Here’s a song from an EP I just mastered. It was recorded live at MAP in Kentish Town, London. And it was mixed, rather expertly, given that everyone was in the same room at the same time, by Duncan Thornley. If you’re in North London, MAP cafe is worth a visit. They have an espresso machine and draft beer.


Here’s a track from = that I did some work on a while back. Jim records all of Ade’s vocals in the spare room of his flat in Dalston, and although he’s using an SM7B with a reflection filter, the room is still reflective enough (and almost perfectly square as far as I can remember) to dirty up the audio with unwanted reverberation. Some gating, some careful compression and a bit of melodyne is the usual order of the day, but occasionally I flex my creative muscle and edit the parts so that whoever ends up mixing it has a good time. It’s grunt work, but I love it, because the songs are good, and it’s so different from the stuff I usually do.


Here’s a band I mixed and mastered a bit earlier in the year. They recorded live in a studio in Hackney called Sound Savers and sent me the rather well recorded wavs for me to mess with. They’re a 3-piece, so I hid the guitar double under a panned, fuzzed out bass duplicate, for a more representative sound, and drew my inspiration from some iphone gig videos, since I’m unlikely to be able to watch them play anytime soon. The whole process was a hoot. They let me put some cack handed organ (German Herman’s Hammond, see below) in the quiet bits, and didn’t wince at my liberal application of distortion. If you’re in London, go watch them play, if you’re anywhere else, buy their EP. It’s out at the end of April.


Since my last blog entry I’ve moved out of Chicago and bought a house near the Wisconsin border with my wife Zoe. I’m in the process of building a studio, with a live room in a barn, a control room in a rather spacious garage, and a patch of wood chips in between. I’m hoping to get it finished sometime this summer. If you want to follow the construction, the best place is my instagram for now, but I’ll probably build a new site once I’ve thought of a good name/domain to buy. In a bit…


Here’s a collaboration and a half. I recorded three of these four songs at CoachHouse (Mickey’s new place since they booted us out of Wall to Wall), and since Kevin had already established a sonic identity for them (very modern, slick, space rock) I just handed the wavs to him. I love what he does with low end, always, and he swears on the SubPac, so I may have to get me one.


Fifteen years ago, a band called Jesse James went into Black Wing studios and recorded an EP. Black Wing was a studio in a converted church in Borough, near London Bridge. Its credits include the first Depeche Mode album and half of the last Pixies album, Trompe Le Monde, so basically, it was a big deal. Us and various Wildhearts related bands were some of the last bands to record there before it closed. We recorded to 2″ tape with a guy called Roger Tebbit, and it was mixed by Harvey Birrell at Southern. The reel then sat in my parents house for about ten years, until I tried to digitize it. I drove it back over to Southern one evening, but Harvey couldn’t get his Studer to work. Last year, while I was still recording out of the ill-fated Wall to Wall studios, I got Paul to transfer it for me and another year later, I got round to remixing it.
My favourite thing about that studio was the drum room, set behind a sliding glass door at the back of the main live room, the walls were covered in what looked like crazy paving. It sounded cavernous, but it was big enough that the close mics weren’t drowned in reflections. On remixing it, I championed the room mics (no artificial reverb needed) so it’s a bit heavy on the cymbals. I also ditched the double (sometimes triple) tracked vocals in favour of a mildly melodyned single track. The horns were recorded with all of us around one mic (a 414 I think), and double tracked. I remember being amazed that Roger didn’t use any compression on the drums on the way in, as my only other recording mentor, Tom Savage at Jigsaw, tended to slam everything. Other than that I don’t remember much about the session, and I don’t think I realised how lucky we were to record there, with a record label footing the bill.
I think we sold more of that EP than any of our subsequent releases, a silly song about fashion and the male gaze, written with place holder lyrics that ended up sticking.


Since Ruby Crystals is a song about Transformers the Movie, making a music video from the 1986 animated classic was a no-brainer, and that’s exactly what Bryan did. Hear the song in its entirety with stunning robot themed visuals. It’s like 2001 A Space Odyssey, but not as long.


Today we took the Beat the Smart Kids album to The Boiler Room for mastering. Collin has mastered a bunch of great Chicago records there, from Alkaline Trio, Local H, Lawrence Arms and so on, on his 6ft Dunlavy monitors (tall, not wide). I was stoked just to have my mixes mastered by a dedicated mastering engineer (and not me), and I sure learned a lot while we were there. He obviously had some cool gear, including a Mini Massive, a Vari Mu (if you can see the needle moving, you’re using it too much) and a Weiss DS1. But mainly I was impressed by his tricks, much use of mid-side EQ and a phase-switched dupe to hear the changes he was applying. A/Bing his masters against the attempts I’d made as I was mixing it, showed up a lot of bulk, that sounds good in my room on my Dynaudios but never translates to anything else. The way he preserved the attack of the kick and snare (just the right times on the limiter?) and his general disdain for multiband compression have certainly made me rethink my mastering methods. Have a listen to a little clip of Ruby Crystals, my favourite song from the album, which is about Transformers the Movie, obviously.


Today my new band Big Night In’s EP hits the digital shelves. We called it Big Night In, and the second song is also called Big Night In, so if you play that song on your iPhone it’ll say ‘Bight Night In, Big Night In, Big Night In’ in iTunes. Also we bought as a domain name. It’s that kind of band.
We recorded it all at Wall to Wall, just in time before they booted us out and the jackhammers came in to turn the place into luxury condos. Some of the last sessions were kind of sad and empty since Mickey had moved most of his gear out, but we kept the couch and the lava lamp until the very end.
As hard as it already is recording and mixing your own band while retaining some sense of distance/subjective judgement of the music, we also ran into trouble tracking the guitars. The songs are a weird mix of Thin Lizzy style riffs, AC/DC open chords and modern punk rock, so finding a guitar tone/gain that would work throughout was always going to be a struggle. We thought we’d found the answer in an Orange Rockerverb 50, with the mids cranked and the gain just shy of noon, but over the course of January we decided to retrack various bits for various reasons, and only had Dave’s modded JCM900 at hand. By the time we were happy with all the solos and rhythm parts we’d retracked almost half the guitars, and the Marshall and Orange tones are VERY different.
I think if this were an actual session, rather than MY band’s first EP, recorded in various degrees of inebriation, I would have insisted on starting again and tracking all the guitars with the same set up. But this is Big Night In, and we have different priorities. So here it is, my new band, and the only five songs we know how to play.


I normally pride myself on my turnaround, but this song took me five years to mix. When I was living in Brockley, in my attic bedroom, in the middle of a bunch of projects, a band facebooked me to ask if I’d record them. I think I initially thought their press shot was lame, or was just too busy to listen to their demo, but one night, trawling my inbox, stoned, I found the email again. This song, Black Rainbow, jumped out at me. So dramatic, so bleak, and yet quite funny (you have to understand the use of the word ‘nightmare’ in British vernacular). An odd song structure eschewing recognizable verses, choruses or bridges with two guitarists doing very different things, but then coming together with the same power chords when necessary. And when the singing descends into dismal screams, the guitar picks up the melody instead and keeps it interesting.
But by the time I’d actually booked them to record, their singer, Olly had quit. We went ahead anyway since they had someone new lined up, and I’d just driven down to the west country with all my gear.
We recorded drums in a horrible room at the office where Rob, the guitarist worked. It was totally square and full of semi reflective surfaces like printers and year planners, but with some of those cubicle style partitions we managed to get a passable drum sound. We tracked the guitars at Rob’s house, using his Adam A7s to monitor on (I was dragging my Genelec 8020s around the country at the time) and we fucking nailed it on getting the gain right, if I may say so myself.
But when it came to vocals, the new guy, who had stuck his head in very briefly once, maybe twice, said he wanted to track them on his own, since he wanted to do something different from Olly’s parts and take his time with it. He assured us that it’d be top notch stuff, since his friend was an audio engineering student, and they had access to some great gear. So I drove home to London.
Eventually, about a month after the session, the new guy started dropboxing me vocal files. Everything was so compressed that the breaths were as loud as the singing itself, and every file was clipping to the point of having no waveform at all. It was all just square wave. I didn’t really like what he was doing with the songs anyway so I threw in the towel and gave Rob the stems to mix elsewhere. But recently, trawling through an old hard disc, I found the instrumental mixes again and started lamenting the loss of that one great song. I had the stems from their original demo, albeit 15bpm slower than we’d retracked it, so I cut them up and made them fit. With the laziness of the old tempo over the new, Olly almost sounds drunk. A song is reborn, and since the band broke up, I’m not at the mercy of their mix opinions, so I do wha I wan. Turns out the song is about Raoul Moat.