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The Raconteurs

Steve Jennings (Photos & Text) • October 2019Production Profile • October 15, 2019

THE RACONTEURS © Steve Jennings

Analog Reigns Supreme on 2019 Help Us Stranger Tour

To say that American rock band The Raconteurs don’t tour a lot is an understatement. Earlier this year, on April 6, the band played its first live show in more than eight years, at Nashville’s Third Man Records 10th Anniversary celebration, where the band announced a North American headline tour in support of its new Help Us Stranger album. The band’s name stems from the French word raconteur — meaning storyteller — and as it turns out, there’s quite a story here, as this is no “ordinary” tour.

THE RACONTEURS © Steve Jennings

‡‡ Le Ensemble

The band consists of Jack White (vocals, guitars, keys), Brendan Benson (vocals, guitars), Jack “LJ” Lawrence (bass, vocals), Patrick Keeler (drums) and touring member Dean Fertita (keys, guitars, vocals). We spoke with the core of the audio crew — FOH engineer Taylor Nyquist and monitor engineer Mark “Hammie” Hamilton, along with guitar tech Dan Mancini and drum tech Trey Bourgeois.

THE RACONTEURS © Steve Jennings

FOH engineer Taylor Nyquist is out with The Raconteurs for his second tour with the band. Last year he was the systems engineer and FOH tech for Jack White’s solo tour, and this year White asked him to come back as the FOH engineer. His only requests were that Nyquist mix analog and record every show. “I’ve always loved mixing analog and using analog outboard gear extensively in the studio, but for most acts these days, it’s hard to justify the footprint at FOH.

THE RACONTEURS © Steve Jennings

The console is a very analog Midas XL4 with an extensive amount of both modern and vintage analog outboard gear. There’s also a digital element as well. We have some digital effects, Lake LM44 system processors and Focusrite RedNet redundant recorders all on a Dante backbone. So essentially, it’s a hybrid of digital and analog. The rather large footprint is always a conversation piece with fans as well.”

Nyquist says one of the limitations of mixing analog (as well as one of the benefits) is a limited number of inputs. The console frame only holds 48 modules, and the last three are dedicated to stereo FX returns, so about 45 are coming from the stage. “Once we add in ambient mics, board tape, mix-minus, etc., we’re at 60 inputs of multi-track each night. Outputs from FOH are just L/R into the three Lakes and matrix mixing to the house P.A. from there.”

THE RACONTEURS © Steve Jennings

‡‡         Le Gear

Nyquist’s rack collection is extensive. Starting with the rack on his right are all of the band dynamics — Drawmer DL241s on kick in/out mics, Empirical Labs Distressors on snare 1 and 2 tops with a medium attack and a fast release. The snare 2 top gets an sE Electronics Reflexion Filter on the mic to try and eliminate some of the bleed from the loud stage wedges. The toms go through Drawmer DS201 gates with triggers on the key inputs.

“Drummer Patrick Keeler rolls the toms for a lot of the show rather than striking them. This ensures the gates open when they’re supposed to and stay closed the rest of the time.” The overheads are vintage AKG 414 TLII’s and they go through the Kush Audio UBK Fatso. There is some compression added here, but mostly warmth when he hits the cymbals, Nyquist notes.

THE RACONTEURS © Steve Jennings

The drum parallel bus goes through the Smart Research C1 and pumps pretty hard. Both the bass DI and the bass mic hit another pair of Distressors for compression and warmth. The high pass and bell setting are used on the detector both to let the low frequencies through and to compress the midrange more when Jack “LJ” Lawrence enables his fuzz pedal.

The next rack starts with an AMS/Neve 33609 for both Brendan Benson and Jack’s acoustic lines. “It adds quite a bit of color and a lot of dynamic control even when it’s not hitting hard. Another UBK Fatso is used for one of each of Brendan’s and Jack’s electric guitar amps. Another Smart C1 for Brendan’s second amp. Below that is a Rupert Neve Designs 5043 dual comp rack with nine modules (18 channels of compression). This is a catchall for things like snare bottoms, all of the keyboards, and some additional vocals including Jack’s [Placid Audio] Copperphone.”

THE RACONTEURS © Steve Jennings

On Nyquist’s left are the vocal dynamics, effects and system processing. Brendan’s and Jack’s primary vocals each run through the Summit DCL 200 and the BSS DPR 901 II. “I love the Summit for warmth and how the compression parks it in the mix. The 901’s give some dynamic EQ that — after mixing digital for so long — we’ve become accustomed to. Dean’s and LJ’s background vocals utilize the Rupert Neve Designs 5045 Primary Source Enhancer to eliminate some of the stage noise before they hit the Rupert Neve Designs Shelford channels. There is also a Dramastic Audio Obsidian stereo compressor for Jack’s stereo amp. Sometimes it’s a Magnatone but lately it’s been a boutique prototype by Union Guitars & Amplifiers. The Obsidian adds some nice color but like the 33609, it parks the level in the mix without much compression.”

THE RACONTEURS © Steve Jennings

The next rack over is mostly FX’s for Nyquist’s. Two Bricasti M7’s for Drum Plate and Keys Hall. There is a PCM 70 for Vocal Plate, a PCM 42 for Slap DLY, a PCM 96 for flanger/harmony effects on certain vocal parts, and a TC 2290 for Ping Pong DLY that’s used for one part of a song. Above the FX’s is an Avalon 737 that is used for tube distortion on Jack’s second vocal mic. “There’s another one hiding under the console that is used for Brendan’s distortion but only inserted on one song when he’s playing harp and singing. Sitting on top of that rack is a Roland Space Echo for spring reverb and tape delay.” The drive rack houses three Lake LM44’s for system processing, a Lectrosonics R400 for wireless room tuning, and a Tascam SS-CDR200 two-track recorder. The L/R master inserts are a Rupert Neve Designs Master Buss Processor and a Chandler EMI Curve Bender. Both add significant color without doing much work.

THE RACONTEURS © Steve Jennings

“The record rack on my right houses four Focusrite RedNet AD16R’s for multi-track record and playback. The nice thing about the XL4 versus the Heritage 3000 is the tape return inputs. The band never sound checks at festivals or anytime we’re outdoors, so having virtual playback is essential,” says Nyquist. “The Focusrite MP8R gives me eight Dante preamps for ambient mics and Smaart reference mics,” he adds. “The rack has two Mac Mini’s for redundant record, Smaart and house music.”

THE RACONTEURS © Steve Jennings

‡‡         Creating Le Mix du Jour

Nyquist notes the most unique things about mixing this band — besides the abundance of analog gear — is there are no backing tracks, no time code and no set list. It’s five guys on stage playing real instruments. “The band just calls out to each other which song they’re going into next, and we follow along. For me, mixing analog makes accommodating that much easier, because every input is right in front of you. It would be impossible to call up a snapshot on the fly or dig through layers of faders.

Drum tech Trey Bourgeois with inset shot of sE Electronics Reflexion Filter around the SM57

“By this point in the tour, we’ve all become pretty good at predicting where the band is going next, although they still throw us for a loop every so often. There are a couple of songs where the band members change positions and instrumentation. This is the only time in the show I miss mixing digital. A macro can make all the adjustments I need to make and then undo much quicker than I can turn all the knobs and then turn them back.”

Stage manager, guitar/keys tech Patrick “Paddy” Thomas

Stage volume is another hurdle. The band likes it very loud. Hamilton (monitor engineer) and Nyquist work closely with backline to try and get it as loud as they want it but still be usable out front. “Often times we’ll have to tune the wedges to what I hear out in the room so we’re not working against each other. Since we never know what’s coming next, you can’t just mute unused inputs because they may go to that mic at a moment’s notice. You have to use the bleed to your advantage. If Jack’s guitar amp is too bright, the whole stage is going to be too bright, so we work together with Dan Mancini (Jack’s guitar tech) and backline to make sure the tone is working for all of us. It’s hard to believe with a show this loud, but really what we’re doing at FOH is sound reinforcement.”

THE RACONTEURS © Steve Jennings

White has two mics in front of him that are hot all the time. Both mics are sE V7’s which are dynamic and supercardioid. “They have excellent rejection and pick up less of the stage than a standard vocal mic. The second mic is mounted on an LP Claw, and it goes through the Avalon 737 for tube overdrive and distortion. As both mics are hot all the time and in close proximity, I flip the distorted mic out of phase to cancel as much stage noise as possible when he’s not at the mics.”

Firehouse tech Adam Bannister

“We have a great band and a great crew!” says Nyquist. “We do a lot with a pretty small crew and have pulled it off each time.” The band likes to do “B Shows,” or pop-up shows in record stores, before they go back to the second night of their headlining show in a city. “With the wild unpredictability of what might be thrown at us, the crew needs to be ultra organized and ready for anything. For that reason we carry five audio consoles. There is the Midas XL4 at FOH but also a DiGiCo SD12 out there for support bands as well as the FOH backup desk should anything go wrong or if the analog desk simply doesn’t fit into the space. We use another SD12 at monitors and carry a [DiGiCo] SD10 in the truck as a true spare. In addition to all that, we carry a Yamaha QL1 for the pop-up shows, and I’ll do FOH, monitors and multi-track all from that little desk — still recording every show! In a world of ever-increasing channel counts, tons of playback tracks (both supplemental and lead), and so many production distractions like video and special FX, its good to know that rock ‘n’ roll is alive and well.”

THE RACONTEURS © Steve Jennings

‡‡         Monitorville

When monitor engineer Mark “Hammie” Hamilton came into this gig, the previous engineer had just switched to the DiGiCo SD12 from a Midas Heritage 3000. “Like many engineers, the Heritage is a favorite analog console, but since they had already made the jump to digital, I felt we should stay with what they’d been hearing, and try not to rock the boat. I’ve been on the Avid consoles for years and have really gotten comfortable with the S6L lately. I’ve also been through training for the SSL digital desks, but have yet to take one on the road. The DiGiCo desks sound great and the workflow is quite intuitive. At this point my favorite DiGiCo feature is the DigiTube on each channel. I’m able to create a distortion on vocal channels for both Jack and Brendan.”

THE RACONTEURS © Steve Jennings

Hamilton says they are running approximately 48 inputs and 12 outputs. He notes plug-ins definitely have a place in many situations for him. “I don’t fancy myself a plug-ins kinda guy. The SD12 and M2 sound great without using any for this gig.” However, stage volume is definitely an issue. “Taylor and I definitely have to work together to get guitar amp and monitor EQ’s all working well in each room. We are bouncing around from big theaters and amphitheater shows to tiny one-off club gigs, so it can vary drastically each day. Jack really likes it loud, and he moves all over the stage, so I’m constantly aware of where he might go next. His vocal and whichever instrument he chooses to play need to be the most prominent in his mix, no matter his position.”

Leslie miking has two Granelli Audio Labs G5790s (modified right-angle) SM57s capturing top rotor movement in stereo and an E-V RE20 on the bass rotor

Brendan Benson’s guitar setup consists of a Fender amp and SE v7x mic and a Marshall amp with a Shure 57 mic. Keyboardist Dean Fertila’s mic placement on the Leslie has two Granelli Audio Labs G5790s (modified right-angle) SM57 dynamic mics spread wide and pointed at the top rotor work in stereo to pick up the movement of air that the Leslie is so famous for. The bottom/low rotor is miked with a classic E-V RE20. “Along with a Shure Beta 58a vocal mic Jack uses, he also sings into a vintage-styled Placid Audio Copperphone Mini with a phase probe effect pedal inline, which he controls with his hand.” Patrick Keeler’s drum kit includes DPA 4099 mics for the toms and Shure SM57s (top/bottom) on both snares. “The baffle on snare drum 2 (top) is to isolate it from Jack’s loud guitar amps,” Hamilton adds. The inside kick mic is a Shure Beta 91a, the outer kick mic is an AKG D10 VR; with a Neumann KM 184 on hi-hats and AKG 414’s capturing overheads.

Among Jack White’s vocal mics is this vintage-looking Placid Audio Copperphone Mini

‡‡         Technologies de la Musique

Drum tech Trey Bourgeois (also owner/operator of Retroactive Pedals) says they try to mimic techniques used during the recording process for Help Us Stranger in a live setting without using any playback or electronics. “The auxiliary snare has a unique head woven of two different fibers like marching snare heads. I tune it really high to try and replicate that marching sound. In the studio while recording the song “Help Me Stranger,” Patrick flipped his snare over and played the snare side of the drum instead of the batter side. This marching snare is how we pull off that sound live, without flipping the drum over during the set.”

Jack White’s guitar tech Dan Mancini

Jack White’s guitar tech, Dan Mancini, looks after Jack White’s collection of three Gibson guitars, three Fenders, a Randy Parsons-built triple Jet and a Rancher acoustic. White uses a Fender Vibroverb amp with an sE V7x mic and a Union amp with two SM57s.

‡‡         Le Denouement

From The Raconteurs’ history of rare live appearances, the band leaped into an ambitious world tour, beginning with dates in New Zealand (April 16), followed by more shows in Australia, Japan, Europe, and the U.K. — before kicking off its extended North American leg on July 12 at Detroit’s Masonic Temple Theatre and ending November 10 at Miami Beach Pop. After that comes six dates in South America and Mexico, so by the time this marathon tour wraps up, there should be more than a few interesting stories from the road.

THE RACONTEURS © Steve Jennings

The Raconteurs 2019 Help Us Stranger North American Tour

AUDIO CREW

Sound Company: Firehouse Audio

FOH Engineer: Taylor Nyquist

Monitor Engineer: Mark “Hammie” Hamilton

P.A. Tech: Adam Bannister

Jack White’s Guitar Tech: Dan Mancini

Stage Manager, Guitar/Keys Tech: Patrick “Paddy” Thomas

Drum Tech: Trey Bourgeois

THE RACONTEURS © Steve Jennings

P.A. GEAR

Main System: Locally supplied racks/stacks

FOH GEAR

FOH Console: Midas XL4; DiGiCo SD12; Yamaha QL1

Outboard: Empirical Labs Distressors; Drawmer DL241s/DS201; Kush Audio UBK Fatsos; Smart Research C1s; AMS/Neve 33609; Summit DCL 200; BSS DPR 901 II; Rupert Neve Designs 5043, Shelfords and 5045 Primary Source Enhancer; Dramastic Audio Obsidian; Bricasti M7; Lexicon PCM 70, PCM 42, PCM 96; TC Electronic 2290; Avalon 737; Roland Space Echo

Drive System: (3) Lake LM44; Lectrosonics R400 wireless; Rupert Neve Designs Master Buss Processor; Chandler EMI Curve Bender; Rational Acoustics Smaart

Recording Gear: (4) Focusrite RedNet AD16R, Focusrite MP8R

MON GEAR

Monitor Console: DiGiCo SD12

Mics: sE Electronics V7/V7x; Placid Audio Copperphone Mini; Shure Beta 58a, SM57, Beta 91a; Granelli Audio Labs G5790; E-V RE 20; AKG D10 VR, C414; DPA 4099; Neumann KM184

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