Interview: Bob de Wit
“How the fuck are we going to record drums underwater?” kept me busy for a good couple of nights, so during the recording sessions of The Bestial Light I took a couple of water buckets and placed them under the drums, placing mics into the buckets… this cost me like 3 sm 57’s before I figured out how to place a 57 under water without it getting wet… but eej it sounded cool.
I discovered Bob de Wit’s work last year whilst looking for a mastering engineer for my band Burden Limbs’ debut EP There is No Escape, at the time, I was spinning Gnod’s Chapel Perilous fucking loads, and so I decided to find out who did the mastering on that via Discogs and found Bob… Bob has worked on many amazing albums from the likes of Mudhoney, The Cosmic Dead, Radar Men From The Moon and all sorts of other cool bands. During lockdown Bob has been broadcasting The Isolation Sessions from his headquarters, The Super-Nova Studios in Eindhoven. In this interview, I interrogated Bob to satisfy my own curiosity and hopefully, some of yours as well.
(((o))): To start with Bob, for our readers, can you summarise some of the roles you’ve had on various releases, so that people can understand the versatility of your work?
Bob de Wit: Hey Chad, thanks for inviting me for this interview! I am a studio engineer and producer, but I also work as a live engineer and a tour manager for bands like Mudhoney, The Sonics, A Place To Bury Strangers, White Hills and did work with many, many other like-minded bands around the world. I like to focus on bands and projects where I can release my inspirations and creativity so I am a little bit bound to my taste of music (which is very diverse in a way). Bands I have worked with in a studio environment are Gnod, Mudhoney, 10.000 Russos, The Gluts, Mayflower Madame, Ceremony, FTR (pronounced “future”), Tjalling, Gold, Temple OV BBV, Offerblok, and of course Radar Men From The Moon. I share the studio with RMFTM, they rehearse there and I work on my projects, Glenn Peeters (RMFTM) has a space were he works on art and in the building are 17 other artists working on very different things, so very creative vibes.
I worked with many, many more bands and I would like to name them all, but there is not enough space. However, I only work with music I really like, I will work for hours on a song trying to make it better, so I prefer not to do this if I have no deep connection with the music. I am very selective in what type of music I work on because I enjoy working with music not because I want to get the most expensive equipment or drive a fancy car. If that were the case it would be way more logical getting into software, those dudes are living the rock n roll life at the moment.
(((o))): What would you say is your preferred approach to working on an album?
Bob de Wit: I think the best approach to get an album as you like it is to find out how to capture the song and the band at its best; pre-production, talking and brainstorming to create a vision on how this can be done with the specific band and songs you are working on is key, so most of the times I set-up the studio so we can very quickly go in any direction. It’s a big playground where the band can create sounds and songs. It’s a lot of fun experimenting on sounds, but I always keep the song in mind and I really believe that performance is way more important than how it sounds. I listen to so many lo-fi recordings where I think the performance is soooo mind-blowing that the sound quality is not even relevant, but of course as a sound engineer, I like to give the right vibe and sound to every performance. So, if I approach an album, I very often listen to rehearsal phone recordings were someone puts the phone on the ground in a corner of the rehearsal space.
I became pretty good at listening to those recordings and create my vision on how this album (or whatever we are creating) should sound as an end production on Vinyl. I see a lot of engineers recording bands and they have no vision at all on how they want the album to sound, what they do is record everything in a safe way “so we can do the effects later“ and then in the editing and mixing process they keep pulling and pushing endlessly on the tracks losing all the vibes and making things sounds very over-produced and non-real. But, if you know you want the drums to be distorted on the album, then record the drums distorted, give the band that sound on headphones while they perform! They will be like “Dude! If I hit the drums like this it sounds so cool!”, and the rest of the band will be inspired by that sound to give that performance that extra push.
If you do this in post-production, the drummer is not gonna hit any different because of the sound… since he is long gone and probably chilling at home. But, since for me, it is all about performance and capturing the right moment, I always keep the sound-checking and tweaking of sounds to a minimum when the band is at the studio. I (with the band) create this vision way before we go to the studio, I know what mic set-up I am going to use, I know what “experiments” I am going to try in order to try to create certain sounds. I like the band to come in and set up and before everyone is ready to soundcheck, me or my studio assistant will have already checked everything and will be ready to record before the band got the chance to get bored or annoyed, that way we can get straight in to the creative and fun part. I think the vision on the end product is the key to recording a cool album and setting the vibe for fun and creativity is everything, like Einstein once said: “If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?” But he had a damn good vision on what and how they were doing there experimentations, they did not split the first atom in a research centre somewhere in a small town..
(((o))): What have been some of your favourite production experiences, any experimental techniques or bizarre locations you’ve especially enjoyed?
Bob de Wit: The cool thing about the new world is we can now setup a studio any where we like, or bring a zoom recorder and record some bird or water streams to later convert in the studio into bizarre sound sculptures hidden into songs or use as an intro to set the vibe of your song right. Everywhere I go I cannot turn off my sound engineer ears and think about crazy ideas on how to record. A good example is the new RMFTM album, they now have 2 drummers which is very cool in the rehearsal space cause it’s fucking loud and it’s a lot of fun to play completely in sync or move the kick drums by one beat. But, if you don’t know its 2 drummers and you listen to the album you just hear someone playing a double bass kick drum, but in reality they are playing the kick alternately from each other.
Same for the rest of the drum kit, so basically I wanted a very different approach on the 2 drum kits so I could make them sound different, but as I mentioned above, I don’t want to do this all in post-production. I want the band to hear and to play with the sounds we create. So, I thought about placing Joep Schmitz in a different crazy other space but at the same time I wanted the band to perform all together in one room. Before I started to record The Bestial Light I collected rehearsal recordings, demo recordings and some inspirational albums and went on a holiday in Malaysia. One day I was snorkelling at some reef with turtles, beautiful fishes and shit, and all I could think of was; “dude, all the transients in the water are so slow, how cool would it be to record the drums for this album underwater? So, I wrote that down in my book. Then on the same holiday I was listening to this album of Einstrurzende Neubauten that Glenn gave me as inspiration, but it had like nothing to do with rehearsal demos I had from the songs we were going to record, but the percussion sounds they use on that album are very industrial and machine made. We were not going to do electronical drums all the drums were acoustic so, I wrote down in my book, “make the acoustic drum kit sound electronical”. Then after a couple of weeks, I had a shit load of crazy notes with ideas i wanted to think about.
“How the fuck are we going to record drums underwater?” kept me busy for a good couple of nights, so during the recording sessions of The Bestial Light I took a couple of water buckets and placed them under the drums, placing mics into the buckets… this cost me like 3 sm 57’s before I figured out how to place a 57 under water without it getting wet… but eej it sounded cool. Then, I had this other idea… I had to figure out, making acoustic drums sound electronic.
I bought these piezo pickups for acoustic guitar and glued them on to the drum shells, wired them in to gates EQ comp’s to shape them and then into this guitar pedal board we made with crazy pedals like the Eventide space, DBA Apocalypse space echo etc etc. It happens all over the album, but if you listen to ‘Piss Christ’ for example, Joep’s floor-tom first starts underwater and then slowly transients throughout the song to a normal mic and then to the piezo fuzz thing.
I love these lil experimental sounds and jokes in a mix and there are 10,000’s of examples I can give on weird stuff I did on albums.
(((o))): On the subject of locations, perhaps you could tell us a bit about The Super-Nova Studio, the history of you working from there and some of what makes it special. Maybe a bit about the team you work with?
Bob de Wit: The Super-Nova Studio is a big and high space where a lot of musicians fit in the main room, we recorded Temple OV BBV while playing all together in one space(2 drums, 2 bass, 3 guitars, 2 synth, saxophone, vocals). Then we have 4 cabinets where we can put amps in, a booth (big enough to fit a drum kit in) and the Control room. This is all located in art-space T56 where a lot of other art studios are from various disciplines like; metal smiths, wood workers, visual artists, paint and software-based artists. I share the Studio space with RMFTM, they rehearse in the main room and also work on other art they do as artists.
I started the studio in 2011, back then the hall was all still very messy and chaotic, every one doing stuff in there leaving big artworks laying around. I started to build a control room next to it and started working on the small booth, mainly everything is built by me and a lot of things have changed over the years. In the beginning, I was working together with Hermann Blaupunkt who had his studio “casa cassette” in the room where Glenn now has his art space. Casa Cassette was an 8-track tape recording studio based around Herman Blaupunkt and his band Het Droste Effect and back in those days some of the band members of 35007. Other legendary Eindhoven space bands were working a lot in and around T56, so it is a very inspirational environment to work in! When I was ready for my first recording session I invited my housemate Tony Lathouwer (RMFTM) to test the studio and the first thing ever recorded in The Super-Nova Studio is ‘Atomic Mother’ as it is on Echo Forever by RMFTM.
Later, Herman Blaupunkt left and RMFTM took over his space where we started this crazy idea to record a trilogy called Subversive [(((o))): this is a fucking amazing triptych]. There are a lot of people helping me out on crazy ideas we do in and around the studio, but in the beginning of 2019 I started working with Koen Verhees who was my intern in the beginning and later became my partner in The Super-Nova studio.
(((o))): The Isolation Sessions has been an interesting project to follow during lockdown, do you think this will continue after lockdown? Who are some of the bands that have been featured and who is next?
Bob de Wit: Together with Koen, I started The Isolation Sessions on day one of the lockdown. When the lockdown started, I thought “okay, so we’re not allowed to go to a show anymore, doesn’t mean we cannot play shows right?” I got together with Koen, got some friends and some bands to join and the next day we were streaming shows daily from the studio and we continued doing that for 10 sessions. Next we moved to the Effenaar, a venue in Eindhoven where they do Fuzz Club festival, Eindhoven Psych Lab. At the Effenaar incorporation with Dynamo we continued our daily streams until session 100 on 21st June, from that day we started tampering off the streams to 3 times a week and we will continue doing this until 1st September. After that The Isolation Sessions will end, but we are already brewing on new ideas, projects and concepts as always.
(((o))): What are you listening to at the moment?
Bob de Wit: Demo recordings of a band from Eindhoven called Søwt they are pretty much unknown outside Eindhoven, but I asked them if they wanted to record their new album with me after their show at The Isolation Sessions cause they are just mind blowing good!!! [(((o))): I watched it, they’re fucking great!] So you guys cant hear this yet, but I am hearing this new album already in my head and it’s awesome!!!!
(((o))): Do you have anything that you want to promote whilst you’re here?
Bob de Wit: Yes, I would like to promote passion and following your heart, don’t do anything you don’t like and don’t listen to dumbass world leaders. Use your own brain. If you meant bands I wanted to promote, best two things I ever discovered are Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd.