song "Rue the Word" (an Omni-chord run through TG). Todd needed people to help solder and assemble it (they're all handmade in the shop, Smashing Guitars in Asheville). I didn't know a lick about electronics until I started working there. After the first run of table-top versions, there was a bit of a lull when I started working with Rhodes pianos. At first I was re-winding broken pickups and since then I've learned how to tune and voice them. Eventually I'll be able to rebuild one from the ground up. We're also working on a whole bunch of a new pedals and remakes of classic effects that saw limited production. In the next couple weeks, we'll start R&D on custom guitar pickup winding and will also eventually build our own shop lapsteel. As you can see, this is the best fucking job in the world.

Michele: And, you were a finalist on BBC's Next Big Thing Contest, with your song What You're After. That is pretty awesome. Congratulations! Has that brought you a lot of attention and opportunity?

Mark: Other than bragging rights? No, not that we know of! It was fun though. We dreamed of playing at the BBC, but maybe someday.

Michele: Thanks again for the interview. You guys are incredibly talented and I really enjoy your music. Best of luck with your new release.

Mark: THANKS AGAIN! You're the bestest.

3 comments:

Schwertwal said...

I've seen mark's penis, it's gnome like, sort of like him

mark said...

i've seen my penis too!

crisrocs said...

Wow, great in depth interview! I'm happy to hear you're going through with the vinyl pressing of your new songs, and congratulations for being a finalist on BBC's Next Big Thing Contest. Christine