A defining element of Thievery Corporation's sound has always been the broad stylistic and cultural musical blend as evidenced on its recordings, including 2008's "Radio Retaliation." Blending elements of dub, acid jazz, reggae, Indian classical, Middle Eastern, and Brazilian elements with a lounge aesthetic, the Washington, D.C.-based duo—comprising core members, Rob Garza and Eric Hilton—are joined by a host of supporting artists on stage and in the studio. Particularly known for their dazzling live shows, playing sold out venues and festivals worldwide, the band is as meticulous with their sound as they are with their productions—which is why monitor engineer Gavin Pearce began seeking out a new audio solution when he signed on last year. Previous experience working with DiGiCo consoles—while on staff at the acclaimed Wolf Trap venue, on tour with 3 Mo' Tenors, and mixing FOH on D5s and D1s with James Brown until his untimely death—led him to a DiGiCo SD8.â€¨â€¨
"My friend Philippe Arseneault works for DiGiCo's Canadian distributor, Gerr Audio, covering the Montreal area, and we met up while we were playing at the Metropolis concert hall last year," Pearce explained. "We talked for a while about the SD8 and he left me with a brochure, but as we only had three dates before heading back to the U.S., it wasn't practical at that point to even consider switching to anything new. When we got back, he helped me get in touch with the U.S. rep to arrange an SD8 for monitors, which I've been using ever since. Also, when we came through Metropolis this year, Philippe brought us out an additional SD8 at a moment's notice for our FOH guy, Chris Garrett, who had spec'd another digital console (that will remain nameless), but that we had issues with. Within an hour, we had unpacked our 100-meter BNC digital snake runs and patched another control surface in at FOH. I loaded my file from monitors and we were up and running pretty quickly after that. Philippe and our FOH guy Chris Garrett tweaked and turned until my monitor file was a proper FOH mix. We were really happy with how that day turned out, and needless to say, we have a new console at the top of our rider now!"â€¨â€¨
Pearce says the SD8's feature set, including tape delay, macros, the graphic EQ preset library, RME MADIFace input for multitracking, and the ability to gang EQs is mighty beneficial, but hands-down, it's the console's sonic quality that sets it apart from the competition. "Taidus [Vallandi] and Matt [Larson] [from DiGiCo's US distributor, Group One] started to explain the whole floating point versus fixed point processor to me, and although I'm still a little confused of how they do it, I can hear a difference and that is all that matters for an engineer. Years ago, when I first mixed on a DiGiCo D5, I decided that DiGiCo was to digital what another British company was to analog. The first guy that I ever heard use one was Hugh Johnson at Wolf Trap, who was Vince Gill's FOH guy for at least 20 years and I think is still with him. Hugh is a damn good mixer and I was in a position to hear lots of big name guys when I worked there. His was one of the only mixes that season that I would not have changed a single thing on. I'm always amazed at what people will settle for sound quality-wise.
"I believe that same season Mark Knopfler came through and his FOH guy—also Clapton's guy—mixed one hell of a show and I think he was also using a D5. It seems like guys who had really musical mixes, that had life and depth and soul, were using DiGiCo's. There are others that have been and still are great tools, but the sound of the DiGiCo is in a different class. It just sounds better; there's no comparison to anything else out there. Without talking trash, it's what I'd prefer to be mixing on, for size, features and sound quality. There's no other board that touches it."
Typically when Thievery Corporation tours, Pearce is managing approximately 40 inputs for instruments, percussion, horns, vocals, audience mics and reverb/delay; and around 20 outputs for miscellaneous feeds and in-ear monitors. "My job is to make the band happy, and although we do not carry any wedges at this time, we do have 11 speaker mixes on stage, plus 6-8 vocalists, that are different at every show. Bringing this console out has definitely set the bar higher now. It gives me a benchmark to start from, and with the quality of the sound going in and out of the console; it's a much better place for me to start from. The band was happier this last run than any other time in the last year. I'm just glad that the shows keep getting better. It's nice to see the comfort level high and the band being happy and playing off each other. That's one thing I want to stress: Thievery is very much a live band! Our posters are still just of the two original guys, but it has come so far, morphing into this organic being, which I think is pretty cool for a band that has firm roots in electronica." â€¨â€¨Along with Gianmaria Conti, who is the band's deck audio guy and also works in the Thievery studio, the band records and archives the show nightly using the RME MADIFace feature with a companion laptop.
Another significant boon for Pearce has been DiGiCo's unwavering technical (and emotional) support. "Philippe Arsenault at Gerr Audio, Jack Kelly, Matt Larson and Taidus Vallandi at Group One, and Tom Heinisch and the guys at SK Systems, have all been stellar! I did my first day cold with about an hour-and-a-half to go—from tipping the console to soundcheck—and started with a blank slate. Matt spent about an hour getting it all tightened up with me and then I called Taidus with a boneheaded question later in the day. I had never started from scratch before; I had always had my show saved or someone to help. But I just dove in and it all worked out. The ability to mix a show and walk away at the end with the files saved on a USB stick is a feature that I hope more engineers can experience."
Down the road, Pearce says he's looking forward to having an even smaller footprint with the new SD8-24 because square footage on a stage with Thievery Corporation can be very tight some nights. Gavin states "They'll kick off the 2010 run with dual SD8s for FOH/Mons for the upcoming five-night run in late January at the famous 9:30 Club in Washington, DC".