Recording Special: Javelin

Style:

When the Brooklyn-based musical duo Javelin first formed, Tom Van Buskirk says he and his cousin George Langford weren’t interested in playing instruments on stage. But in the studio, you’d find the pair playing a slew of instruments – drums, guitars, bass, keyboards – as well as incorporating found samples. They’ve scored documentaries and done commercial work and the song “Susie Cues,” from 2010’s No Mas, even found its way into a Banana Republic spot. But for the new EP, Canyon Candy, Van Buskirk says he and Langford were inspired by a country and western motif. “It has a lot to do with records that people owned in the ‘50s,” says Van Buskirk, and mentions the “mythical, imaginary sound” achieved by ace session players on old country recordings. “Neither of us were obsessed with cowboys growing up, but it’s a basic part of our culture,” he says, tracing the strain of country music in The Band, Dylan, and Neil Young. Another clear outsider reference to the genre is Ennio Morricone’s soundtracks to spaghetti westerns, though Van Buskirk says they tried to steer clear of Morricone’s direct influence. “We tried to take it even further back – to before westerns were cool.”

Process:

“We work like scientists on two separate continents working on the same problem and then we meet up to put our work together,” jokes Van Buskirk of Javelin’s creative process. “The only reason it works is because we’re cousins and we’re so close.” The pair share a work space in Langford’s house in Brooklyn, but often they work independently and meet up to collaborate. “When we started this project it was sort of like a thesis that we both built from the ground up,” says Van Buskirk. While working on Canyon Candy, they would look for obscure country records that they thought would inspire each other. Langford played the jaw harp and harmonica parts on “Love Gulch,” while Van Buskirk says they found the main sample used in “Winchester” in a record shop in Brazil. “You can find western stuff all over the world.”

Track: “Streets Of Laredo”

“The hardest one to finish was ‘Streets Of Laredo,’” says Van Buskirk. “There are zero samples – it’s completely composed. The guitar is played onto tape and then we sang over it. David, the singer, helped write the lyrics and I’m the last voice on there. We played it fast into a tape machine, then slowed it down as far as it could go. We wanted it to sound like a Slim Whitman record and take the pitch as low as it will go. The reverbs get slow and the voices and timbres all change. The original version was six minutes long – a big ballad.”

Gear: Akai MPC, Apple Logic, Nord Lead 2x

“The MPC is the centerpiece of our studio, what we sample onto and sequence with,” says Van Buskirk. Javelin also uses a few pieces of older gear to achieve a vintage ‘60s sound, such as a spring reverb keyboard amp that Van Buskirk says colors the sound in what most people would consider a harsh way. For their DAW, Langford and Van Buskirk both use Logic. “You can achieve a lot with the on-board effects,” admits Van Buskirk, though the group is known for its hardware-based methods. He says that lots of the keyboard sounds are achieved by layering in Nord’s Lead 2X, but he says he tries to run the digital signal through as many analog components – stompboxes, low pass filter – to process the sound before it gets to the computer. They do the same thing with a reel-to-reel tape machine, often running digital sounds onto tape to create on their recordings, what Van Buskirk calls, the “mix and match of crispy digital sound and warm and fuzzy analog.”