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Deadbeat (Scott Monteith) Interviews The Trinity Session Producer Peter J. Moore




Photo: Kieran Behan

Deadbeat & Camara’s gorgeous double LPTrinity Thirty reinterprets the classic Cowboy Junkies release The Trinity Session in honour of the iconic album’s 30th anniversary. The idea for Trinity Thirty was spawned when Berlin-based Canadian producer Scott Monteith — best known as DJ and dub-inflected minimal techno-electronica recording artist Deadbeat — heard the Junkies’ Trinity version of “Sweet Jane” playing in an airport a few years back. Viscerally reminded of how much he loved the album, and how surprisingly overground the record ended up becoming (by mid-1989 The Trinity Session would be certified Platinum in both Canada and The United States – truly another era!), Monteith immediately reached out to the band to ask if they had anything planned to mark its 30th birthday. Before Monteith even touched down back in Berlin, the band had replied saying they had no such plans but would enthusiastically support whatever angle Monteith/Deadbeat might want to run with. Monteith then recalled conversations with musician/producer and fellow Canadian-in-Berlin Fatima Camara about their shared love of The Trinity Session, feeling she’d be the perfect partner to involve in a reinterpretation. Camara was thrilled by the idea, and Trinity Thirty was born.

Following the album’s release, Monteith connected with Peter J. Moore, the producer who recorded the Cowboy Junkies’ original The Trinity Session. Their resulting conversation digs into the innovative recording techniques at play on both albums and much more: it’s rich with detail, but its appeal stretches far beyond the typical gearhead audience. We’re sharing the interview in conjunction with the release of Trinity Remixed, a new digital EP from Deadbeat & Camara that finds the duo crafting new arrangements of the tracks “Working On A Building” and “Mining For Gold.” This digital EP is available as a free download with the purchase of Trinity Thirty from our webshop or Bandcamp. Read Deadbeat & Moore’s exchange below, and stream Trinity Remixed in its entirety:



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Monteith: “Maybe to begin with, I just wanted to talk to you about what your memories are about how you approached the thing technically from the beginning. What was it like on the day when you did the original recordings and how did you approach things? Did you have things in mind in advance, or was it something that was sort of spur of the moment?”

Moore: “I’d recorded in Trinity Church, I’ve done a full 56 piece orchestra, I recorded the music for a number of films, so I knew Trinity Church as a recording space. But of course, more of a rock band, if you would, is way different than an orchestra. In some ways, much easier, because you’re not dealing with 56 people, but there was a lot of tuning, it took a good part of the day before we could even start recording for real.”

Monteith: “Getting that fifth band member tuned up, basically, I guess.” (laughs)

Moore: “The reason the record is so slow – it was not the intention, it was the reverb time of the church.”

Monteith: “Okay, so the tempos of the tracks were really based on reverb time as well.”

Moore: “It had to be. If you didn’t it would become cacophony. The initial stuff, they were playing at much faster tempos and obviously it was too much. So the church determined the tempo.”



Monteith: “That’s really interesting because the slowness of the record was something that was crucial, something that we wanted to preserve.”



Moore: “And that’s what I love about your record. I know you slowed it even more, but in a modern world, that slowness is something different, a communication tool.”



Monteith: “Absolutely, man. I’m a preacher’s kid, my first experiences of music were singing in the choir, and I spent a lot of time growing up listening to Presbyterian funeral dirge, heavy-ass tunes. There is something, as you say, about reflecting on the current state of the world where we’re all absorbing so much media and so much information at such a clipping pace, there’s something to be said for slowness.”

Moore: “The reason I chose that church, because the ratios of that church are pretty much exactly the same as the church that Columbia was using to record Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck.”

Monteith: “That’s really interesting that you mention that. As I’ve been nerding out on recording techniques, being an electronic music artist, the last couple of years I’ve gotten really into recording everything with microphones. Even the synthesizers. Playing them through speakers and recording them through microphones–“

Moore: “You need to push air.”

Monteith: “Absolutely man. And even stuff that’s coming out of the computer now, I do out to speakers and microphones just to have that air pushed.”



Moore: “I do too. All the guitar people have these software tools, you know – and I got into a lot of that stuff in the early days too – but there’s always something missing. And I went back to my studio, where I have a whole bunch of different guitar speakers mic’ed up in the basement, so the musician is upstairs playing with the guitar amp and the head right beside them, but he’s hearing it through the headphones from a microphone in front of a speaker.”

Monteith: “To push that air, exactly.”



Moore: “I used to have the Hammond fake Leslie and fake Rhodes and all that kind of stuff, and it was all – oh wow, it sounds fantastic, but you know what? The players didn’t play the same way. Playing a Rhodes, it’s a tyne machine. It’s a percussive instrument, and when you play it you have to bring your shoulders up above the keyboard, so that you can pound down on it. So a guy using a plastic Casio keyboard interface driving a Roland D550 produces amazing chords for sampling, but the interface between the human and the instrument was missing.”

Monteith: “Of course. In the late ‘90s, I worked for a software company in Montreal called Applied Acoustic Systems, and these guys made their bones making physical modelling. Instead of doing samples, they’ve done physical models of different sound generating devices. The difference of that physical modelling, where they were taking the laws of physics to recreate the thing, versus even the biggest sample library of an electric piano, the physical modelling wins 100% of the time. And more so, if you’re going to record electric piano, a real electric piano is going to win over even the most strenuously hardcore sample library ever, because of the physicality. As you say, it’s about hitting the tynes and it’s about the endless levels of velocity involved in the physical process.”

Moore: “Plus the endless interaction. You know, the keys hitting the sound board, and the gates on the strings…”

Monteith: “Totally. In our recording process, which is kind of interesting – you might laugh, we did all of the recording with a ReVox RE20. The reason for this was because I share a big studio with five other people, and we’ve got every synth, guitar, and drum that you could ever want, but when Fatima and I were recording the album, we were literally running – we’ve got one room that’s got all the drums, it’s got all the percussion instruments – and we were running into the other room and grabbing drums off of the shelf and playing while we were singing with the thing going on loop. And the advantage with the RE20, because it was designed as a voice over mic for radio, it’s got almost a shotgun quality to it so unless you’re standing in front of it, it doesn’t record things. It’s got no periphery.”

Moore: “It’s hypercardioid, which is why it was designed for radio. The SM7B, RE20, and the Sennheiser 421 are like that… That’s what I use on my toms, so it doesn’t pick up the rest of the drum kit.”

Monteith: “The lovely thing in terms of our creative process is it meant that we could go running into the other room and pick up whatever drum or whatever guitar and bring it in, and muck around and the only thing that was going to get recorded was when we brought it up into the recording space. But everything happened live. The longest song on the album is eight minutes, but they were all monster sessions. Real rituals, you know? They were hours and hours of recording stuff that we took things out of, but the tight focus of the RE20 really made this happen. It allowed us to set the distance of different instruments instead of drenching things in reverb to send things into the back. Our studio room has a hallway behind it, and if we wanted to make something sound far away, we went into the hallway and sang louder or played louder. It was real physical distance.”

Moore: “In the vocals, I could hear the real first reflection and second and third. And it almost becomes more delay than reverb.”
 

 

“To be totally frank, I thought our version was going to get way more fucked up. That there would be much more digital processing, much more granular synthesis. But it’s not only that it was recorded in a church, but there’s something holy about that recording, you know? There’s something very righteous about the sound of things, and in the end that trumped everything for us.”
Scott Monteith

 
Moore: “A lot of it was, because it’s the Normanic church and the way that the design is, it is very specifically designed for reverb and for a slow dirge and chanting. Where we recorded in the church, what I did is I walked along and found the third reflection of the knave, which means right from the asp at the front of the church behind the altar to the back door. I walked along clapping my hands until I heard the natural third point of the church and then I put the snare right there. And I built everything else around it.”

Monteith: “That range of things – the ambiguous airiness that all the snares and rims and everything have – that was crucial in our minds for shaping the sound of the cover as well.”

Moore: “Here’s one thing, though: people say ‘what mixer did you use?’ And I said, ‘I used air.’ Air was my mixer, right, because I’m only recording with a Calrec Sound Field and a Blumlein, but my mixer – my bus mixer, if you want to call it that – is air.”

Monteith: “Even being an electronic musician, I push everything through air.”

Moore: “As it should! I drive my keyboard and synth guys nuts because I make them play through amps.”

Monteith: “It’s almost more philosophical on that side of things, because it’s not just the air of the room, it’s the air of the room on the day that you did it. In recording the actual space, you’ve captured the moment in time and I think with The Trinity Session, what you did with the Junkies, it’s an absolutely crucial document of the air in the space on a specific day.”

Moore: “The humidity and everything… The sound is affected so much by humidity. It’s water. When you’re a little kid and you’re in the lake, and you crack some rocks underneath the water, you’re amazed at how far the sound can travel. Water is an acoustic medium. When you have less humidity or more humidity, it changes the sound.”



Monteith: “I remember at an old studio, we bought one of the TL Audio tube mixers and the first day that I had it we were like, ‘yeah, it sounds okay, whatever’ and then I left the studio and we went for lunch, and we came back after lunch and the studio was insanely hot because of the tubes. And then we listened to the tunes again and they sounded unbelievable!”

Moore: “That’s also the tubes warming up too. As the tubes warm up, it emphasizes the even harmonics, which is why musicians love tubes for amplifiers. In the real world, the even harmonics are emphasized. A transistor treats the even and odd harmonics all equal, so that’s why transistors are not musical in the sense of what it’s like in the real world, where a tube is.”



Monteith: “Well, you could say the same thing about transformers as well.”



Moore: “Every tube amplifier has to have a transformer output. You cannot make a square wave go through a transformer. The thing is, we as humans don’t like that sharp square wave sound. That’s what I love also about playing a synthesizer through a tube amp, because the harsh digital signal is rounded right off. We don’t hear things as pure DC straight up and down. Electrons have to go around that wire, and it takes a while before they get through the iron and come out the other side. Over time, the square edge is then pressed out slowly. It takes a while, so therefore it smooths right out.”



Monteith: “I remember years ago, when I was working for the software company and I started to look into more of the digital signal processing, it’s all about delay. Filters are delays, everything is delay. As somebody who is a devoted dub-head, that was very elegant and telling to me at a root level. And it’s all about time, as you say.”

Moore: “You can have EQ and filter in the digital domain without any kind of comb filtering. I tell people: use a digital EQ to correct, use an analog EQ to embellish.”

Monteith “Absolutely. We had a Manley Massive Passive EQ here for quite a while, and the first time that I used it was for a real simple thing, just for cutting out some low frequency stuff. When I looked at it with the oscilloscope and I was like, ‘oh my god, it is doing what it’s supposed to be doing. But it’s doing it so transparently that I’m not even aware. People wonder why would you spend €3000 or €6000 on an EQ when you can get a plugin for $200, and that was one of the first times when I was like, ‘holy shit, I understand now.’

Moore: “I would say, it’s like a really good bass player. You don’t hear him until he makes a mistake.”

Monteith: “I wanted to ask you your feeling after hearing the covers. What did you think about our take?”



Moore: “I love the interpretation, what you kept the same and what you changed. I think you kept the essence, but to me it was like I was in an alternate universe. Or as if the story has been translated into Japanese. Michael liked it too, in slowing it and keeping the tempo down, but also the frailty in the female vocals at times.”



Monteith: “There were a few decisions that were made. For instance, ‘Love Is To Bury’ where I was the lead and we thought about switching the gender roles, but I was like, ‘no, we’re gonna keep it the way it is.’ It was really important to us to preserve the thing as it was. I guess with so much identity politics these days, it becomes even more so to allow that gender space to be as it is.”
 

“I thought it was a really crafty, intelligent interpretation. Like a good translation. A good translator understands what’s being said and is able to interpret it into a different language and that’s what you guys did. I think you really understood what made it magical, what made The Trinity Session cool.”
Peter J. Moore

 
Monteith: “Peter, I can’t tell you how lovely it has been to talk to you about this. It was a real labour of love for us. We hope that it will reignite interest in the original as well. For us, and I can speak absolutely clearly for Fatima and I, it’s a holy record. Your part in that was absolutely crucial, and thank you endlessly for your efforts on that day.”

Moore: “Actually, ‘Mining For Gold’ was actually recorded two weeks later.”




Monteith: “Oh crazy.”



Moore: “Yeah, people don’t know that. It was early November when we recorded, and it was getting colder, and of course the heating system had to come on. It was old radiators in the church. And they would randomly come on in the middle of recording, the metal expanding as it was heating up. It sounded like men with hammers in the mines, hitting spikes and trying to break the ore out of the ground. I had the caretaker turn off the furnace and we waited. In that recording you’ll hear the ‘tink, tink, tink’ of the radiators heating up.”



Monteith: “Which sound incredibly like coal miners bashing away…”

Moore: “I did it on purpose. The sound of hammers hitting spikes. And I heard that in your recording, I heard the percussion. I thought, ‘oh fuck, I bet he subconsciously put that percussion in there.’”

Monteith: “That’s a golden nugget of recording history right there.” (laughs)

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