Having spent a couple of weeks over at Hoxton Square, Gareth Jones and These New Puritans relocated to our Toyshop room at Leroy Street to continue work. So it was a perfect opportunity for MILC to grab an hour of his time to formulate the Gareth Jones Producer Interview for the Miloco website. We cornered off the rec room, switched off the dishwasher, reclined into two very comfy sofas, pressed play on the dictaphone, and let Gareth talk about the TNP sessions and his illustrious career as a record producer.
MILC: So how are you?
Gareth: Very well thank you. We’ve had a very good couple of weeks at Miloco’s Square and Toyshop working on the debut album for These New Puritans – a very focused bunch of people. There’s been lots to do, but I think we’re actually a bit ahead of schedule. We’ve done all the backing tracks we wanted and loads of overdubs, just moving forward.
MILC: So the have the sessions gone well?
Gareth: Yeah they’ve gone very well. The plan was to have the band play together initially, to play all the songs out live, and The Square seemed the obvious choice to track the band. We had Mark (Allaway, assistant) running around The Square, and I think every input, cable and mic had been used up, which was great as we got a multi-microphone shoot of the band playing all their songs live. Jeff Knowler has done a great job engineering. Then we’ve been sorting everything out in The Toyshop – editing, lots of overdubs and general tidying-up.
MILC: We hear there have been some goings-on on the roof at Leroy Street. Have you all been looking at some fairly experimental recording practices over the session?
Gareth: Well it’s always an experiment, isn’t it? Everyone’s very open, and the band are very creative, so they’ve just been grabbing sounds where they hear them. I think what’s happened outside (on the roof) is that they’ve heard a few percussion sounds that they’ve wanted to use, so I’ve got a small portable recorder we’ve used to grab a few sounds.
MILC: The barbeque became particularly handy we hear…
Gareth: Yes the barbeque, we had some knives tapping on the air conditioning and the railings down stairs, so it’s been good as there’s been a mixture of programmed beats and played beats. Sampling percussion has a big part to play.
MILC: The press have certainly commented on These New Puritans being one of the most original sounding bands to be emerging right now. Was their musical individuality one of the attractions for you when considering working with the band?
Gareth: Sure, I heard them live towards the end of last year. I only caught a few songs as they played a short set and I arrived late anyway, but I was really impressed by their energy and the sound on stage. Those two things really hit me, and I felt that this could be a lot of fun. When I saw them live I had an idea of where I could help and contribute. That’s of course very inspiring for me. Sometimes you just see a band and think, “that’s great, but what could I ever do with it?” With these guys I could immediately relate. I could see where I could help to pump up the impact of what they’re doing, I suppose.
MILC: So was there for you a particular objective for the project that you had in mind when you went into it? If so has it been stuck to?
Gareth: Yes, I really wanted to bring across the excitement and energy I’d seen at some of the London gigs over the last few months. I felt that was very important. Also I’d done a couple of weeks pre-production with the band in a rehearsal room before we got into The Square, so we could all get to know each other, and also to find out where they wanted to go with it. I’m making the band’s album – it’s very much led by the band, Jack particularly. Jack has a real vision of how he wants the album to sound and how he wants things to develop.
MILC: Right back in the beginning of your career, you picked up your training at the BBC. How did you move from the BBC job to a career as a freelance record producer/engineer?
Gareth: At the BBC I did a bit of groundwork and learnt the difference between one end of the microphone and the other, that type of thing! I learnt a lot more from working with musicians on the job after that. It’s all such a long time ago. I felt lucky because I went the non-traditional route, if you like, and managed to get a job in a small eight-track studio called Pathway in the late-seventies. There were no assistants or anything, so I never had the pleasure of starting as an assistant and watching lots of other producers at work. I mainly learnt from the musicians.
MILC: So that was mainly engineering work you were doing right from the beginning?
Gareth: Exactly. Being an engineer in a small studio on my own, was a big contrast to the old-school style which Miloco is a part of, where you train-up runners and assistants, which I think is a very well tried-and-tested way of learning the skills actually. But some of us just got thrown in the deep end and just had to busk it. So I consider myself a gifted amateur.
MILC: So you had a very steep learning curve back then…
Gareth: A very steep learning curve, but also always wanting to be professional, not quite knowing what professional was! I just took it one week at a time and was learning by doing, which was a very exciting time for me.
MILC: Looking back to the early projects in your career, one of the first – as stated on your CV – was with synth-pop pioneer John Foxx. Do you think working with John at this early stage played an integral part in pointing you in the direction of working with similar electronic bands such as Erasure, Depeche Mode and Bronski Beat?
Gareth: John was one of the musicians that I learnt a great deal from, about the making of records and also the business itself. In the early days he was very much of a mentor figure to me, and still is actually, when I look back. At the time I was struggling to do a good job for him as an engineer, and I learnt a lot from him. He was one of the first people I knew who had worked in big studios, but I realised after we made Metamatic together that he’d downsized from working in a huge studio to working in a small one. It was clear that the content of the music was what it’s all about, and not the scale of the studio. I think John wanted to do a minimal album when I met him, and therefore chose minimal means to do it with. I learnt loads from him, and of course he was also very directly involved in encouraging me to go off and work with Mute Records and Depeche Mode.
MILC: So do you think it could it have been much different say, if you had become acquainted with a very different type of artist, or was working with synthesisers in music always your passion?
Gareth: It’s impossible to tell isn’t it? I’ve done a lot of work with guitars as well as synths, but I was very interested in synthesiser technology long before I ever got into a studio. When I first heard synthesisers on a Beach Boys record, or a Pink Floyd record, Walter Carlos’s Switched on Bach was one of the first synthesiser records I ever heard, which I just thought was incredible. So when I met John I was very sympathetic towards what I felt he was trying to do. I wasn’t thinking, “oh I’d rather be working with guitars”, I was actually excited about all this cool technology. The making of icey, industrial beats was something I could empathise with.
MILC: The John Foxx sessions took place in The Garden which by that time you knew very well, having played a part in building it. How did you get involved in building the studio which is of course now Miloco 4?
Gareth: John had some experience in the industry, and he put himself into a position where he was able to buy the means of production. After we made Metamatic he thought he’d like a bigger studio for himself, and he had a concept for the type of creative space he wanted, which I think you’ve more-or-less kept at Miloco in a the sense of how the rooms are divided and so on. As his engineer at the time, I helped to specify what technology we were going to put into the space he conceived – almost none of which is still there today. We had an AMEK in there originally, and I know you have a Neve in there now, which I look forward to using at some point.
MILC: You’ve always had an extensive collection of gear, which has always been cutting edge and now we hear is nearly entirely software based. What are the benefits of having all of your equipment in software format these days?
Gareth: Well portability, for one. And Cheapness. Obviously it’s a powerful lever, digital technology. The fact that I can have a huge collection of sound-making sources on my laptop is a miracle in itself for me. I think that, especially with engineers from my generation, the fact that we can effectively have a 48-track studio on a laptop now is hugely exciting. So I love the portability. I also do a lot of mixing on the box which I really like because of the repeatability. It suits me very well, because when I’m mixing something I like to do a pre-mix, and then come back and visit it again and again, which is very difficult and expensive to do outside the box.
MILC: Although you’re personal assets are mostly in digital software formats these days, do you still combine analogue recording techniques, and if so what sort of analogue techniques have you been using recently?
Gareth: Well obviously it’s still analogue when it goes into the mic, and I am very comfortable with analogue technology. I did recently buy an analogue front-end, which I felt I needed to complement my digital studio. But until that point I had abandoned analogue compression on the front eight. And obviously, depending on the project, but still certainly with a project like These New Puritans, how we make it work is by using your console and mics, and some of the analogue processing in The Square to capture the whole thing in the Pro Tools rig, and then only after that it becomes mostly digital. But the desk and the outboard still play a huge part in getting the scaffolding in place. I still have an analogue sensibility, where I’m using digital and mashing sounds up in a way which is part of my analogue heritage. There’s loads of plug-ins I like which are essentially trying to emulate the old analogue gear, but I’m not personally sending stuff out to analogue much these days.
MILC: Do you think there are any disadvantages which have come about through the switch from analogue to digital in music engineering, i.e. is there anything you think that digital technology has failed to match in terms of the qualities of the analogue equivalent preceding it?
Gareth: Well I see it as a balance of a number of factors working with digital. With an unlimited budget, I would build more analogue work into the session. But having said that, I find digital very creative and cost-effective, so that’s really what it’s about. I mean, I can spend months playing around with analogue gear, and enjoy it, if the artist demands that and there’s enough budget. I’m not going to say that a digital Mini Moog is better, or the equivalent, to an analogue Mini Moog, but it is still a very creative tool. That’s how I find it. I feel the same with a lot of digital compressors I’m using.
MILC: Miloco Operations Manager, Nick Young, remembers your collection of vintage valve microphones you brought in for a Sheep On Drugs session in The Garden in the early-to-mid nineties. Do you still have them, and if so how have you been using them recently?
Gareth: No, I sold the valve microphones to George Holt at Dada studios, and I think he’s sold them as well now. I had a beautiful old Telefunken from 1934, but again it all just became too big. You know, when you look at a mic and it’s twice as heavy as your laptop…! So yeah, those valves have gone.
MILC: What is your most prized or most used microphone in that collection?
Gareth: Well I didn’t have huge collection actually, but my B&K 4006 was probably the most used microphone. It’s called a Danish Pro Audio now isn’t it? That has been one of my favourite microphones over the last twenty years.
MILC: With that in mind have you purchased any microphones which have been made from say the last 5 years which are of that quality?
MILC: You are well respected for your extensive knowledge of Logic. What do you feel it is about Logic which makes it the most suitable sequencing software for your work?
Gareth: The thing that makes it so suitable for me is that I know it so well. I think if I was 25, I would be completely down with Protools and Logic, but I’m very comfortable with Logic, and I’ve been using it for a very long time, so for me it’s very simple to use and do loads of stuff with. Obviously it’s got a very sophisticated midi implementation, and it hosts lots of nice plug-ins – there’s a whole load of cheap and cheerful, weird and wonderful plug-ins out there. But for me it’s simply a tool that I know very well. I think all DAWs are amazing. It’s just that my personal skill-set is with Logic so it’s just second nature, it’s what I do. I’m just very cack-handed with everything else, I am, really! I can’t make Protools go! “Where’s the ‘play’ button!!!”. But having said that, with this project (These New Puritans) we tracked with Protools, partly because of the very good integration with the hardware, and it’s a very stable platform, nice and reliable. It worked totally well in The Square – didn’t need to be de-bugged or anything, we just booted it up and went.
MILC: So to change the subject completely, two of the bands you have probably done the most work with, and are most associated with are synth-pop legends, Depeche Mode and Erasure. What would you say is the extent of your personal contribution to their overall sound and success?
Gareth: I think with both the bands, their success is very much based on the strength of their songs and the way their material connected to the public-at-large. That really is the main thing. Obviously Depeche changed their sound a lot over the years, and when I was associated with them in the eighties, I was pleased and proud to be a part of that journey. It was a team of people voyaging to new sonic territories. But they were certainly going somewhere with or without me!! I helped them move towards the great pinnacle of their career, you know when they did Violator and Songs of Faith and Devotion, which was after I worked with them. Fortunately I’ve had the pleasure of working with them since.
MILC: Are there certain approaches you always take and have always taken when going in to work with a band, whether it’s Depeche Mode in 1987, or These New Puritans in 2007, or do you treat each project as completely individual to the next?
Gareth: Every project is individual, and I’m still on a learning curve so that my skills and project management continue to develop as they have done over the last twenty years. In some ways it’s completely different. I’m a very different person now to what I was twenty years ago.
MILC: So there isn’t a definite ‘Gareth Jones stamp’ that is left on everything you do then?
Gareth: No definitely not, there’s no formula. I try to connect to the band to find out where the band’s strengths are and help enhance them. I’m not making a sound that I’m stamping on the band. I don’t think I’ve ever done that, I don’t think that’s my skill set. Obviously there are some great masters of record production who very much do that, and they have their own sound and they bring it to the material they work with. But that’s certainly not how I work. If I’ve got any skills they lie more in finding out where the band’s strengths lie, helping draw them out and magnifying them.
MILC: So an emphasis on open-mindedness you feel, is very important to bring out the best in each project…
Gareth: Yeah more recently I’ve had a broad game plan for doing a record, which involves doing a lot of pre-production which is really valuable as everyone gets to know each other in a low-budget environment. And I’m very concerned now to bring in projects on time and on budget, as I feel much better in myself if we can do that, and bands seem to like that (as do my Managers). In the last few years, I’ve moved to a position of being the age of the parents of the younger bands that I work with, so that gives me a whole new set of responsibilities and it’s a whole different relationship. As opposed to having colleagues of the same age, I am now in a totally different generation, so my responsibilities are somewhat different. I can look back to all the mistakes I’ve made in the studio and help the bands I work with now not to make the same mistakes.
MILC: Do they always listen?
Gareth: No – everyone needs to find their own way. But a lot of the time, yes actually. I think you either hit it off with the band or not. If you hit it off, they listen. If you don’t hit it off then you don’t work well together, it’s very difficult and there’s not much point. I’ve made so many albums, I’ve been on this trip from demo to mastering so many times, I can suggest where we might want to stop to pull on supplies, or we might want to pull over and rest, or there might be a big storm that we can avoid. It’s definitely a voyage that I’ve been on many times, and on every voyage the band charter my ship, if you like.
MILC: In the late eighties and early nineties you did a lot of work out in Germany with a selection of German bands including Palais Schaumburg, Ideal and Einsturzende Neubauten. Where did the connection with the German music industry come from?
Gareth: Somehow I met a bass player from a Berlin-based new wave band, “Ideal”, and they were very successful. I got invited to take part in their third album and finished up making some of it in Berlin. We recorded it in Vienna and mixed it in Berlin, which was my introduction to Berlin. Daniel Miller from Mute was also working in the same studio, Hansa studio. He was working there with The Birthday Party, I think, and it was just about the same time that we’d started working together on Depeche Mode. So it seemed natural for me to suggest that we bring Depeche over and mix the first album we did together in that studio. We were both big fans of the city of Berlin, and still are – it just seemed like a great plan. Very shortly afterwards I moved to Berlin. I was there for about nine years.
MILC: Having enjoyed so much success out there with the various German artists at that time, what were your feelings towards returning permanently to Britain?
Gareth: It was a really good step for me because obviously London has a huge music scene. In Berlin, I was like a big fish in a small pond, and when I came back to England I was a small to medium-sized fish in a massive pond, and that of course encouraged me to raise my game. There were some very talented producers and musicians that I knew when I was in Berlin, but nothing like what it is over here. Obviously London, New York and LA are the three big centres of our industry, and there are so many great people and there’s so much to learn from all of them, and there are so many studios. So it was a real buzz coming back to London, and I was really pleased.
MILC: Germany of course is not the only foreign country you have worked in, you have in fact been all around the world working on recording projects. You must have countless experiences, but is there any one that stands out in your mind as being the most memorable?
Gareth: Aaaahhhh!! Too many confidentiality clauses for that one I’m afraid!
MILC: It’s great to have you back at Miloco as over the years you have been a regular client. What do you feel Miloco has to offer that other recording studios don’t?
Gareth: One of the things which is obviously great is how you guys have developed in that you’ve got a lot of rooms at different price levels, so you can bring bands in and expose them to the whole professional attitude that Miloco has, very early. So a new band on a limited budget, such as the one we are doing now, can come in and be part of this professional environment. Everything seems to work, everything’s very clean, Declan looks after us and Nick and Sophie look after us. That’s all really valuable as part of the working process, I think. And the fact that you’ve got rooms ranging from The Square, though The Garden to the main Neve room, and Ben Hiller’s room downstairs (The Pool), it’s a very exciting, flexible and creative environment. Also it’s easy to work in different rooms for different parts of the project, whether you’re tracking, over-dubbing or mixing.
Gareth Jones was talking to Miloco in April 2007.