With products like Apple’s Garageband and ProTools becoming staples on the computers of a new generation of young musicians, recording albums at home could very easily become the new norm for indie bands. But it hasn’t always been that way, and today we’re celebrating some past releases that embrace the home-recording process
In many cases, these home recordings weren’t even meant to see the light of day, as evidenced by classics like Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska or Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago. In both cases, the songwriters intended to rerecord the albums, but that original feeling was lost in bigger production. Here are 10 great albums that carry that DIY spirit that we felt deserved some recognition.
1. Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska
Sparse, beautiful and frightening at the same time, Nebraska sees the Boss with some of his darkest subjects. Springsteen recorded the album on a years-old Tascam Portastudio with two Shure sm-57 microphones. Here’s what Toby Scott, Springsteen’s long-time recording and mix engineer had to say about the recording: “(Springsteen) enlisted his guitar roadie, Mike Batlan, telling him ‘go find me a little tape machine – nothing too sophisticated, just something I can do overdubs on.’ So Mike walks into a local music store and the clerk sells him a Teac (Tascam) 144, which had been out for a year or two. It was a simple, straight-ahead machine – perfect for what Bruce wanted to do.”
2. The Rolling Stones – Exile on Main St.
Recorded in the south of France in guitarist Keith Richards’ rented house, the Rolling Stones recorded what was widely seen as their masterpiece. A Guardian article on the album said the recording process was guided by Richards’ irregular working hours, which was also unsurprisingly offset by women, drugs and alcohol. But the tunes (and the sounds on the album) are inarguably great.
3. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
Justin Vernon’s “cabin myth” has been contorted in different ways across the Internet, so much so that rolling his eyes has to be a knee-jerk response when it comes up in interviews now. “I just pictured you with a metal mug of something warm and a blanket around you and there’s nothing, no power…” Fallon said in an interview with Vernon. “That’s just dad’s place,” Vernon replied. “The story has sort of manifested into something different; it’s a little simpler than that.” Sure, Vernon’s got a great story from his now-famous cabin, but the real value is in the great, lo-fi tunes that make up Emma.
4. Bob Dylan and the Band – Basement Tapes
Although it’s a common misconception that The Band’s Music from Big Pink was recorded from the group’s home, these lively, warm recordings give plenty of insight to the groups creative process.
5. Guided by Voices – Bee Thousand
Guided by Voices have always been known for their creative, DIY recording ventures, but Bee Thousand sees the band’s fidelity at its lowest. From guitars cutting in and out of the mix on “Hardcore UFO’s” to the jangly, out-of-tune guitar on “Queen of Cans & Jars,” Bee Thousand takes trashy, cheap recording and embraces it like a sixth member.
6. Iron and Wine – The Creek Drank the Cradle
It was Sam Beam’s sparse collection of four-track recordings that caught the ears of Sub Pop reps in 2002 and led him to indie superstardom. Home-recorded, room-tainted goodness shines through on tracks like “Faded From the Winter” and “The Rooster Moans.”
7. Daniel Johnston – Yip/Jump Music
Daniel Johnston might have set the stage for lo-fi, sloppy home recordings in 1983 with his self-released collection Yip/Jump Music. The now-classic collection was recorded in Johnston’s brother’s garage and features the songwriter’s high-pitch wail over chord organ and flat-toned, sloppy guitars.
8. Radiohead – OK Computer
While it wasn’t exactly a cheaply produced, low-budget affair, Radiohead’s OK Computer was recorded in a home—a really, really big home. The band gathered in St. Catherine’s Court, a “Tudor manor house” in Bath, England with long-time producer Nigel Godrich, who took a similar approach with In Rainbows.
9. Mountain Goats – Full Force Galesburg
The Mountain Goats’ lo-fi, under-produced recordings were as much a part of the band’s early identity as frontman John Darnielle’s songwriting. Full Force Galesburg was infamously recorded on a Panasonic RX-FT500 boombox and drew in legions of devoted followers. UPDATE: John Darnielle writes in: “Thanks for this! In the interest of transparency, though, I think there are 6 or 7 studio songs on that record.”
10. Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral
How do you make an already dark album even darker? You could start by recording it in the same location that Sharon Tate was murdered by Charles Manson’s “family”—at least that’s what Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor did. And there’s evidence of home recording all over the album, from Reznor’s trashy bathroom drum sound on “March of the Pigs” to the gnarly guitar noises on “Ruiner.”