UberProAudio had the chance to chat with multi-talented and very busy, Mike Herrera, regarding the recent release of his band Tumbledown’s new record, “Empty Bottle”. The new album, MxPx, music gear and more are discussed!
UberProAudio: You’ve been reluctant to classify Tumbledown’s sound as specifically country, folk, rockabilly, etc. in spite of a long list of influences in these genres. Do you think having such a strong background in punk rock with MxPx has facilitated the difficulty in pigeonholing Tumbledown into one field?
Mike: It definitely blurs the lines even more than they would be already.
UberProAudio: Had Tumbledown’s sound been a vision of yours while you’d been playing with MxPx? Was it a natural outcropping for another side of your musicianship?
Mike: Yes, I’ve been writing Americana tinged songs for a while, and now that I’m doing it close to full-time, I dream in Americana/folk punk.
UberProAudio: Though your role as songwriter is standing and you play both guitar and bass quite proficiently, your role as a band mate or instrumentalist is still ultimately different in Tumbledown than you’d acclimated to after years in MxPx. Was it challenging for you to step out of the role of bassist/frontman in favor of fronting Tumbledown with a guitar in your hands?
Mike: It’s taken some getting used to for sure, but it's not a far stretch because I spend a lot of time writing songs on my acoustic guitar. Also, I’ve been doing some solo acoustic tours where I play mainly MxPx songs with a few TD and cover songs thrown in. So I’m pretty comfortable with my new roll now.
UberProAudio: Are you still writing material for MxPx as well or has that become more of a touring thing for you? Does functioning as the primary songwriter in two bands take its toll on you creatively?
Mike: I’m still writing new MxPx songs but not as often. When it comes time, I just will need to sit down and write for a new MxPx release. Most of my songwriting right now is usually geared towards Tumbledown, cause we play so much more than MxPx. I don't think I have a shortage of song ideas…I just let it come when it comes.
UberProAudio: You’re credited as the producer for Tumbledown’s first full-length release (Tumbledown, 2009). Did you step into this role again for Empty Bottle, or did you seek out another set of ears to help the band evolve from the first CD?
Mike: I produced the new TD as well, although I did add new sounds and ideas to be sure that listeners heard something fresh and new from us. It's a step up in production from the 1st record. I'm really happy with how it came out. And we even did a song completely live, kind of a "in the jam room" vibe.
UberProAudio: After a long history in the music business you opened Monkey Trench in July of 2008. Can you tell us some of the gear you’ve loaded it up with? Anything that played a vital role in the production of Empty Bottle?
Mike: Yeah, I’ve got a Neotek Elite 26 channel console in the mix room, I spend a ton of time in there of course.
I really love to use my rooms, I’ve got 3 live rooms all with different acoustic characteristics. So I really do my best to capture the sound of the rooms with the microphones and preamps I’ve got. I use a ton of different mics for anything and everything. I try not to get stuck in a rut. Although vocally I’ve been using my Telefunken M-16 and Blue Cactus for all my vocals.
UberProAudio: How has owning/operating your own production facility affected your approach to creating music? Do you ever find yourself utilizing the technology of the studio to help with things like song arrangements?
Mike: It's so great to have a place that I can go and be creative. I love the fact that I can just walk in and put a hole in the wall if that's what I feel like doing. It leaves a lot of room for creativity, and I can leave mic's set up and patched in the way I like. It’s so great. I still however just write and record songs very old school, because although I’m using pro tools and not analog 2 inch, I record almost as if it's going to tape and not 1's and 0's. I do use shortcuts though (plug-ins, copy, cut and paste).
UberProAudio: You’ve got endorsements with Ernie Ball, Takamine, Mesa Boogie, Latin Percussion, and Samson Tech. With access to so much great gear how do you end up deciding what goes on the record? Do you ever stray from some of your endorsements in favor of a more vintage sound that might compliment Tumbledown more appropriately?
Mike: Yes and No. When it's appropriate I use whatever I need to and I think endorsements are great for both parties but it's more geared toward live shows and tours rather than in the studio. I do use all of my endorsed instruments both live and in the studio though. I use them because I like the quality and the sound. Tumbledown does play some instruments that we don't have an endorsement for, Jack, our guitarist's amp, guitar and Harley's drums. I've got Marshall our bassist playing Hartke bass amps because I’m endorsed by them and want to support them in all bands I play in.
UberProAudio: What gear are you using in your live rig?
Mike: Here's my signal path, I play a Takamine LTD 2009 custom acoustic guitar -->boss tuner pedal --> Hartke acoustic DI & boost --> to a Hartke AC150 acoustic amp. I use the amp as a monitor for my guitar, it sounds much better than relying on monitors.
UberProAudio: Was there an overruling or underlying philosophy behind the approach to production when you went in the studio to record Empty Bottle?
Mike: We basically went into the studio wanting organic/natural sounds. Straddling the line between vintage and modern sounding records. Both clean and clear sounds but also using some of the throwback style verbs and delays on certain songs.
Our main goal was to not labor too much over the record, but rather to enjoy the process of record making, which we were successful!
UberProAudio: Tell us about some of the gear gems that made it onto the new record?
Mike: I've got a matched set of Rode NT2 mics that I had recapped with Neumann U87 capsules and they sounds great on everything so I used those a ton on the acoustic instruments like guitar and percussion.
I used my Hammond C3 Organ and Leslie cabinet on a few songs, that's always an adventure for me!
UberProAudio: From the website it looks like Tumbledown is touring pretty intensely right after the record’s release. Other than the tour, what’s on the horizon for you and for Tumbledown?
Mike: Keep on recording new material. I just love making records and taking our sound one step further each time we hit the studio for a new session. Tumbledown will be out there on the road and in the studio again as much as possible! For now, check out the new album, Empty Bottle and our new video at www.tumbledownhq.com.
Interview by Kevin Williams.