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Ahola Studio-Tagebuch / studio diary

Stadt / City Tampere 
Land / Country FIN 
Web www.aholaband.com
Datum / DateJan 2012 

AHOLA is the new project of singer Jarkko Ahola (Teräsbetoni, Northern Kings), Antti Karhumaa, Jari Laitinen and Antti Mäkelä. Everybody who knows J. will also know that this guy stands for hard music with even harder vocal parts, only a few Metal vocalists can sing as high as he can. His new “baby” is now busy to record the debut album and J. personally keeps you up to date about the progress, exclusively for STALKER.

Part I - 7th of January 2012
It was about a time to do this what we just started last Saturday: hit the studio with 14 AHOLA songs. This thing has been cooking quite a while now, and we’ve been rehearsing new songs together whenever we’ve found the time. Actually I wrote a new song just three days before the studio. Guys thought that it’s cool, and our drummer Antti took over the song in no time even though it had quite a few parts in it and some progressive elements. You know, it’s easier to learn new stuff if you like the stuff you’re learning about!

Most of this band live in or near Turku, so we also jam and rehearse near it. I live approximately 130 kilometers away from them, so it takes quite a while for me to get there and back. Anyway, it took also quite a while for the rest of the guys to get where I live as well, in fact we were over two hours late till we got to the studio! “Hi Jani (the studio tech), we’re gonna be there around twelve.” “Hello again, I’d say one o’clock is closer to our arrival time.” “Um…hi again, we’re gonna be a bit more late. Say, after two…just a bit. Sorry…”

Well, what the hell! We’re musicians (and we’re supposed to be late, right?) and Jani Viitanen, the guy from the studio, told us that this was really nothing. Some guys just NEVER show up. I really don’t know what is the point in that, but who cares. WE were there at last and everyone seemed to feel just fine. And why not? We are creating new music here!

So, the studio we wanted to use for recording drums (and still going to use for bass and acoustic guitar) is called Headline Studio. It’s been in the center of Tampere Rock City about 15 years now and I really like the atmosphere there. Guys of the band did as well when they saw it the first time as we came in. We loaded the drums and bass amps from Antti’s father’s pretty damn old Volkswagen Transporter (must be from the early eighties) and started building the drum set right away. Well, actually Antti first replaced the drum heads with new ones, but that didn’t take too long. The others had the time to check in to the hotel and make themselves comfortable. I guess some beer was involved as well…

Making the drums sound like we wanted took some time – of course it did, it’s never easy or fast job to do. The bass drum, which I thought would be a hard one, took only a little while, but we had some problems with the tom drums – the balance between them, to be exact. One sounded too boxy and another too dull. The biggest tom was a matter of tuning, but we just couldn’t make the first tom sound right. So, we tested the old Sonor tom drum that Jani had already in the studio. It was just what we needed! The tuning was exactly the same as Antti’s tom had, but it just sounded better. More fleshy. So there we had it.

After that we tried to find the right snare drum sound. We tested four different snares with and without damping. I thought that the dampened sounds were better and we chose two different snares. One for the faster songs and one for the slower and heavier pieces. We also used bigger hi-hat cymbals for certain songs. Besides from the normal close-up miking, we used two different overhead setups. One for wider sound and one for the opposite. We also had two different ambient sound pairs to give some boost for the drums. So, there we had it. Drums sounding right and the mics on their very right places. OK, let’s give it a go!

I was very much involved with the sound crafting, but we also had some time to talk nonsense and make the whole session feel relaxed. We had a little bite and then we were ready to play through the tracks together. The idea was to make backing tracks for Antti, so he could have the sense of band play while recording multiple takes. Few of Antti’s first takes were so good that we chose them to be the final tracks. It took some time to play through 14 songs in a way we felt were good enough for Antti to rely on. After that our first day was full. It was totally a time to celebrate the whole new experience we were and are about to have!

And didn’t we have a good time? We sure did! We went a very neat restaurant called Praha to grab few beers and drinks – and of course we ate. The day went super fast and nobody really ate real food, so it was about a freaking time! Later Jani joined us and told some funny stories about – who else than – us musicians. Funny guy and a cool dude to work with. We ended in a local rock bar and…well, that’s another story! The next morning wasn’t the easiest one…

I’ll get back to you!

Video: Living a Dream (first gig + studio impressions) http://youtu.be/d7OE790-OqA

Part II - 8th, 9th and 10th of January 2012
After a bit rugged morning, or should we say midday, we entered back to studio. Only this time it was Antti and me, since Anza and Jamo had already left. At first we listened to the takes we did day before to back Antti up. There were actually two takes that were just great already. The songs were Stoneface (in which Antti found a cool groove) and this pure rock song I did some time ago. So, instead of 14 drum tracks we had 12 songs to do. Nice!

Antti was feeling a bit sick (I wonder why, hah!), but he fought like a real soldier. It was pretty hilarious to watch him play and huff’n’puff of exhaustion! Anyway, after maybe three songs he was feeling much better and things got going really well.

So, it was pretty much like: “OK, let’s try the song from the beginning” and then we’d listen it through. Sometimes it was: “Mmm…I think this wasn’t the best you can give. Can you try another one?” or “This was cool! You only stumbled a bit here, so let’s take you in from here and play along for a while and then that’s it”. By evening Antti was already done. It really paid off to rehearse properly and of course Antti’s abilities as a drummer showed really well. You know, this guy can play guitar and keyboards really smoothly, too!

There we had all 14 drum tracks ready to be edited. We decided to leave that stuff for the next day. That meant Antti was ready and on Monday I’d be in the studio with Jani alone. And so I did. We went through the tracks in detail and edited them ready. It was a bit slower job I expected (“Oh, I missed this drum fill…It doesn’t quite fit.” “Wait a second, I think here’s another take that has a better one” etc), but after that stuff was done, I had a little time to play acoustic guitar as well.

We started from a song called Restless that contains a simple guitar part which is picked one string at a time. Since I wanted it to be very precise, it took some time to play it though. There were also traditional parts where I only strummed the guitar. Those were the easy ones. One or two takes and that’s it. Jani felt tired, so we decided to continue the next day.

On Tuesday I was back for the acoustic guitar. I ended up playing a Taylor guitar Jani had in the studio already. First I thought I would’ve liked to use my own Takamine (you know, when you play your own guitar, it just fits your hand like a glove), but I really liked the guitar he suggested after playing it for a while. Stoneface needed some acoustic guitar for the chorus parts. We also decided to play it in D instead of E, ‘cause we wanted it to sound a bit heavier. I only tuned the Taylor on drop-D since otherwise it would’ve needed thicker strings and some fixing. Hah, it took a little time for me to adapt my playing with the different tuning, even if only one string tuned differently.

Then we have this different kind of song. Antti plays it mostly with brushes and there’s a lot of acoustic guitars on it. I finger-picked on this one a lot. Let’s see how the songs is going to sound like. Is it a cool different one or more like an bonus track. We’ll see!

Since I am a bass player of some kind too, I wanted to have my moment with the four string. We have just a song for my kind of player with lots of distortion and attack on the sound. The particular song was written quite a while ago, so it was fairly familiar to me. I did it on two takes. The first was like “Oh right, I should’ve played like this and that”. The second one had what the song needed.

So, that’s it! We’ll be back in the studio tomorrow (which means 14th of January while writing this) and then Jamo will be playing his bass parts. Things will go smoothly, since he’s a really firm bass player.

Video-Update here http://youtu.be/GhbDfmtcF2I

Part III - 14th of January

Jamo told me that he would be at my house 9.42 am. He was. I felt tired, since I tend to get sleep after two or three o’clock in the morning . This time I guess it was a bit after four when I really fell asleep. So, feeling not so refreshed this time, I jumped to Jari’s car and onwards we went! I forgot my camera at home, so we had to turn back after few minutes of driving. Hah, sorry Jari!

This time we came to the studio on time. Not too much preparations were needed, since the bass amp and set up was ready to rock. You know, I had my bass moment few days before. All we had to do was to find out the right sound for Jamo. It didn’t take too long, since his Fender Jazz Bass sounds… well, like a Jazz Bass! It’s an all around instrument. I guess that’s why so many bass players use it.

Jani & Jari

Like so often, we recorded the bass straight from the DI box to the hard drive and also through my Marshall valve amp that REALLY rocks. The EBS Multi Drive bass distortion gave us the edge we needed. The sound was ready in no time – the sound that really makes no compromises! Like it shouldn’t. This is rock’n’roll, you know.

Jari tuned his instrument and then he was ready to make some history. We started from the tracks that he felt comfortable to start from. You know, song we’ve been playing a bit longer. At first it took a little time to tune up the guy, too. It’s normal to take some time to find the right mood in the studio. The way you usually play your instrument live isn’t maybe the way that works in the studio with the click track ticking on the background and all that kind of stuff.

After few warm up takes Jari really found the right mood. Most of the songs went like this: Jamo played two, maybe three takes and then we listened them through. If there was something to be fixed, we fixed it. The overall touch was great and he played in very precise manner. Only maybe two songs took some more time, since they were new and we were still thinking the best way to approach them. And soon we did.

Jamo & Thunderbird

All in all Jari did a great job. 13 songs in one day and no compromises were made. He also used his Thunderbird-like custom made bass in few songs that were changed key D. That bass really roared like a beast! A nice spice to the mix.

The day was full and Jari really deserved to get some good food and few beers. You know, I’ve been just listening and producing most of the time – and I get the chance to celebrate all the small victories along the way! Thank you Jari and thank you guys for reading.

The next challenge will be the guitar tracks. I think those are going to take more time.


Part IV - 23rd – 25th of January
Anza came to my place on Sunday after the gigs in Pieksämäki and Äänekoski. We piled up two head+cabinet combos (my ENGL-stack and Anza’s Krank and custom made cabinet) side by side and I wired and made them ready for the next day. You know, my place ain’t no real STUDIO, it’s a home, but luckily it’s a two floor apartment and I cleaned up a room in downstairs for the noisy amps (sorry, neighbours!).

I’ve got my study or should I say a little studio upstairs where I write my songs and make my demos. There’s a professional hearing with Genelec active speakers with a sub included. I also have a very good (but yet portable) sound system and a good channel strip with a nice preamp, de-esser (removes sibilance: the strong S that some people have when they sing or talk), compressor and equalizer.

I’ve come to conclusion that Shure SM57 is a good choice for recording guitar. I also have a tube mic and a condenser mic at home, but what I’ve learned…they really don’t bring too much special stuff to it. Maybe if we had more time to test and try, we’d come up to something special, but SM57 is the choice that really can’t go wrong.

Without going into details, I had some problems with the program I was using since it was all new to me, but I wanted to be sure that the software wouldn’t fail. So, me, myself and I, was failing for quite a while trying to get a grip of it, but along with the time I handled it better and better (What about the manual? It never really helps when you’re in a hurry, hah!). To be honest, Anza needed some time too to get his mood right. But I wrote about this earlier. Recording is a whole new world. The feel, the sweat, the noise, the AUDIENCE…they’re not there. So, one has to find a new way to approach the music and the playing.

Finally we got into recording full steam. Since the clock had not been waiting for us, we soon decided to start recording solos with a fully closed and silent guitar cabinet. It’s a pretty cool invention (and a small one!), that works especially for the guitar solos (the higher notes). The rhythm guitar doesn’t work so well, since it’s quite boomy and the real punch isn’t there. Anza had done a good job with the solos, since he had already decided what to play. ….On the other hand, with this one song I asked him to play just SOMETHING and he really showed that he’d been learning the skill of improvisation. For me, often the magic of the moment just works better.

Let’s make this straight here: Anza is an artist. Antti and Jari are talented musicians, but they’re also teachers and fathers…you know, they HAVE to do certain things in schedule. Me and Anza are in a different situation in life. Anza must be in love with his guitars. When we recorded his stuff, he was full of energy. When ever I wanted to listen what he just recorded…he couldn’t stop playing his licks and whatever he plays (country music, gypsy jazz, metal licks etc). If you give him a guitar, he is going to play it all day. He breathes and lives music and especially guitar music.

We had had a long and pretty stressful day with all the difficulties. So, we decided to watch one episode of South Park and the go to sleep.

Two second days were pretty much the same. Choosing a song. Looking for the right sound for the song. Playing it through and making sure the interpretation was ok. Recording the guitar tracks. Adding some specialities. Playing the solo, maybe two…maybe three! So, that’s how the days went. We recorded some good stuff for you guys to hear. At the moment I’m doing my parts and Anza is coming back on Sunday.

Thanks for reading!

Part 5

After Anza left my place, I took a few days off. I had some other stuff to do (quite peculiar, eh?) and I wanted to take a little distance from the stuff we had just recorded. It’s pretty intensive stuff to first write the songs, make demos of’em, rehearse them with the band, produce the band demo and after this start making the official album. You just might get a little numb; not knowing what sounds good and what is just stuff you thought would be good.

Since recording the guitar parts have been happening at my place, working hours have been varying quite a bit. I’ve been doing longer and shorter days depending on the other stuff taking my time. First I wanted to add guitars to the songs Anza already did, since hearing them with all the six string tracks gives a better sense of the songs for us. Gladly we’ve all been happy with results so far.

I’m happy for the roles we’ve taken with Anza. He’s the leading guitar dude with all the cool stuff that guitarists can do with their instrument. I’m a singer and a song writer that can play some guitar as well. I like to play it tight and keep things quite simple. Anza likes to add guitar licks here and there. If we both wanted to do that, things would get pretty messy easily! Our way works just fine.

Anza came back few days later and did two more days of his parts. A bit of rhythm guitars and (amazing) solos as well. Some of the stuff just comes out easily and sometimes things need more takes and time. No sweat, this is the reason why we’re doing this at my place. No hurry and no budget bending.

If you got something special you want to know about our recording session, please leave a question @ AHOLA’s Facebook-page (www.facebook.com/aholaband) or my personal FB-page (www.facebook.com/JAholaOfficial).

Soon I’ll start doing my vocal tracks with Antto Tuomainen hitting the record button and saying: “Dude, you can make it better!”

Thanks for reading!

Part 6

Things have been going on pretty much the same with the guitars since my last entry. I’ve been recording my guitar tracks during the days and Anza came to make a quick visit for some more of his tracks. I’d say the fact that we’re all quite busy, makes things a bit harder, but I’ve managed to do my share and Anza will be doing soon all the stuff that’s left for him to do.

The only thing that’s been bothering me sometimes is that I haven’t found any special sounds from our amps (you know, something extra, nothing profoundly important). The room we’re using isn’t a studio space, so I can’t move the mic too far away from the cabinet without the shitty ambience bothering the results. And no, it’s not a big deal, since mostly guitars are recorded using close-up miking, but if you’re looking for something special and you can’t find it changing the amps…you might want to find a new place for the microphone. This wasn’t the option this time, unfortunately.
Of course we’ve still got the digital world of different effects, amp modelling etc, but at this point it’s the best thing to try to find the right sounds while recording. You know, real deal is a real deal.

Jussi in his studio

What else? Last week I went to do my first singing session. It ended up being quite short when it comes to singing, because it took more than a while to transfer all the tracks and put’em on their places. This was something we were about to face anyway, so no sweat. After all the digital fine tuning, we tested few mics for me and stuff like that. When we found the right combo of the microphone and preamp, I sang one song almost in its entirety. We were running out of time, so I decided to leave the choruses for the next time. Anyway, I felt good since I was getting into my “business” at last. I am also actually a bit scared of the situation as well. You know, this is it: no bullshit, just pure and plain singing.

I came back to do some tracks on Tuesday. Actually, I sang the song once more and most of the stuff I did sounded better. That’s the life of a singer! Some days just are better than the others. I sang also parts of “We Want Out”. The day was short ‘cause of schedule changes, so I continued doing that song next day…which didn’t go as planned either. The train was awfully late (and MAN it was BLOODY COLD waiting for it!) and I soon had to head for Turku to meet the band. Thankfully I managed to sing all the tracks that the song needed (some doubling and harmonies as well).

Antto and J

Here’s some answers to the questions you sent me:

Paula wanted to know about the recording set up. We DID have the equipment upstairs and Anza as well, because all the listening happened there. What we did was put the amps and microphone downstairs and wired the guitar with a loooong cable to the downstairs. The microphone had a long cable to the upstairs as well where I have the preamp and compressor etc. Hope this cleared this one up!

Angela asked about singing and finding the right mood. You’re right, studios are kinda soulless and sterile. It’s pretty understandable, ‘cause you’re monitoring the sound and trying to record it as plain as possible without any disturbance. But yea, most of the places could be a bit more comfortable. Anyway…you’re doing your music there and trying to dig into it. It usually takes some time to find the right mood and style for the song. I guess some experience does help here as well.

What guitars did we use? I was using my Gibson SG’s. I’ve got two Standard models, one tuned in D and one in E. I’ve also got an SG with three single coil pick-ups, so the sound is somewhere between normal SG and a Stratocaster (you know, a bit twang-like sound). I like it pretty much. Anza uses his Yamaha SG-guitar which has a good sound. He also has a Stratocaster, one PRS, one Jackson for the Floyd Rose whamming, a baritone guitar (can’t remember the manufacturer) and many others. We tried different ones with Antti, but very often his Yamaha worked the best. It’s not always the price of the guitar that makes it good! (I’m not saying that the Yamaha guit is a cheapo, but Anza’s Stratocaster and PRS are pretty damn expensive guitars, but they just didn’t sound that good with our stuff).

Well, that’s it for this time! Thank you for reading.
J. Ahola

The final part

Here we are. Things have been going on smoothly and not so smoothly. We’ve had some problems with the schedules. Sometimes it has been a problem with the studio schedule, sometimes just hard to get two people in the same room at the same time. Antti and Jamo got sick and the background vocals they were about to do got delayed. Things like that. But things are back in track now!

I’ve been doing a lot of vocal days. They’ve been pretty short, from two to five hours. But that’s the way I like it. Taking it easy and doing the stuff in your own pace. Ok, sometimes I felt like doing more hours, but something else was usually coming up next already. That’s how it goes! Antto and Jussi from Ruuhkatukka Tuotanto have been very helpful during the recordings. They’ve told their ideas, criticism and helped me to sing better while pushing the record button. I guess, in the end I have been the most demanding listener of myself. It’s hard to listen to yourself sing – and like it!

Anza came to my place few days back and did the stuff that there was left to do. Actually things went very smoothly and easy. It seems that the middle of the week suits better for both of us. Hah! Sundays…Mondays….Feeling weary and non-energetic! Anyway, a few basic tracks, little extras and clean guitar sounds were added. Some baritone guitar as well, cool! All the guitar tracks are finally there.

So, the album is ready soon. All the lead vocals are recorded and there are some background vocals and things like that left to do. It’s going to get really busy, but it seems we’re going to make it in time. I really like the stuff that Jussi Kulomaa has done with the mixing. This is going to be a kick ass record. Believe me!

That’s it. This is the final part of the studio diary. The next thing for you guys to do is to listen to the record when it’s released. Thanks and take it easy all of ya!
J. Ahola

Thanks a lot to J. Ahola for sharing those studio impressions with us and writing the diary. All all the best for the upcoming Album release and TV Show appearance. (J.Ahola will be a judge on the TV Show Bilebändi 2012 (https://www.facebook.com/#!/Bilebandi2012 )

+ studiophotos: Ahola; bandphotos: Mirkku Merimaa; transl. S.Mahrer

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