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ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: RICK ARMELLINO

Name: Rick Armellino
Bands: Ice Nine Kills, HAWK
Location: Lancaster, PA
Website: rickarmellino.com

How and when was your interest in music sparked?
Tough question to answer. I was in piano lessons for a few years when I was younger and they didn’t really seem to leave much of an impression on me. However, I would just get bored and play the songs in my book as fast as I could. Fast forward to when I’m skating with some guys and they’re talking about a band and it’s such a foreign concept to me that I don’t really know what they’re talking about, but it seems fun. One of them told me to get a bass guitar for my birthday so I could play with them, and I did. I think that I quickly was able to sort of find an identity in that thing. Before I was learning how to play Radiohead and Deftones songs and stuff like that, I just was a kid who would tool around on the computer, play video games, ride my bike. Music suddenly made me start assessing small details and it wasn’t until years and years later when I realized how much the piano lessons set me up for being able to properly divide notes and stuff.

In the bands you have been or are still a member of, you’ve handled both guitars and vocals. Which one would you consider your main instrument?
I’m a music producer primarily, vocalist second, guitarist third, hilariously rigged pianist fourth, but I’m working at it. As for music production, editing in Pro Tools with my nerd mouse and flying around on the screen feels like something I’ve had to rehearse quite a bit. But it’s such a strange thing to have to also tackle social dynamics like reading the room, viewing other people as if they are these breathing instruments that I need to work with, all of that stuff. As for vocals, that’s my love. The only rub with that is that I really struggle to make my voice do things I don’t think are embarrassing. I didn’t hit that until my thirties and I still need to sing every day to keep ironing it out. Singing puts me in a mental state that I like and I prefer it to most other mental states I experience but unfortunately, if I wasn’t able to produce, I wouldn’t have the career that I have so I need to always put that first.

You grew up in the East Coast scene. What’s the scene like now compared to when you grew up?
I’m in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, but I was born in Long Island. East Coast kid. We had a really wild hardcore firehall scene and also a 700 capacity club that managed to grab a lot of “B market” tours. It was everything to me. I was one of those kids that was always handing out flyers for a local show. Couldn’t sing a note but everyone wanted my band opening shows because we pushed tickets, one of those deals. I honestly can’t really speak on the state of the scene over the past few years because I’ve been touring so much. But I can say I’m always amazed how many kids are still impacted by all of this work that bands like August Burns Red did in our area. They created a massive culture.

Out of everything that comes with being an artist – writing, recording, jamming, touring, traveling (the list goes on)…what is your favorite part?
They all serve a different purpose that I rely on in my life. To be honest, I can be a little dismissive towards touring and performing since they seem like the less noble of the pursuits. After all, it’s like being trapped in your thirteenth birthday. Everyone loves you and gives you way too many props for doing way too little. You’re just living on steroid numbers with how much people congratulate you. I often will go into the audience as either a guitarist in Ice Nine Kills or a vocalist in Hawk and afterwards people will often say things like “Dude, when you went into the audience that was so insane” and I’m always left to have conversations letting them know that it was literally the easiest thing I did all day. I just hopped off a four-foot stage and walked around. Who else gets that type of praise for so little? However, during Covid, I had to face it a few months ago how the loss of those coping mechanisms were really difficult for me. The honest truth is most entertainers just really get something truly important out of it. So I don’t know if I can choose a favorite. Sometimes I’m in my studio and I manage to make a few decisions that change a track and I feel the way my clients feel or I feel and I think “this is the best thing that can happen.” But the next day we have a rough go at it and it’s like “Man, I hate this gig.” This can be true for literally any of these.

Aside from being a touring musician, you’re also making a name for yourself as a recording engineer, mixer and producer. How did you fall into this?
I was 25 and just really, really didn’t want a job. Simple as that. I’m conversational enough and frankly pathetic enough that a few of my friends who produce big-time decided to play big brother and make sure I had the tools that I needed. Now I feel pretty confident in what I’m doing, but it’s been a lot of years and a lot of hours behind a screen. Some of those years I really felt like I would never get to where I needed to and fortunately those are behind me.

Out of all the different phases in a recording project, which one do you like the most and why?
Like I mentioned earlier, where any part of the process can rule or suck and I don’t want to do that again. I really love to just sing into a mic and get my ideas out of the way. I feel as if I’m being paid to do my favorite thing. That’s a good day. I have some clients who understand this and fortunately they just let me go to town on their songs and get vocal parts figured out and then they will come in and do their own parts. I’ll save mine in there for layers and harmonies. Coming up with an actual process for making a record reliably has been a muse of mine over the years and I sort of figured out the magic ingredient for me: I need to actually do something that makes me feel an emotional connection with the track and that is a way to brute force it. Mixing can be nice because everyone’s left the room and I can work at my own pace.

What does your studio look like in terms of gear?
Slowly getting all the outboard gear I want… A rack of API preamps, UAD preamps, 1073s, Apollo interfaces chained together, some Pultec EQs, 1176 compressors and a couple hundred plugins. I have four functional studio rooms in my house, each with their own computer and Pro Tools license sharing the same suite of plugins and a person who works in each of them. Everything gets synced to a common dropbox and we have a method for communicating with one another regarding file management and stuff like that. My desk is kind of my battle zone. I have a cable always there to quickly plug in a guitar, my Arturia keyboard is right in front of me and I got a Joe Rogan-esque desk microphone stand so I can have an SM7B in my face at all times in case I have to quickly sing a harmony before someone realizes what I’m doing and reminds me that they think they can hit it.

You are an avid Superior Drummer 3 user. How do you use the program in your work and how does it help your creative process?
That’s why we’re here! Superior Drummer 3 ends up on all of my tracks even when I record real drums. There are a few crash cymbals that I’m going to end up blending in and automating into the mix usually. There are also a bunch of snares and also snare room sounds that always end up blending well. I didn’t realize I could do this until this year but now on mixes that remain programmed drums, I have a way to just print mixes down without committing my Superior Drummer 3 drums into individual tracks via the multi-output routing…and good god, I never realized how fast I could get a mix done now that I have my templates that I’m pretty set on for different genres. I really have dug into almost every aspect of this plugin and I hold it miles above all of the other drum plugins. Not because they’re bad in any way, but the Superior Drummer 3 sounds have so much room for processing that I never have to worry about my mix sounding like some kid with a laptop and a popular preset on one of the other big plugins. Being able to upload my own one-shots into Superior Drummer 3 was a game changer because I work in metalcore and I have so many blended snares and kicks that I was able to make my drums sound mostly mixed pretty quickly inside of the Superior Drummer 3 mixing window, which honestly is functional enough to mix comfortably on. Superior Drummer 3 is probably one of the most crucial tools in my creation process – and that isn’t because this is a Toontrack interview, it’s just a fact of my business.

What other Toontrack products do you use?
EZmix 2 has a couple of settings I literally can’t figure out how to replicate elsewhere. There was one in the Metal Guitar Gods EZmix Pack pack that had an ambient guitar sound that I used all of the time. Also, EZkeys finds its way into a lot of mixes. Just a really good, moldable piano plugin. Once again, I think that Toontrack does an excellent job of giving people tools that are moldable. There are a lot of other companies who benefit a lot from making products that give you your final sound at jump street and sure enough, pretty quickly every young producer on a forum has that sound. I really have made sure to avoid that.

Best studio moment ever?
A few months ago, I was working on a song that was clearly about the death of a loved one with a band I really love working with. Near the end of the session, the singer/guitarist politely asked if everyone would be open to the idea of him putting a voicemail he had saved on an external hard drive from his deceased father into the bridge of the song, and we of course we said yes. The moment I imported the audio into the session, I remember looking around to everyone and saying “look, there’s going to be tears.” Everyone accept this, we are on a roll, let’s keep moving.” And I sat there with a Fabfilter EQ trying to figure out how to mix this distorted but unbelievably sweet voicemail message into the song while all five of us sat there clearly sobbing. It might have been one of the most powerful moments in my career, and it made me feel like I did something important in my basement. For an honorable mention, I got this really good bass tone one time and I felt like I was riding a roller coaster as I was tracking the dude playing. I was having so much fun. I love bass tones.

…and worst stage moment ever?
Maybe 20 seconds into a This or the Apocalypse set I dramatically pulled the mic up and raised it above my head when the drums came in. The cable was caught under a backing vocalist microphone and as the music stopped and confusion was permeating this small club with maybe 90 people in it, I realized Jack already had so much blood running down his face beneath his hand that he couldn’t see. He was rushed to the bathroom and a bartender who worked at the venue, a legitimate germaphobe, was on the stage within 20 seconds with maybe five or six cleaning products while screaming orders at people. I ran to the bathroom and it’s a small cut that just happened to be a bleeder, but by that point Jack is all dizzy and he’s talking softly and all calming to everyone which is weird for him. So we wrap paper towels around his head for a while until the bleeding stops, walk out to this confused audience that’s been standing there for maybe 15 minutes and I just make an announcement that we’re going to play like three songs and take Jack to urgent care. I think I met one of the guys from a band called Cute Is What We Aim For that night but maybe it was a similar band, I don’t know. This was maybe eight or nine years ago.

FIVE QUICK QUESTIONS.

If you could only keep/play one guitar moving forward…which one in your collection would you pick and why?
My Ernie Ball JP7 with the piezo. It’s just a very versatile instrument, I love it.

You could only bring one record to listen to during a massively long tour, which one would it be and why?
I think Banks “III.” I think I legitimately have a crush on that record. Not the singer, I don’t know her personally. The record I know pretty personally, though.

Big festival or club show?
I would take any day I spent on Warped Tour outside of Florida over any club show I’ve ever played, but I would take any club show I’ve ever played over most other festivals.

Name one piece of gear you can’t live without in your studio (and it can’t be the guitar or the computer!).
My Kensington Slimblade mouse. I just look like someone with nerve damage with that thing and any time I’m on tour and I’m using my trackpad I feel like I’ve lost all my super powers.

Your all-time top five list of albums!

El-P “I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead”
Every Time I Die “Hot Damn”
Thrice “To be Everywhere is to be Nowhere”
Nine Inch Nails “With Teeth”
Radiohead “OK Computer”


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