Do you think that your move to Chinatown and that mindset lent itself to the overall sonic quality of the record?
Very much so, that earthiness. I like living abroad, but particularly in Chinatown all the signs are in Chinese, and a lot of people speak very little English, you feel more foreign than you would imagine. We did pick up some interesting Chinese equipment. There are some stores that have lots of this old industrial equipment. I saw what looked like some recording equipment. Initially I just wanted to take some photographs of it for the sleeve, but I did some investigating of it. It was from some old radio station in, I believe, Shanghai the guy said. It was his father's equipment and he didn't want to sell it, but we took some of it down to the studio and I put a disclaimer on the sleeve because there's some of that distortion, but it gave everything this really interesting sound. I don't know what the equipment was called cause it's all in Chinese. We messed around with it. I'm sure just that sort of atmosphere' being in Chinatown at that particular time, the record wouldn't have sounded the same if we did it in London.
What sort of equipment did you find?
It was like mic pres, it was mostly from a radio station so it was like compressors and EQs. It was primitive - ya know - I think they copied old American designs, I suppose, like tube stuff, just ripped off the old American designs. It was primitive and harsh. It sounded good.
What kind of console was used on this record?
We used an old API - we used a couple of things actually - used some Neves, this old little API, I can't remember the name. It was an old broadcast mixer. We recorded at Harold Dessau's studio, which sadly is no longer there. I always referred to it as a mini Brill building, half-a-dozen songwriters had little offices in there. I had an office there. A bunch of other musicians would come and practice around there, it was such a lovely atmosphere. It's a converted building, wooden floors, high ceilings. You would think it was the wrong place to have a studio but there's a fantastic atmosphere with dark light, heavy velvet curtains, lots of old equipment, old tube compressors, Neve, API outboard gear, and a Studer 24 track machine. Oh, there was an Ampex there, a 16-track with one of the tracks not working. It was this huge old Ampex that sounded fantastic. We mixed it at Greene Street on the API Legacy. I think the Greene Street one was one of the first ones' fantastic little desk.
They've got some nice little secret parts in those machines. Those old op amps.
Yeah! We recorded some things at Greene Street as well' wonderful sound: API with some Neve, Ampex machine, and mixed them to Studer 1/2" tape.
It's a good formula. It's nice to hear that somebody's working in that realm. Everything else is Pro Tools and people are talking about this being the end of the 2" machine as we know it.
I know... Growing up with this, I've always had a love for tape. We'll get to the point where the next leap will surpass analog and you'll be able to emulate analog very accurately, I suppose it's inevitable. But at the same point, there is something to working in a linear way with old equipment. Maybe it's nostalgic, but it's very tactile. It's a nice pace of working. Even when you'd rewind the tape, you'd be thinking about it. I used to like that time when you'd come in from a take and they'd be rewinding. It'd give you a minute or two to pause and think. Just little things like that that would change the rhythm. Also the other thing that people don't think about with these digital workstations like Pro Tools - and Pro Tools is fine, I have a system and it's incredible what you can do with them - but in some ways, [you] start to look at the sound rather than listen to it. Before, you'd be in the studio, the lights would be blinking and your focus would be on the VU meters or your eyes would be closed. Now you're looking at waveforms. The computer is like a television set in your home, it becomes like when you'd sit by the fireplace and have a conversation and the television arrived and dominated. At the studio it dominates. I'm wondering whether it detracts from our hearing, from the aural senses in some way, the visual sense is now becoming quite dominant in the studio.
I read that you are using three microphones on tour. Is that true?
Yes it is. Well I always used to do that. Anyway, I had a couple. This time I've got 3, and I had a mic stand custom built because it was always awkward using 3 separate mic stands. I've always used a lot of distortion on the voice, either in the studio I'd run it through amplifiers, or for the clean sound I'd use limiters, extreme limiting on my voice and rather than let the soundman just' it seemed to be easier, not really easier, but it gets to a point where you need 2 microphones to get the right sound rather than plugging around with the same microphone to change the sound. But also visually, it's kind of interesting as well. It's always made sense to me because I've always messed around with the vocal sound. John Lennon was someone that always sort of messed with vocal sounds. I love old blues singers like Howlin' Wolf, that natural overdrive, distortion and compression, and that's something [I've done] since my very first record 20 years ago' that kind of distortion.
That's something I've noticed about your records. It seems like you have 3 very distinct approaches: there's one that's totally in your head, that very clean sound.
And then the very distorted megaphone sound. And more recently that rock-a-billy, nice tape echo sound.
Yes, yes, I love the old tape echo sound. There's the ultra compressed vocal sound where I'm whispering, almost