INTERVIEW WITH Polish Magazine Estrada i Studio
It is possible to ascertain without no exaggeration that Gareth Jones with his work in the studio has significant influenced on sound of european pop music, special on music based on electronical sounds. He has got a large list of productions he worked with: Depeche Mode, John Foxx, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Erasure, Einstürzende Neubauten, Daniel Miller, Can, Goldfrapp, Orbital, Clive Langer, Clinic, Mark Bell, Conny Planck, Tuxedomoon, Roma Baran, Antena The House of Love, Adrian Sherwood, Wire, Tim Simenon, Fad Gadget,Wim Wenders, Holger Hiller, Diamanda Galas, Thomas Fehlmann, Simon Bonney, Crime and the City Solution, Sun Electric, Sheep on Drugs, Palais Schaumburg, Rio Reiser, Ideal, Indochine, Marlene Kuntz... What more, artists says that work with Gareth is a great experience. As a sound engineer and producer he is still in touch with new audiotechnologies, and when we are talking about perspectives of virtual studio, he records more and more albums that moves theory into practice. Last Depeche Mode Lp "Exciter" has proved that thanks to marriage of knowledge and digital technology it is possible to record excelent album, without loose of energy and freshness known from first LPs of that great band.
At this moment you are one of the best-known audio engineers and producers in the world. Can you tell us about your first steps in recordings...first step in music?
My first recording experiments were at school of course – I had an old Tube Ferrograph series4 tape recorder and was fascinated by it! I recorded sound effects for school plays, an acapella vocal group and radio style dramas.
I also played different instruments at school – trumpet, French horn, cello, a bit of piano, organ and sung in the school choir (none of theses things to a very high standard!).
At some stage I decided I wanted to work as a recording engineer, and I had no idea how to get a job in a studio, so I wrote to all UK studios that I could get an address for, asking for a job... I did not get a single reply! Now I realize it would have been a good idea to go visit the studios, knock on the door and introduce myself to the studio managers, but at the time I didn’t realize the importance of personal contact.
So I decided to try to get some training and thought the BBC would be a great place to do that – and I was somehow able to get a job there. It turned out to be a really helpful basic training. Learned about signal paths and mics and mixing desks in a broad and simple way that was a very useful technical beginning. I was also able to work as a junior in many of the departments of the BBC and met many talented and professional colleagues. Also I learned tape editing, which was a very useful ability in the days before computer editing....
Of course as a beginner at the BBC I wasn’t able to make recordings of music – it was all speech programs for the world service and so on. I was impatient and so (once again!) I wrote to a bunch of studios looking for work, this time with the experience of being at the BBC. A musician/producer called Mike Finesilver was working at one of the studios I wrote to, and he was looking for another engineer to work in the tiny 8-track studio that he owned, and he happened to see my letter.
I met him and he was kind enough to give me a break, so I started working at his studio (“Pathway”) when I was not doing shifts for the BBC. So basically I was doing 2 jobs for a few months, until I felt secure enough to give up my job at the BBC and step full time into the world of freelance sound engineering.
Can you describe the equipment that you use these days?
In the 8-track studio we had 2 analog 1-inch tape machines. One was a recorder and one was a playback only machine. On big productions where we needed more tracks we would place the full reel onto the playback machine and do a submix to the recorder (of 2, 3 or 4 tracks), so giving us another 4, 5 or 6 tracks for final overdubs. We also had 3 revox ¼-inch tape machines with varispeed for echo effects and a home built stereo echo plate. Very funky!
When did you start this experience?
So do you feel like a veteran in this business?
I am definitely a veteran by now. More seriously – there are people of all ages working in the business – for me a veteran is more a question of experience than age!
Are you connected with any big studio or record company?
No, never have been. I am a so-called independent engineer/producer, like many people in the UK.
You have an impressive portfolio.... and your career can be a dream for any audio engineer...
So, can you tell us what was your first “big job” in this business that let you record for the greatest ones in the future? It wasn’t Depeche Mode album, was it?
It was the recording and mix for John Foxx’s album “Metamatic” – that was a very important job for me and I learned a lot doing it!
How did it happen you started to work with this musician?
I was working as a freelancer at a small studio “Pathway” that was quite close to where John lived. John was already very experienced and he decided to come to a small studio to make his minimal album.
As you said you had some contact with instruments at school. Was it classical musical education? Do you know notation? Can you play any “live” instrument?
I played the instruments I mentioned before only at school, when I was a teenager, and it was on a very basic level. I know notation roughly, and I haven’t played any instrument for many years, except one – the laptop!
We have heard something about Martin Gore’s studio... that he has his own rural studio in which Depeche Mode works sometimes with new songs and with your help too....
That was when the family all lived in the UK – and Martin used the studio for remixing and writing and preproduction.
How much work did it take with „Exciter” in Martin Gore’s studio?
We spent 9 months there.
Can you tell us about what exactly Martin has got in this studio, what he uses for making music?
Martin has a huge collection of good, hardware gear – two rack Minimoogs, Akai samplers, Roland JD 800, JP 8000, JV 2080, NordLaed, Wasp Stinger, Moog Series III, three ARP 2600s, JoMox drum module, Quasimidi Rave-o-lution, Korg MS2000, lots of guitars, piano, a G3 running Logic Audio, Amek desk, quite a few guitar effects and lots of different bits and pieces I can’t now enumerate....
What kind of instruments it is based on - synthesizer or sampler?
It is a balance between synths and samplers of course and guitar too.
What is the role of the computer in this studio configuration?
Obviously central. A computer is very important here - it records and synchronizes all equipment. Actually we used a few computers simultaneously, we were running Logic Audio and SoundDiver a great deal as well as loads of other programs from my laptop.
Emagic logic Audio was my main tool while working on this album. You could say that one of the reasons I was asked to join the pre-production team was my Logic skills.
I was also using Novation Supernova and a Nord Micro Modular as sound sources. When we left the pre-production phase, everything was also recorded in Logic Audio, and the mentioned synths, as well as an AKAI S3200.
What was the way to record other tracks, instrumental and vocal in this phase of your work on “Exciter”?
Guitars were recorded though the Line 6 POD, which I enjoyed using with Emagic SoundDiver software. This software also played an important role in keeping track of everything. Microphones were largely Shure SM57 and B&K 4006. Most of instruments we recorded were in my laptop, there were mainly instruments made by Native Instruments: Absynth, Reaktor, Hyperprism. I use Logic of course, and several other programmes and vst plugins: Waves, Propellerhead Recycle, Bias Peak, Roxio Toast. My Doepfer MAQ 16/3 sequencer and Regelwerk were massively useful controllers, and of course I used said earlier Nord Modular, Supernova and EMU IVX turbo.
We used more synchronized computers. The studio’s space was divided in such a way that we all could work productively, smoothly and creatively, without disturbing each other while having insight in what the others were doing. It was important, especially for the singer. We had to provide some intimacy and comfort for him. Dave used to verify his performance himself. He edited his tracks on the spot, so if he happened to dislike the outcome, we had no chance to hear it.
What is your opinion about the position of computers in modern studios?
Amazingly powerful cost effective tools.
Do you prefer software or hardware? Playing on Real synth or vsti?
It depends mostly on what the situation is. I prefer software when I have to carry the stuff around. If I have roadies and money for transporting gear then I like hardware too
Do you know software samplers from NEMESYS/TASCAM called Gigastudio? It is very popular in Polish studios... Maybe you use some other software sampler?
Gigastudio is PC only. I use only mac. I use other softsamplers: EXS24, Battery and Kontakt.
This leads us to the software you named on your website... can you make any comments?
I love software!!!
What is most important factor in making a choice?
Software must be a cost effective tool. As a tool - software is very cheap and its maintenance not too difficult to learn. It is relatively easy and quick to recoup the investment many times over! Some software is easy to like – you get powerful results fast... Other software is very deep, and making a choice becomes a “feel thing”. I mean that sometimes you take a gamble based on the feeling that this is important stuff that will change your life, your sound, and your music...
Can you tell us why you choose Logic Audio? There are so many greater sequencers...
When I started using Logic (a long time ago!) it brought a great stability to my computer setup. And sync worked! From there we just grew together. Now I use Logic because I know it very well and cannot be bothered to check out the competition. Logic enables me to get the job done!
What would you do in a situation when a bandleader is a Cubase user and has got 80% of the project built in this sequencer?
I am a big fan of multiple computers in the studio, so I would probably start by running Cubase and logic synced together.
Yeah? But I read that you moved to Logic from Cubase and studio Vision?
Sure, but if someone feels creative in their own sequencer program, obviously I want that creativity on the production
What do you think about VSTi technology? What is your favourite VST instrument?
It changed my life in a great way – what can I say. I know nothing about the technology though. I am an end user. I do not own any hardware instruments any more – only a NORD Micro Modular, so I use VSTis all the time! There are so many instruments I use...really I can’t say which is my favourite one...
You described Polish-made PSP plugins as „amazing”? Which of them are the best and why?
Particularly the VintageWarmer has been really helpful to me. In fact it was my experience with the Vintage Warmer that allowed me to sell my TC Finalizer. I use the VW extensively , very often on the final mix buss – in example I use it to enhance and compress the final mix. This gives me "punch" and loudness in a way that i find very musically satisfying (and the clients love it too!)
I will also use the VW to process sub groups of my mix - try it on anything really! I have had lots of fun and success using it to process beats, guitar groups, vocals - anything really. VW offers me a lot - it can be used in a really subtle way, or very extreme where it really mashes things up. Just try different combinations of "drive" and "knee" settings. These controls are really dramatic, and very "instant", and of course there are lots of other little tadjustments that you can do to enhance and excite your sound. (don't forget the back panel for the real tweak heads) As processors become more powerful I am sure that i will be trying VW in more and more combinations on the same mix.
VW has been relatively quick to move to OSX as a VST plugin (still waiting for AU Antoni!!)
PSP software is great, but I cannot say which is the best. VW is one I use the most! The Lexicon delay emulations are also useful for different delay colors, but i use the VW on almost everything i do. An important part of my basic audio toolkit
Do you know other sound engineers or musicians that use PSP software?
PSP seems to be on all the machines that I encounter... (need better copy protection??)
Can you tell us about places on Exciter when those plugins were used?
I can’t remember where exactly it was done... generally I use VW on solo tracks.
Have you got your own studio?
Yes I have, on my laptop! I move around a lot when I work – to different countries and different studios. My personal studio is now my laptop; it is a virtual studio. Over the last few years I have focused on reducing the amount of hardware in my life and I move to use software equivalents, so my studio is a virtual one. The studio is based on Apple computer with 1Ghz processor. My audio interface is RME Hammerfall system via PCMCIA, this card is enhanced with Multiface option which I use with my Apple laptop, as well as an Apogee Mini-Me. As I said, my main tool is Logic Audio, working with Logic Control. Of course I have a very large selection of plugins and software synths.
How do you record vocals and other stuff with microphones? Can you tell us about your favourite microphone and preamplifier?
My favourite microphone is Bruel&Kjaer 4006. The type of preamplifier depends on the studio I work at the recording time. Recently I have used old Calrecs with great success – it was on Maximillian Hecker`s LP Rose. Also Apogee Mini Me is a great preamplifier.
And do you think that relatively cheap software can be equal in use and in sound quality to expensive tools like Avalon compressors?
I think that to have both great software and hardware is fantastic. In the end though it is the performance that counts. Never forget that!
We know that you work with bands in different studios… Who decides about working in this particular studio? What is most important when YOU make such a decision?
I always have the client decide where to work. I feel it should be their choice. I work anywhere the client wants!
What is your position in a band when you work together in studio? Do you become sort of an extra band member?
No. A band is a band; they are independent. I just do my job.
So maybe you are sort of a „cold” producer without a personal attitude to the material you record?
Not at all, the material I work with is always very important to me.
What is the scale of your job as a producer? Just programming? Do you make arrangements?
I do lots of programming and help with arrangements. I also help artists to get their best performance.
Do you write melodies?
Not when working as a producer.
Do you have your own music project, solo or with other musicians?
It is a project I called Ornithology, you can find our songs on www.garethjones.com/ornithol/orni.htm.
What kind of band can have a chance to work with you? What is the way to employ you as an audio engineer?
Speak to my management!