April 20, 2012, by PSW Staff
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.
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.
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. The crew trudged through knee-deep water to beat high tide on their way to Sandy Hook Gateway where 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. Grossman and McCaffrey played a vintage Yamaha console organ outside the site’s old farmhouse. The next day the band decamped to Belmar Beach for the acoustic guitar recording that opens the video.Later that same morning, the crew returned to Pat’s 30 Acres to record McCaffrey’s electric guitar. A month later, the team reconvened at the Delaware Water Gap near the Appalachian Trail to record guitarist Randy Preston’s blistering solo.
Similar sessions at Allaire State Park for drums and Asbury Park Casino (a cavernous abandoned space) for vocals rounded out the track. 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.