Recently, Will upgraded his studio, Graphic Nature Audio, with a new SSL Origin console to enhance his recordings and streamline his mixing workflow. We had the chance to catch up with Will and see how things are going with the new desk. Read on to learn why Will prefers a hybrid set-up, what it’s like installing a new console and what other gear he is currently using in the studio.
Tell us a little bit about your studio, Graphic Nature Audio, and what makes it unique.
We actually just recently opened up here. I was in more of a shared space, multi-room facility for the past 10 years or so. I kind of wanted to set up my own spot in a way that was more accommodating for individual projects, as opposed to the multi-task process we were using for a while. So I got a new piece of property that I've converted into a living space and studio environment. It's sectioned off into two separate spaces. I've built out a studio space with a couple of control rooms as well as separate living quarters. It's a bigger, more comfortable space that makes it easier for me to take care of my day-to-day work.
Was moving into this new space the inspiration for upgrading to an analog console?
Yeah, I decided that was the way for me to go because I'm an analog/digital hybrid mixer. Over the years, I've been kind of creating different routing systems with summing mixers and patch bays where I was basically trying to piecemeal together a console over time.
Eventually, I realized that if this was all in one unit, it would probably be a lot more streamlined and easier to navigate. So when we moved here and I finally got my control room set up, I decided it was finally time to transition to a console because I could build it from the ground up and make sure it was done right.
So are you all-analog now or are you still using a hybrid set-up?
I'm still doing a hybrid set-up. I do the bulk of my automation in the computer and still use plug-ins and stuff, but when I mix out, I run through the console into various outboard gear and stuff.
I’ve always loved SSL consoles anytime I had a chance to work on them. I was just waiting for a more streamlined console. I didn't want to pay for an SSL 4000 or 9000 with all of this automation and stuff that I'm not going to use or some other components that I didn't really care about.
For a while, I was even looking at the XL Desk, but it still felt like I would be piecing together a console, adding 500 series modules and things like that. So they finally came out with the SSL Origin and I was like, “Oh, perfect!” It's got an updated routing system that’s really flexible and easy to use, which is what caught my attention right off the bat. It's got the classic SSL EQ without any of the unnecessary stuff in the channel strips. It also has the ability to lock the faders in at zero so I can do all of my automation on the computer.
It really didn't change my workflow at all. It just gave me a really good-sounding unit that's easy to use and has great EQs. It doesn’t include any extra features that I don't use in my workflow.
How has the SSL Origin improved your workflow?
I'm primarily mixing through it at the moment. I use a different set-up with a bunch of different mic pres for drum tracking and stuff like that, but I’ve incorporated the Origin into all the mixes that I've done since it was installed it and it's been awesome. It has saved me a ton of time getting mixes started. The routing system on the Origin makes it really easy to do aux sends or split tracks up for parallel processing. The ability to control the gain staging through the whole process has made it a little easier for me to get a mix balance really, really quickly.
What was it like working with Vintage King for the installation process?
Well, we built the room first and I had been talking to my rep about trying to get an order in. I was trying to time it so the console would be delivered in between projects, so I wouldn’t have any downtime during the installation process. I was expecting to get it way later than I actually did. I don't think they were back-ordered, but there were a few people in line ahead of me to get the consoles as they were finishing them. I guess an order or two must've fallen through and Vintage King got me a cut in line.
So, I ended up getting the console really fast. Like, almost faster than I was ready for. We had to hustle to get everything ready to get it installed. And then a hurricane hit New Jersey and we lost power. Of course, the console showed up right in the middle of all of that. We had to set up the whole console and wire the whole patch bay with no power, which was extremely difficult. It was kind of funny, honestly. We were like, “I hope this turns on!” We spent days putting it all together so when we finally got power back we were like, “This better work!” It was definitely a unique install experience, that's for sure.
I’ve probably mixed about 20 records since it's been installed here. I don't know specifically what I’m allowed to talk about yet... I’ve been making records all year but they just keep getting stockpiled for when touring starts back up. I’ve done a ton of records on this thing already that will probably be released towards the end of 2021, but they’ve definitely been some of my favorite mixes!
Any other cool new pieces of gear that you picked up recently?
I got an API 2500+ bus compressor from Vintage King actually. That's been getting a lot of use. And I recently grabbed a Chandler Zener Limiter from Rich Costey, actually. I was hoping he left some of his Muse and Death Cab For Cutie magic dust in it. I just picked up this new amp from Carstens Amplification called the Grace. It's sort of a signature for Billy Corgan. It's this really cool, hand-wired amp that has tons of gain, but it's super clear. It's just an awesome amp.
What's in store for the future of Graphic Nature Audio?
We're about to start construction on our drum room here in the next couple of weeks, which is what I’m currently working on. Since we moved here last year, we had to deal with pandemic preparation, construction and shutting down. We didn't get a chance to get the building up before the winter came. So now that it's getting nicer out, we're about to start construction here for the master control room and the drum room.
That's the final piece here. After that, we'll actually be finished. But, being locked up here over the past year, we've been able to build out the two control rooms and set up all of our gear. And we were able to build living quarters for bands, kitchens, lounges and all that fun stuff. So we're pretty much done, we just need the big room now.
The new room is based loosely on the drum room that we've been using forever in my old studio in Bellville, which I really enjoy. We’re going to go a little taller with the ceiling. The initial plans look like about 55’ by 30’ by 25’, so we'll have over 20 feet of space to the ceiling when it's done. Out of that, I'm going to carve out a control room, and kind of maximize the rest of the space for the drum room.
So it's not huge, it's not too wide of a room, but it's going to be a little on the taller side, which I like. I don't like big, long rooms. I like medium-sized rooms with a high ceiling. As far as surfaces and stuff, go, it'll be a combination of different materials. We've got plans to incorporate using the concrete that's on the floor with carpeting and some bamboo around the drums.
We’re doing various materials on the walls in different places with brick and wood to sort of creating different flavors around the drum room. Plus, the studio kind of sits on top of a mountain and overlooks a really pretty view. We're pretty high up, so I definitely want to try to cut some cool windows if I can get away with it.