Hello, i was wondering how much of the final sound on the album "The Bends" was your vision or did nigel godrich take it to a different place than what you had originally envisioned ..thanks for doing this ..and thanks for all your incredible contributions to music !
I think the jump between Pablo Honey and The Bends is AMAZING. Did those guys come in really confident? I assume they brought in A LOT of songs because there are many amazing b sides on that record too. Did they have strong sense of how they wanted the record to sound or just a bunch of demos? What form did their demos take? Did you track basics as a band or drums first then overdubs? Other recollections?
Could you speak a bit about your contributions, both production-wise and sonically, to The Bends? With Slade & Kolderie (from Pablo Honey) and Goodrich (OK Computer and on) also involved in the making of The Bends, it's an interesting bridge in Radiohead's output that, for my money anyway, is still the one.
That is quite a discography you have there! I have to admit I'm a bit of a Radiohead freak and I was wondering if you had any interesting stories from your work with them. The guys weren't quite so famous and 'legendary' back then.
Oh and did Thom really record "Planet Telex" vocals on his back after drinking too much at a bar, or is that just legend? Thanks!
How were the acoustic guitars tracked generally, and if you can recall, what gear / guitar? It's such a unique and smooth sound that I've yet to hear duplicated. (Nice Dream, Fake Plastic Trees, High and Dry)
Also, I hear Thom has tracked vocals by listening to himself on a comped scratch track and then performing what he hears in one pass, keeping and using only one straight take. This is done during the tracking and he's actually listening to himself maybe 5-10 seconds ahead of time. Any truth to this? If so, how was your experience with this and what was the reason behind it?
I appreciate you taking the time to go over our questions. It's not every day you get a chance to have questions like these answered.
Hey! Thanks for all the nice comments on the work I did with Radiohead...and of course its all getting a bit vague now and in the distant past. Since the record in '94 we've met only occasionally most recently with Jonny at Magazine gig in Oxford (superb!) and before that seeing Thom and Jonny at Womad during a rainstorm with kids in tow and being deafened by Amadou & Mariam. Oh, and a few spaced out and wet Glastonburys and Readings too. Nigel's done real well and worked with the greats and I love them all dearly.
When I worked with them it was totally absorbing day to day and we really 'lived' the songs. I met them at a gig in Gloucester in early 1994, I think they were supporting James and then I had all the demos and I went to a rehearsal on fruit farm out in the wilds near Oxford. Sitting in the room were myself, two managers, A&R Parlophone UK and A&R Capitol USA all to hear the new songs. The band played 30 songs...all played with passion and lot of flaying of heads and hair. The object was to choose a single to record for follow up to Creep, which of course the band hated. All the songs they played were stunning and it was difficult to pick that 'commercial hit'. We settled on doing 4 songs being Nice Dream, The Bends, Just and My Iron Lung. We then got the bus to RAK in London and set to work for what would take us nine weeks with just a few days off. I'd worked before with Nigel as my assistant on crazy projects like Denim and I knew RAK Studio 1 since it opened in 1978 when i produced The Skids and Bill Nelson. Its API, Studer and Neuman and nothings really changed there since 1978...its just got better and is always a place for music. However its not without its shortcomings and you do have to work hard to get a sound. Monitoring was pretty **** being two Tannoy Golds in Lockwood cabinets hung high in front of you and all the frames rattled etc or we used the battered NS10s on desktop or my old B&W DM1200s. I probably recorded and mixed seven albums on those speakers and its a case of if you can make it sound good on them it'll sound good anywhere. Don't use them much now though.
RAK 1 is a big ballroom with dividing doors so you can split the room and get good isolation on the drums and good visual contact with everyone. There's lots of space and daylight if you want it. You still have to build huts with roofs for bass and guitar. Mics would have been 57 or KM84 snare, 421 toms, D25, D12, RE20 or 421 bass drum, 84 hihat, various ohs like 87s. 4038, 84, 414s, 451s, tube U47 pair. Bass guitar would be DI, D12, RE20 or U47. Guitars would nearly always be U67 and 57 flat and mix between. Lot of time spent getting guitar sound right in studio room first. Also used Urei1176 black face, DBX160x for compression etc. Spent lot of time trying different amps and set ups and for Jonny's guitar went back to his original set up of Telecaster/ Bluesbreaker /DigiTech Whammy/ Fender Twin. Ed had his guitar's made by Plank who still works with them and usually used Mesa Boogie. Colin had Aria bass but most tracks done on Fender Mustang 1972 and Ampeg SVT.
We finished the potential single tracks and immediately started on B sides for the single yet to be chosen. After 5 weeks I went to Abbey Road to mix Bends, Nice Dream and Just and during this time Nigel took over the set up and recorded Black Star and couple other tracks. The single was put on hold and we continued another month in studio. At end of this time we all took deserved rest and they went on tour to Far East playing Bangkok etc. We reconvened in July at Manor Studio in Oxford which was a great place, SSL and sadly closed a few years later by Mr EMI. I'd worked on many records there and felt like home. Nigel was not present at any Manor or Abbey Road sessions. I re-recorded from scratch all of Bends, Bones, Bulletproof, Punchdrunk Lovesick Singalong, Banana Co and Sulk and finished all overdubs. We were 2 weeks at Manor and straight away went to Abbey Road 3 mixing with Chris Brown. We started on Iron Lung as new choice for single. Only Colin, Ed and occasionally Jonny came to those mix sessions and it wasn't until someone from Abbey Road tape library came down asking for a multitrack of Nice Dream did I know something was up. The tape was to be copied and sent to USA. All Slade and Kolderie mixes were done off copy tapes. These would have been 30ips non dolby 3M 995 at +9db. Good tape!
Here's run down of some of tracks
Planet Telex (originally called Planet Xerox): you probably heard story... the chef at RAK took night off and we were given £100 go find some food and ended up at greek restaurant and had a little vino and got back to studio with idea of making some loops from the drums at end of Killer Cars. Nigel had just got Sound Designer 2 on a Mac2FX and we arranged 3 different loops. Within half hour we had the band playing along with parts somehow falling from the ether. The rhodes with the delay was set up from Jonny trying something on another track and sound was driven by me turning up graphic eq on delay return which was set on point of feedback. Guitar tone from Ed was awesome and Colin's bass line took no time to get down. It was 2am and I say to Thom, 'You better do the vocal then its finished or we go home?" He went straight out there and what you hear is what he sang. I don't know where it all came from because we'd been really struggling over some of the songs and this had just materialised and was done and completed in just a few hours.
Sulk: Attempted at RAK, Manor and finally captured at Abbey Road 2 on a one off session and whole track more or less completed in a day.
Fake Plastic Trees: We had strings coming in next day to overdub and hadn't even attempted to get track down yet over discussions on how to do it. I cracked the whip and sent Thom out in studio on his own with a click and he has a 57 and U67 on his guitar, U47 on vocal and as soon as he starts the 67 packs up with hum and fizzing so the acoustic is just 57 but the guitar was a strange resonant acoustic in highly polished blond wood and it really didn't matter what mic you used. It was great first take and the whole dynamic of track was governed by his vocal performance.
My Iron Lung: made up of intro and verses from MTV live at Astoria live recording done on Manor mobile and choruses from RAK sessions done month previous and all edited and mixed at Abbey Road. Can you hear the join?
Bullet proof: Ed and Jonny together playing sounds on guitar all through song without hearing track. Go....Stop!
Nice Dream: my crazy idea to make the acoustic guitars sound 'massed' like a Phil Spector thing and getting whole band, all 5 of them, strumming on the lawn with headphones on in bathing suits at Manor studios.
High and Dry: I had nothing to do on this track. It's the demo recorded at Courtyard by Jim Warren and is, I am told, first take of the song after band learnt it. Phil had just got new drum kit and bass drum sound is new heads straight out of the shop. Slade and Kolderie mixed it and it sounds mighty fine.
The whole record for me not including US mix time took 99 days in studio.
During RAK time we got out and saw gigs, Jimmy Smith at Dingwalls was one of happiest shows I've been to and Jeff Buckley at Garage was one of most devastating astounding.
Kurt Cobain died while making record.
Don't quite understand your vocal thing? I'm sure at some time I've comped a vocal and then the singer has gone out and double tracked it and the double track track is better so this is used a master take. It doesn't always work and shouldn't be done consciously.
Most of guitar fx and 'sound' is on tape. I think if you played those two inch tapes and put faders at zero you'll get pretty good mix and approximation of finished record. The vocals would be dry. Its funny cos when we were mixing at Abbey Road all reverb was frowned upon and when the US mixes came back they were wet.
Slade and Kolderie I didn't know of except that they'd done Pablo Honey and Pixies and I have never met them nor had contact.
The acoustic guitar sound is all from the unique sound of Thom's guitar and choice of guitar. Its the way its played as nothing unusual or special about recording (U67 and maybe 84, no DI, API eq.