For “Studios Sessions,” we delve into the stories behind the long hours in the studio and all that goes into making an album by talking with artists, producers, engineers, photographers, and more who are intimately connected to the recording process with some of the biggest artists in the world. These are the stories that rarely leave the booth.
After the Dreamville sessions for the platinum-selling Revenge of the Dreamers, Jermaine “Maine” Maxwell and Lucas Helmer wanted to keep the creative energy going. Helmer handles A&R duties at the infamous Atlanta studio Doppler Studios, where Earthgang recorded and refined a few songs from the amazing album Mirrorland. So, when it was time for the Dreamville duo to finish up the album, they made sure everything in the studio was set for optimal creativity.
“Different songs require different moods and I feel that can be strongly influenced by lighting. All of our rooms are equipped with Phillips Hue lighting systems, which allow us to create any vibe,” Helmer revealed to REVOLT TV.
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” we find out what made Mirrorland stand out, how Earthgang constructs their intricate flows, and talk unreleased songs from those sessions.
What are your roles at Doppler Studios?
Helmer: I work with [digital rights and administration company] Streamcut. We manage and operate Doppler Studios as a whole. My role at Doppler is the director of A&R and I do most of the studio bookings internally for Streamcut as a company. Maine and I are good friends. We work creatively on a lot of projects, internally and outside of Streamcut. So, I would just give him a space and home at Atlanta if he wants to set up sessions.
Maine: After the Dreamville sessions, Lucas and I just wanted to keep the momentum going. We started inviting a lot of instrumentalists, producers, and artists over at Doppler, and opening up more opportunities and connecting the dots between creatives.
How much of Mirrorland would you say was recorded in Doppler?
Maine: We did about four or five days in June and then they went on tour. They were also working on other tracks that didn’t make it that I know they have bigger plans for later. I want to thank [Since The 80s’] Barry [Hefner Johnson] and [Zekiel Nicholson] for letting us be hands on. They were in the studios, as well. But, they let us do our thing and orchestrate these sessions. I don’ think anything went to waste and everything they recorded, they have a plan for.
Maine: I remember ideas being bounced around. It was really organic. There were no egos. Guitar Boy, he helped lead a lot of sessions and put stuff down for songs. Natra [Average] did ‘This Side.’ I remember Olu coming into the room just off of Natra having the melody. There were no drums and then Olu just came in the room. It all just flowed organically. It literally was a melody Natra was working on for a minute or two. You could feel the chemistry. It went from nothing to something.
Helmer: We knew just off of sheer people that we weren’t going to have the same clientele at the Revenge of the Dreamers sessions. But, what we wanted was the artists and producers we put together to push each other creatively. For us, it was trying to stack the room with some of the most talented producers, musicians, and like-minded people. We encouraged collaboration and for it to be a space where if you have an idea, you can speak up. Or, if you have an instrument, you can play it. It was all held together by Zach Nicholls, who was the engineer. We couldn’t have done it without him.
What is the dynamic like between Olu and Dot in the studio?
Maine: Olu is more laidback. Dot will come in, add the energy, be more hyper and engage with everyone. While Olu is working on his music or laying down a verse, Dot will be ducked off in another room, working on a totally different beat or production. It’s a great contrast between them. When you’re there in the studio, you feel multiple personalities and energies in one room.
Helmer: I would also say Olu plays a little bit more of a role in the creative process of the records. He produces and can engineer a little bit, too. So, he adds that little touch and helps steer the direction of the record.
So, there’s definitely leftover songs from the Mirrorland sessions that are coming out?
Maine: Oh yeah. There were songs that you wouldn’t expect Olu or Dot to do, songs that took them out of their element. There are songs that you could really [see] Olu rocking with festival crowds [with]. There were songs that sounded like hits.
Helmer: I wouldn’t be able to give you exact names because some of those records haven’t even been titled. In Maine and I’s computers, they’re just labeled as ‘New Session 1’ or something like that.
What were some songs that got special additions?
Maine: They had the musicians in the studio... have them touch up on old songs. They would have them add different instruments and etc. Some of those songs were recorded before the Dreamville sessions.
Helmer: ’Blue Moon’ and ‘Top Down’ were some of the records that we had come in and added extra instrumentation on them.
Did you see how the Mirrorland sessions were influenced by their experiences at the Dreamville session?
Maine: They were more open to collaboration. They love when instrumentalists are in the room just building off of creative energy. Correct if I’m wrong, Lucas, but I remember Olu and Dot say they love working at Doppler because it’s more of a home studio. I’m not saying it’s their home studio, but there’s a comfortability there.
Helmer: A lot of the atmosphere that we were able to provide is something they’ve always been looking for in their sessions, but might not have had studio spaces that were large enough or the resources to connect with the musicians that we put in the rooms around then.
What are some things Earthgang likes in the studio to make music?
Maine: Lucas is very good at the lighting. For me, personally, when I listen to music, I see colors. I know a lot of artists are like that as well. Lighting definitely sets the mood.
Helmer: The lighting was a big thing. Maine and I worked to switch it up between each song not only to create different energies, [but] to keep people up or fresh. But, different songs require different moods and I feel that can be strongly influenced by lighting. All of our rooms are equipped with Phillips Hue lighting systems, which allow us to create any vibe.
So, what were the colors in the room for ‘This Side’?
Maine: I think it was purplish-orange. It was like a burned orange and mix of purplish-blue.
What is the most impressive thing you each have seen happen in Doppler Studios?
Maine: There’s this one song that’s probably going to come out where Olu uses his voice as an instrument. This is the record I was speaking of when I said [they had music] that sounded good for a festival. He’s in a league of his own with the way he uses his voice.
Helmer: I think some of the more impressive moments, for me, have come from Guitar Boy, who [was] one of the more seasoned people a part of the sessions. Some of the guitar riffs and his playing on some of those records were flawless for up to 15 minutes at a time. That was some of the most impressive stuff I’ve ever seen.
Maine: Rasheeda Ali, she played the flute throughout the sessions. She would play the flute for three minutes, while everyone is doing their thing and would flow on it so crazy. The way she was using her instrument, it came off like it was a verse.
Their songs and flows are so intricate. How do they record their verses?
Maine: It really depends on the song. But, from what I saw, for the most part throughout these sessions, it was straight through. They would go off of the melodies of the instruments being used. For example, when Rasheeda is using a flute. Depending on if she goes lower or higher or how long she goes, Olu would use his voice to match that or give it a contrast. If the sax comes in at a certain point, Olu and Dot would put their voices a little lower, so you could hear the sax in the background, but it’s not so prevalent. It matches it and creates a balance.
What’s the future of recording studios in the next decade?
Helmer: It’s going to depend on the creative. The ease of recording at your home is going to continue and you’re going to continue to get impressive vocals recording at your house. You are starting to have kids, who have grown up recording and making their own music, which has allowed them to create organic and original sounds unique to the individual. But, you still have artists that are still utilizing studio musicians and still need people to [be] brought in to record certain things. There’s going to be a healthy mix of both. I do see the D-I-Y space becoming a little more relevant.
Maine: What I would like to see are mobile studios. I’d like to see more studios on the go. Sometimes, being on tour, they may have the idea right there and then they want to lay down. But, they don’t get to do it because of the lack of equipment or the lack of creative space. I think mobile studios would definitely help.