Butch Walker Records Green Day with Apollo & UAD
Learn how the Grammy-winning Producer Crafted a Modern Glam/Punk Masterpiece
Butch Walker’s production and songwriting resumé is not only impressive, it's extensive. A quick snapshot of the Georgia native’s work over the last 15 years include producing and co-writing with Taylor Swift (on perhaps her most rocking record, 2012’s Red), in addition to Pink, Gavin DeGraw, Harry Connick, Jr., Fall Out Boy, Weezer, The Struts, and Train.
But Walker is an equally prolific artist in his own right, with nearly a dozen albums since 2002’s deft Left of Self-Centered, all of which display Walker’s fierce guitar playing, power-pop writing gifts, and broad production palette. More recently, he has been busy on new albums by Jewel, The Wallflowers, and Green Day’s latest LP, Father of All..., which sees Walker escorting Billie Joe and the boys through some of the garage-y, glam-approved territory. Here Walker details how Apollo, UAD, and OX Amp Top Box helped deliver one of Green Day's most ambitious records yet.
How did you come to produce the latest Green Day album?
Ultimately, I think the band was ready for a change. For a decade they’d basically been producing their own records. I know what that’s like. I produce my own records myself, and it can be one big rabbit hole you go down, using the same tricks and the same techniques over and over again.
You forget how to get out of your own way, and you don’t know how to explore new territory, because no one's helping you map the way there.
The new Green Day album features a lot of glam and garage rock influence. Was this conscious?
Billie and I both share a deep affinity for ' 70s glam rock and punk rock, but Green Day have never been able to explore the glam side of that equation on record.
I share a lot of the same influences as the Green Day guys. So as we started talking about the project, Billie (Jo Armstrong ) was sending me rough demos, and I noticed that there were a lot of sonic experiments already happening at that point in the process.
When he first sent me the demo for “Oh, Yeah,” he had put the sample of Joan Jett's version of "Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)," in there, and I don’t know if he was even that excited about that one, but I told him, "No, man, that’s the jam." So we made that one of the songs that acts as the blueprint for the sound of the whole record.
You used multiple Apollo X interfaces and UAD plug-ins for the Green Day album. What was the typical setup?
Generally, I used the Helios Type 69 Preamp & EQ and API 550A and 560A EQ plug-ins across all Console input channels. This allows me to get the EQ right when tracking. I’m really not into “flat” recording, where you put off EQ decisions for later.
"With two Apollo x8ps, I can make a record that sounds as good as anything I’ve ever done."
Why is that?
Because you’re responding in the moment, and those early decisions are going to help tell you where the mix needs to go later on.
Keep in mind that I’ve also got an early-'70s Quad 8 2082 20-input outboard console in my Los Angeles studio where we recorded the Green Day album, and though I don’t use their EQs much, every input goes through the onboard preamps — which I think are among the best you’ll ever hear—before going into Apollo Console.
However, I’m changing my Los Angeles studio to just the two Apollo x8ps. That means, of course, I’ll have sixteen channels of Unison mic preamps, which is as much as I need.
With two Apollo x8ps, I can make a record that sounds as good as anything I’ve ever done. I can make records soup-to-nuts on that setup.
The guitar sounds are noticeably different on this Green Day record. Gone are the huge walls of stacked rhythm guitars, and instead there are more single-tracked parts.
Billie loves to stack guitars and he makes it sound great. I did it the same way for years, too, so I get it. And we even did some of that on this record.
But one of the things I talked with him about was that quality you hear on a lot of older records — Rolling Stones records are a good example. You’ve got Keith on one side of the stereo field — just one track of him — and Ron Wood or Mick Taylor on the other side.
Doing that, you get this really nice syncopation between the parts and even the tone. The guitars almost become this third thing with the two of them playing together.
It’s a sound that even hearkens back to '50s jazz, where each instrument bounces off the other ones and creates an entire feeling, without multiple tracks of any one instrument.
"OX Amp Top Box is one of the most useful pieces of gear to come out in a very long time."
You tracked a lot of the guitars with OX Amp Top Box, right?
Yes. I think the OX Amp Top Box is one of the smartest, most useful pieces of gear to come out in a very long time.
I had all my amp heads, and a bunch of Billie’s, stacked up alongside each other, with color-coded speaker cables coming out of the speaker outs so we always knew which head was being plugged into OX at any given time.
Then I’ve got a few OX Amp Top Box RIG presets in the OX app — microphone and cabinet and room combinations—that are designed to complement the sounds of my different amps, whether those are Marshalls, Fenders, or whatever.
Now, in addition to OX, I’ve got two 2x12 cabinets miked up with nice real mics. But halfway through the album, I just got to a point where I thought, “I can’t tell which of these sounds are ‘real,’ and which aren’t.”
At no point did anyone think to say, “Hey, is that an OX sound or a miked cab?” Never. The sounds were totally inspiring, so you go with it.
How did you record Mike Dirnt’s bass? It sounds different than every other Green Day album.
Yeah! That’s partly because I had him play my Fender Mustang bass with flatwounds on it. I said, “Let’s play a short-scale bass, so we can get into some of this cool ’60s and ‘70s garage and glam stuff that we all really love.”
Mike’s bass was going through the UAD Ampeg B-15N Bass Amplifier plug-in, and I saved a bunch of different presets for those sounds per song, because I wanted the bass sound to change throughout each song — sometimes going real wooly, sometimes going brighter, etc.
What UAD plug-ins do you like on your master bus?
Well, I should preface this with, I am in no way a mix engineer. I like other people to mix my records. I don’t like spending four hours working on a kick drum sound.
I hand off the mixes to someone else, and for this Green Day album, that guy is Tchad Blake. Green Day's longtime engineer Chris Dugan also mixed a couple songs. Chris is so good, I’m having him work on some of my other projects as well, including the new Jewel and Wallflowers records.
That being said, my mix bus chain is generally the SSL 4000 G Buss Compressor, Pultec EQP-1A, because the top end around 10 KhZ is killer, and it never gets harsh, and the very bottom, around 60 Hz just sounds great, too.
Then I’ll add the UAD Pultec MEQ-5 if I want to add a little overall midrange bump in the area around 1.5 kHz, just to give it more chest.
From there, the Brainworx bx_digital V3 for overall tone shaping. It also has a M/S control for tweaking the stereo image that sounds great, if you don’t abuse it. Just give it about ten percent. It makes the field sound wider without any sort of "fake" stereo imaging.
Finally, I’ll often use the Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor — the big mack-daddy. It sounds great. And it’s not rocket science. I’ll set it to a good, loud mastering preset, and tweak a bit from there.
I just really like the way it grabs the notes and transients, and pulls those levels up without destroying the dynamics. That’s just to get the level right up to zero.
Do you ever use any magnetic tape plug-ins?
Sometimes I sub out the Shadow Hills for the UAD Ampex ATR-102 Mastering Tape Recorder using ½-inch tape, especially if I’m really going for that distinctive color that tape has. I can even get a sort of cassette-sounding quality out of it, which is really cool.
Lastly, tell me a little about your experience Beta testing UA’s new LUNA. What are some of your first impressions?
Luna Recording System is incredible, and it’s going to encourage a lot of people to migrate away from their current DAWs. The thing I can’t stand about recording with Pro Tools, and I’m not afraid to say it, is that it’s just too slow for processing many of the things that many of today’s artists take totally for granted.
Now, this may not happen on the more organic records I’m making, but if I’m working with a laptop producer who uses Ableton Live, they’ll ask me, “Hey, can you change the key of the song real quick.” Or, “Could you make the song five BPM slower?” I’m like, “Excuse me? I think you’re going to have to go out for a long lunch — that’s going to take three hours!”
So yeah, LUNA Recording System is the sh*t!
— James Rotondi
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