The Making of The Weeknd’s Trilogy Mixtapes | Thinner
Before seeing the face, we lived with sound. On November 13, 2012, The Weeknd published Trilogy, a three-disc compilation album consisting of the three haunting mixtapes he released for free online the previous year. For most of 2011, most people who spent months immersed in his dark R&B masterpiece balloon house (released March 21, 2011), had never seen his face.
The Weeknd represented our darkest carnal desires in music before we knew the man at the source. A July 24, 2011 concert in Toronto was her first public concert, and her April 15, 2012 performance at the Coachella Music Festival was her first performance in the United States. The Weeknd became a star solely because of his music. And Carlo “Illangelo” Montagnese was one of the main contributors to shaping the mythos of The Weeknd.
As the main mixer for all three mixtapes, as well as the Trilogy compilation, only a handful of people had as much to do with shaping the sound that began a decade-long musical evolution as Illangelo. They created some of the festival anthems in mouse-infested studios, with no plans for the future they devised.
“It was very DIY. We were creating our opportunities. There really was no other way to do it,” said Carlo “Illangelo” Montagnese, speaking to Reverb on the 10th anniversary of the iconic series of mixtapes. Throughout the rest of the interview, Illangelo details the search for sonic harmony among myriad equipment, The Weeknd’s humble recording beginnings, and why they dared to cover Michael Jackson.
When Illangelo first linked up with The Weeknd in December 2010 for balloon house (the first project of the Trilogy), both were in their early twenties. Abel – who had yet to take on the nickname The Weeknd – was months away from his 21st birthday, and Illangelo had turned 23 a few months earlier.
Illangelo recalls meeting the future Grammy Award winner in a small room in Toronto with exposed drywall and a mouse running around — an environment you wouldn’t expect to be conducive to. creating music that would reshape the entire industry for the next decade. But, after swapping music and hearing The Weeknd’s patented black falsetto that brought nightmares to dreamscapes, Illangelo recognized he was a diamond in the rough whose brilliance was dulled only by the lack of exposure to the world.
During this first session, the duo recorded a first version of balloon house standout track “Glass Table Girls” – an upbeat ode to being trapped in a good time before moving on to a deeper static-charged dive into The Weeknd’s hedonism.
The Weeknd – House Of Balloons / Glass Table Girls
The grandeur of the final product belies its humble beginnings. “There was no time to get the perfect anything. It’s not like we had a budget, we had nothing. It was just what we had, that’s what we were using. So we used a lot of different mics,” Illangelo said. . These mics included the classic Neumann U 87 and Shure SM7B microphone, with the Metric Halo 2882 and Apogee Duet as frequent audio interfaces before they ended up working with the SM7B coming into the Apogee.
Illangelo, The Weeknd and producer Martin “Doc” McKinney were the main architects of the Trilogy mixtapes and had to bounce around at various recording studios in Toronto, including Doc’s private studio as well as Dream House Studios where Illangelo had his own personal bedroom. These constant changes led to each song being what Illangelo remembers as “a collage of different gear”, making it difficult to blend them into a unified sound for a set of works.
But, you don’t become a multi-platinum, Grammy Award-winning producer/engineer without turning setbacks into new paths into the future. Early on, Illangelo realized that he needed to minimize “any colorization of any material effects” by equalizing each part of a session in order to blend it and make it smooth. He grouped all vocals into a folder and meticulously mixed each individual audio track to maintain sonic consistency throughout songs and overall projects. The Wavez Vocal Rider plugin was a big help as it would balance everything like a kind of “instant, automated balancer of all incoming audio signals”.
Unfortunately, the hardware of the time was slow to catch up with the futuristic sound they were making. “Before, everything took a lot of time because I couldn’t load so many plugins on the computer, and I was very focused on the plugins. I didn’t want to use a lot of hardware equipment because the plugins were more consistent, especially with as much as we travel.”
As much as the TrilogyThe sardonic R&B styles of would catalyze a change in the sound of the next decade of music, it was formed from a deep respect for the past. Illangelo was reading books by legendary engineer Bruce Swedien, who mixed several Michael Jackson classics, including “Billie Jean”, “Rock Wit You” and “You Rock My World”. He drew inspiration from Swedien’s books and interviews and applied these concepts to his work with The Weeknd. Audio peaks no more than -3db but would typically be -12db without input compression. The vocals were raw in order to preserve The Weeknd’s natural vocal dynamism.
“It was for consistency and because Abel was so dynamic. All of my favorite Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder records emphasized the importance of vocal dynamics. So I was basically doing my best to bring it there where my ears were programmed with all this great music.”
The weekend – DD
It would be Echoes of Silencethe third and final mixtape of the Trilogy, which would produce the most endearing tribute to their influences. Recorded in about six weeks, Illangelo describes it as the only project of the three that was largely recorded and created with just him and The Weeknd. It was also the project that featured The Weeknd’s ambitious ode to his idol Michael Jackson, “DD.” It’s a modern take on the song “Dirty Diana” by Jackson.
Covering any Michael Jackson song, let alone one of his most definitive records, is an act of sacrilege, hubris, or a bold mix of the two. “I don’t think anyone ever dared to do a remix or a cover, but we were kids. We didn’t care. We wanted nothing but the utmost respect for Michael. He was a remix showing our love,” Illangelo said. “Even with all the vocal effects, I wanted to make them proud. It was very meticulous to make sure every sound was unique and special.”
Daring to venture into the lesser known to achieve rare results is also found in the plugins and effects used. Before OHM Force became an industry staple among producers and engineers, Illangelo tinkered with its great delays and distortions. Ominsphere plugins were a big part of the Trilogy. For his production work on songs like “DD”, “Outside”, “Same Old Song”, and “Gone”, Illangelo preferred Cubase over any other DAW because of the precision and meticulousness with which it could match. his mixes to what he heard in his head.
Illangelo discusses the production and mixing of 2020’s “After Hours.”
“A big part of the secret sauce was putting time into every moment of any vocal performance, from drawing in and exhaling breaths to manually checking which vocal selection could be louder or softer. that needed to be locked, Cubase is an amazing DAW for doing that fine tuning.”
After all three mixtapes were released in late 2011, firmly cementing The Weeknd as the new king of dark R&B, Illangelo spent all of 2012 mixing records again for the November 2012 release of Trilogy. While Illangelo praises the work, mastering engineer Mark Santangelo mastered on Trilogyhe knows fans were more fond of the distorted mastering he did on the original records than the more polished end result of Trilogy. Anyway, all the mixtapes that went into Trilogy were examples of a shared vision coming to life using the equipment and experience the world offered them at the time.
“There’s a lot of great work that can be done when you work in a team where everyone trusts each other. Abel was telling his story and his life. My job was to capture that in the best way possible.”
Finer Notes is a series that delves into the gear, techniques, and untold stories that helped shape classic albums, where engineers and producers discuss how they used period gear to create a timeless work.
About the Author: Keith Nelson Jr is a seasoned music journalist who followed his innate passion for knowledge to interview some of the most influential personalities in the music industry. He’s a journalist who connects the dots to see the big picture.