Many artists favour difficult recording equipment, things that are challenging to interface with, quirky gear that is constantly breaking down and in need of repair, but that somehow imparts a particular sound that can't be replicated with newer, simpler elements. When the psychedelic sludge-mongers from Saskatoon, Shooting Guns, gathered to record the soundtrack for the throwback pulp horror film WolfCop, they chose to work with obsolete software rather than hardware.
"We were almost done recording the WolfCop soundtrack when Microsoft discontinued support for Microsoft XP, so we're pretty happy that we didn't lose everything in some targeted attacked right before we finished the project," says drummer Jim Ginther. "We're recording digitally through a PC that I built a few years ago with an 8-input soundcard, some tube preamps, and (relatively) fresh install of Windows XP. The rig is still going strong, although we don't keep it hooked up to the internet to play it safe."
There's a lot more to the out-of-date, internet-less little computer humming away that allows Shooting Guns to capture their particular brand of strangeness. The band recently converted their former jam space to Pre-Rock Studios, their official new recording home as well as the base of operations for their personal label, Pre-Rock Records. Ginther states that the band "have been really surprised with how good the room sounds considering it's a converted garage lined with foot-thick padding to keep the police visits to a minimum. It used to be six inches thick but the visits kept happening. Since we always record all of our jams, it's always ready to record a full band even if it's not the prettiest setup."
That un-pretty setup is currently composed of "a simple four-mic setup using the Recorderman method [for the drums], using ribbons as overheads, Audix D6 mic on the kick, and Shure SM57 on the snare. We use SM57s on all the other guitars and depending on the song, either a 57 or kick mic on the bass." Recording the WolfCop soundtrack presented some additional challenges above and beyond the typical Shooting Guns studio experience, and so the band built this consideration into the new Pre-Rock studio space as well. "Since we had to lock everything for the soundtrack to video, we've also got a digital projector set up and use one of the full walls as a screen so we have that option for future recordings."
As well as changing the way they constructed their space, the writing and recording process for the WolfCop soundtrack was a journey outside of the comfort zone for Shooting Guns, whose instrumental, doomy sludge tends to be more exploratory and fantastical rather than action-based. However, when J. Joly, the exec producer and Cinecoup CEO reached out to the band to ask if they would create the soundtrack for company's first feature film, a retro, tongue-in-cheek werewolf gorefest, the band leapt at the chance.
"They wanted something that would be weird and stand alone as its own album," explains Ginther. "While we'd never done anything like this before, we said whatever we had to say and did whatever it took to get it done because opportunities like these don't come along that often in Saskatchewan. It wasn't like they asked us to whip up a couple of tracks to be inserted where the editors picked; we locked the entire film to video, including fight sequences, which was a pretty steep learning curve. We brought long-time friend and former bandmate, Toby Bond, to help with underscore throughout the movie and he deserves as much credit as the band (if not more) for how it sounds, not to mention the fact that it was even finished in the first place. Cinecoup gave us complete creative control with the only stipulation that what we made sounds like it was written for the movie rather than just songs pasted over top of the action. We've always written albums where we take extended jams and sculpt them down to usable songs so we had to approach this in the exact opposite way. They had vision of the soundtrack being a standalone album from the very start so we had to also take that into account when writing for the movie."
Ginther admits some trepidation about how different the record sounds from their usual output. "I'm not expecting many people to like it!" he jokes. "That said, it's one of the few times where people that may not necessarily like instrumental music may want to check it out, since it kind of tells a story. I know I've said in the past that we're just trying to make music to crush beers to and think that still holds here. I never know what to think of the music we make since it's such a niche thing but hopefully it fits what's going on the screen. Either way, being a die-hard Saskatchewan booster, I'm happy that a movie with such a strange concept was actually made here and if we can help make it a little weirder, mission accomplished!"
Shooting Guns have attracted a great deal of attention in the last few years — most recently due to the WolfCop soundtrack, and also because both of their last records, 2012's Born to Deal in Magic: 1952-1976 and 2013's Brotherhood of the Ram have earned places on the Polaris Music Prize long list — but the band have been working tirelessly to promote the DIY heavy music scene in Saskatchewan for years. Jim Ginther and [former Shooting Guns guitarist] Steve Reed founded Teargas Recording Tree in 2002, a networking collective to support the local scene.
"We were frustrated by all these really cool bands forming, playing some great shows, then disbanding (or moving away) with nothing recorded," explains Ginther. "Going DIY all the way, I taught myself web design, built a site, and started promoting bands under the collective umbrella while Steve set up a studio" — a space the band lovingly called the Robot Homestead — "and we learned how to record through years of trial and error. Steve easily recorded 20 local albums over the next few years. We put together shows, set up a merch store (and didn't take a cut), put out a three-disc compilation in 2003 (with fun fur packaging), and generally did what we could to get the word out there that some weird stuff was going on here." The Teargas Recording Tree website now stands as an archive for the aggressive music scene in Saskatoon, preserving a lot of material and music that otherwise would have been entirely lost.
Now that Pre-Rock Studios is constructed and their label is up and running, Shooting Guns are again prepared to record, promote and release the loud, strange music being created in the Canadian prairies. "We've also got a split twelve-inch with Hawkeyes planned for the fall," says Ginther, and reveals that Shooting Guns "recorded enough material during those WolfCop sessions that didn't go into the movie that we've pretty much got another full length LP almost ready to go. We're going to record a bunch of new tracks over the summer and hopefully release it later this year. Aside from that, we're always looking for good projects to collaborate on so we're not ruling anything out as we go forward."