|Awards and Press|
Before moving to Los Angeles, Alex and his recordings won a bunch of Minnesota Music Awards, MN's version of the Grammys.
I’m sure there are plenty of music editors at alternative weeklies all around the country bemoaning the solicitations they get from bands, but man, am I ever glad that White Light Riot got in touch with me. Any powerpop band worth its salt has gotta sound great, and recording your disc at the Terrarium, having it produced by Erik Applewick and getting it mixed and mastered by Alex Oana means mission accomplished for this foursome. “Out of Sight” might as well have the Current’s address stamped on its forehead for how radio-ready it sounds and “Tuning Out” recalls the Verve’s expansive soundscapes. Crackly guitars dogfight with cascading melodies and harmonies, and while their cited influences (Radiohead, The Beatles, The Cure) are in there, there’s an urgency which recalls nothing so much as 1965-era Afghan Whigs. Big choruses, piano arpeggios, the occasional dose of drum machine: what’s not to love?
Spy Mob's debut is a solid collection of cleverly written pop songs and hooks galore. With more than a nod to such hitmakers as Stevie Wonder and Steely Dan, this release manages the warmth and fun-filled vibe of all those great '70s records, while maintaining a sure footing in modern rock. We caught up with engineer and tone master Alex Oana, one of the recordís producers, to learn a bit more about the recording process. "The songs I produced and engineered were recorded on an API Legacy, with Neve 1064, API 212, and Telefunken preamps, frequently using an 1176, entirely onto 2" with a staggering amount of track sharing to fit all our overdubs on tape." In contrast, for their recording of "I Still Live at Home," Spy Mob used [Digidesign] 001 and Pro Tools TDM rigs at their rehearsal space, my studio, and Seedy Underbelly [Minneapolis, MN]." To hear Spy Mob in action, visit www.spymob.com, and for more on Oana, check out www.alexoana.com.
Kid Dakota waste nothing. Each note and beat on So Pretty serves a purpose, and the same holds true for the words. Songwriter Darren Jackson can really write, and within each song are fully-realized stories and character sketches, drawn with both poetic abstractions and a fiction writerís eye for subtle but telling details. Take these lines from the title track for example: "Nikki, oh Nikki, so young and so pretty, your dad doesn't know what you are / Instead of a habit you should have a hobby, like Barbie or bubble gum cards."
So Pretty, originally a 5-song EP, now features three additional tracks recorded a while after the initial sessions. Still, itís a cohesive whole. All of the tracks were recorded with Alex Oana at CityCabin in Minneapolis. "The engineering elements that define the Kid Dakota recorded sound are ungodly amounts of compression, EQ and distortion on the bass drum, and PZM mics in CityCabin's stairwell for drum ambience," says Oana.
The first session was captured on 16 tracks of ADAT with some API 212L mic pres and one 1272. "For the mix my outboard consisted of an Alesis 3630 compressor, a pair of Symetrix CL 150 compressors, a Boss compressor pedal, a Hot Tubes pedal, and a Peavey VMP2 tube mic pre," says Oana. "The lack of plentiful, expensive gear turned out to work in our favor." The second session was recorded on a Digi001, with songs fleshed out with as many as 64 tracks. "I mixed the second session in Pro Tools, but ran lots of things out and back in through a UA 610, an 1176, and a Peavey VMP2. I feel that the sound of the five original So Pretty tracks benefited from the dynamics and clarity of digital recording coupled with analog mixing and one bounce onto the tape. The three new cuts benefited from the creative possibilities in arrangement and mixing afforded by Pro Tools."
--Matt Mair Lowery
Alex Oana has won another award. Recently, the guy whoís worked with everyone from the Honeydogs to Kid Dakota to Spymob was named Producer of the Year at the 2002 Minnesota Music Awards for the second consecutive year.
PULSE: There has been plenty of conversation lately about the state of the Twin Cities music scene. Some say itís been as strong as itís ever been and some say it needs help. How do you feel about the current scene?
OANA: In the last few years, the Minnesota music scene has thrown off the shackles of trying to be something for someone else. In the 90s, bands were caught wondering if they should be grunge like the rest of the world when grunge had already been invented here 10 years before by the Replacements (and others). Simultaneously, Minnesota was ahead of the national curve with an original Americana sound. It seems that music here has long gone without reward of record contracts or national attention. The scene seems to have recently come to terms with this by letting go of the outside expectations, an especially healthy reaction in the current singles-driven industry climate. Music is always better when itís made for the sake of itself or to please its creator. The labels will come if the music is that good.
PULSE: You have won the producer of the year from the Minnesota Music Awards the last two years. How does that feel?
OANA: It feels like I have many friends in the music scene and Iím honored to be recognized and appreciated by them. Winning this award does not mean that I am better than the other very talented nominees, itís just that the people I work with happen to be into the MMA or wanted to vote enough to become members of the MMA. The other producers in that category are very accomplished.
PULSE: What are you working on now?
OANA: Iíve been recording a great new band called Romantica at Seedy Underbelly. They have really strong pop songs and vocals influenced by Irish folk. Iím perpetually working with Kid Dakota on our megalomaniacal masterpieces at my studio Citycabin and at Seedy. I just had my first vinyl pressing! Itís a potential Spymob single that Arista is sending out as a promotion on translucent, lime-green vinyl. The Alice Peacock record just came out on Aware/Columbia, the same people who brought us Train. Iím also playing in a band called Vicious Vicious. Itís been the greatest thing ever. Thanks Big E!
PULSE: If you had to choose, would you rather be on stage or in the studio.
OANA: I have to do both. Itís like engineering and producing. Itís hard for me to do one without the other. I canít be in the room as the engineer and hold back my production ideas. Itís also much more efficient as a producer to know how to get sounds. Itís like when Iím on stage I can hear the room, and do the right things with my sound to fit in the mix properly.
PULSE: Is there any artist that you have worked with that you think has the shot of making it to the next level?
OANA: Every time I work with a band I believe in it so much. Often, the music is deserving of a wider audience. Thatís what music is about, communication. There have been many times when I was convinced a band would be signed and reach millions of people. The industry is perhaps only as fickle as the gatekeepers at the label, whether that is A&R or the top execs, who decide what is going to be shoved down our ears on the radio. This idea of well-funded promotion contradicts what I said earlier that ďWhen music is really great you canít hide it.Ē And there you have it! The contradictory state of the music business.
PULSE: You have worked with several artists and have been involved in numerous projects. From your perception, what makes a good and bad recording project?
OANA: Communication again. You must have musical communication, verbal communication and an openness to failure. Being great and being willing to fail because you tried to go further. Anyone can have a great musical moment, if they know how to be authentic. Making records is a collaborative effort. The people involved have to trust one another and be willing to listen to their collaborators. At the same time, I love people with strong vision who stick to ideas they believe in, but in a manner that takes the feelings of others into account. Eric Fawcett (Spymob) has been a great teacher to me in all these areas. As a kid who loved Legos, I have to admit I love building things, something you can hold up and look at. Thatís what making records is, too.