Insight into the making of "Otherside" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers

 Otherside, By the Red Hot Chili Peppers

 

The Red Hot Chili Peppers is now a household name, but it wasn’t all that way and it sure hasn’t been smooth sailing for the band. Growing up in Los Angeles during the the 70’s and 80 influenced the Chili Peppers style of music and made them who they are today.

The Chili Peppers were originally a funk / punk band, delivering their style of music with attitude and a “huge onstage presence” (they had been known to play naked with just a sock on). Their first album “The Red Hot Chili Peppers” was released in August 1984 via EMI records. The band members at this time of this release were Anthony Kiedis (vocals), Jack Irons (drums), Michael Peter Balzary otherwise knows as Flea (bass) and Hillel Slovak (Guitar).

Maintaining their roots in punk rock and funk metal the Chili Peppers produced a great deal of more records, the two most famous being Blood Sugar Sex Magik engineered by Brendan O’Brien and Californication engineered by Jim Scott. Both of these albums were produced by the legendary Rick Rubin.

Otherside is the number three track on the album Californication released in 2000. The lyrics talk of the struggles with drugs, in particular the heroin overdose by original guitarist Hillel Slovak in June 1988.

Despite the song being about such a Sorrowful event the track was well received by their fans. Otherside was written in the key of C and has a tempo of 123.39 BPM. Performing on this track were Anthony Kiedis (Vocal), John Frusciante (Guitar), Flea (Bass) and Chad Smith (Drums).

Production, recording and mixing

The album was tracked live in room number two at Cello studios,  now called East West studios.

  Floor plan for studio B Cello Studios

Floor plan for studio B Cello Studios

The drums were recorded in the main room capturing the room's natural acoustics. Microphone placements were set up relatively close for a more “in your face” sound. Scott used a mixture of  large diaphragm condensers, dynamics & pencil condensers.

What I like most about the drum kit sound is the way the snare is left to ring out with it’s harmonics, almost like little or no processing was done.

Mic choice

  • Kick drum, Neumann U47  (inside the drum)
  • Toms, Sennheiser MD421s
  • Overheads, Neumann U87s
  • Hi-hat,  SM57 
  • Snare, SM57 top and bottom & 1 x Neumann KM84 on top (pencil condenser).

To me the drums sound like they are mixed from the Audience’s perspective;

  • The hi-hat is panned slightly to the right
  • The snare is panned slightly to the right
  • Overheads are panned quite wide (I would say hard left and hard right)
  • Tom 1 panned slightly to the right
  • Tom 2 panned slightly to the left

The vocal dynamics via the Shure SM57 sound controlled and clear. The dynamics would have been helped by Kiedis’s vocal technique and the Urei 1176 compressor in the recording signal chain. The setting Scott used on this compressor where “ a real stock setting, 4:1 ratio, with fast attack, slow release and just enough compression to do the job. I printed his vocal with compression” (Sound On Sound, 1999).

This track was recorded mostly in  mono to achieve a bigger sound. I ran the track Otherside through a mid/side processor to see what was in stereo. Check the audio clip below for the results.

As you can hear there is hardly any guitar, bass or vocal (meaning they are in mono). The majority of the stereo signal is the drums that have been panned respectively emulating real drums from the audience perspective.

Guitars

The bass sound varies from clean to distorted and is confirmed by Scott as he explains “That distorted bass sound that opens the album comes simply from the way he hit the bass guitar" (Sound On Sound, 1999).

Scott once again used some compression by way of the LA2A tube and some general EQ’ing was done to his liking. The rest of the sound comes from Flea’s performance who utilises his guitar, pickup and fingers to control and sculpt the sound. The choice for the bass amp was the Neumann U47 tube microphone, this was blended with a D.I signal to achieve the overall sound.

The electric guitar amp had two separate speaker cones. Scott used two on each speaker in case one proved better than the other. The combination of using  2 x SM57’s and 2 x  U87 microphones allowed for a good / bad mic setup capturing two different sound which are then blended in the mixing process.

Timeline

Intro (0:00.0)

▲ Vocals Start. Same lyrics as the chorus (0:09.9)

Verse 1

Drums start, closed hi hat, rim shots and kick drum (0:32.9)

▲ The rest of the drum kit comes in Snare hits and some half open hi hats start (0:50.9)

▲ Vocal harmonies start (1:02.8)

Chorus 1

Guitar, vocal and bass play main hook but without vocal harmonies or backup vocals (1:18.5)

Verse 2 (1:41.3)

▲ Vocal Harmonies start again (1:53.5)

▲ 1 bar of just drums which breaks up the repetitiveness and builds tension.  (1:59.4)

Pre-Chorus

More open Hi hats and cymbals works as a build into the chorus. More distorted bass towards the end of this section. Vocal harmonies throughout (2:12.6)

Chorus 2

Backing vocals by guitarist John Frusciante play throughout this section. (2:28.1)

Bridge

Drum beat changes, uses a lot of toms Bass rhythm changes Lots of sustained guitar notes (2:51.3)

Pre- Chorus (3:21.3)

Works as the build into Chorus 3

Chorus 3

Backup vocals from Frusciante.  Harmonies on main vocal. This section also doubles as the outro (3:28.6)

Summary

Overall this track sounds very compressed which I think works for the style and genre of music. Minimal effects were used, leaving the track bare and performance orientated, utilising the natural acoustics of the studio. Each instrument occupies it’s own space well which is a credit to Jim Scott who made the brave decision in keeping this track mostly in mono. 

References

Audio Keychain. (n.d.). Otherside. Retrieved from https://www.audiokeychain.com/track/FrQ/red-hot-chili-peppers-otherside

East West Studios. (2014). About Studio Two. Retrieved from http://www.eastweststudios.com/studio2/

Prato, Greg. (n.d.). Artist Biography. Retrieved from http://www.allmusic.com/artist/red-hot-chili-peppers-mn0000883318/biography

Red Hot Chili Peppers. (2011, July 15). Otherside [Video File]. Retrievd from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rn_YodiJO6

Sound On Sound. (1999, December). JIM SCOTT: Recording Red Hot Chili Peppers' Californications. Retrieved from http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/dec99/articles/jim.htm

What Culture. (2014, January 30). Red Hot Chili Peppers: Ranking Their Albums From Worst To Best Retrieved from http://whatculture.com/music/red-hot-chili-peppers-ranking-albums-worst-best.php/2