Studio Essentials: Big Words

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Studio Essentials: Big Words

Words by Will Brewster

We link up with the Melbourne festival faves to check out where they recorded their latest mixtape

It seems like no coincidence that a group by the name of Big Words should be destined to achieve big things.

Since being discovered busking by Wu-Tang Clan wordsmith Ghostface Killah back in 2016, the Melbourne group, spearheaded by Will Scullin and Kieren Lee, have toiled away at their craft to create the perfect blend of indie-pop and alternative R&B, with their unrivalled work ethic being paramount to their status as local live sensations and winning them a fast legion of devoted fans along the way.

When COVID struck earlier in the year and put countless musical careers on ice, Kieren and Will seized the opportunity to bunker down in Will’s bedroom studio, blowing the dust off ideas originally intended for their forthcoming debut album to produce Cherry: a new mixtape that acts as a unique insight into the creative process of the duo.

Pieced together over the span of two weeks from unfinished ideas, long-lost demos and iPhone ideas, Cherry is like Big Words’ answer to Frank Ocean’s acclaimed visual project Endless, with the duo opting for a sparse instrumental palate that’s heavy on the feels and dripping with charisma.

With the release of the new mixtape last week, we linked up with Will to find out about Big Words’ ten studio essentials throughout the recording of Cherry. 

1. Nord Stage 2

This is the centre point of my musical world. I’ve had it since I was 20, the piano sounds are only the surface. The onboard effect, organ and synth have shaped most of the sounds on the mixtape and our live show. Also, most people forget that there’s a Mellotron sampled inside of it too: the strings and wood winds are some of the best I’ve heard and I generally always use them over plug-ins.

2. Universal Audio Apollo Twin​

The Twin really changed my life as a producer, stepping up from an average interface you really notice the huge difference in quality. The preamps are super crisp, and not to mention the almighty UAD plug-ins. Even though they bare a hefty price tag comparatively, they sound incredible and are always reliable.

3. Arturia Keystep 

My tiny MIDI controller is also at the centre point of my creation. I play a lot of drums on this thing, it can do just about anything you need it to. It’s quick and easy, especially when you can’t be bothered setting up other keyboards or synths. If not that, I use my laptop keyboard as a controller frequently too, whatever works!

4. 1960s Herman Miller Desk Chair

I picked this up in Sydney and had it shipped down for $60, about 5% of what it’s really worth. It’s so comfy and adds a great deal of character to my studio or bedroom in my current situation.

5. UAD Oxide Tape Plugin​

Easily the best saturation plugin I’ve ever used. You add this guy to just about anything and it brings a certain kind of warmth, compression and fatness that I haven’t found anywhere else. Typically I use it on my drum bus and mix bus but it’s definitely a good all round cheat code.

6. My Grandmother’s Yamaha Acoustic Guitar

This guitar was the first instrument I ever played, given to me by my grandmother it is by far the coolest tone I’ve ever found in an acoustic. It’s about 60 years old and has a set of strings on it which are about 20 years old. I need to change them but it still sounds so cool, we have written all of our greatest stuff on it. Always makes me proud to use it, it doesn’t travel and stays very close to my heart at all times.

7. Sennheiser E935

Basically an SM58. A lot of Cherry’s vocals were recorded on this very cheap dynamic mic. Kieren uses this for busking, it’s pretty ruined and honestly sounds pretty great. We have a couple of other mics and one U87 copy, but this guy always makes it onto records as it’s just always with Kieren. In his tiny bedroom setup and out on the street, again, whatever works.

8. MIM Fender Jazz Bass​

Our bass belongs to our drummer’s brother which is on a semi permanent handshake loan. It plays like a dream and is always in my reach. It’s this beautiful orangey pink colour and covered in bits of tape. Again, it’s nothing fancy but has a sharp but smooth tone, has been on every bedroom recording and all of Cherry.

9. My 1960s Vintage Alessi Cafetiera

This humble Italian coffee pot keeps us rocking at all times in our apartment, it was a Christmas gift from my mother and we really wouldn’t survive our late nights or early mornings without it. Thanks Mum, xx.

10. The Humble iPhone

The last and probably most significant is the iPhone. As most artists do, we record basically all of our ideas and melodies into our phones. For a while now we’ve been flying it across and using it as a take. iPhones have this very cool sounding compression, you can generally achieve a similar effect with a room reverb and high pass, but it’s definitely not as cool. Kieren is kind of a one-take guy, often he’ll record an idea and never be able to replicate it, so sometimes we’re left with no choice.

‘Mandarin’ is a great example of that, we’ve attempted to re-record it over 30 times, it’s never worked out. That mastered song that you hear is in fact just an iPhone recording.

Big Words’ new mixtape Cherry is out now on all streaming services.