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Recorded in Rav’s Basement: an interview with a student musician

By Thomas Johnson, January 24 2018 —

Robbie Voltaire, frontman of Calgary power-metal quintet Ravenous, exhales a long sigh.

“Yeah… I’m permanently in my bedroom.”

If any theme unifies Calgary’s eclectic collection of musicians, then it has to be their proud do-it-yourself spirit. The metal scene, in particular, relishes the opportunity to get their hands dirty and wear grit like a badge of honour.

A full-time student with a part-time job, Robbie Voltaire — known artistically as Rav — is a manifestation of that DIY spirit. Voltaire’s bedroom, his sometimes home part-time prison, doubles as a handmade studio, where he, Ravenous guitarists Jake Wright and Skyler Mills, bassist Chris Valax and drummer Dave Crnkovic have been recording their upcoming album, Eat The Fallen, for the better part of a year.

“When it comes to dropping 10-grand on school each year, you don’t really have much of a choice on spending money going to big studios. I’ve spent most of the last year teaching myself about audio engineering, so that I could hopefully do a bunch of the work and cut down on the costs of producing the album,” says Voltaire. “As a result, the time commitment has been stupid. I’ll spend eight hours in front of my computer, four recording and four writing an essay. It’s been really interesting, but awesome.”

The members of Ravenous occupy a common, imperative role for any hub — the working class musician. In this case, you can add “student” to the list of qualifiers. A semester away from his U of C anthropology degree, he and members of Ravenous are balancing passion and prerequisites, blistering solos and the bills that precede them.

The economics of recording an album doesn’t slot so neatly into many financial plans, least of all ones that require thousands a year on books, student and registration fees, rent and a bunch of other dumb stuff like food and heat and roofs and shit. The struggle is real and, by Rav’s estimate, has made for a better album.

“If we were a famous band, and our only job was to live in a cabin and record an album, it wouldn’t even be the same album. The sense of the DIY, and the struggle of working the nine-to-five, then you go to your friends room to record your guitar part, then you go home because you still haven’t eaten and the girlfriend’s kinda pissed because she hasn’t seen you all day,” Voltaire says. “All those real life things play into an album, and it moves what that brings to the table.”

“All those things” also usually lead to some MacGyvering. Resourcefulness and inventiveness come hand-in-hand, and they’re about as useful as an amp to any blue collar band. Out of necessity, Voltaire practiced the ancient art of bedroom recording. Trying to capture lightning in a bottle in the approximation of a bedroom, the room was stripped of everything, save the desk, computer, drums and a vocal chamber the band made from PVC piping and blankets. He effectively became a live-in producer on top of lead vocalist.

“If it was professional, we would pay money to go in the studio. Now my job is all this shit that I never had to be concerned about,” Voltaire says. “The amount of time invested has been fucking insane. But I have more time than money available. It made more sense to do it this way.”

Despite time being the biggest demand of recording so (literally) close to home, it’s in the shortest supply. While Rav is still a working student, the other four members work full-time. The routine of work/record/study leaves a non-existent space in between. Magic must be made with whatever is at your disposal. The video to their single, “Conquering the Sun,” was edited from footage “shot on [Robbie’s] shitty cellphone” and the credits in the description read:

Recorded by: Ravenous @ Ravioli Records
[There’s no website, it’s Rav’s basement]

“That music video came out and everyone said it sounded amazing, because we captured the audio quality really well, then we sent it off to get mixed and mastered, and that’s where the magic happened,” Rav says. “In the end, you can catch any recording of anything and it sounds like shit until it’s treated. You need to make the sounds come to life.”

And it sounds alive — roaringly so. Rav says that the editing called for 26 layers of his own vocals on top of each other, mimicking the battle cry of a viking war party or the cheering of 3000 heavy metal cruise-goers.

“We got really lucky with the combination we have with my knowledge base and the guy we have doing the mixing and mastering. There’s a lot of bands that try to do the DIY stuff and it comes out sounding terrible,” says Rav. “There’s nothing you can do about that, so we’re in a good position where we kinda got lucky.”

After nine months of gestation, Eat The Fallen is slated for a late-April release. You can  pre-order it on Ravenous’ Indigogo page. The payoff, Voltaire knows, will be well worth the grind.

“This is basically our child. There’s a ton of money and emotion and greying going into this. But then you hold that CD-child in your hands and it’s fucking awesome. You can’t wait to show it to everybody,” he says, before he starts laughing.

“Imagine if every time someone had a baby, they went around the country and showed it off in bars. It’s an awesome feeling!”

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