Talking Shop: Balako

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Balako is a new musical project from Brazilian producers and multi-instrumentalists Diogo Strausz and Rodrigo Peirão. With their new single fresh out on Joe Goddard’s Greco-Roman imprint, FM caught up with Diogo to find out more about the production behind their funk-infused edits.

When did you start making music, and how did you first get started? 

“My dad is a musician. I used to go watch his concerts when I was very little, sometimes he would put me up on stage with him. My first piece of gear was an acoustic guitar, he taught me how to play Twist’n’Shout. He`s a huge Beatles fan.”

Tell us about your studio/set-up 

“It’s changed over the last year. I was inside of an abandoned photography studio for two years, the room was huge and had a great reverb for recording brass and strings. I produced all kinds of projects there, from live bands to electronic music. Including Balako’s EP and our first edits, where we called some musician friends to record percussion over the samples Rodrigo brought.

“Now I’ve just recently moved the studio to my living room, but soon it will be in São Paulo. I like the simplicity of the set up: Apollo as sound interface, some good mics, synthesizers, Maschine, bass, guitars etc… But usually when I want to record more complex instruments I bring the sessions to a friend’s studio.

“For mixing I use a lot of plugins but I`m not a big fan of virtual instruments, except for sampling.”

What DAW (or DAWs) do you use, and why did you choose it?

“I’m an Ableton Live user. It is very intuitive and helps me take the sounds from my head to the speakers very quickly. For me that’s what matters. I only use Logic and Pro Tools when required, find them slightly bureaucratic, also I find it weird to track in Logic and annoying to work with Midi in Pro Tools. With live I’ve recorded live bands, including doing monitoring for all the musicians, and I’ve never had big problems. Also, after the tracking stage it becomes very easy to program overdubs and get creative.”

What one piece of gear in your studio could you not do without, and why? 

“I could do without any of them. I believe it’s all about the source, good sounding instruments and most of all musicians that knows how to get good sounds from their instruments. From there any decent piece of gear can do the job.”

What's the latest addition to your studio? 

“I got the DX7, Prophet 08 and an Univox tape delay in my last gear shop. Can`t live without that e-piano and the Univox is great for bringing some tape saturation even without the delay. I like to use the delay for a slapback effect on vocals and bass. And the Prophet just works every time.”

What dream bit of gear would you love to have in you studio?

“A fairchild.”

When approaching a new track or project, where do you start?

“With Balako we always start making a very rough demo. Usually from bits of harmony that Rodrigo created on the acoustic or a theme I wrote. Then we arrange the demo all the way to the end and only after do we bring in session musicians. So they can get the vibe we want but we still let space for their creative input. It is important to have multiple perspectives. 

“But the beginning is all about having the right musical ideas and not caring at all if it sounds good or professional. The demo has to feel right. Otherwise you`re wasting your time on good/expensive sounding but heartless music.”

What are you currently working on?

“With Balako we`re making new re-edits for the next gigs. And we`re starting an EP in collaboration with Manoel Cordeiro, which is this amazing guitar player from Pará (north of Brazil). Over there they have a very strong musical Caribbean influence and Manoel is one of the best guitar players we know. He showed us a couple of his demos and we decided to go to studio together to develop those ideas.”

Balako's essential music making tips...

1: “Never forget to do backups.” 

2: “It`s all an illusion. Let`s say you have a great score for strings, if you send it via midi into your synthesizer, mellotron or any instrument that behaves like strings, you`re not gonna get a realistic orchestral sound but you`re gonna get somewhere close to touch your listener just as if you had recorded that whole ensemble. I guess PS1 scores are good examples. Good writing and understanding the function for each musical element is key…”

3: “…On the other hand interesting sounds can be very inspiring. If you`re out of musical ideas just open a session and play around making any type of sound you want. At some point, when you forget that you`re trying to make music, a great musical idea will come and you`ll have a nice sound and a musical idea to start from. The playful and casual the better.”

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