From The Desk Of The Reigning Sound’s Greg Cartwright: One-Inch Tape

With iconic garage-punk trio the Oblivians, with the Parting Gifts (his collaboration with the Ettes’ Coco Hames and Jem Cohen), with a legion of other one-offs and defunct projects, and, for the past 13 years with driving rock ‘n’ soul revue the Reigning Sound, Greg Cartwright has chased various traces of American rock and pop to arrive at something singularly his. Still, with his legacy perfectly well cemented among garage-rock aficionados and discerning vinyl-heads, Cartwright is still chasing the unexpected. The Reigning Sound’s latest album, Shattered, is the band’s sixth proper full-length, a follow-up to 2009’s Love And Curses, and its debut for Merge. Cartwright will be guest editing all week. Read our brand new feature on him.


Cartwright: The last three albums I’ve made were all recorded on one-inch-tape eight-track machines. The first of these three was also my first experience with the format. Previously, I mainly recorded with 24-track two-inch-tape machines. That’s a lot of tracks for one song. Still, somehow I always managed to use all 24 tracks. Once you get the basic tracks (i.e. guitar, guitar, keys, drums and vocals), well, you’ve chewed up five tracks. When you start adding overdubs like tambourine, piano, strings, horns or hand-claps, things start to add up rather quickly. The next thing you know you’re wishing you had just one more open track to record that all important triangle part you just cooked up. So obviously, limiting myself to eight tracks was a little scary. The sound you get from one-inch tape is totally worth the anxiety, though. What it does for bass and drums really can’t be adequately described. Let’s just say it makes it easy to visualize that the instruments are right there in the room with you when you hear the playback. It forces you to make decisions on the front end rather than making them later, when you’re mixing, and that’s a huge plus. If you miscalculate the number of tracks you need or suddenly realize you need a whole string section you hadn’t accounted for, you can always transfer the process to digital and regain the freedom of infinite tracking. That said, I’ve really come to like limiting myself and narrowing my options. It prevents me from going overboard with overdub ideas. Another benefit is that making one decision now can save you 10 steps down the line. Let’s say you’re doing the whole album in the digital world and have the luxury of recording 10 different guitar solos. At some point, you will be forced to choose or comp the best parts, and that can be it’s own particular nightmare. It’s much better for me to realize the limitation of eight tracks and figure out exactly what the solo should do and just do it once. And do it right. All that said, I’ve heard there are 16 track one-inch tape machines out there …