WHERE I PLAY

| North­ern Stu­dios

Exclaim! - - CONTENTS - BY BRADLEY ZORGDRAGER

CALL 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 — heav­ily 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 my kids did 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, so to speak.

“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.”

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