APRIL 2012: The video for Karmic Juggernaut's new song, "Oo Wah Hoo," documents the band's inspiring and utterly fresh take on the recording process. Piloting a Subaru Outback topped with a plane of solar panels and freighted with a bank of batteries, the band toured its favorite locations in the great state of New Jersey to record each instrument in the glory of the outdoors.
In the video, what you see – acoustic guitar on the beach, drums in the forest, wailing solo on the mountainside, and more – is what you actually hear. No lip-synching is afoot. In order to keep the power consumption low and the fidelity high, the project relied on the one-rack space, eight-channel, Metric Halo ULN-8 preamplifier/converter/interface for all studio functionality, save for microphones and a computer.
Everyone involved in the recording and filming of the far-flung "Oo Wah Hoo" recording session goes way back. Some met in grade school, others in middle school, but all ran around the same artistic and musical circles in the seaside city of Asbury Park, New Jersey. JR Skola, a fellow engineer and filmmaker who now heads Brooklyn-based Dawn of Man Productions, produced the video and provided the Metric Halo ULN-8 to make the recording happen. But it was the band's drummer, Kevin Grossman, who first hit upon the idea of creating a solar-powered mobile recording rig.
"This mode of recording combines all of the things that I love to do: hanging out with friends, being outside, and making music," Grossman explained. And to allay any suspicion that the video is first and foremost a green technology PR stunt, it's worth noting that it was only after highlighting the glories of recording outside that he said, almost as an afterthought, "and while I could have run the whole thing from my car engine with a power inverter, I thought, 'why not let the sun do it.' Solar may not have the lowest carbon footprint yet, but it's worthwhile to promote alternative technologies."
The solar panel technology consisted of a "standard off-the-grid setup" of three 15-watt solar panels, a battery bank with protection against over- and under-charging, and a power inverter to generate the AC power required for the gear. In general, the solar was enough to record acoustic instruments indefinitely, but the band's vintage tube amps required both the batteries and the panels and thus enforced a finite session recording time. Although you wouldn't know it by watching the video, "lighting, weather, and our mere 100 amp-hours of battery life made recording the amplified instruments a challenge," according to Grossman. A MacBook Pro running Logic Pro was power-light, as was the efficient Metric Halo ULN-8. Although the band had a large collection of mics at its disposal, workhorse Shure SM57s and AKG 414s captured most of the tracks.
The locations featured in the video are all places where the members of the band and their friends hang out. "They're all places that we find inspiring," explained James McCaffrey, one of the band's guitarists. The first location was, in some ways, the easiest. The crew trudged through knee-deep water to beat high tide on their way to Sandy Hook Gateway. There they recorded bass, but only via the Metric Halo's DI. "We recorded the bass on top of one of the old munitions bunkers at the abandoned Fort Hancock, but it was mostly for the inspiration and the shot," Grossman admitted. "However, we did have birds flying all around us, and I pointed that fact out to everybody. I marveled, 'this is THE recording studio!'"
Next, they drove to Monmouth Battlefield, where General Washington had, centuries before, attempted to attack the rear of the British Army column and where Molly Pitcher famously took the place of fallen soldier to fight beside her husband. Grossman and McCaffrey played a vintage Yamaha console organ outside the site's old farmhouse. As the sun sank, the band, Skola, and some friends gathered around a bonfire at Pat's 30 Acres, a picnic ground in their hometown. "Percussion instruments are meant to be played in a circle around a fire," laughed Grossman. "You need that heat... that energy." Without breaking for sleep, the band recorded through the night. "Our friends were worried about talking during the recording," Grossman added. "I said, 'don't worry about it, have a good time!' So yeah, if you solo those tracks you can hear people talking and the fire cracking in the background. It's tough to hear over the instrumentation, but it's in there."
With the sun set to make an appearance on the eastern horizon, the band decamped to Belmar Beach for the acoustic guitar recording that opens the video. "We had been up for more than 24 hours at that point and we were looking and feeling groggy and a little bit slimy," Grossman confessed. "James and I jumped into the ocean to shower up, and JR videoed it." Later that same morning, the crew returned to Pat's 30 Acres to record McCaffrey's electric guitar. "The reflections coming off the trees and the pond were magnificent," Grossman added. A month later, the team reconvened at the Delaware Water Gap near the Appalachian Trail to record guitarist Randy Preston's blistering solo. "We had one of the 414s facing the mountain, and the sound is gigantic," said McCaffrey. "There's no better place than a mountain to record a solo!"
Similar sessions at Allaire State Park for drums and Asbury Park Casino (a cavernous abandoned space) for vocals rounded out the track. "All along, we were worried about bothering people," said Grossman. "But everyone – state park rangers included – thought what we were doing was cool." The sound of the track makes Karmic Juggernaut extremely happy. "We've recorded songs and soundtracks in multi-million dollar studios," he continued, "but with just the Metric Halo ULN-8 and the acoustic beauty of un-walled space, 'Oo Wah Hoo' outshines them all."
In the future, expect Karmic Juggernaut to pack enough solar panels to cover an entire band. "We're working toward a full live performance using only power from the panels," Grossman beamed.