My Gear: Lisa Salvo [On Diamond]

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Whether they’re a gear nerd or a gear noob, the type of gear an artist uses has a huge impact on their signature sound. In this regular series called My Gear, Noisegate picks the brains of exciting and diverse artists for a behind-the-scenes scoop on their musical setup.

A band that is able to successfully blend the sensibilities of pop with the freedoms of improvisation and avant-garde is but a rare gem and one band that is just this would be Melbourne based five-piece On Diamond. With such a refreshing, defined and highly energized sound both on record and live, we were eager to find out some details. Luckily, Lisa Salvo (songwriter/vocalist) was kind enough to share some insight into her process of capturing sounds in the studio, playing live and of course chat favourite/integral pieces of gear. With the release of their self titled album in 2019, which received numerous accolades, we were also excited to hear what On Diamond has been up to recently. 

After seeing a live set last year, I noticed you had a live vocal rig which had some pretty crazy sounds going on. Can you describe your live set-up? Are there any favourite pieces of gear you use?

I use guitar effect pedals on my vocal. The vocal signal is converted to line using an Eventide mixing link and a pre-amp/fx loop. I also use Eventide Pitch Factor, which is responsible for the wilder fx I use, and their Time Factor, which I use for delay and to mimic a long reverb tail. The third pedal is the Keeley Double Tracker. It’s a beautiful subtle sounding double, and I use it to add texture/emphasise particular phrases. The Eventide pedals are super powerful, I haven’t even scratched the surface of what can be done with them. I’m looking for a distortion pedal that works well on my vocal to complete my setup, which is difficult to find. Actually, it’s quite difficult in general to find guitar pedals that work well with vocals.

Is there anything unique/special about it to you?

I generally steer away from contemporary vocal sounds that are instantly recognisable – harmonisers, octave pedals, etc. I either look for a sound that fits into the song’s thematic world – the sound of mystery, anger, the inner workings of the brain – or I look for a sound that exaggerates the mode I’m already singing in. Some of my FX are loud and obtrusive, or intricate bubbly sounds, etc. It’s very empowering to be able to separate my musicality from the limitations of my vocal tone. It allows me to also express more intense or interesting thoughts or feelings in the way an instrumentalist or a vocalist using extended techniques might be able to.

The vocal sounds on the self-titled On Diamond album are so beautifully captured and I believe you recorded them yourself? Were there any particular production techniques you used as part of your process?

I’ve been recording my own vocals since 2013 and I love doing it this way. I use a Vintech X73i preamp (a Neve copy) and have used various mics that are nice copies of the Neumann U47. I always record with reverb on so I can enjoy my sound. For OD’s album, I recorded the clean vocals and then overdubbed the FX so that our mixing engineer, Joe Talia, had the pure sounds to work with. I leave all the EQs on my preamp off for the same reason. Joe is responsible for some of the vocal sound design too. He worked a lot on the vocal intro for Laughing in the Face of the Big Door as I didn’t feel there was enough detail in what I’d done. We’ve worked together many times now and the process is always easy.

The first time I recorded my vox (for my solo album) I made a pretty amazing cubby in the garage of my then share house – it was perfect. These days I have a home studio and just borrow a friend’s baffles when I need to. My technique is to sing the part as many damn times as I need to until I feel close to 100% happy – the pitch, the energy, the phrasing all has to feel right. I let very few things go and I become consumed by the whole process. I’ve pulled many all-nighters, will wake up at 3 am with an idea and get up to work on it – just recording all the time until it’s done. After I have a few takes I’m happy with, I edit them together, and then go back and capture anything I’m not satisfied with. The end result always feels right.

My Gear Lisa Salvo

How do you go about recreating your recorded sound live on stage? Or do you approach these worlds separately?

We don’t usually have to consider this as we record our tracks live with either zero or very minimal editing. We generally will have played a song enough times at gigs for it to have formed organically, and then we clean up arrangements, etc that aren’t quite working maybe a week or two before we record. We add overdubs here and there to bring a little shimmer or something a bit extra – synth, percussion, or sometimes Scott or Hannah might add a layer of guitar after the fact, but for the most part, what you hear is what was played in the moment. There’s a lot of improvisation within the songs, especially in Scott’s guitar and effects, but also in the way we’re reacting to each other, so the studio takes can turn out very differently. There actually was one song on our album, Crying For It, which was recorded in separate pieces. We played it at gigs several times afterwards but we really couldn’t get into it live so we scrapped it.

My Gear Lisa Salvo

Is your gear integral to your sound?

I would say that yes, On Diamond’s sound is very tied to our gear. I can’t imagine us playing acoustically or without effects. Scott’s fx especially are extremely integral to our sound world and without that, I don’t think we would be the same band at all.

What do you have coming up and what have you done recently that has you excited?

We’ve just released a 4 track remix EP on hellosQuare to celebrate the 1st anniversary of our album. Myself, Maria and Jules from OD remixed a track each, and Shoeb Ahmad from hellosQuare remixed the fourth. It was a super fun lil’ side project. It’s a Bandcamp only release and all sales are going to pay the Rent.

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