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Toast Studios - Interview with Producer Craig Silvey

For the launch of Toast, we carried out an exclusive video interview with the man behind the studio, Craig Silvey. Through his prolific work over the years with the likes of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Editors, Anna Calvi, The Horrors, The National, Arctic Monkeys, The Arcade Fire, Magic Numbers and many more, Craig has become one of the most in-demand producers and mix engineers around. Find out about his ideas behind the studio, his amazing collection of vintage gear, and his career to-date by clicking  on the link below. A full interview transcript is beneath the link.... 

Click here to view the video on Youtube


Full Interview Transcript

Hi Craig , so give us an introduction to the studio we're in now...

This is the Toast, or Toast 're-visited', which is a reincarnation of my studio I had in San Francisco, and a hybrid of my other studio, The Garden in Shoreditch, London.

Where did the centre piece Neve come from, and what model is it?

So we're basically centred around this, the Neve 8026 circa 1972. It started life in California and was first commissioned for MCA Records in Los Angeles, and then in the late 80s it found itself in a place called Coast Recorders in San Francisco run by Dan Alexander who's a famous gear nut. He was going to leave the building and I was going to take over his space. With the desk staying it ended with us negotiating the console. Whilst it was in Coast it did some great records such as Neil Young. It was part of the San Francisco scene for a good portion of the late 70s, 80s and through to the 90s. I had it in my studio until about 2002 when the dotcom boom crushed the ability to have a recording studio in San Francisco - our landlord wanted quadruple rent so we were just like, 'byeee'!!. So it then sat in a lonely storage space for about three years. I finally brought it over here and it was first re-commissioned in The Garden, where I had good fun for three years, but unfortunately I'm a west London guy and this new location is about 3 minutes from my house, meaning I'm a happy man.

A lot of people's go-to will be an SSL or a Neve VR, or even in-the-box, but what does the Neve 8026 bring to mixing for you personally?

You've got it a lot now where people are recording in the box, albeit with one or two really nice mic pre's, but you've got a lot of projects where they've kinda done it themselves and they're coming to you to at the last moment to mix it.

The summing on the Neve 8026 and the way when you hit it coming off Pro Tools is really different to anything else. It seems to give a warmth and a stereo width that I really can't seem to be able to get off anything else. I mean, I get that from recording projects where say, if you're recording in a house using external pre's and you're monitoring just through Pro Tools. So you run out the stereo mix, and when you're recording the monitor mixes are done that way, and as soon you just split it out you put everything at zero and you can just feel it open up.

Also, when you use the line amps on the 1272, when you hit them hard with Pro Tools it gives a different sound. Usually you find that with Pro Tools – you can vary the level you send your kick drum or snare drum out of Pro Tools, and then hit this desk. Sometimes I'll just mess with that to see how hard you want it to hit the line amp. That gives it this colour that really no other desk does.

Are you primarily mixing here or are you going elsewhere to work still?

It's hard to do everything here because you do get artists who want to record or mix somewhere else. That's fine, but you find when you've got your own place, that's what you know and love. You don't have to listen twice, you don't have to listen to it in the car because you just know it. Because you've done so much work on it, you get an extra 10 hit points for being on your own home turf. I just did a record in Electric Ladyland, which was great and a good experience, but it's just a completely different room and initially it takes a week just to get your head around the monitoring. Even if the monitoring isn't that bad in the room it's just different to what you're used to. I think I'd prefer to stay here for as long as possible. In the building here, it's a little hard to record a full band. I'm only doing that a portion of the time and when I am there's a great space upstairs that's got an old Trident A Range with a big recording space, so if you do drums you go up there and then you come back here for overdubs and mix.

We've got a pretty good small collection of backline at Toast for people who want to come and do overdubs. I've pretty much got everything covered. I've got a set of amps, a couple of guitars and some great mic's. So we can pretty much do everything when it comes to overdubs. We can actually record a drum kit in here but it'd be in a tight space.

You've previously worked at Skywalker ranch. Did that inform you of any specific ways in which you work now, or is there anything that's a reaction to what you did there? Do you ever deliberately avoid using methods they used there?

When I worked at Skywalker Ranch it was a time in the early 90s where they built the room to do film scores in. Because it was situated outside LA it was difficult for them to bring scores there. This meant we only did around 4-5 films a year, which only took up a month-and-a-half to two months at a time. So, for the rest of the time due to the acknowledgement of what a great studio space it was, it was used for rock and roll, pop and classical recording. So, for the rest of the time we were doing a lot of either classical records or really big pop records. As a result, I ended up with a weird hybrid of learning film scoring with that high speed high energy pace; learning classical film recordings with the slow detailed specific elements; and finally having the LA masters of the 70s and 80s coming up to do big rock and roll projects. This gave me a really well rounded knowledge of recording.

At the same time I was really into early Hip-Hop, listening to artists such as Public Enemy who were throwing all those things out the window. It was really nice learning all these things whilst also not having to be dogmatically, slavishly thinking that that's the way to record. In fact I even remember getting into arguments with the guys, regarding Public Enemy specifically, saying, "man you gotta hear this album, you gotta hear the energy of this record". One famous producer would say, "this is not music, this is just terrible, this is ruining the music industry" and I was like "yeah but do you not hear the power and energy of it?" to which he replied "no this is terrible!"

I just remember afterwards being like, okay I see that your brilliant in what you do although there's a very one-direction outlook that you think is right. It helped make me think that if you have the full toolbox then your ability to make interesting, different records is more useful.

Speaking of toolboxes, you have the vintage stuff, the new stuff, the clean stuff and the dirtier stuff that all part of your outlook. You're clearly a fan of vintage gear...

If you have the full toolbox then your ability to make interesting and potentially different records is more. But I guess the concept of having combinations of everything gives you this philosophy of recording, which has then turned into the way my gear is – I've got mic pre's like the Hardys which give a purely classical recording element, but then things like the Roland Chorus Echos which sound so scruffy, so you print things into that and put it back out, and it's not actually used as a delay, that's the actual tape pass. Those two worlds sometimes never used to meet. I'd call it a concept of Mid-Fi recording – not too Hi-Fi but not too Lo-Fi...

My love for vintage gear stems from that time working with these guys, the masters of the 70's and 80's. Especially in LA and California, they never let go of this stuff, even when you had that point in the 80's, 90's and early 2000's where old equipment wasn't worth much. There was a core group that realised the quality of old gear. I got trained into that and recognised it early on. I guess that's my philosophy, and it was built around that. I got into the signal path.

Have you got any favourite pieces of equipment here at Toast?

That's a tough one. If you look at the gear I've got there's not a lot of filler. For example, sometimes you go into a studio and there are 19 Dynamite gates, which takes up a lot of rack but your not going to use them. But in my bag of tricks, everything in here fulfils a purpose that is a kind of go-to box; when you go "I need something that does this" and you've got that.

So you've got the desk for its summing and its EQ which is very specific, but I've got some other EQ's that I use when you think you need something different. Having the SSL EQ is great because it's the polar opposite of the 1084's and 1073's. Then I have the Helios that give you another flavour. In some ways in the mix it gives you a depth where you can use the different EQ's and compressors as elements to make everything standout in the mix in its own way. None of these compressors and EQ's sound like each other.

Having had Toast MKI and then The Garden, was there anything that you learnt when making decisions about creating Toast MKII?

I wouldn't necessarily say having those two studios was the only factor in making my decisions on how the arrangement should be in this place, but I would say it was helpful to make the mistakes before. Having been a vagabond, going from studio to studio for years, you quickly learn what you like and dislike. Also, having a studio helps you make your mistakes and you know not to do that. I guess The Garden was a place where it worked very well.

Is this place set up in a way you like to work, or in a particular way that might be unique to you?

I guess this studio really works for my own set up that has been honed over a long time having gone to many studios over the years. But certainly, since having my own studios and having the original Toast and then especially The Garden - having a lot of time where you could tweak it to the way you wanted it to be. I definitely had it that way at The Garden.

In some ways Toast is a transplanted Garden. Before being there, there was a fair amount of equipment that I didn't have that The Garden did, and that is now here as well. It's tailored to a specific way I work, but that's not to say it's not flexible. You do go to other studios where people work in their one certain way, and when you go in to try and work in your way it goes ape shit. I hate to go into a studio like that, so I try to make it so it's set out for anyone to enjoy.

Did you bring the Boxer T2 monitors from The Garden?

Yes. Those are the Boxers from The Garden. I became a real Boxer fan when these were at Whitfield Street, Sony Studios down in the West End, which was a great studio. Then they went to The Garden and I fell in love with them there even more, so I demanded them here! Miloco Builds put them in and they sound great.

Was Toast already a studio or did you convert a unit?

It's different to what it was, but in theory it was a mix room for Martin Terefe who has Kensal Town studios, and this was a part of that complex. This was his mix room but he decided he didn't need the added stress. It worked out well that I bumped into him and we talked about doing a record together, and I also said I'm looking for a place and he said "oh what about here" and I thought great I live just over the road! So it worked out really great.

We had Nick Whittaker and the Miloco Builds people come in to tweak the acoustics because it was little more rough and ready as a mix room before. But they did the front wall, which really tightened it up and made the acoustics exactly the way you want from a mix room.

So working with Miloco, this is your 2nd partnership venture with them. What do you like about that model?

I think Miloco have obviously been doing this for a long time – being both studio owners and also doing the studio management side. I think they've really managed to hone it to be exactly what you want from studio management, and that's to be efficient but not in your face. Trying to get that balance is always difficult, but they've been doing it for so long they know how, so it worked out very well at The Garden and now here, too.


Craig Silvey was talking to Miloco in July, 2013.