Steve talks recording
Steve’s unique rig for performing and recording live, has evolved over the years. He talked us through his current set up and how he used it on the Fingerpainting project with Daniel Berkman.
I started trying to get away from having all of my effects stuff in a single series chain, ages ago. I got into the idea of putting the loopers in the effects end, and return on a mixing desk. I started out with a little Behringer desk, which I then traded up to a Mackie 1402, and I had that mounted in a mixer rack and that was in the top of it for a long time with two Lexicon MPX-G2s and two Gibson Echoplex Pros.
I had this massive rack but it gave me a lot of routing options, so I could have my bass going through it but I could also put whoever else I was playing with through as well.
This first incarnation had some drawbacks though.
I couldn’t do overseas gigs with it, partly because the Mackie desk is single voltage. There’s no way of taking a Mackie desk to the States or vice versa, which is just ridiculous. But I couldn’t have taken the rack anyway, there was no way I could have flown it, because it’s huge. So I’d wanted to get some sort of digital switching matrix for a long time.
MOTU UltraLite Mk 3 Hybrid
The heart of it, really nice EQ
After talking to other musicians, Steve went for a MOTU Ultralite Mk3 Hybrid with USB and Firewire, and some great features.
You can use it standalone, so I don’t have to have it hooked up to the laptop. If I’m doing a gig where I’m on the train and I can’t take the laptop, or my laptop breaks, or whatever, I can still play. The MOTU became the heart of things and it’s 8 in, 10 out. So I can have everything routed in different directions. It also has really nice EQ, a zero-latency EQ reverb and compression built into it so just sticking a vocal mic in the front I can make my £30 PG57 (Shure) mic sound amazing, because I spent the time to EQ it.
It adds this layer of versatility, but it also means that because my bass signal goes into my Lexicon, that has all the pedals in the effects loop but that then goes back into the MOTU which then sends to the Looperlative LP1 which does all the looping.
Three pairs of outputs, the range of options is huge
The Looperlative has three pairs of outputs, so I have three separate channels that come back. Two of which are basically the same but it just means they get recorded onto different tracks.
The third output goes to my Kaoss Pad, so I can post-process things in loop. So once I’ve got something looped I can then send it to the Kaoss Pad and do crazy things with it. Or I can use the looper like a delay. I can set up a very short loop with the feedback down, so it’s basically functioning like a delay pedal, have that feeding through the Kaoss Pad, and then it just becomes part of my signal path. The range of options is huge.
Korg Kaoss Pad KP3
I can do crazy things with it
If someone just landed you with this set up and went, here you are, here’s your new bass rig, or guitar rig or whatever, it would be overwhelming. But because this is 20 years of development, of me changing little things and going oh I wonder if I switch that pedal, or if I change that controller, if I repatch to there. And then taking 8 months to learn how the system works and then going OK, here’s a thing I can improve. I’ve never gone out and upgraded everything wholesale.
The Lexicon processor I use, the MPX-G2, they stopped making about 7 years ago. But I’ve had it since 99, 98. I’m not one for changing gear for the sake of it, I use things until they stop, until I find something that’s smaller, that does what I need it to do.
But the MOTU is the heart of it all, and does mean that everything I do, I just have to fire up an empty project in Reaper and hit record. And that’s an amazing view. It means I never miss anything, because it doesn’t cost me anything to set that up.
Rack-mounted guitar multi-fx unit
This new version of Steve’s setup is highly portable.
We’ve got it down into an SKB flyer rack case. It’s funny, once I’d got all the gear I needed, I became obsessed with luggage, because it was like, how do I carry all this stuff, I need the best way of carrying it, I’ve got the sound I need, now it’s just portability.
So that was the system. Daniel’s rig was coming into that just on two channels, because I’m such a channel hog. I had five, he had two, and one was vocal. But his sound is so well refined and he’s got a little mixing desk. The Gravikord, the synths, the ukelele, the Wave Drum (Korg) and the HandSonic (Roland), are all submixed before they come to me.
The other advantage of him coming through my system like that is it means I can loop him as well. At that point I have to have the laptop hooked up as well. Obviously it’s there for recording but I have to have Cuemix running, which is MOTU’s mixer interface, you can just mute and unmute channels to a particular send. So I can just send his signal through to the Looperlative. Which is lovely.
I’ll pick a piece where I decide I’m going to loop him - I don’t always tell him. There’s one on Accidentally On Purpose, the second gig we ever did together that came out as the first album. The last track on that, I looped the two of us together, a sort of 1970s Miles Davis groove, and you hear where the loop kicks in because it switches from stereo signal to mono.
I’ve actually got the Looperlative wired up to mono at the moment. It runs in stereo but I just found it more convenient to have it in mono. You don’t have to worry about sync cables between different loop boxes, because syncing things via MIDI is a nightmare, especially if you’re going to start editing and messing around with things the way that I do. If I’m looping both of us then it’s just the internal clock within the Looperlative that holds everything in time. It doesn’t need to be external.