Rituals of Mine is the experimental R&B project of Terra Lopez which features production from long-time collaborators Wes Jones and Dev the Goon. Their music is defined by lush vocal harmonies and cutting edge sound design that requires a hybrid approach to digital and analog techniques to accomplish. We talked with Terra and Wes about their cross-country collaboration process, production techniques, and their go to signal flow when they’re working at Pulp.
What does your collaboration look like given that you’re on different sides of the country? How do you write your songs given the great distance between you two?
Terra: Wes and I have worked remotely together for almost a decade now (2023 will mark 10 years!) so luckily we have a lot of experience working long distance. We’ve really been able to dial in pre-production in our separate home studios (giving feedback via texts, emails or Zoom sessions) and then really honing in when we are together in the studio. We work like that for months - I’ll focus more on the vocal production & writing, Wes on the track production and arrangement and then we go back and forth with edits, additional things we hear and/or think we should change or revise. We are usually on the same page for the most part with necessary changes/ideas so it’s pretty seamless.
The real magic though is when we are in the same room together. We feed off one another and are able to really get tracks to the finish line due to the pre-production process we have dialed in.
Wes: We had a brief moment in time when we both lived in L.A. and would get up weekly in Terra’s studio in Highland Park. I was clear on the other side of the city though so it really wasn’t very easy to get together much more often than that. Looking back on that period, we probably did get more accomplished then than in any other time in our history together, but going from that to being back on opposite coasts wasn’t too much of a sting because that’s what we had done before that. When we get back together in person we really don’t miss a beat because we stay in close contact.
As far as writing goes, most of the time I start a track and send her way, then she writes to it. I might offer input on lyrics or delivery and we’ll switch something up then, same on the track side, but most of the time if we both are feeling it we don’t sweat changes on any given song until we get closer to our next studio date together. We’ll get the songs close, but for final changes a lot of times we’ll keep ideas documented on paper and keep rolling with new ideas.
How did you prepare for your sessions at the studio? What goals are you setting before you arrive?
Terra: I’m a very organized person so I like to have our days and game plan mapped out before I even step on the flight haha. One of us will usually start a Google doc, where we map out songs that we want to tackle and the missing elements for each (whether that’s on the writing or production side of things.) I then like to map out which songs we’ll work on first. I am a big visualizer so I map out the smallest of details and how the recording session days will flow. On the songwriting side of things, I’ll write down all of the lyrics and break down the song by section. I like to map out what we need to track - main vocals, doubles, harmonies, additional textures, etc. I also like to game plan what mics we might use for each song. Having only so much time with your producer in the same room makes you have to be hyper focused on the work and so it helps having everything laid out and planned well before you hit the studio.
That being said, once we knock out what we intended to do - that gives us the rest of the time to be creative. On this last session, we only planned to record 5 songs but ended up writing and recording 9! We had the space and time to collaborate in real time with one another and our other producer (Devin Aaron) and vibe off one another - which is my favorite part.
Wes: Terra likes to flesh out what the vocal parts will be early on- it’s almost become part of her process for the very first round of writing. She’ll have all of those parts recorded in demo form, some of which make their way into our final productions. My prep involves making sure I can open up all of the production sessions with no issues so that everything is accessible and any kind of track change can be made. By the time we get into the studio, we know what we’re doing broken down by the day and really by the hour.
You had two mobile rigs in the studio operating in tandem with our API console and Pro Tools. Could you describe your hybrid approach to the studio?
Terra: I’ll let Wes elaborate more on this but we brought in a longtime friend/producer we’ve worked with for years - Devin Aaron and the idea was just to create as much as possible within the short amount of time that we had at Pulp. Dev is a genius when it comes to production and writing so he’s constantly coming up with ideas. A way to maximize this was to have Wes and I track vocals for the songs and have Devin write new ideas and/or add production ideas for the tracks we had simultaneously on his own rig. Wes also had his own workflow going with his rig so that way he could track any ideas that might come to him while we track vocals. It’s just constant working haha!
Wes: My rig we brought in is my main rig at home, which is an absurdly plugin-rich Mac Mini, SSL2+, UAD Satellite, a powered USB hub running Glyph Atom Drives, and a portable USB-C monitor. I like to think of this combo as being pretty close to a laptop but with way more connectivity and still technically a desktop setup. I also have become quite dependent on my Output Frontiers these days so those also come along. My setup is there primarily to dive back into existing production sessions. Most of the time we just have a 2-track and a demo acapella ref when vocal tracking, but I love the mental space of being able to mute stuff, turn up elements, break down the vocal refs, etc to make sure vocal tracking is as smooth as can be. Devin sets up next to me with his laptop and headphones and that way we can collaborate quickly when inspiration strikes and there’s always a machine available just for creating new ideas.
The OP-6 seems to be a secret weapon for you production wise. How do you utilize it in your productions?
Wes: My dad was a keyboard player when I was a kid. He played in cover bands and had some super sick keyboards, one of which was a Korg I remember distinctly as having a “meow” patch I was very enamored with when I was really little. Over the years he got rid of all of his synths except the DX7. I inherited it for a few years until he eventually was like “wait that’s my last synth, I’m gonna need that back” but I grew to really love it despite the menu-diving terribleness. When I saw Korg basically made a future version of it I had to have it. All the operators and their levels are on knobs and sliders so it’s not nearly the pain-inducing experience of the DX7, and there’s all kinds of waveforms and modulation routing capabilities. I generally think synths are pretty annoying- kind of like how Guy from Fugazi sang “I realize that I hate the sound of guitars”- so when I come across a synth that doesn’t sound like an unwanted, attention-grabbing nuisance I tend to champion its existence. So far on this album, we’re using it primarily for big, lush chords and it hasn’t disappointed.
Terra’s vocals have always been front and center for Rituals of Mine. What was your signal flow during your last session? Were there certain microphones you leaned in on during your time with us?
Terra: Having worked together for so long really enables us to know what works or doesn’t work pretty quickly, especially when it comes to my voice. Whether that’s with the type of compressor, the mic, the pre-amp - we are able to dial it in pretty quickly so that way we can get to work. The M149 really was IT for us during these sessions. I think we may have used that for everything with the exception of one song, when we turned to the U47 for a bigger, more open room sound. The BG 2 compressor is a go-to for us as well at Pulp. I’ve known Bryce Gonzales for years (we are both from Sacramento) and it’s awesome to see his gear in the studio. It pairs really nicely with my voice.
Wes: Yeah the M149/Neve Pre/Retro 176 Tube Limiter really just did it for our last two visits. We had a second chain going for some more experimental vocal parts as well- U47/Neve Pre/Retro Sta-Level. Pulp has a seriously ridiculous mic collection that rivals any studio I’ve ever been in. I was so stoked to see the Crowley and Tripp Naked Eye ribbon mic, which I hadn’t seen since I used it daily 12 years ago in Brooklyn. It was really amazing to put that one up on a guitar cab again.
You had a huge burst of productivity with us in your last visit. What can you attribute that to? What surprised you during your last session?
Terra: Pulp Arts! We have such a great time at Pulp always and it’s due to a few factors: the crew there has their workflow dialed in, the gear and mics are set up before we arrive and the space has such great energy. The environment truly helps boost creativity and productivity. And also, all of our game planning and pre-production that we do well before we step inside. We have been able to really dial in our collaboration dynamic and Devin just fits perfectly within that so when we finally get together in a room - it just flows.
Having Danny as our engineer truly helped in such a massive way because we were able to really hone in on creating and didn’t have to worry about troubleshooting gear or setting up the sessions. In the past, we’ve had to spend a lot of time on those important but time consuming tasks so being able to just focus solely on creating was a dream. Also, Danny gave critical input and feedback and I think we were all open to that because we had worked together in the past and trusted one another. It’s always refreshing to work with an engineer that is genuine and that you can tell is into what you’re making. I’ve been in studios with indifferent engineers and it’s not fun to be around. I’ve also been in studio spaces where engineers question my input because I’m a woman and Danny was the opposite of that. I felt heard and seen, which means the world to me. Overall, it was just really organic, natural and such a supportive space.
Wes: I would echo everything Terra said here. Walking into a room and everything is already set up with signals active and not only the engineer but people who run the studio are ready to help you unload and set up your gear… I mean this when I say it, it’s true professionalism. No wasted time. But it’s also the furthest from just running through the motions- it’s real love for people coming through the space to create. We come in prepared and we’re matched by equally prepared people in a great environment. It might have been a little surprising that we rolled through tracking so quickly and efficiently, but really when you factor the collective preparation it makes sense.
Wes has recently started mixing for Atmos. How do you approach moving a stereo mix from the studio for translation to surround?
Wes: Atmos is an extremely exciting frontier and I’ve really dove in head first this year, learning all I can and completing a 7.1.4 playback system in my studio. With Rituals of Mine, we’re starting to consider what can be done with Atmos while still in the process of making our songs, but we’re not necessarily allowing the format to overly influence what we write or anything. We did track one song with room vocals with the intention of spreading those out in height channels for the Atmos mix- I mean, come on, it’s just too cool haha- but our workflow and approach is still the same. The real difference is now once we get to the mix stage we’ll also be doing everything in Atmos. So far in my workflow for a couple of our songs, it’s made sense to do the stereo mix, then approach the Atmos mix as a 3D version of the stereo mix with some possible embellishments to the stereo mix. Once we’re ready to master the stereo mixes, we’ll use the same mastering chain adjusted slightly across the various channels for our Atmos masters. Doing it all in-house for this album is a change, but will help us ensure consistency between the two playback formats.
My most exciting moment for any of these songs will be once everything is comped, edited, and mixed in stereo and I can finally throw all of the sounds we’ve worked so hard to create all over the room. I’ll basically just be in the sonic orb surrounding my couch for the rest of the year.
What’s next for Rituals of Mine in 2022 and beyond?
Terra: Right now we’re going to focus on getting these songs mixed and mastered and planning for a 2023 release!
Wes: I’ll be deep in the details for the next few months trying to get this album all wrapped up by late fall or so. After that is Terra’s turn to go into overdrive planning and executing visuals, aesthetics, branding, coordinating, and her own PR- all of the stuff that seems to be taken for granted but takes artists months and months to pull off. I’ll be trying not to listen to the album too much during that time so it still feels new once it comes out.