The artist and the producer discuss gear, songwriting and using basketballs?
In the first in a new series for Mixdown, we’ve asked Asha Jefferies—who creates gorgeous and emotional music that fills the soul—to chat with her producer Aidan Hogg about the creation of her new EP The Pinnacle.
Hogg has previously worked with the likes of Jaguar Jonze and Holy Holy and has an impressive production resume while Asha is a competent songwriter and performer, notably having played at Bluesfest when she was just 14 years old!
Asha Jefferies shows herself in full on this 5-track EP, embracing a folksy approach to pop music in which her voice has a chance to breathe around spacious arrangements. The end result is a captivating and moving release which seems to have shined through the work of both Asha and Aidan.
Have a read of their conversation below, in which they detail how The Pinnacle came to be, and what gear they couldn’t do without.
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Asha: So! Aidan, we started having regular writing sessions in May 2020, peak zombie lockdown mode. Overall – how was your creative brain during 2020? Do you think you made sounds you never would’ve because of a pandemic?
Aidan: My creative brain was strangely good through 2020, if anything I think all the space opened up by Covid cancellations gave me time to do more writing from scratch and experiment more in co-writing. The pandemic definitely shaped the way we approached your EP—we really just got the opportunity to make music without any end goal in sight, there was no deadline you needed new music out by or anything like that. We got to experiment and make different things and the EP really naturally came together over that time.
Asha: I agree! Having no end goal really opened up time to experiment and think outside expectations. What was your favourite plug-in on the EP?
Aidan: I don’t think the EP could exist without Valhalla VintageVerb (concert hall setting)
Asha: How did you feel about my obsession with basketball sounds, and recording b-ball in songs?
Aidan: You’re the only person who comes to the studio and immediately goes looking for the basketball hahaha. The outro song, ‘Mmm’, was the last song for the project, and from memory that was a pretty chaotic session where you recorded vocals lying down and I was recording everything through the broken Auditronics console channels and we didn’t necessarily expect a lot to come out of it? So we recorded the basketball as a joke and it ended up sounding massive and the entire song turned out beautiful. So basically I’m very pro basketball sounds.
Asha: Respect. Do you know when a co-writing session is going well? How can you tell, if so?
Aidan: I’m really lucky in the way that no bad co-writes come to mind when you ask me this hahah, I think its really important to start with something exciting or interesting, whether that’s a drum part or hook or synth idea, and good stuff will come from there. Like in ‘Dizzy’ we started with that keyboard and vocal loop that opens the song, and it all came together so naturally around that soundscape. But then when I want to listen to the song on repeat after the sessions is generally how I know it went well hahah
Asha: Yeah! I remember we started ‘Dizzy’ with that sick drum part and heaps of layered vocals. What was your favourite thing to record? What was your favourite thing to mix?
Aidan: I think my favourite thing to record on the EP was the Maton Alver acoustic we borrowed for ‘Crybaby’. It’s a 60s plywood guitar that sounds objectively bad but it brought a lot of magic to that song. My favourite mix was ‘Mmm’. It came together really easily and you didn’t have a single mix note on it, which is very rare with any artist to not have a single tweak. Sending mix 1 to mastering felt like we were skipping a step haha. What was your favourite thing to record?
Asha: Mmm was such a recording highlight! It was 6pm on a Friday night, we were a bit delirious I think and there was just utter profound encouragement between the two of us for any idea haha. Recording vocals lying down felt so strange and relaxing. Definitely came out sounding breathy and lazy which we wanted. I also really enjoyed stepping away from guitar in general and writing with synths and such – can you tell us a bit about that from your end?
Aidan: We really embraced keyboards and synths across this EP in a way I don’t think you have with your music before. Most of the keys sounds across the record come from the collection of cheap keyboards, the PS20 I got on gumtree for $50 was a big part of the record, and the beaten up Casiotone mt68 that you have to shake to make it power up.
Aidan: You also put some synth parts on your first demos in GarageBand, I think the original GarageBand keys parts from ‘Dancefloor’ and Mmm both made the final mix? How did Garageband help your writing process for this EP?
Asha: Recording guitar from home onto Garageband at home sounds awful! So I did my best writing songs with pulsing synths and rhythmic drones instead. I’ve always been so used to writing on guitar with the objective of it sounding full and big without other instruments. Writing from a blank Garageband session really helped me depend on other rhythms and harmonies to create a feeling. I think we used ‘Classic Analog Pad’ from Garageband in every song on the EP which I’m very proud of. We did actually use a few acoustic/lo-fi guitars on this EP though. Any hot producer tips on how to record average sounding guitars?
Aidan: Use average guitars! And cheap amps. I don’t think we even used many amps on this entire project, most guitars were straight DI through the Auditronics console channels or APIs at Plutonium Studios. I don’t think we even used many pedals? Just DI guitars and Valhalla VintageVerb.
Asha: Average guitars rule. It was so fun piecing this EP together throughout 2020 and I know we’re still working on new music intermittently which I’m super excited for. Last question – what piece of equipment would you love to have one day? Aim big pls
Aidan: I really just want one of those plywood Maton guitars to be honest haha.
The Pinnacle by Asha Jefferies is out now.