Los Angeles, CA (December 19, 2019)—Picture The Beatles’ communal house in Help! transported into the 21st century, relocated to the east side of Los Angeles and outfitted to record music at a moment’s notice and you’ll have some idea of Sure Sure’s headquarters. The four-piece—the origin of the name is shrouded in mystery—have shared a house since forming five years ago, writing, recording, engineering, producing and mixing all their independently released songs and streaming live performances from their living room.
That said, Sure Sure has also recorded in the attic, reports Mike Coleman, the band’s producer, main mixer, bass player and vocalist, but that involves running up and down three flights of stairs. Conveniently, the first floor is one large, wood-floored, open-plan space where everyone can set up; indeed, it dwarfs some commercial tracking rooms. A set of ceiling-high gobos allows the room to be partitioned into a smaller space, while the rugs and furniture serve as acoustic treatment.
“I’ve learned that as long as you’re getting accurate sounds, you can record anywhere. Electric guitars sound great in here, and the upright piano [donated by Grammy-nominated recording engineer Joseph Lorge] sounds awesome,” Coleman reports.
The band has long made a practice of recording in the houses in which they all live—mostly due to budget restrictions, he continues. This is Sure Sure’s fourth shared house; they’ve lived in it for about a year. “Every house has its own character. I’ve fallen in love with the way this space sounds. It’s so warm, for whatever reason, and mid-rangey and big.”
Something akin to a mashup of Steely Dan and Talking Heads, Sure Sure produce catchy art-pop with a dash of yacht rock. They came together in L.A.’s Echo Park neighborhood, with Coleman from the Bay Area, vocalist and keyboardist Chris Beachy from Baltimore, and guitarist and vocalist Charlie Glick from Delaware. (Beachy and Glick met while attending Stanford University.) Drummer and vocalist Kevin Farzad is the only native Angeleno.
The band recently came off a nationwide tour with Half Alive, and in the past have gigged with Young the Giant, Rainbow Kitten Surprise and Hippo Campus; in March, they’ll head out for a month with COIN. During their present hiatus, they plan to write and record their second album. They also have two EPs out—the latest, What’s It Like?, featuring eight tracks.
Following the input snake up the stairs leads to Coleman’s bedroom, which doubles as the control room. The space is comprehensively treated with acoustic panels, including a cloud, with all the gear housed in a three-bay console that supports a pair of Focal SM9 monitors.
Coleman has been collecting audio equipment for much of his life, beginning with several Shure mics with which he learned to record drums. “I buy everything used. Craigslist in Los Angeles is nuts; you can get the best gear,” he says.
“As far as recording mics, I’ll buy one or two a year.” One recent acquisition was an AEA N22. “It’s an active ribbon, really bright and very mid-rangey, in the 1k to 3k range, that is really punchy with drums—especially with a Distressor or ELI compressor on it.” The band’s mic collection covers a lot of bases, with various models of AKG, E-V, Shure, Telefunken and other brands.
“A lot of the drum miking has come through trial and error,” says Coleman. He likes to experiment, using self-imposed restrictions. For instance, “What does it sound like if you mic a drum set with all [Shure] Beta 52s?”
Currently, the band have just 13 simultaneous mic inputs available. That’s enough, says Coleman, but he would be happy to have a few more. His mic preamp collection includes an A-Designs Pacifica and various 500-series modules from the likes of API, CAPI, Chandler, Great River and Neve. “I’d like to have more channels when we’re shooting live stuff,” he says, especially on the drums. “I love the Pacifica. I would get another one of those.”
For dynamics control, there is a Manley Variable Mu and a pair of Warm Audio WA76 limiters, as well as the Empirical Labs compressors. Additional coloration can be dialed in using UBK Kush Electra and Manley Pultec equalizers. “And I have an ELI DerrEsser that I use a lot. It’s super good,” he says.
Another favorite piece is the Elysia Envelope, a frequency-based transient designer. Drums are the solid center of any Sure Sure confection, and the Envelope enables Coleman to get the sounds he needs. “It allows us to record really tight drums. There will be one overhead or a front mic and—we learned this trick from a friend—you can use a ‘snare under’ and get kick, too.” Using the Envelope, he says, “You then take all of the sustain out of it. It sounds so tight.”
Using that method, he continues, “It gives the kit an interesting stereo image because the hi-hat will be a dynamic mic, panned, but there’s this room reverb on it. You gate the snare. And I love using sub-kicks—I’m in a sub-kick phase now.”
An Eventide H3000 also gets frequent use. “I love overloading its converters. Pitching drums down, then blowing them up is just the best. It sounds amazing.”
Given the drum experimentation, he comments, “What I love about working with Kevin is that he gives me the space to experiment and get crazy sounds. Every day, working with these guys, I feel so lucky, for their musicianship and their abilities.”
Adding to the communal feel, everyone pitches in during production. “What’s nice about our workflow is that everybody is really good at editing and is super competent in Logic,” says Coleman. “Everybody can be working all the time and can tag in and out. We can work fast.”
Sure Sure • www.suresuremusic.com