Before Vampire Weekend released its third album – Modern Vampires of the City – back in May, the record already was one of the most anticipated indie releases of the year. After the album came out it became heralded by many critics as perhaps the notable group’s best album yet. Debuting at the number one spot on the Billboard 200 Albums chart proved that fans were intrigued and excited about the release, as well.
While many reviews and conversations about the album focused on the songwriting advances made by the group (with the word “mature” being thrown around quite a bit), Modern Vampires is also the most sonically adventurous record to date from the band. As documented in quite a few interviews, this is largely the result of a hybrid recording process featuring both analog recording to tape and new digital methods, as well as the first appearance of an outside producer. Ariel Rechtshaid was brought in to co-produce along with the band’s keyboardist and guitarist, Rostam Batmanglij.
But what hasn’t been talked about so much is the mastering process for the record, which also was relatively experimental, as far as mastering tends to go these days. While most albums are recorded, mixed and then mastered with little overlap between the three segments, Vampire Weekend took a more hybrid approach for Modern Vampires, involving mastering engineer Emily Lazar at all parts of the recording process from listening to demos until after the recording was complete.
Lazar and Batmanglij recently spoke with SonicScoop.com to provide more insight into this process and how the recording, mixing and mastering portions of the process added up to create the unique and successful sound the band was looking for.
Speaking about the specific mastering process for the record, Lazar said the method was largely influenced by working closely with the band for many years and recognizing the types of sounds the members wanted to achieve.
“Some specific expectations/needs were that it was really important to enhance the blend of the retro and modern elements that make this release sound so special,” she said. “Vampire Weekend are considerably thoughtful in the way that they approach the recording process and have very specific sonic agendas. I’ve been really fortunate to work with them since the very beginning of their career.”
This trust even led to an expanded role, as Lazar was recruited to co-mix the song “Unbelievers” as well as be part of the mastering.
Balancing Technical Aspirations Across Multiple Media
Talking specifically of the different recording techniques used, Lazar spoke of how she balanced mixes coming to her in different formats.
“Technically, the workflow of mastering Modern Vampires was unique in that their source material came in at various times on various media,” she continued. “Some mixes arrived digitally, some came on tape, while others were adjusted and tweaked straight off of Rostam’s laptop.”
Whatever It Takes
However, there was one aspect of the record making process that was not unique, and that anyone recording, mixing or mastering a record should take note: do whatever has to be done to get the sound right.
“The band really took their time when making decisions and did not give up when they felt that something in a mix ‘just wasn’t right,’ and persevered until they felt it was as close to perfect as possible,” Lazar said. “For the mastering process that meant a lot of versions to compare and master, and at times even editing multiple versions together to create the final version.”
This is something that is too often forgotten, as artists (and engineers) find frustrations in getting bogged down in the tediousness of mix after mix. But when you take the view that you are creating a document of your music to stand the test of time, it becomes apparent how important it is to take that extra bit of time to get it perfect.