What makes you want to produce an act?
I'm driven by great songs, songs are currency. They are the link in the whole chain that you can't fake.
The other thing that has to be right is the personal vibe. Music is made BY people, FOR people to listen to. Which is kind of obvious, but in an age where so much emphasis is placed on technology and marketing, that's easy to overlook.
The artist and producer have to feel right about each other, the artist in particular has to trust. If that's not happening then you'll hear it in the final result. So... Its about making good songs into great records, making great songs into amazing records.
How does the process usually start?
Production starts way before you get anywhere near the studio. From day one I'm here to serve the artist, give them an environment where they feel fired up but relaxed, where they feel listened to but stretched in the right ways.
And being in touch with the artists or bands strengths... Is there, say, a time of day where he or she is going to deliver their best performances... what does it take to get them in a mindset that's the right combination of relaxed and focused...and most importantly keeps them in touch with the impulses that made them write the song in the first place.
How does that last bit work?
Well firstly I don't believe in 'guide vocals'...I barely even believe in demos.
I say if you're recording you're recording, and it could be the one!! Demos and guides often sound great because the artist doesn't think they're actually 'recording' ...so I always expect those versions to contain the real buzz and energy of the song... Its especially relevant with vocals.
Catching an artist while they're just 'performing' rather than loaded up with the mindset of having to deliver a definitive permanent lead vocal... well that's something a producer should always have their eyes and ears on. Recognise the version that has the real emotional connection, then lets build everything else up around it.
You've worked, and continue to work at different studios...
Thats entirely deliberate . I've never wanted a trademark sound.Im lucky to know some wonderful engineers, collaborators, and an even greater number of amazing musicians.
Obviously I've been doing this awhile so there'd be something wrong if I didn't ...and yes there are people I use a lot - for good reasons, I trust them. But every project is different, and Im not someone who 'plays safe' or has a 'jobs for the boys' ethic.
Everyone on the team will bring their own skills - also their own dynamic, their own personal energies - through the door with them. Its crucial that everyone involved in the session has a positive head on them, and is there to do whatever it takes to make the track the best it can be.
In what way is every project different then?
I work with such a range of artists and bands, ranging from new acts on the block to greatly experienced people who've been in studios a lot.Basically, if it doesn't come from the artist, then it's not going to come from the people around them, so I'm there to to enhance what they're already doing.
I want to empower a new act, to bring out their strengths, interpret their vision...and then with an established act I might be a sounding board, and act as a sort of minder to their music and core ideas.
Working with John Bramwell from I Am Kloot back in the late 90s ... I wasnt quite as experienced a producer then, and half the time when he was on mic and in his stride he would finish a stunning performance and I would literally just want to applaud. I would be thinking - what can I possibly add ... What does a guy like this need?'
The same applies sometimes with Thea Gilmore, with whom Ive made many records, and who sometimes will hit her stride incredibly quickly in the studio. With people like these you have to make sure things are right and all ready to roll straight away, so you catch the magic of the early takes... beyond that I think they need a a curator, a guy who will say, this song is better than that one. This one is really great – let's do it.'... or then 'no you were singing better twenty minutes ago, lets break for a while... then you make sure the very best take is noted, lined up and ready for playback as soon as they come through to the control room.
Keeping the vibe flowing, whatever it takes.I'm not likely to get heavy handed, even when I'm invited to be. I try to offer structure, positivity and encouragement. And maybe a general spirit of fearlessness.
What are you listening to at the moment?..
Always a vast amount of stuff... At the moment it's extremes... I've been working with an act rooted in electronica and I've been absorbing lots of Jon Hopkins, Four Tet, Boards Of Canada, and revisiting early Air...
My two young sons both love the Bastille album, and also the last Tegan and Sara record, so they're in heavy rotation in the house ... but then I'm also in a phase of listening to old 60s orchestral folk and pop, really unashamedly melodic stuff ... Bill Fay, Bob Lind, Jackie DeShannon, and the two albums Richard Harris recorded with Jimmy Webb.
I'm up for most things...a great song will literally render me unable to sit still. It's been that way since I was about eight years old... Is that a bit sad??? I hope not...