In The Studio with Last Dinosaurs
March 2012. By Michael Smith
There’s been quite a buzz building around four Brisbane school friends, Last Dinosaurs, who have just released their debut album In A Million Years, not only here but in the UK. Michael Smith spoke to Sean Caskey about the making of the album.
“People might think we’re using synthesisers,” lead singer, lyricist and guitarist Sean Caskey with the Brisbane four-piece Last Dinosaurs that includes his brother Lachlan in lead guitar, Sam Gethin-Jones on bass and Dan Koyama on drums, explains the bright, shiny, soaring and often orchestral sounds that are so integral to the band’s debut album, In A Million Years, “but it’s actually guitars. Lachlan and I are a bit obsessed about our gear. We’ve always been striving to find the rare, interesting pedal, and we’ve both got these crazy, crazy Behringer pedals, which is a really, really cheap brand – two different kinds of reverbs – and they’ve been mainly the basis of our guitar sound really, that angular, sharp, precise, clean sort of guitar sound. I like to think it’s a little bit unique to us.
“I’ve also got a boutique overdrive – Lach’s got three overdrives – octave pedal, a delay and stuff – Lach’s got multiple pedals – he obviously needs more than I do to cover the spectrum of sounds we create. And I’m currently playing a custom-made Telemaster [a Fender Custom Shop prototype based on an early ‘50s Esquire/Telecaster with a Jazzmaster body shape] but I recorded the entire album on my Japanese Jaguar and Lach uses a Fender Strat and also this really interesting guitar called an Italia [a retro-style electric guitar designed by UK luthier Trevor Wilkinson] made in Korea. It’s a ridiculous-looking guitar but it has this really crisp, jangly sound – a really unique, thin sound.”
Lachlan Caskey uses a Fender Blues DeVille 410 vintage-style tube amp, while Sean uses a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe, and both were used in recording the album, though Lachlan also used a variety of amps, including a Fender Twin and a vintage Vox AC-15 – whatever was at hand in the studio that would suit the song in hand. But before the band got down to the final recording, an intense period of preproduction was in order, and with last year’s Brisbane floods threatening all and sundry, the band were relieved to relocate to the NSW Central Coast farm that houses engineer/producer Jean-Paul Fung’s recording studio for two weeks. Fung had come to the band’s attention through producer Scott Horscroft, of whose credits, albums by Silverchair, The Sleepy Jackson, The Temper Trap and Birds Of Tokyo among many, the band are big fans.
“Jean-Paul was his assistant, and he’s definitely the most talented engineer that I’ve come across so far,” Caskey admits. “He just knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s self-taught, he’s a young guy, and we got him to do our single, [2011’] Time And Place, and we worked with him so well and the production role was pretty much ‘Dinos and JP’ instead of JP just taking control. As for preproduction at his farm, we just found that sort of isolation and environment was really good for us.
“We’re all perfectionists so Jean-Paul would bring us back to earth! The rest of the band all come from a jazz background – I’m not really a musician; I’m more just a writer with no musical knowledge – and I’ve always wanted to make a point of the fact that we can play our dedicated instruments and we sometimes over-complicate things, so JP would strip the songs down and build them up again and it’s true, we did need to take some of the songs a couple of notches back.”
From there, Last Dinosaurs headed south into Sydney’s Surry Hills for a month in Horscroft’s sadly now defunct Big Jesus Burger Studios. In A Million Years turned out to be the last album to be recorded at the facility. Horscroft took up the position of Vice President of A&R at EMI Australia in October 2010. The main tracking room at Big Jesus Burger, where the drums were recorded, had a vintage 1977 Quad Eight Coronado analogue console, while the bulk of the album was recorded in what was called the Playroom, set up for overdubs and editing.
“It’s such a pity it’s gone – the vibe there was truly incredible,” Caskey admits, “and working there you just felt so comfortable.”
As it happens, Fung has been hired by Jimmy Barnes to be the engineer at his home studio and Fung has relocated the Quad Eight there.
“I’ve always used the Shure SM-7B,” Caskey explains his vocal mic preferences. “It’s basically an SM-57 but the capsule’s slightly different. I used that for the single as well and, I don’t know, it just seems to bring out the best in my voice apparently, although I have an SE Gemini 2 as well, which I love a lot – that’s like a pop-style mic where you just plug it in and it automatically sounds amazing. I did try a lot of mics but JP was particularly fond of the SM-7B.”
The next step of course was mixing the album, and Last Dinosaurs again turned to Englishman Eliot James, who had mixed their Time And Place single, and who apparently had initially picked up on their 2010 EP, Back From The Dead, which had been produced by Lost Valentinos’ guitarist and keyboards player Jono Ma. James used Eastcote Studios in London.
“Early on when we were scouting around for producers or mixers, Eliot was the biggest name that was interested” – among his credits albums by Two Door Cinema Club and Kaiser Chiefs – “and the sound he was getting already was just on the dot with what we were trying to do. We’d send off songs and they’d come back sounding perfect. Because JP is so good at producing a good sound, everything was just so incredibly perfect – it was too clean, but amazingly good quality – so then Eliot, he didn’t dirty it but he added character, if you know what I mean, that was applicable to the song. I Can’t Help You, for example, the second song on the album, we wanted it to sound really crunchy and, I don’t know, just a bit more gain on it and so he compressed the shit out of it so it sounds really cool, sort of ballsy and like a fist flying at your face sort of thing.”
The album was mastered at Abbey Road Studios by Geoff Pasche, whose credits include doing records for New Order, The Divine Comedy, Gorillaz, Basement Jaxx, Coldplay and even Kylie Minogue among many. Since recording the album, Last Dinosaurs have signed with UK label, Fiction.
In A Million Years is out now through Dew Process/UMA.