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Studio Series - Norm Block (Happy Ending Studios)

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Studio Series - Norm Block (Happy Ending Studios)

Aaron Rogers

Norm Block is a Los Angeles based producer, mixer, engineer, and drummer. He operates the Cautionary Tail record label and is owner of Happy Ending studios, whose clients include jennylee (Warpaint), Greg Dulli / Mark Lanegan, Christian Death, and Spacehog. We spoke with Norm via email, and his answers are below.

Do you use EQD pedals during tracking, mixing, or both? If both, roughly what ratio?

I always use EarthQuaker pedals tracking guitars. Bass, as well.

In mix mode, I will set up various pedal chains to go through different inserts for vocals and synths - it can be a different combo depending on what the mood is that day and (of course) the song. Usually that chain is a little more extreme and unmatched for more surprises - for effect.

What are your favorite EQD drive/fuzz pedal combos when tracking guitars? Which dirt pedals do you feel pair well with particular guitar/amp combos or certain styles of music?

I bounce between a combo of the Tone Reaper fuzz, Hoof Reaper, and possibly a Monarch; and will have usually have a Warden compressor for tone etc. in the chain as well. I’ll combine any one of those pedals with a vintage Colorsound Supa Tone Bender depending (of course) on the tune and how far we want to go.

Ampwise, it toggles between a vintage Magnatone 450 and an original Fender ‘59 Bassman; and a combo of smaller Gibson amps like an EH-185, Skylark, and Airline amps. Sometimes it’s just simply boosting a Fender Twin with a couple of the pedals . . . works just as well.

What other electric/electronic instruments or sources do you use EQD pedals with, and what are your favorite applications?

The stuff I just mentioned, plus throwing a vocal or synth through a random pedal chain i.e. with a Disaster Transport SR, a Rainbow Machine, a Sea Machine, and some grit from another pedal.

Even a drum beat loop idea - sometimes just printing a few different options of a vocal part or whatever strikes your ear. Sometimes it can turn into just a cool new part to layer in to a tune (if you get lucky).

If something great comes, I’ll just print a few things and edit them together, and all of a sudden you’ve got a cool new background vocal part to layer into a mix, or an extra effected layer to add to your other source track.

Have you tried them on acoustic sources via inserts and found any favorite applications for a particular pedal? Do you have a favorite outboard chain you like to pair them with?

Yes for sure, but my choice of pedals for this is random. Usually having a Disaster Transport SR and a Sea Machine starting off plus whatever other colors I grab at and plug in. Sometimes it’s the Hoof Reaper with a Grand Orbiter added in.

What has been your favorite standard "bread and butter" sound you've gotten from an EQD pedal? Are there any that have retired or semi-retired old favorites for the same application?

The Warden compressor. Playing with the tone knob on that pedal with a Tone Reaper on a cleaner amp like a vintage Fender Twin is something I’ve found works out well. My Disaster Transport SR is definitely my bread and butter "always there" pedal as well . . . and the Hoof Reaper is a good friend :)

What has been your favorite crazy sound you've gotten from EQD pedal? Are there any that have made their way into well-known releases that you can share links to?

Hah!!! So many. It usually comes again from a little Disaster Transport SR with the Rainbow Machine with a Sea Machine with a Arpanoid and Warden in there as well. Finding something that you didn’t expect and that makes you very happy by just coloring different pedals' reactions from the source audio.

The opening of "Bully" from the jennylee Right On LP has a bunch of that stuff on the bass intro that created a great effect for us. For the bridge of that song I remember having a bunch of percussion we played in the bathroom here at my studio, literally playing sticks and mallets on the toilet and tile floor, trash cans, and anything that sounded cool in there. We just made parts then they got filtered and ran through some of the grittier pedal chains mentioned . . .

Which 2 EQD pedals do you use the most overall, and what would you typically use them on?

It depends honestly. Like any gear for me, if I use something too much on one record because it happens to works a lot, I tend to go to other things and find something new on another LP so I’m not repeating [myself] too much, but when there is a sound you know you want quickly and of course you know what to grab to get it.

I would say for me, the Warden, the Disaster Transport SR, the Hoof Reaper, and Sea Machine are always close by.

What do you think is the most overlooked or underrated EQD pedal, and what do you like to use it on?

Man, I have about ten EQD pedals and it depends on the mood -  the Arpanoid and Rainbow Machine can be fun with guitar [or] keyboard extreme stuff. Or like a little pocket piano synth through those [pedals] but honestly for me with what I have to work with in the EQD line of pedals nothing is overlooked. It just happens to spark something with the artist and myself and we go with it. If it’s not the sound, we’ll keep trying other EQD pedals combined with other stuff and something always happens.

How do EQD pedals facilitate getting finished sound earlier in the recording process?

I would say 75 percent of the time I’m committing to the finished sound early in the process. I prefer to commit to that and record it as is.

Only in mix mode for extra flavor and colors to print things and layer on top will it be blended in but for the most part with guitars and bass it’s committed early on in the process as we are recording.

How much time/frustration does this save later in the process?

A lot! I like to build my tracks and get them dialed in as we go through . . . tracking to shape what its going to sound like mixed, like most people do, so of course having more sounds committed is better for me. Once I have my vocal comped (which is usually the last part of the puzzle), I’m pretty focused in on the overall sound of the song before actual mixing. When I mix though, I route everything back through my console, running through a ton of outboard gear, so I’m essentially rebuilding things and turning a lot of plug ins off, but I always have that reference where I left the track, and yes when things like guitars have there sound on it, it saves time for me always.

I usually just add a little board EQ and compressors onto guitar channels on the desk and a little extra reverb space and or delay when needed. Otherwise it’s already there by that point. But vocals and synths, etc. will have their time to discover new things during the mix running through other pedal chains. So maybe I just contradicted myself because I always go down fun little rabbit holes and get new sounds in the end:)

How much energy does this lend to your process?

It helps a lot, but there are no rules. I just do something for a little while to achieve a certain sound. Sometimes I stumble on it and sometimes I go directly to it, but then you get bored and hopefully always curious and then I’ll try a new approach!

EarthQuaker truly has had a profound effect on my recording process and . . . being such great people to work with its awe-inspiring to be a part of their community with so many friends that I respect who also love their pedals.