Grammy-winning producer on the magic of tracking live to tape, and bringing hi-fi sound to the blues
When Gov’t Mule set the ambitious goal of recording two distinct albums simultaneously, only one microphone was common to both - a Lauten Audio LS-208 for singer and guitarist Warren Haynes. The two projects, Peace…Like a River and Heavy Load Blues were recorded at the Power Station New England (PSNE) in Connecticut with Grammy-winning producer/engineer/composer John Paterno at the helm. During his 25-year career, Paterno has built a diverse credit list that includes Robbie Williams, The Steve Gadd Band, Michael Landau, Robben Ford, Tim McGraw, Bonnie Raitt, and many others.
Paterno jumped at the chance to tackle a project that harkened back to 1970s recording methods — a four-piece band laying down tracks through a vintage Neve 8068 console straight to tape.
“We cut 37 songs in two months. I was working 15 hours a day, six days a week. I probably haven’t worked that hard since the ‘90s,” he said. “There was no click [track]. They wanted to go to tape. And we did a whole record without them wearing headphones. Who does that any more? It was a really good experience.”
Peace…Like a River, released June 16, 2023, was recorded traditionally with each instrument close-miked and all sound sources isolated. Conversely, Heavy Load Blues, released in November 2021, was recorded live with a separate set of instruments located in another portion of the studio.
“I had a situation where the singer wanted to sing live with the band, so I needed a mic that's got really good rejection,” Paterno explained, “I also wanted a good, high-quality microphone because a lot of the mics that have good rejection don't necessarily give you the most hi-fi sound.”
Paterno had previously spoken with Lauten Audio Founder Brian Loudenslager about the LS-208, which rejects off-axis sounds because of its capsule placement and dual bias circuit design.
“I hadn't used it before, but I thought, ‘That's going to work for the blues record.’ I knew it would do what it was intended to do because Lauten wouldn't put out something they didn't feel good about,” he says. “And I was really blown away by the tonal quality — the presence and the size of the microphone.”
For the blues album sessions, all of the musicians were set up at the back of PSNE’s Studio A, close together and without headphones. In addition to recording the LS-208 directly, Paterno also ran Haynes’ vocal through a guitar amp at the same time.
“That's part of the vocal sound on the blues record. It still had this fundamental size and tone that I really liked from the LS-208, and the distortion and grit that came from the guitar amp track. Plus, the 208 happened to sound really good on Warren's voice,” he reports.
To switch over from the blues project to the studio album, Paterno and two assistants would close off the back area of the studio using sliding dividers that create iso booths. These dividers were used to isolate Haynes’ stacks of amplifiers and Danny Louis’ keyboard and guitar gear. According to Paterno, reconfiguring the room took about 20 - 30 minutes.
“When they were working up a song for the main record, we still needed a microphone with great isolation for Warren to sing into since he was standing in front of the drummer for those basic tracks. I would just move the LS-208 from the area where we had it for the blues record,” he says.
Without anyone really noticing, the Lauten LS-208 became Haynes’ vocal mic for the studio album AND the blues record. As the band was tracking, Paterno recalls, Haynes would suggest a few vocal fixes or ask to do an overdub or even a couple of complete passes.
“We were using the same vocal chain — a Chandler Ltd. Little Devil preamp into one of the studio’s vintage LA-3A compressors — and it sounded really good on his voice. So, we kept with it,” he says.
Both albums were initially cut to tape on a Studer 24-track tape machine and then transferred into Pro Tools.
“They wanted the sound of tape. It’s something that the band had done in the past and wanted to continue doing,” Paterno reveals. “We ran it at 15 inches per second for the sound. Also, at that speed, we could get about 32 minutes per reel because Mule don't play two-minute songs!”
He mixed the 18 songs for Heavy Load Blues at PSNE, monitoring through his personal set of Amphion Two18 speakers. “The rest of it I mixed about a year later, in March of 2022, at my place. I did a set of Atmos mixes as well, just a few months ago” he says.
In retrospect, while the project involved long hours and some technical challenges, it was a satisfying experience, Paterno says. “It was a lot of work, and there were a lot of things to keep track of. But looking back on it, it was very, very worthwhile to do.”
Click on the links below to check out both albums