Three O'Clock Train Play Within Their Limits on "Send Down Your Love"

Mack MacKenzie went from using 24 mics on a drum kit to two — here's how he pulled it off

BY Exclaim! StaffPublished Nov 24, 2021

When Montreal singer-songwriter Mack MacKenzie recorded with Bob Rock for Three O'Clock Train's 2018 EP Cuatro de Los Ángeles, the veteran producer used 24 mics to capture the drums. When MacKenzie was challenged by YSL Pro to record a new Three O'Clock Train single with a limited palette of gear, he could only use two. 

"It was a good challenge," says MacKenzie of the restriction.

"Send Down Your Love" is an upbeat folk-rock number, as electric and acoustic guitars join in harmony, elevated by MacKenzie's powerful vocals and relevant lyrics about asking for support and connection during difficult times, pleading, "I rush to my room and I bust up my head / Never to be so alone / Heavens above, send down your love."

According to MacKenzie, the song's pandemic-era relevance is no coincidence. He says, "I had some parts of the song kicking around and then tweaked it to fit the loneliness felt during the isolation people experienced during the pandemic. An unanswered prayer to some."

Though the song was borne from loneliness, MacKenzie was joined by a crack team of collaborators to bring it to life. MacKenzie handled vocal duties, recorded at Martha Wainwright's URSA Café with a Royer R-10 mic, while the acoustic and electric guitar duties were shared by MacKenzie and Rod Shearer, with everything recorded to a Universal Audio Apollo x4 audio interface. Says MacKenzie, "At my home studio, Rod and I played the acoustic guitars together using one Royer between us. Fun. Raw. I used Nashville strings on my Epiphone John Lennon EJ-160e, and Rod used my MacKenzie & Marr Tom Rush Naked Lady. Although both guitars are equipped with electronics, we chose to only use one Royer and play it live!" 

Adds MacKenzie, "Electric guitars were all recorded at URSA through my VOX AC30, hand-wired with Blue speakers, using no pedals. I played my main guitar, a five-string Fender Telecaster, for the rhythm, and Rod crushed it with his Gibson Les Paul. I added my Fender Stratocaster XII for the little jangling parts. All recorded using one Royer on the VOX AC30."

To round things out, Shearer handled bass duties, Colin Burnett recorded drums at URSA Café with the same two Royer R-10 mics, Chris Velan contributed background vocals, and the song was mixed by Howard Bilerman, best known for his work with Arcade Fire and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, who — as MacKenzie puts it — "pulled the rabbit out of the hat."

Such a sentiment would likely make Bilerman blush. He tells Exclaim!, "It was such an honour to work on a song of Mack's. I have been a fan of his music since 18-year-old me combed every record store in Montreal looking for a copy of [Three O'Clock Train's] then-out-of-print Wig Wam Beach record. I swear, I think I bought the last copy in existence at the time!"

On "Send Down Your Love," Bilerman says, "These tracks sounded amazing. They needed very little work in the mix, those Apollo preamps are really transparent. I think Royer mics on drums is something I'll be trying with drum setups moving forward, those were a nice surprise. This song was mixed 100 percent 'in the box,' which really pushed me outside of my comfort zone of relying on some of our studio's outboard gear. Hilariously, now I want the hardware versions of all the plug-ins I used. In particular, the UAD Maag EQ4 sounded really great on the bass. Every vocal went through the 1176 REV A, and then got a little ambience from the Capitol Chambers. I want the actual Capitol Chambers, but that's another story."

The track was then mastered, again "in the box", using only UAD plug-ins, by David Roman of 4130 Mastering.

MacKenzie certainly made the most of the restrictions, but he's looking forward to embracing a slightly more expansive palette as he and Bilerman prepare to record a forthcoming Three O'Clock Train record in the winter, which may include a re-recorded version of "Send Down Your Love."

But would MacKenzie ever record drums again with only two mics? He concedes, "Maybe three."

Watch MacKenzie jam out to "Send Down Your Love" in the music video below.

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