Music School: Where I Play Northern Studio
Published Sep 06, 2016Call it a Montreal Assault — the technical deathcore that Despised Icon have been blasting from their hometown since 2002. The band — and the regional sound they've helped turn into a signature — come from the Quebec metropolis, but the finished product actually emerges from a small town six-and-a-half hours northwest: Trécesson, in the Abitibi Regional County Municipality. It's there that former guitarist-turned-producer Yannick St-Amand built his Northern Studio about a decade ago.
Having departed the band to focus on his growing family, St-Amand christened the new recording space with Despised Icon's 2007 LP, The Ills of Modern Man. It was a first for Northern Studio, but by no means for St-Amand, who sat behind the boards for Neuraxis's 2001 LP, A Passage Into Forlorn; for more than a decade, he became the de facto producer for the Quebec metal scene.
Turning the family garage into a studio gave him his own space, but he can't record bands like he used to. "I have a lot of kids, so the production in the studio — I put the pedal [foot] down because it was so hard to have six dudes in my house with all the kids. It was rough."
Lately, he does a lot of mixing and mastering, which can be much more easily accomplished remotely thanks to the internet, allowing his family a more normal life most of the time.
"When I track a band like Obey the Brave or Ion Dissonance, all the boys just live in my house," St-Amand explains. "We're all together with the family, and we make a big bunch of spaghetti, and everybody's eating the same shit. It's kind of a big community with the band and the family."
Frequency isn't the only thing that's changed for the producer, who now records and plays guitar in a rock band called Slingshot Brothers and applies a more organic approach (no samples, no re-amping) to his productions. He brought that school of thought to Despised Icon's new album Beast, their first since getting back together after a break between 2010 and 2014. In stark contrast to the production approach that defined the band pre-hiatus — super-triggered drums, everything in-your-face and very loud mastering — Beast better represents what Despised Icon do live, with one track per vocalist, as opposed to a whole bunch of layering.
"I just took my more rock vision, the more organic vision, to an extreme band like Despised Icon," St-Amand explains. "It was a hard goal to reach, but I think we did it, and I'm very, very proud of it."
St-Amand avoids dependence on any one item to shape sounds, though he is thankful for his "very, very, very" good speakers and control room, which he put a lot of money into when designing the space.
"My vision of production is more what we did with the last Despised Icon — I want to find a sound for the band; I don't want to encode my sound to a band. It's my job to capture a vibe and a character of the band. I think it's the way to do it."
He's been capturing and shaping Despised Icon's sound since the beginning, and hopes to write some guitar riffs for them again in the future. He may not play in the band anymore, but he is still crucial, using microphones and mixing boards as his instruments instead.
Besides, quitting the band was never about not wanting to be in Despised Icon, whom he calls his "second family" — he simply needed to focus on his first family. The final straw came after what ended up being his final tour with the band, a six-week marathon with Hatebreed.
"When I come back home, my kids just don't want to hug me because they don't know me — 'Who are you?' At this time, I knew it was the end, because I don't want to come back home and [have] my kids not recognize me."
Still, his time in the band was crucial to his life, providing the knife that helps him earn his bread and butter.
"Certainly, Despised was my school [for] how to produce extreme bands. I learned with those guys. I learned how to set up a 5150 to sound like this, and how to tune a snare drum to sound like that. Despised was my school, my learning curve, my everything.
"Despised was always my band; my heart is always there."