Inside the studio

Amen Dunes takeover: “mixing shit digital sounds with analogue gear”
Music | 16 May 2024
This article is part of Takeovers

This week marks the release of Amen Dunes’ much-anticipated new record, Death Jokes. Marking the occasion, we’ve invited the US musician to take over HERO online, curating a series of exclusive content that offers a unique insight into his sonic world.

Amen Dunes’ basement set-up is as much an expression of his creativity as the music that emanates from the space: the musical equivalent of a mad scientist. Keyboards on keyboards, drum machines, monitors, instruments and amps. Wires everywhere. From this hub, the US musician tunes into his vision, mixing, stitching, splicing, cutting, blending, creating. On Death Jokes, this process evolved into the most eclectic version of itself: sounds from across the spectrum feed into each other to build amorphous soundscape collages. Tech heads unite, here, in his own words, Amen Dunes – aka Damon McMahon – takes us on a journey through his equipment, sounds and techniques…

Mixing Shit Digital Sounds With Analogue Gear

Part of what gives the record its sound is the mix of richer analogue sounds with very cheap digital sounds. On Exodus for example, the sounds are a combo of analogue sounds: vocals on my U67 (all album’s vocals were done at home on my U67), acoustic drums recorded at Dreamland in Woodstock, a Casio part recorded by Money Mark from the Beastie Boys at East West in LA (where Sinatra recorded etc), a Linn Drum (Peter Gabriel’s actually, since Dreamland was owned by his drummer), Kawai R100, the Roland 909, a mandocello, and then a stereo file of a Youtube clip. Boys‘ drums are stock Ableton drum sounds, sirens and bass pulled from internet samples, but then Christoffer had someone from the Swedish Philharmonic record cello for the chorus. Then Craig Silvey (who mixed Portishead’s Third, for example, and uses exclusively analogue outboard gear) mixed the songs. All of the songs, as a result, have this combination of rich/analogue, and modern/digital.

I Did 99% By Myself At Home And Didn’t Need An Engineer To Tell Me I Was Doing It Wrong, I.E. Don’t Listen To Anyone When You’re Making Music, Except Yourself

I spent the first year, even two, trying to find a producer, or engineer, to save me, or teach me how to properly programme my drums, etc, but it kept not working. Basically they almost all didn’t understand in one way or another.  That’s one reason why the few collaborators that did make it on the record, like Panoram, Craig Weinrib (drums), Christoffer (Fever Ray), were so special. They were able to have enough of an open mind to see the big picture, and not just get confused by the music not being enough like Taylor Swift or something, which surprisingly, is the mentality most people in the music world have these days, even those who still pretend to be progressive or counter-cultural.


Bought one at the end of 2019 in Highland Park, definitely at the centre of this album’s sound. Kick and hh and snare sounds better than anything. The clock was totally off though, so had lots of floating tempos which added to the album’s sound.


I spent years working with a person I consider the greatest drummer alive, Parker Kindred. He’s relatively unknown, but he worked with Jeff Buckley before he died, Elliot Smith, before he died, Anhoni, etc. I knew I couldn’t find drums that would compare to his, so I decided to turn to machines. Problem was, I am a luddite by nature, have crazy ADD when it comes to this kind of shit, and was very intimidated by gear.

I felt like I’d never be able to do it myself. But the pandemic forced me to face myself, and so I learned. If you listen to the songs whose drums were done earliest in the years of producing Death Jokes (Rugby Child, Boys) you hear the most chaos, because at that stage I didn’t fully know how to programme (either on the 909 or midi drums), nor did I know how to use Ableton properly and keep things on the grid.  Rugby Child in particular was particularly insane, because it was tracked with a 909 with tempo that floated so bad I had to manually adjust it as it recorded, and start and stop it, as well being tracked in Ableton but not with the click/tempo of the grid. Therefore, any overdubs, or tempos, or digital elements that were warped, had no time “standard” to go by. 

I spent almost a year asking folks to edit it, but no one could, and finally I had to do it by literally nudging every kick drum. It was the most pronounced example of human and computer fucking and making a beast child. The others were more civilised, relatively, but all had their element of pushing the digital world outside its comfort zone.


You have to read the liner notes to decipher which is which, but a lot of the record was performed by Youtube. Some are obvious, like the vocal performances of comedians, etc, but some drum tracks, even full bands, are from Youtube, and mixed into the record. Sometimes a sample was taken from the tail end of files sent to me by collaborators, like the end of Boys, which is audio of Kwake Bass being surprised by someone while recording, and when asked if he was a drummer, saying “Yes, by trade.” I liked that, it added to the impersonal nature of the record, and represented, more symbolically than him specifically, how many people in the course of its production didn’t really seem to get it.


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