Amateurs
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Amateurs

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The Amateurs
Hope for the Best, expect the Worst
Self-Released

our score: 3.5 out of 5

The Amateurs have only been around for a year and a half, but that was enough time for them to make this hopefully depressive five song EP, "Hope for the best, expect the worst." The title is apt because the music draws a direct comparison to some of today's darker bands, namely Wilco and The Arcade Fire, while managing to make the music uniquely their own.

Wilco is one of the bands strongest influences and the biggest resemblance comes in the muffled, muted, mumbled vocals of lead singer/guitarist Keith Waggoner. On "Static" there is a distinct Wilco sound with guitar reverb underlying the entire song that sounds eerily like "I am Trying to Break Your Heart."

"Hearts on a Wheel" is where The Amateurs most strongly resemble The Arcade Fire with the swelling interlude right in the middle and the recurring line "I'm surprised you're still hanging on" that is half-spoken half-sung. The minor chords and constant heart-on-sleeve lyrics make this the downer of the EP. But like the rest of the tracks, the technicality and emotion in the lyrics and musicianship keep the listener coming back for more.

Such as on the next track "Chris Rode a Bike," a tribute to a friend of the lead singer Keith Waggoner who died. It's a brilliant instrumental where the music does much more than any lyric could. It makes the listener picture someone close to them, a friend or child, riding a bike. The light feel of the entire song recreates the innocence of someone slowly riding a bike. It's one of the better instrumental songs I've heard in the past couple of years.

Three of the four members of The Amateurs were previously in a band called Espontaneos. They added violinist Shannon Dejong shortly after Espontaneos called it quits and it has made The Amateurs a band with a little more depth than your basic indie quartet. If you are into Wilco or The Arcade Fire, then The Amateurs are the band for you. Even if you are not into either band, check out "Hope for the best, expect the worst." If they can create music this emotional after just over a year, then I can only imagine how good they’ll be after two or three years. The Amateurs is a band to watch out for in the coming years.

- Music Critic- music-critic.com


The Amateurs offer a very unique and unusual sound. The presence of the violin creates an eerie style, which is in part why The Amateurs music sets itself apart from conventional/commercial music. I would classify their music as somewhat of a jam band. The instruments are what drive this music forward and the talented musicians involved would surely captivate a live audience.

- The Music Review- themusicreview.net


Amateurs
Speak Easy
Self-Released
2007
A-

Amateurs, a Californian foursome of soundscaping indie rockers, have the tools to both impress and confuse with their self-released debut, which boasts the loveliest CD inlay and Web site design I’ve seen in awhile. This turns out to be a fine, if shallow, introduction to the band: on the cover, an array of colors stream infinitely in and out of a telephone, and each color could be one of the dozens of moods, niches, and influences this band evokes. In spite, or because, of the number of cues and atmospheric stimuli, the album is a pleasant surprise, expertly produced (by David Trumfio, who has worked with Wilco and Grandaddy), adventurous, immediately affecting, and unpredictable.

Culling from the guitar-based heft of ‘70s rock, the band makes beastly yet sensible noise on “Six Days,” and while the chorus gets a bit whiny and dull, dependent on but a few guitar strokes, there is a weight and clarity to the sound—here the instruments are driving the message, all but the guitars pushed to the background. The melody plods and repeats, drowned in static and heat, yet it never really toils or wears down one’s patience. Violinist Shannon de Jong is an important addition to the trio of guitar, bass, and drums, bringing a Fairport touch to the sunny, yet thick-set atmosphere of “Maple.”

What this kinder string instrument does is melt the metal rigidity of the others, and together they give this album its strength, sketching such a deep aural contrast. On the cheesy yet engrossing “Baby” the guitar vies for a piece of the violin’s delicate touch, and a happy trio of female-male vocals introduces an entirely different sound to the mix, one that is right at home with the nailed indie sound of the Shaky Hands and Sufjan Stevens. It’s a mood that’s happy, light, yet robust, and foreshadows some of the scintillating experiments on the album’s second half.

Instrumental “Cigarettes” is just such an experiment—a gorgeous landscape of mesmerizing violin rounds, soft shakers, and little else. The repetitive melody, a simple descending legato pattern, never tires because it loops and echoes into itself, climbing elegantly to several climaxes. “Spectacular Fall” attempts something similar, with long, drawn out, high-register notes from the violin, tinselly guitar arpeggios, and fierce drum work. It doesn’t quite work until the rhythmic section relaxes in the second half, letting go the tireless syncopation and element of trying-too-hard. At 2:30 the drum rhythm changes to a more fluid, forward-moving, perhaps typical pulse, the guitars strum languorously, and the violin keeps the spotlight.

One of the most impressive tracks on the album, “Shadowbox,” retains this formula but works down into a minor key, adding bass pulses, inventive drum bit-parts, and an aching melody strung along by a Blonde Redhead-tinged, feathery, echoic duet and simple mimicking responses from the violin. The guitars take a back seat to the powerful atmosphere of the voices—foreign, mystical, deeply moving. Similarly, Explosions in the Sky throwback “Submariners” is a spacious tapestry of a guitar’s subtle scale climbs and a violin’s delicate lacquer. This engrossing track may completely rip of EITS’s sound, but the violin changes the picture entirely. With subtle choices and seamless instrumental teamwork Amateurs have put their stamp on everything they do, no matter how steeped in the past. - Stylusmagazine.com


Emotionally driven, moody songs with strange mostly minor chords. First thing I thought of when listening to this was Dirty Three but that’s because of the violin. Which by the way, is the main reason I stuck around to listen. Glad I did. Toward the end of the song it gets louder, almost like Mogwai. They’re an L.A. band though members are Frisco transplants…

- Palebear.com


Country flavored indie-folk is a growing genre that has sparked great releases from artists such as Midlake and Great Lake Swimmers, among many others. Newcomers Amateurs can now be added to that list as well. This Los Angles-based group began making music back in 2004, when Keith Waggoner (guitar/vocals) and Stephen Garver (drums) began cranking out self-produced demos.

Fast forward to 2007, where the duo has grown into a four piece, adding Shannon De Jong (violin) and Anthony Puglisi (guitar) to the lineup. With the help of David Trumfio (Wilco, Grandaddy), Amateurs have created a strong debut LP filled with ’70s a.m. radio melodies mixed with warm, organic arrangements that add depth to their sprawling, laid back material.

Speak Easy begins with the twangy “Omaha Nights,” one of the poppier moments on the album. The bass gives off that ’70s vibe, bringing Fleetwood Mac instantly to mind. It is easy to find yourself nodding along to this one, which easily flows into “Atlantis.” The country subtlety gets pushed aside by just a bit of T Rex, especially in the vocals of Waggoner. The music holds back for most of this track, only kicking in with a steady thumping beat towards the end. What keeps it interesting is the soaring strings of Jong, adding just enough color to keep my ears intrigued.

“Cigarettes” is one of the standouts on the album, allowing Jong’s strings to take center stage. The layered violins are surrounded by the steady pulse of sleigh bells and a kick drum, weaving in and out of the plucking of an acoustic guitar. It is a really lush instrumental, making for a nice segue into “Spectacular Fall.” The tempo stays the same going from the cinematic instrumental to this sprawling track, up until the halfway point when the beat kicks in.

Amateurs are much more about creating soundscapes than many of their indie-folk peers. They offer a nice balance of accessible ’70s countrified a.m. radio rock with their other more sonically ambitious tracks. With a debut LP this strong, I don’t expect to see them unsigned for much longer.

By Chip Adams Jun 12, 2007 - Chip Adams - TheTripwire.com


Amateurs, "Speak Easy" (self-released): L.A. quartet Amateurs can't quite decide what they want to be, except good. Their first album nods to classic rock, folky '70s radio fare, modern indie titans and maybe even prog rock band or two, if they used strings. Whether you hear a lot of Wilco or a little Fleetwood Mac, Fairport Convention or the Band, it's the emotional range that makes Amateurs' an impressive debut. Its melodic bounce, gorgeous wedding of harmonies with Shannon De Jong's strings and smartly spun vignettes by singer-guitarist Keith Waggoner give "Speak Easy" a warm, organic sheen. It's folk-rock that doesn't need to resort to gimmickry or conscious deconstruction.
- Kevin Bronson - LA Times


I wanted to somehow work the phrase “Easy like Sunday morning” in here, not because I’m reviewing the Commodores, but because it’s a great way to sum up the first full length release, Speak Easy, from Los Angeles based Amateurs. It’s a laid back, mellow album that meanders through several styles without getting lost in the woods. Drawing on influences such as T-Rex, Fleetwood Mac and David Bowie, they produce a style that is reminiscent of happy 70’s rock, without sounding derivative and clichéd. And then they throw in some country layers, dark soundscapes, dual guitars, a violin and a bucket load of emotional vocals. When you think you got their sound pinpointed down, the album morphs from poppy to dream-like. This is especially so with the track “Submariners” where the instruments take on a floating, underwater quality. “Speak Easy” successfully translates emotion in their instrumental tracks as well, slowly rising and building the structure until the whole track sweeps you off your feet. I recommend “Omaha Nights”, “Spectacular Fall”, and “Submariners”.

-Elana Rintala - Elana Rintala - Littleradio.com


Groundcontrolmag and its cadre of editors has put together a list of mid-year Top 10s. “Speak Easy” is on 2 of them.

Press McGee
1. Mice Parade – Mice Parade
2. Amateurs – Speak Easy
3. The Maps – We Can Create
4. Omni – Batterie
5. Ola Podrida – Ola Podrida
6. Lifesavas – Gutterfly
7. Montag – Going Places
8. Chris and Thomas – Land of the Sea
9. You Say Party! We Say Die! – Lose All Time
10. All Out War – Assassins in the House of God

Aaron Autrand
1. The National – Boxer
2. Pela – Anytown Graffiti
3. !!! – Myth Takes
4. Elliott Smith – New Moon
5. Bikeride – The Kiss
6. Division Day – Beartrap Island
7. Explosions in the Sky – All of a Sudden, I Miss Everyone
8. The Shins – Wincing the Night Away
9. Marco Polo – Port Authority
10. Amateurs – Speak Easy - Groundcontrolmag.com


Anthony Puglisi Of Amateurs Talks Digi 002, Pro Tools, And Holy Grail Reverb

May 23, 2007
Amateurs

Amateurs first formed in San Francisco in 2004, with Keith Waggoner (vocals/guitars) and Stephen Garver (drums). The duo quickly relocated to Los Angeles and recorded an EP, Hope For The Best, Expect The Worst. The band became a three-piece when violinist Shannon De Jong joined. After touring in support of the EP Amateurs added guitarist Anthony Puglisi. The band then set to recording their first full-length release, Speak Easy, which was released earlier this year.

Guitarist Puglisi took some time to talk to Gearwire extensively about the band's recording. Here is part one of that interview.

Patrick Ogle: Can you tell me where you record and why?

We recorded our record at Kingsize Sound Labs in Eagle Rock California. It is the largest of a group of studios known as the Rock Block. We decided on Kingsize for a number of reasons, first being Dave Trumfio. Kingsize is Dave’s studio and he has recorded and produced some of our favorite bands -- Wilco, My Morning Jacket, Built To Spill, Grandaddy and so many more. His client list reads like a who’s who of music that we actually listen to so we thought Dave would be a good fit for what we were after. Plus he’s a really down-to-earth and funny guy who knows all about making records from both sides of the glass. He’s made sure the studio environment is comfortable and conducive to the making of great recordings. Once you’ve walked in through the front door, it doesn’t take long to feel right at home.

Additionally, Dave is the king of kings when it comes to gear so that made the decision to record at Kingsize even easier. The A Room has a very well maintained 32 channel Neve 8068. There are some 1073 modules in it somewhere as well. That thing sounds ridiculous! His outboard collection consists of standard high-end fare – API 550A, 550B, 560, LA2As, 1176s, Distressors, etc. He even had some of the more esoteric stuff - seeing stuff from Alan Smart, Inward Connections, and George Massenburg in his racks not only made me drool, but assured me that Dave was most definitely a gear connoisseur. Dave’s mic locker is just as impeccable – top quality selections from Neumann, Korby, Beyer, Sennheiser, and many more. I don’t think the other guys really grasped the pedigree of Dave’s gear, but, as a self-proclaimed gear spotter, I was in gear heaven. (Dave mixed our record up at the studio at his house…You should see the setup in there! Holy crap!)

As far as the recording medium was concerned, we knew we wanted the flexibility of digital. Because time and budget were limited, we wanted the option to do additional work beyond the scheduled studio time if we needed to. Since I have a project studio here at home centered around a DIGI002, we knew from the get-go that we wanted to record to Pro Tools. Dave has 48 channels I/O on a ProTools HD3 Accel clocked to a UA 2192 AD/DA. Not too shabby! So we really were after the best of both worlds and we got an extremely powerful, high-end digital rig fronted by a super high-end analog setup.

What hardware/software do you use in recording?

For Speak Easy, we tracked everything live through the Neve to Pro Tools. We’ve done some demo stuff at my house here to Pro Tools as well. Nothing fancy. We also used this super janky Boss all-in-one recording unit heavily in preproduction to work out arrangements, song structure, and vocal harmonies. As crappy as that thing was (and as much as I complained about it!), it really did help us shape the songs in our run-up to the recording. The sounds that came out of that thing were actually pretty surprising especially once you put the recording through the built-in “mastering” algorithms (what I lovingly came to refer to as “that mastering bullshit.”). I was so sketched to let Dave hear those recordings, but, as a testament to his talent, he easily saw past the quality issues and could hear what we were going for. Whatever works.

What about effects? Do you use software or outboard gear for this?

We use whatever sounds good and whatever the situation calls for. The guitars came in wet through our pedals and amps. We took a DI of our guitars just in case we wanted to re-amp and fiddle with tone-blending in post production. But Dave and Josiah Mazzaschi (First Engineer on our recording) dialed in and committed to the tones from the start. No saving it to “fix in the mix.” What you hear on the record is pretty much our guitar tone through the Neve.

For violin, it was a little tougher. Shannon plays live through a little Fender Blues Jr. tube amp, with an EQ and Holy Grail Reverb. Unlike the guitars, the amplified violin tone isn’t as important as the tone of the instrument itself. The pickups on the violin alter the instrument’s tone, and in the recording scenario, capturing the violin’s true tone was priority one. So she removed the pickup and tracked acoustically. In this case we could only really commit to getting the violin recorded as best as possible. We used Altiverb and the behemoth Ecoplate plate reverb in post-production to hone her sound. We actually capitalized on access to that plate as much as we could and used it quite a bit. It gives such a great, classic sound.

Any drum “effects” were achieved mostly with mic placement. We definitely had some more experimental placements for room mics and used those to alter the sound of the drums where needed. You can really hear this on “After All.” Stephen cut a double of the drum track but we only recorded 1 or 2 of the more bizarre mic placements. Dave compressed the hell out of the double in mixing and it gives the drums on that song such a loose, but hard-hitting feel.

Dave utilized more hardware than software effects on the record, at least in terms of dynamics. Up at his home studio, Chateau Trumfio, he has possibly the most drool-worthy home studio you can imagine. He’s got a heavily modified 56 input Trident C Range there with a set of Barefoot Micromains, easily the craziest monitors I’ve ever seen or heard. Some highlights of the outboard there included the SPL Transient Designer and Ridge Farm Boiler Ultra Compressor that he used to give the drums that extra special magic.

He used the slightest, sweetening touch of a GML 8200 on the 2 bus. The Inward Connections DEQ-1 and APIs worked wonders on the guitars. For some of the more specialized effects, he had to call upon a plugin or two. I was handed a printout of all the plugin authorizations he has. To give you an idea - the printout was 180 pages long. Highlights include Soundtoys’ Echoboy which found its way on quite a bit of stuff, and the Chandler EMI TG12413 Limiter which Dave had nothing but kind words for.

Do you have any special pieces of gear or techniques with gear you use in recording?

No. It’s my feeling that any piece of gear or technique is as special as the next if you decide to put it in your recording. I like mojo pieces as much as the next guy, but the mojo piece is no better than the workhorse piece in the sum of the parts and either should be used where appropriate. It’s dubious to say X is special because at the end of the day, what you put through it still matters most.
For more on Amateurs.
Patrick Ogle is a Gearwire feature writer - Gearwire.com


Amateurs Guitarist Anthony Puglisi Part Two: Ampeg V4-B, Beyer Ribbon Mics, And ProSoundWeb
May 24, 2007
Amateurs

In part two of Gearwire's talk with L.A. based band Amateurs, the band's guitarist, Anthony Puglisi, details how each instrument on the just released record Speak Easy was recorded and also discusses mistakes musicians sometimes make in the studio.

Patrick Ogle: How do you approach recording drums?

For drums, Stephen wanted a roomy sound. We brought Manny Nieto in to take the lead on engineering the drums. He runs Wet and Dry Studios right next door to Kingsize and he recorded our first EP. He has a Steve Albini-esque dedication to tape and analog and has a great feel for capturing drums.

Dave and Manny collaborated to come up with mic placements for coverage and mic placements that were unique. They even removed some of the carpeting in the live room to liven up the space. I think they used about 13 mics, five or six of which were room mics. They even recorded (and used) Keith and I’s talkback mics as additional weirdo room mic placements.

All the drums were recorded live without a click. Stephen is a rock solid drummer and has a great sense for that push and pull against the tempo. A lot of our songs are written with gradual tempo changes where we’ll deliberately speed up in a more rocking passage. This would have made a click track challenging anyways and ultimately would have killed the feel of our songs. Stephen nailed pretty much every drum take on the first one, and if there was a second take, we invariably used the first.

How about recording the bass?

We don’t have one, so that makes it easy! Well, not entirely true, but our instrumentation is unique in this area. Keith plays finger style on his guitars, and the bass usually comes from what he’s playing on his bottom strings. I down-tune my bottom strings on some songs as well. I also play a Fender Baritone Custom on some songs. On the recording, we took a split of the baritone, one going to my guitar amp, the other going to the studio’s Ampeg V4-B set up. The Ampeg really gave the baritone’s sound a true bass feel and it’s hard to tell the difference on the recording.

Additionally, we filled out the songs where we felt we needed that extra oomph. We used various combos of the baritone, synth pads, and viola parts to round out the low end. Listening to the record, you don’t really miss any bottom. With the big drums, layers of elements, and the additional augmentation we did, everything sounds really full.

Guitars?

I think the approach here was to just capture Keith and I’s tone as is. Getting a good guitar recording is relatively easy, but I wanted to get a good guitar recording of US. At one point before we had selected a studio, I said something like, “I just don’t want some clown to throw a 57 on my amp and call it a day!” Whatever works is what works, but I know the 57 certainly isn’t always the only option nor is it always the best. I just wanted some richer tones. On my rig they used a combination of a Sennheiser 609 and a Beyer ribbon which sounds absolutely killer. And in fact they did use a 57 in conjunction with another ribbon on Keith’s amp. The combo of the ribbons with the dynamics is such a sweet recipe for a great guitar sound.

Vocals?

For Speak Easy, we endlessly practiced the songs without vocals so that we could deliver solid instrument performances. So there were no scratch vocals. We thought we might be able to start cutting the vocals at the end of the basics sessions, but we didn’t end up having the time.

We did all the leads and harmonies in two days a couple of weeks later during the overdub sessions. We flew down a good friend of mine - Scott Hirsch of The Court & Spark - to engineer the vocals and overdubs. I am a huge admirer of The C&S’s work and his work as a both a player and engineer on their recordings. Everything he does is so rich and we thought it would work really well with what we were going for. Scott helped us take the vocals to another level. Scott used a Korby U47 for a super clean lead doubled up with an EV RE-20 for a little nasty. That really allowed us to tailor the vocal tone to fit the vibe of each song. Everything was tracked through the Neve 1073 module.

Keith went balls-out on the vocals and was able to hammer out most of his leads and harmonies in two half days. The rest of us cut our harmonies and backups through the Korby U47 and 1073 the second halves of those two days. It was really not that much time, but we took special care to not wear out our voices so we could stick to our tight schedule.

What sort of gear related mistakes you do think people make when they record?

In general, I think lots of guys often buy gear based on a budget rather than a need. It’s part of this whole gear-obsessed internet audio forum culture that’s out there these days. Dudes split hairs on what $300 pre-amp is better rather than just using and cutting their teeth on whatever gear they already have.

Dudes chase their tails trying to improve upon a mediocre setup thinking that another marginally better piece of gear is the solution to a lack of skill. These guys end up spinning their wheels endlessly without ever learning anything. You will know when you outgrow your gear. Once your skills are honed, you will know where your weak links are. I know what it’s like to have a wad of cash burning a hole in my pocket in the nearest gear store, but I also have a set of goals with my studio or live rig that is always driving any gear purchase.

If you’re really tuned in to the end result you’re after, then you’ll always know when it’s a gear issue. Dudes end up spending more money quickly on crappy or the wrong gear rather than the right, quality gear over time. If anything, I’ve learned that the payoff for waiting is far greater than the quick hit of a new piece of gear.

There are seemingly tons of mistakes made on the digital side of recording. One of the most egregious pertains to digital levels. There’s a lot of math and technical info that’s way above my head but the basic gist is this . . . record digital at much lower levels than you think. I frequent the forums at ProSoundWeb where very respected engineers and producers have freely contributed to a vast wellspring of knowledge. It is probably the best resource for audio and engineering out there. Plus you don’t get the “Which $300 pre-amp is best?” kind of stuff.

Forget about “using all the bits.” Record at levels around -12 to -20 peaks. Mix at levels around -6 to -12 peaks. It not only makes sense, but it really does make a huge difference. I was relieved that Dave applies this approach in his studio.

A related issue is loud mastering. It’s really disappointing to hear recordings of bands you like that are lifeless, unbelievably loud, and sometimes unlistenable because they’ve been brickwalled to death. This was one of my top concerns from the start of this record and I made it my bailiwick.

Mark Chalecki, our brilliant Mastering Engineer, did a magnificent job creating a dynamic master that is open and natural. It’s so easy for people to get “wowed by loud.” They miss the bigger picture and ruin what otherwise may have been a good recording.
For more on The Amateurs.
Patrick Ogle is a Gearwire feature writer - Gearwire.com


Discography

Speak Easy - 10 Song LP - May 2007

Hope for the Best, Expect the Worst - 5 Song EP - Jan 06

Photos

Bio

The Amateurs' sound is all at once familiar, yet difficult to pin down. Huge drums and twisting guitars sometimes call to mind Zeppelin-inspired jams while the violin pushes the sound closer to the realm of fiddle-driven Fairport Convention. There are hints of classic artists like Fleetwood Mac and The Who and contemporary artists like Wilco and Midlake. But The Amateurs distill their influences into something that transcends a simple rehash of what they like to listen to. There are even shades of classical music especially apparent in their haunting, sprawling instrumentals. One listen makes it clear that The Amateurs revel in beautiful harmony, textural interplay, and dynamic crescendos.

TheTripwire.com has this to say about The Amateurs first full length, "Speak Easy":
"...Amateurs have created a strong debut LP filled with ’70s a.m. radio melodies mixed with warm, organic arrangements that add depth to their sprawling, laid back material...With a debut LP this strong, I don’t expect to see them unsigned for much longer." - Chip Adams, TheTripwire.com

The LA Times says this:
"L.A. quartet Amateurs can’t quite decide what they want to be, except good. Their first album nods to classic rock, folky ’70s radio fare, modern indie titans and maybe even prog rock band or two, if they used strings. Whether you hear a lot of Wilco or a little Fleetwood Mac, Fairport Convention or the Band, it’s the emotional range that makes Amateurs’ an impressive debut." - Kevin Bronson, LA Times

Groundcontrolmag.com has produced a mini-documentary about Amateurs, their history, and the recording of their debut LP. You can view it here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxUGg4qikWE