Nashville musician Arun Bali is best known as the guitarist for New Jersey rock band Saves the Day. But in recent years he’s added producer and engineer to his resume. In addition to helming 9, his band’s latest release, he’s worked with artists that include Better Off, Bayside and William Ryan Key, formerly of Yellowcard. 9 is a nine-track partially-autobiographical semi-rock opera,—the band’s ninth release, incidentally—which dropped last year via Equal Vision Records.
Bali has always been interested in recording and taught himself to engineer, first by way of online instructional videos and then alongside friends and acquaintances who were already established engineers. As his skills sharpened, he began to take on more projects. He started with composition for commercials and graduated, ultimately, to production for bands. His first formal project was label-mate Better Off’s 2015 record Milk.
To produce or engineer for someone else’s band is one matter. To do the same for your own, however, is another. “As a producer, you have to wear many hats,” Bali observes. “Trying to manage everything was the biggest challenge. I felt obligated to be there at all times. When we worked with other engineers, I could get away for a minute while someone else was tracking. But it’s worth it. We were going for something more raw, sonically, which we achieved.
“Nashville taught me something cool about production,” he continues. “I feel like people aren’t as neurotic [here]. They trust in their abilities to get it done. I want to make a decision—to be impulsive—and go with something rather than fix it later. A lot of what we did on 9 was to get it right at the source. Everything was very deliberate from the beginning. The drums, for example, were intentional because of the way we tuned them.”
Saves the Day’s 9 dropped on October 26. The vinyl issue, however, was delivered with one vexing necessity: the ninth song entitled, “29,” was 21 minutes long. Consequently, the first eight tracks had to be squeezed onto side one while “29” claimed the entirety of side two. “I did that all in one session,” Bali recalls. “I mixed each section individually. The challenge was to make everything flow from one part into the next, but also to give each its own character. We wanted to make it feel like a journey. It’s like a record within a record; like an EP stuck on the end.”
Among Bali’s favorite studio gear is Coil Audio’s microphone preamps. “Their whole thing is 1950s/1960s circuits,” he explains. “No transistors, real clean, simple design. The first time I plugged into it, the things I miss about tape came back—the way it compresses naturally with the tubes. I did 9 with eight channels of them.” He’s also partial to Stager Microphones. “Their ribbon mics are unreal,” he asserts. “They can take serious SPL [sound pressure level]. If I tear a ribbon, I must have done something absurd.”
Together with his friend Dave Elkins of Norfolk, VA band Mae, Bali runs Schematic Studios near Nashville. Many of the records on which he works are mixed in his room.
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