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interview

Interview with Haydn Bendall (Kate Bush, Massive Attack, Gary Moore, Roger Waters, Paul McCartney...)

His name may not ring a bell to you, but you already have heard something recorded, mixed or produced by him. With a career over 5 decades, Haydn Bendall managed to develop his numerous talents in many different musical genres. From Kate Bush to the Royal Philarmonic Orchestra, Massive Attack, Ryuichi Sakamoto or the Pet Shop Boys, he had the chance to work with the most illustrious artists and projects, mainly in the fantastic Abbey Road Studios, where he even held the position of Chief Engineer for a few years. Audiofanzine had the chance to meet this extraordinary and respectable music devotee while he was leading some masterclasses at Abbey Road Institute in Paris.

Hi Haydn, welcome back in Paris! Can you tell us a little bit more about the workshops you’re doing here in Abbey Road Institute France ?

It’s good ! It’s quite hard work, and there’s a lot of talking but it’s good ! They’re very nice students, all very very nice. I usually don’t like ‘presenting’ my work but I like talking with students. Today, Jean-Philippe Boisson (ARI France manager) and I had the idea to split the sessions – one in the morning and one in the afternoon – and for each, students can bring 3 or 4 mixes, so we can have a look at the mixes they did, then we try to analyze things, maybe help or just talk about the philosophy behind it. It’s quite interesting actually ! They’re bright and there were some pieces of music that were really good – I mean really really good ! Innovative and exciting, not obeying any particular rules, you know, any genre’s specific rules or anything… That’s really nice. We talked a lot about different topics, including compression. That’s fun because I remember, when I first started engineering, it took me YEARS actually to really understand compression. Years. I understood EQ practically immediately; but compression, it took me a long long time to understand, I found it really hard. I did lots of records – even hits – early records, and there is no compression on them, because I was too scared to use it !


Indeed it can be scary ! (Laughs)

It used to; now that doesn’t scare me anymore. Indeed I use it a lot… But I don’t use it the way some would use it. I like to use it more like an EQ, just to change the ‘angle’, the harmonic content, to shape the tone… Not to control the level. To do that you got Pro Tools, you got great automation tools. Instead of spending 3 seconds putting sh** compressor on, I spend half an hour writing the automations ! (Laughs)

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You’ve had an extensive career and if we look at all the artists you’ve been working with, it’s quite unbelievable. But as with the students you have here, there is a moment where you started. What was the spark for you to start as an audio engineer ?

I was at school and I was playing the electric organ. We had a band at school and the organ was a Vox Continental that I loved. Actually I spent all my money on buying this organ ! I used to work delivering papers and working in a shop in the evenings and I saved all this money for a couple of years and I bought this Vox Continental. And I loved rehearsing. We didn’t write our own material, we were good, just copying lots of soul stuff, doing covers…


Are we saying, like, late 60s ? All the big soul names in the US, in the UK …?

Yes, Soul from the Motown, Sam Cooke and all this stuff… And I loved the rehearsals ! It was bass, drums, a guitar, maybe two guitars sometimes, and me playing the organ. Rehearsing was great – I loved it – but I hated playing live, I really hated it. I was a bit scared, stage-frightened; you’d rehearse and when we got on stage, nobody would do anything we did in rehearsals ! (Laughs) So what’s the point of working out all that great stuff ?! Just keeping on fucking it up ?! (Laughs) And also I didn’t like carrying the organ either, and the AC30 amp, carrying all this stuff… We were a college band, it wasn’t super successful but we were getting gigs up and down the country, so we were driving the van. I think the drummer’s father had a van, so that’s why he was the drummer, hahaha ! We were driving up and down the place, on the motorway, we did lots around Leeds, Manchester area, and London. I enjoyed lots of the aspects of being in a band, actually I liked everything apart from driving in the van, sleeping in the van, carrying the equipment and playing live; everything else felt so light then !!! (Laughs) We had a manager, called Cliff, and he had a tiny factory in the East End of London – something to do with wrapping sweets in cellophane – but on top of the factory he had a little 2-track studio. 2-track ! And he had a Mellotron. Can you imagine ?


Oh…sweet !

I went to this studio, and we did some recordings and we had this lovely song called ‘Routine’, it was sort of psychedelic… Cliff had two 2-track machines so he’d bounce between the two machines. Of course it was rough, but I thought being in the studio was heaven ! Like: ‘This is fantastic !’ And then I got to know a guy called Joe Meek, famous English producer…


Wait… You met Joe Meek ?!

I knew him, yeah ! I used to go there and play the piano for him and he would pay me 5 pounds. And what happened was… I never considered music as a career, it was just something I loved doing, you know. I loved being in little Cliff’s studio. After that Cliff started a company called Orange… You know, Orange Amplifiers ? That’s Cliff, Cliff started that !


Yes I do ! Again a little name in the history of music manufacturers ! (Laughs)

Well he was then ! He wasn’t an amplifier manufacturer at that time, it was a second-hand guitar shop. A place called Orange in New Compton street in Soho. At that time I was about to go to the University; I wanted to be a doctor, a pediatrician actually, just to look after children – that was my big passion. Cliff had this second-hand guitar shop – he used to sell second hand guitars and amplifiers and stuff – and downstairs, the state-of-the-art studio was then a 4-track analog studio. He built a 4-track Ampex tape analog studio. I said: ‘Cliff, I need a job to save up some money for the University.’ And he said: ‘Yeah, you can come to work downstairs.’ I said: ‘I don’t want to work in the shop, don’t wanna hear bloody guitarists all day, playing too loud !’ And he said: ‘No no no, come work in the studio, downstairs !’


So that was my first job, at Orange Studios.

In Soho ? Late sixties ? Wow !

Can you imagine ?! I didn’t sleep ! (Laughs) I was in heaven ! I loved it so much that I thought: ‘I’m not gonna go to the University !’ So this is where I stopped thinking about becoming a pediatrician. And I worked with some great people there, like Robin Gibb from the Bee Gees, John Miles, Fleetwood Mac…

All these artists at Orange Studios ?

Yeah ! Peter Green had this blues band called ‘Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac’ ; they asked me to join them. I said: ‘No I don’t really like blues…’ Great career move that was, hahah ! (Laughs) Robin Gibb was amazing, even then, he came to demos there… What a voice, great songs ! He would just play the piano, sing, overdub some guitars, harmonies, harmonies, harmonies… He just blew me away: he was amazing ! I still love his voice to this day. There is something sort of… pathetic – in the real meaning of the word, ‘full of pathos’ – in his voice. Really beautiful, really expressive. There was the band called the Pink Fairies and I got to know Peter Green very well, and Danny Kirwan, Jeremy Spencer and John McVie… They didn’t have any money, they were always taking cigarettes of me ! (Laughs).


So you didn’t sleep, you’ve been taken some cigarettes, but you had saved some money for University ! (Laughs)

A little bit, not that much actually : I spent much ! (Laughs) And then one thing led to another, I thought: ‘God, if I stay here I’m gonna die !’ Because I just didn’t sleep… (Laughs) I thought I got to stop working in studios so… At that time I was living with my parents. I stayed at Orange for about 2 1/2 years – which is quite enough if you don’t sleep and do stupid things ! (Laughs) But I loved it ! I also got to know Paul Kossof very well, wonderful man… All these amazing guitarists, these great musicians: it was an amazing period, with a very very vibrant music scene. It was blossoming. I even came to France to do some stuff with Michel Polnareff ! I think it was at Studio de La Grande Armée, or it may have been at Pathé-Marconi in Boulogne.


Anyway I thought then: ’Maybe studios aren’t for me’. It was too much. I was a kid; I didn’t know anything. So I thought I would do something else. And I was talking to the piano tuner at home and he said: ‘Well piano tuning is good !’ I loved pianos, but I didn’t know how to tune one. So I applied to Steinway & Sons, I got the job, and they said: ‘Oh yeah, we will train you, to be a piano tuner and concert technician.’ That means you’d have to prepare pianos for concerts and recordings and things like that. So you don’t only learn to tune the piano, you know how to tone the piano so it’s an uneven tone; it’s fascinating. And Steinway pianos… I mean there’s nothing like that in the world ! I did enjoy that time very much. Part of what one did would go to rehearsals and tune the pianos for rehearsals or go to concert pianists’ houses and get to know them. I got to know incredible people: Alfred Brendel, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Emil Gilels, John Ogdon, Brenda Lucas, Radu Lupu… I mean, just incredible musicians. Now part of our duties was to go to recording studios; because obviously when if you’ve got someone like Daniel Barrenboim and Jacqueline du Pré and the big orchestra, and the piano goes out of tune, you can’t say ‘Hold on everybody, we’ve got to find a piano tuner!’ So all we had to do was stay there. During this period of staying at studios, just basically Abbey Road and Decca, it all felt differently… I did my degree finally, in sociology – I did it part-time when I was at Steinways – I did all the reading and all the essay writing in studios ! I got to know everyone at Abbey Road Studios, and I thought actually ‘Studios are really where I want to be!’ It was not in Soho anymore, I was older and I was getting married. I said to the Abbey Road boss, Ken Townsend – who I’m still in touch with and who is a wonderful studio boss – I said to him: ‘I really would like to work here’. He said: ‘Well Haydn, you know everybody, you’re a popular guy, if a job comes, you’ll have it!’ But I still didn’t think a job would ever come.


And then suddenly a friend called, somebody asked if I could do some part-time work. I said: ‘Yeah yeah yeah, I’ll be there, I’ll be there!’ So once again for about a year, I didn’t sleep ! (Laughs) I was working at Steinway during the day, and in Abbey Road in those days, sessions were going all night. So I’d go and work as an assistant engineer, and tape op, at night time or weekends. Then, one of the assistant engineer was leaving to get married, he was going to Japan, so Ken phoned up and said: ’Do you want this job, because this guys’s leaving?’ Oh… I wanted it more than anything ! It was a huge reduction in salary; it was a really good wage at Steinway, like 60 pounds a week, which was a good money, down to about 12 pounds a week Abbey Road Studios… We had a meeting with my wife and my parents to talk about it; Marinette, my wife, was very supportive, and my dad said: ‘You got to let him do this, because he’s so passionate about this, he has to do it. Whatever hard ship happens, it happens, but you have to let him do that.’ So I was lucky, I was very supported by my immediate family. I was 22, young, married and that’s how I started at Abbey Road Studios.

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How did you make the move from assisting to engineering ?

Oh it was a slow process. I took about 6 years or something… It’s a very fertile atmosphere, but you don’t do anything unless you know what you’re doing. It’s a very strong training. As an assistant, you don’t have a choice about the music you do – which is good: you do lots of classical work, lots of middle-of-road work, lots of pop, lots of rock and then, studios were busy all the time because people were buying records. So you’d learn, and I’m so grateful because I learnt so much about music and musicians, you get to appreciate any music; and any music is wonderful if it’s played by somebody talented, it doesn’t matter what it is. Doesn’t matter if it’s on the electric guitar, cello, oboe, french horn… I was just working in a sort of ‘recording paradise’ with these massive talents around. There was this sort of canteen – not restaurant, it was some terrible canteen at Abbey Road, that soon became famous ! – and you’d sit there and there would be Yehudi Menuhin, Daniel Barremboim and Paul MacCartney… More from the Floyd, Roger Waters, all these people just being there, just talking. So you can imagine how fertile it was, it was creatively fertile. And the great thing is, everybody was respected, but nobody was regarded as particularly important. You are just there, and it has to be professional all the time, from 9 o’clock in the morning to 5 o’clock in the morning. Our standards of behavior were really high; there was very very little drug-taking among the staff – among the artists it might have been different – but among the staff it was all based on excellence. The actual concept of Abbey Road – and that’s what was wonderful, partly – is that the studio wasn’t there to make a profit. It wasn’t profit-centered. It was just there to supply products to EMI Records. It was basically a manufacturing plant for EMI Records. And EMI artists could record at Abbey Road. And only Abbey Road engineers could work at Abbey Road; we weren’t allowed to work anywhere else… but we did, of course ! (Laughs) We didn’t say anything, we would say: ‘Oh, can we have a week for redecorating the bathroom ?’ And everybody knew where we were going…! (Laughs)


It was a wonderful training there because you would learn about microphones, you’d learn from the best engineers, the best producers and the best musicians, we really learnt to appreciate musicians.


And what did you learn there that you still keep with you today ?

Respect. More than anything: Respect for the music. Respect for the musicians. That’s the main value I still keep from these days.


You’re talking about Abbey Road like a chef about 3-star restaurant, a place of excellence; do you still have this feeling today ?

No. It’s changed. I mean – don’t get me wrong on that ! – it’s still excellent. Really really excellent. It evolved, and I don’t want to go into too much detail here, and it’s changed. But as a recording studio, to me it’s still THE pinnacle: there’s nowhere else like that. I mean, technically and technologically, I think it’s one of the UNSURPASSED studios. You walk into Studio 1, I mean Studio 1 & Studio 2, I know all the studios like the back of my hand, I know every COBWEB within that building. You still walk in there and think ‘Oh my Goodness… This is just OUT OF this world !’ And I think most people feel that. There’s a lot of music IN those walls so, musicians, even if they’re here everyday, they know they’re somewhere special. And it SOUNDS special. Really. I mean Studio 2 is one of those rooms that is absolutely magical but you have to know what to do with it; you can’t fight it. If you try to fight it, you lose ! (Laughs) You have to accept it with open arms. ‘So we’re in Studio 2, this is what it is, this is how it sounds!’ If you accept that, you put the right projects in there.


Is it even possible that some projects couldn’t ‘match’ Abbey Road Studios ?

No, I mean the studio could be made to work for anything but certain places are more ‘suitable’ for certain things. But you know, if you put a vocal microphone in there, with a little bit of screening, and put some drums in there: it’s the sound you’ve heard all your adult life ! And you think ‘Oh Mama I’m home!’ (Laughs) It’s such a thrill. I remember – it still makes me shiver – the first piece of orchestral music I heard in Studio 1 at Abbey Road, was the last movement of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. Can you imagine ? I had never heard anything like that in my life. It’s incredible.


You’d go into Studio 2 and you’d hear this woman called Mrs Mills – she used to play that Honky Tonk piano, she’s like a pop pianist – she had such a groove, she could play middle-of-the-road stuff and play and play and play… And the sound of that piano blasting out of those speakers, oh my god… You’re just lucky to hear to be there and hear how great this is ! When you witness such things, you don’t really want to go home ! Actually I didn’t go home, for years ! (Laughs) And that was terribly hard on the family ; I was married, my first son was born, my second one was about to come a bit later and it was hard on my wife, it was somehow a selfish existence. I find it a very selfish occupation. You have to be there, you got to show up. And if you’re there, you either work like crazy or you’re not working. It’s On or Off: That’s what it’s like !


And I imagine the schedule got even crazier when you moved from engineer to Chief Engineer ?…

Well, I’m not sure it was worse… It was easier on many ways. Ok I was working a lot but the most stressful job in the studio is the assistant’s, without a doubt. It’s really stressful. The assistant is the first one there, and the last one to leave, the lowest paid, and everybody can make a mistake in the studio apart form the assistant. If something goes wrong on the tape machine, it’s irretrievable, it’s gone, there’s no Undo on a tape recorder: if it’s erased, it’s erased ! And I erased stuff, everybody erased stuff ! (Laughs) I’ve got a friend who erased the complete side of John Lennon’s ‘Working Class Hero’… Can you imagine ? On my side, I once erased 30 seconds of a complete orchestra.


So how do you manage that kind of stressful moment ?

You just wanna die ! (Laughs) But everybody knows that that happens. The producer said ‘Oh well, don’t worry Haydn: you’ll only do that mistake once.’ And I did: I did that mistake only once. When you’re a Chief Engineer, it’s easier. I mean, I was really busy obviously, and it’s good and I was flying around – we were doing a lot in NYC. And I remember, on the Friday at Abbey Road, during the day I was working with the Pet Shop Boys, then I took a plane to NYC to do a vocal session in New York, at RCA Studios – a studio that is now closed, unfortunately – and on Monday I was back in the studio to record Gary Moore ! (Laughs) So there is the adrenalin and the excitement as well to keep you going, because it was all great stuff !


So how do you manage to work with these ‘big names’ right on, from the assistant-then-engineer perspective ? Is this the way you’ve been trained, the respect, or something else, that keeps your feet on the ground ?

Well, yeah, artists that maybe you’d worked with as an assistant, who enjoyed the relationship as well, would say ’Oh would you like to mix this or that ? Do you fancy do this or that…?’ In fact it’s a long process of, sometimes being the assistant engineer, sometimes being an audio engineer, gradually moving on to doing a lot of engineering and you just keep on doing stuff you’re asked to… Then of course I was lucky because Abbey Road was attracting – and still is – very high-quality artists. And you know: the better the artist, the better the recording. So people would say: ’Oh you’re clever Haydn, it sounds great!’ Well, I didn’t do anything ! (Laughs) She/He just happens to have a great voice, you know ! The danger is, you can think you’re better than you actually are. That’s the real danger. So you have to keep on learning and trying to get better a what you do; and I still do.


To finish on this career talk, in the early 90s you became a freelancer. How did it change your daily engineer’s life ?

Well it was 3 times the money ! That was the big change, hahaha (Laughs) But I was busy: when I left Abbey Road, my diary was full for the next 9 months. It was incredible: 9 months ! I couldn’t book any other project before the next 9 months. My last session at Abbey Road finished at 2.30 in the morning, something like that, and it was wonderful because it was with George Benson and his band. And… you know the steps in Studio 2, right ? I came out to the steps and I felt : ‘Oh…. Life is so good.’ I was so so happy. I THOUGHT I’d be very sad leaving Abbey Road but I had planned it. I spoke to Ken – the boss – about it for a couple of years and he also said – that was a fantastic safety bed I had ! : ‘If you change your mind, your job is here for a year. You can come back anytime for a year.’ So there was no risk, really. But I felt so so fresh and clean – at 2.30 in the morning it’s quite difficult to feel fresh and clean, after working whole day ! (Laughs) But it was a wonderful feeling. I didn’t leave because I wanted more money; I left because I wanted more freedom.


Artistically ?

No, not artistically, not really. What had happened is that Abbey Road HAD been taken over by a new management/structure, and to be honest I didn’t trust their…let’s say, vision. I’m not a business man at all, but I didn’t trust what could happen because the whole place was taken over by accountants. Now, if you look at the way the studio was, an accountant would say ‘You must be joking! Get rid of him, get rid of him, get rid of him…! He hasn’t done anything for 3 weeks, why is he still on the payroll ?’ Because I was the first person at Abbey Road to negotiate a deal with the studios. Before that, people used to get paid over time; so after 6 o’clock in the evening you’re doing more than after 9 o’clock in the evening you’re doing more, after midnight you’d earn double… If you’re working on Saturday, you’d earn 1,5 times and if you’re working on Sunday you’d earn double. So if you worked 20 hours on Sunday, that was a week’s money ! And it was good money, it was pretty good. I said to Ken: ‘This is ridiculous ! You know I’d do any work that comes along – I never say no. But I can’t exist in this sort of way, sometimes earning a lot of money, then if I go on holiday with my wife and my sons, suddenly I have 3 weeks of low money ! I got a mortgage, I got children… Just pay me a decent annual wage and I’ll do any work that comes in !’ So I was the first person to negotiate that. So you can imagine that if an accountant comes in – this was late 1980s – and say: ‘Haydn sort of makes 40,000 pounds a year, he hasn’t done anything for 6 weeks !’… I knew Ken was going to leave at some point, so he wouldn’t be up to explain the necessity of it. Then I wanted to leave because I didn’t want to be suddenly out of a job. I felt insecure. So I felt more secure looking after my own workflows than trusting a bunch of accountants. And I still do.

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So for a while you had your own room at Strongroom and now you’re at The Bunker studio, that’s right ?

Yeah, now I’m at the Bunker Studio.


From what I know, you’re using a ‘hybrid’ environment and seem to have embraced all the technical evolutions we’ve seen for the past 50 years. How do you feel about that ?

Well… It’s a tool ! (Laughs) Let’s put it that way: I’m pleased my attitudes to recording were formed to do in the analog age. So I’ve got the analog discipline in the digital age.


So you’d feel we’re living the best time because we have all the possibilities…?

I don’t think choice is necessarily good. To be honest, I think actual structures and restrictions are quite creative. But I do love the fact that I’ll never have to use a tape recorder again ! (Laughs) And I LOVE working in Pro Tools, I love mixing in the box – I do that all the time.


No summing mixer ?

Arf, no… ! Come on ! I mean… I’ve tried, and I can see the advantage and the use for such a tool. But the things that interest me in music, in art, in photography, in painting and in architecture is space and perspective. Everybody I tend to work with, I’d do in 24/96 kHz, I’ve got Prism converters, I got really high-quality monitoring… And I love that ‘space’. That sort of ‘space’ is really really important to me, and depth, and perception is what I try to either to preserve and keep, or try to capture. So as soon as I put anything for a summing mixer I’m like: ‘Oh that sounds nice’, but then after a minute and a half, I actually prefer the clarity, the openness of not putting a summing mixer. I’m not saying that a summing mixer is not good; I’m not either saying that bungee-jumping is not good, but I’m not gonna do it ! (Laughs) I’m not saying it’s not good, I’m just saying that as you get older you find something that suits YOU. And I’m not saying things I like are necessarily better but at least I can defend what I do honestly. Now people may not like that – and I understand them – you don’t have to like it! I hope some people continue to like it: because I love working! But if you’re going to defend something, you need to believe in it, you need to have a reason. So yeah: I’m mixing in the box !


The musical genres you’ve been covering are so wide : from Kate Bush, Elton John & Paul Mac Cartney to Everything But The Girl or Massive Attack or Sakamoto… Did you have to learn specific skills to adapt your workflow …?

I suppose so… Simply, I just love music. I love orchestras, I’ve always loved orchestras, I think it’s the most incredible instrument ever invented.


So can we say it’s the thing you prefer recording ?

No because I love being in the studio with 3–4–5 people or a rhythm section. I mean: I love it all ! But to hear a fantastic orchestra is just amazing ! We’re really lucky, and it’s one of the things that keeps me in London: the musicians in London are just absolutely awesome, the sight-reading is amazing, they’ve got incredible instruments and we’ve got beautiful environments like Air Studios or Abbey Road… It really is a thrill to hear. It’s not my favorite thing absolutely, but it’s a great great joy. So yeah – to answer your question: I play a bit the piano, I taught myself to read music, I taught myself some arrangement skills, I can read scores and I know how an orchestra will sound like. I don’t know if it helps but it definitely makes life more interesting if you know what’s going on ! In the end, whether you’re recording Massive Attack or Rūychi Sakamoto, it’s only music. I never wanted to specialize in any genre; I never ever wanted. Because I think that if you specialize in a genre, it’s like a turkey voting for an early Christmas ! (Laughs) When you specialize in a fashion, the whole thing about fashion is that it’s temporary. And I didn’t want it to be temporary.


And you still want to be amazed.

I am still amazed, by doing all sorts of things ! I’ve done 3 albums and 2 EPs and called them ‘The Lockdown Albums’ with different friends doing different things, just for the joy of doing it ! That was fantastic ! It’s been a really really productive time. They came to the studio, giving each other structures and everything, and then I mixed on my own. No virtual instruments, only instruments played by musicians. I still like discovering things.


The other day, I came up with a new thing I do with bassdrums and I’m so excited !! It’s fantastic but it’s just a simple little thing that I found. As well as the usual things I do – HPF, negative and positive EQ – I recently started adding 1 or 2 dB – no more – at 12 kHz. It’s only really working using a Massenburg, but not with a Neve or API, Fabfilter, etc. It may work with a Trident but not as well, but a Pultec works very nicely too. It just adds a gentle air to bass drum – and snare – and it makes smoother in a way, more gentle. Not really popping out but smoother funnily enough. And you know, it’s one of the first you do completely and utterly unexpected. You’re messing around one day, you wonder: ‘How that would be like ?’ And when you try that you’re like: ‘Wow ! What is it ?’


Sometimes I get worried about this coming to an end, because I don’t want to see it coming to an end. It’s thrilling. So so thrilling. Funnily enough, the other day I was speaking to my son, and he was asking about the things I find the most fun in. And I think the most interesting thing I do is engineering and producing. That ’s to me the most interesting things I do.


With the new generations of aspiring engineers you can see at Abbey Road Institute – both in London or Paris – what are the main ‘mistakes’ or ‘misunderstandings’ in their working methods according to you, and what do you think you can bring to them ?

I understand rather different working methods now. I was trained in Studio 1, really. They really don’t have that opportunity. I mean, there wasn’t any recording courses when I was a kid. The only way you could learn anything was by being in a recording studio. So they’re equipped with a lot more knowledge than I had – which I think is good. But I think, because they have so much choice, so much confusion, they can look on the Internet and see some terrible videos, like: ‘This is what you need to do on a bassdrum !’ Or ‘This is how to record a great vocal’… (Laughs) It’s just non-sense, real amateurish videos. They’re not to know the advice they should listen to, and the advice they should ignore; so I feel sorry for them, in some ways. But also I think there are many advantages: they can come to places like this (Abbey Road Institute Paris), they can go to good places; I mean they have to find out good places to go to – which isn’t easy !


Especially since they’re closed…

Yeah ! But there is a lot of. So that’s why I feel lucky. Sincerely, I am happy with my life. And I think it’s very very hard when you have so much choice; you can get confused. As an example – if we go back on the compression issue – we had only 2 compressors at first, at Abbey Road ! (Laughs) And you know, even the EQ we had, when I first started recording, had only ‘Presence’ and ‘Bass’ – that was it ! ‘Presence’ and ‘Bass’, in 2 dB steps ! So you had to learn about microphones, placing microphones, and what instruments sounded like and everything… So there was a lot more experimentations, things took a lot longer… Well in some ways, things took longer if you wanted to create something unique. But there was this real grounding the students don’t have now. It’s very very different and it’s a different thing today. We live in a world now where people aren’t really sure what music is for. What is music FOR now? There’s a lot of confusion about what it’s for and how it should be used, and how musicians and composers are making a living from it.


So what would be your advice for any aspiring engineer or producer today ?

Well it may be a useless advice, because I’m not really in that field today. People say to me: ‘If you would just starting now, what would you do?’ I’ve got no idea. I still hold on to the belief that you’re trying to play the music and trying to record the music as well as you possibly can. But is that just a stupid optimism or…? I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s a good advice for a kid or not. Thankfully I’m happy, but it’s easy if you’ve got a lot of experience and some people are impressed by the artists you’ve worked; it makes your life a lot easier. But I’m not starting out. Still I think we can teach them how to be happy with making music and how to make it the best way they can.

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THE BERNARD PIVOT STYLE


What’s your favorite memory about recording/mixing an album?

Doing a track with Chris Botti and Paul Buchanan, on the day my father died. It was beautiful.
(Pause)


What’s your worst ?

I haven’t got one. There isn’t one.


Or just the funniest one ?

Maybe one of the worst moments is the first album I was asked to mix. The tapes were sent to me from New York to Abbey Road. I put the tapes on – they were terribly, badly recorded – and I think it was the worst moment because I knew I didn’t have the experience to make it good ! I didn’t know what to do. When I realized I didn’t know what I was doing, that was quite possibly the worst moment ! (Laughs)


Which artist would you like to work with, and why? Somebody you haven’t worked with yet !

There’s a guitarist called Kurt Rosenwinkel that I would love to work with. He’s just amazing.


You’re engaged to produce an album for an artist you love but his requirements are : less is more. You need to pick only 5 pieces of your equipment. What do you choose and why?

Some Schoeps microphones – either MK4’s or MK21’s. A U67 microphone. Prism ADA converters. B&W speakers powered by a Bryston amplifier. Then one more… A Neve EQ. A 1081. OR Harrison ! (Laughs)


Do you have any leitmotiv or quote about music that you like and use?

Well, one thing that makes a lot of people laugh is… You know when people use lots and lots and lots of microphones, say you’ve got, I don’t know, 20 microphones on drums ! I use about 8, maximum.


I often say: ‘The more you open the windows, the more the shit flies in!’ That’s quite funny ! (Laughs)


Love that one ! In french we say: ‘The more the taps, the more it leaks !’

(In french) C’est exactement ça ! (Laughs)

 

Interview conducted at Abbey Road Institute Paris by François-Maxime Boutault (French sound engineer and producer).

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