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How I Got That Sound: Tom Syrowski

Incubus ‘In The Company Of Wolves’ By Joe Matera
Published January 2022

How I Got That Sound

LA‑based producer and mixing engineer Tom Syrowski began his career as engineer for producer Brendan O’Brien, and has worked with Mastodon, Pearl Jam, Incubus, Bruce Springsteen and many other artists. Asked to recall his favourite sound, he identifies the vocal on Incubus’ 2011 track, ‘In The Company Of Wolves’.

“This is an epic two‑part song that explodes in the middle, but it’s the vocal sound on this track that I am most excited about. We recorded this album at Blackbird Studio A in Nashville, which has an amazing and highly customised Neve 8078, originally built for Motown Studios in Los Angeles and later owned by Donald Fagen of Steely Dan. But one of the coolest things about Studio A is the unique airlock known as The Chamber, a small corridor that leads from the parking lot into the main tracking room where bands typically load in gear. When you stand in the space between these doors, about a 7x7 square, it creates an echo chamber. They went as far as building a motorised ceiling that allows you to adjust the reverb length of the chamber by simply flipping a switch on the wall, going from 8’3” to 18’11”.

“We had Brandon Boyd out in the live room singing on a Western Electric 630A, and placed a small powered PA speaker inside the chamber. We split the line, so that one line went into the control room where I was set up and the other line went to the PA speaker. We already had a pair of [Neumann] KM54s left up in the chamber from drum tracking part of the session and those, alongside the PA speaker, created a weird almost megaphone‑sounding vocal. Lastly, I put a [Shure] '57 on the PA as a close mic. We weren’t sure at the time what the best blend was going to be, so I ended up recording all four of the mics for each vocal take — so when it came time to comp the vocal there was a lot of playlist‑flipping going on. We ended using mostly the Western Electric 630 and stereo KM54s and never did use the close mic, as it ended up making Brandon sound like he was just singing through a guitar amp.”

They went as far as building a motorised ceiling that allows you to adjust the reverb length of the chamber by simply flipping a switch.

A Song Of Two Halves

“The vocal on the first half of the song is the main sound, just the Western Electric 630A with the stereo KM54s blended in and Brandon singing in the live room next to the chamber. This part of the song is definitely more present and contains more of the main vocal mic, while the second half is much more effected. What we did there was put Brandon in the chamber with mics and the PA, and because of that, the vocal recording changed quite a bit. If you listen carefully, every once in a while, you can hear some nice feedback happening because of all the frequencies swirling around in the chamber and the PA blaring into Brandon’s microphone.

“It’s not just the vocal sound that changes from one part to the other. The first‑half snare drum is very open and woody, almost like an old wood marching snare, and the kick drum is a wide‑open Radio King, while in the second half, the snare was switched to one of José Pasillas’ piccolo snare drums and the kick drum was swapped to a more modern Gretsch. All of this created a really cool dynamic I’m truly proud of.”