News : Archive interview – Simon

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(The following interview was conducted by Susan Hume during the recording sessions for The United States Of Your Soul. Susan has a long & close connection with the collaborators at Prototype Musique. Formally singer and prime mover of Creature Seed, she’s currently piecing material together for a major musical project.)

How has the recording process been in a home studio?

Really quite relaxed; obviously the with the lack of constraints (not having to pay an hourly rate) keeps it a lot freer. It filters down to the mind-set of the musicians too because no one feels under pressure to have to do anything by being given any juncture on time. So, that’s great for everybody, whether it’s with engineering or recording, even for the rest of the band sitting in the lounge room thinking about what they’re going to be doing later.

So from that point of view it’s really good. In terms of not having a space that qualifies technically as a studio space (from the sense that it’s not an acoustically manufactured environment) it’s not having an impact either. Well, I should say it’s having an impact however it’s a positive one because we adapt the space to suits our own needs at any given point of time.

You can do that in a studio too but…

It’s pretty restrictive though (a studio), the rooms are set up for certain recordings- particularly separate sounds.

Where as here you change the area for drums…

Totally, we can hang blankets, we can twist the drum kit around and point it in a different direction as there may be various obstacles in the room acting as diffusers, bass traps etc…So all in all I think it’s been a great experience.

Do you prefer it?

Well….

If you had all of the equipment that you have in a regular studio (which you just about do) would you choose a home studio over…

I would only not choose it (home studio) above having a mobile set up where you could just find a house or any space other than a studio space only in the sense that it’s a bit like having a desk at work. I mean I’ve worked in places when you came to work and didn’t know necessarily that you were going to be working at that desk everyday…

I find that really disconcerting in an office environment because your desk is sort of like your home… just in terms of not having a place to go and to basically be the root of where it is you do your work..

In that sense it’s great to have a studio, which is why Dallas and I are working on and in our own studio…. so we can just roll all of the gear into it, set it up, build a structure around it…

So it will be like a home studio anyway, where you can take more control.

Oh it will be…sooner rather than later…

What over-all mood do you want to give the album as the producer?

Our brains are pretty complex, when we listen to music there’s a whole organic & chemical process that takes place. You know, we all hear it differently. I filter things out when I’m listening to music that you might not… my mind will concentrate on this portion of what I’m listening to more so than other parts and you might not even hear it…

But in terms of mood for the album, one thing we are really trying to achieve is a raw energy which, I don’t think speaks so much of mood as it does to allow anyone that is going to listen to the album to have some kind of emotive response to it. I wouldn’t like to think that it cuts out any type of mental or cerebral response to it either, or to analyse a lyric for example. Musicians like to listen strongly to musical structure but there’s certainly no intention to place it directly into one particular area, other than that we are just looking for that raw energy.

In terms of sonically we’re trying, when laying down the rhythm tracks (the drums, bass, the guitars as well), to go for that raw sound. The tracks are being laid that way, but I do actually foresee the album in phases. Because we are not going to just simply lay the tracks down & then go into a mix phase. We’ll actually take this (current home) studio away & set it up elsewhere and go through another phase where a lot of treatments will be done to some of the sound. We’ll probably use a method. I use a method (laugh) where I’m trying to look for something but I’m not quite sure how to actually go about it until I feel over it…

Going back to the emotive thing, for example there’s a song that was actually a demo that has a real Bolero effect on the drums. Now, I’m not going to actually attempt to lay the Bolero effect directly into the recorded tracks, it will come at the treatment stage. We might try & get up some cocked delay effect where we get an idea how it’s going to work. But in terms of the finished sound that will come in the treatment stage of the project.
After working on Dallas’ first album did you come into this album with a different approach?

Yeah, I think everyone came in with a different approach. I think the approach changed from the moment the first album finished because Dallas went for quite a while without writing and it became evident immediately, when his next phase of writing began, that his songs were quite different. I could sense the change in feeling of his songs even when he was playing them on acoustic guitar to me in the early stages…

So is that when the ‘producer’ steps in?

Yes it does, generally in the early stages when you hear the songs and you start to get a definite feeling about them. If I go back to the first album, Walking Home, there was a real sense of venturing back to something that was part of what he was trying to get out with his music for himself. So, the songs were instantly very moody on the first album. There was a lot of light but a lot of shade as well… a very moody, atmospheric feeling. My instant gut reaction to the songs was a very visual one.

Song titles started popping out and often we’d be discussing visually how the song felt to us. We actually would throw around, you know we knew that there were videos that were probably never going to be made for the album but we conceptualized what the videos might look like. And that suggested other moods… songs would take on titles like Persia (the song didn’t finish with that title).

Persia meaning as in the country Persia, which is now Iran, but the song sounded Persian and you can hear that influence in the song. The guitars have a distinctive Middle Eastern kind of feeling to them; the rhythm has a strong Middle Eastern feel as well… so it was a very visual beginning to that album. Where as this one the songs are totally different in their feeling, they’re certainly not as dark & moody as the first album… it’s a bit like the shackles have been released…again it comes back to the raw energy. The songs feel very spontaneous, where as the first album we probably spent, out of the year it took to record it, 9 months talking about it and the other 3 months making it…

Another vocal experiment (L-R) Dallas & Simon.

Another vocal experiment (L-R) Dallas & Simon.

What’s the most significant role a producer plays in the making of an album?

The most significant role? For me (pause) well, for me the most significant role is to bring out as close to what the artist’s intention is for the song, for the record, for the EP or whatever it is. If you can get that then you’re a long way into getting the right end result…

It’s very hard for two individuals to see exactly the same picture. That shows a real connection as well…

For me, being a producer is a bit like half the time trying to be a psychologist of some sort I guess. It’s trying to keep the process on track too. I know from being a musician in a previous life (laugh), sometimes you can lose focus, maybe get excited about things that are not what it is you are supposed to be doing…

When you’re recording with a group of people, as much as this is Dallas’ album, there’s a group of people involved and the intention was always to involve them as much as possible. So we had to not get side tracked by that… the dynamic of having a group of people as well. That doesn’t mean negating their input but instead, trying to give them an environment where all that input is allowed to come out & happen.

And for me the other thing I really try to do as much as I can is to make everyone feel that his or her input is as valuable as anyone else’s. Sometimes it’s difficult, and you’ve got to pay mind to your own agenda too, make sure that it doesn’t wash over things… For me it’s a really creative experience as well. I guess I try to look at myself as an instrument that they can kind of play through, in some ways. In getting down what they’re trying to do. One of the things we talked about, the treatment phase, it’s one of the areas where perhaps I’m more isolated. I gather all things I know about what everybody is trying to achieve and condense it into creating moods and atmospheres with what they’ve already played to further bring that out.

In a way, the treatment stage would be like your turn to go into the studio and put down your tracks..

Yeah, it’s like trying to filter through all of the ideas. Let’s say that a guitar track went down that was meant to have a particular feeling to it. One thing I like to do is to use key words in the making of an album – to describe moods & atmospheres and general contexts of songs. Often I’ll come back to those key words as a starting point when I’m putting down a treatment.

Now, if that guitar was meant to have a particular kind of emotive effect, like a church bell was ringing in the background for example, it might come down to the treatment and how that treatment responds to how the player was playing. Creating new sonic landscapes in amongst what’s already there.

Would you say that’s the most enjoyable time for you in the production of an album?

I wouldn’t say it’s the most enjoyable time when making an album, but it’s the most personal time. It certainly affords a lot more opportunity to be introspective about what I’m doing.

From a production point of view, what is your favourite album?

OK, my favourite album from a production point of view… It’s a toss up between Achtung Baby & Zooropa. There are others that I love obviously but if I have to pick, it would be a narrow margin either way between those two.

If you could play this album to anyone that you don’t know, who would it be?

(Laugh) Does it have to be a single person or can I make it a group? I think I’d like to play it to as many people in my age group, say from your age group to mine- 30 to nearly forty, or forty-five, people who aren’t likely to hear it. I think a lot of them would find something in it to appreciate and to enjoy. I know certainly where Dallas comes from, is to not try to write songs that are going to appeal to the largest portion of the record-buying public because that’s a younger, for want of a better term, a term I hate, ‘demographic’.

I think as artists get older in their years, if they try to attempt to appeal to a teen market they end up becoming caricatures of themselves and they end up looking a bit silly. Often trying to do stuff that’s just not them. I don’t really enjoy listening to that ‘cos you can hear it coming out of the speakers. So yeah, 30-45ish year olds would be the people that I’d play it to.

If I could pick an individual… I don’t know if it’s something that I would want to play to him looking for some kind of feedback… (pause) yeah, I’d probably want feedback…. I’d love to just sit down and discuss anything…If I could get one hour with Brian Eno (chuckle). I’d talk to him about anything; it wouldn’t have to even be about music. Anything…

 

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