Warez.com "Flood - Pro-Active Producer", Mar'06

29 March 2006

Flood... crazy about tape!

Flood has been a legendary producer for the best part of two decades; he’s mixed or produced countless credible acts including New Order, The Smashing Pumpkins, Tricky, PJ Harvey, U2, Nick Cave, Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, and Tom Jones. His early engineering credits include the Jesus & Mary Chain and Soft Cell.WAREZ was lucky enough to meet Flood as he was mixing the new Placebo album (with producer Dimitri Tikovoi) and he was happy to answer a few questions…

WAREZ: I’d be interested to know how you got started in the music industry and what led to the path you’ve taken?

FLOOD: Well I started off playing in punk bands and running my own ‘disco’ as it was called then, around 1976, 77. We played small places outside London; I was still at school while I was doing that.

WAREZ: Did you get anything released?

FLOOD: We tried! We nearly got one single released… we did it ourselves and then it went to Eddy Grant’s pressing plant which went bust while our master tapes were in there so it never saw the light of day.

WAREZ: People would probably pay good money to hear that if it turned up somewhere now!

FLOOD: Hopefully they’ve destroyed all the evidence!

WAREZ: What instrument did you play?

FLOOD: Guitar… very badly, which was ok because it was a punk band. We were called Seven Hertz.

WAREZ: That’s quite high tech for 1976… and kind of prophetic of your later career in a way?

FLOOD: Yes; it’s a little bit worrying actually!

WAREZ: What prompted the transition from playing in bands to producing?

FLOOD: I’d got really bored at school and I’d been reading all those magazines like International Musician. There was a big long article about recording studios and one section was about what was involved in being a tea boy/tape op at a recoding studio, written from a perspective of trying to put people off. But when I read it, it made me think… Wow! I’ve got to do this. So I went to the careers master at school and said ‘I want to work in a recording studio’ and he said ‘Err, I don’t really know what that is, so just stick to whatever you’re supposed to be doing’. Then I pretty much ignored everybody and did my own thing; I completely flunked all my exams, which then gave me the excuse to pursue my own direction.I phoned up about 40 studios and asked if they had any jobs for tea boys. I got an interview and three days later I was working.

WAREZ: Which studio was that?... Does it still exist?

FLOOD: It was originally called Morgan Studios which later metamorphosised into the Power Plant and then became Battery Studios. I started there in 1978.

WAREZ: What sort of bands did you see come through the doors while you were working there?

FLOOD: Well the first week, there was Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, another heavy metal band called Money and Jack Bruce (from the band Cream) was in doing some solo stuff.

WAREZ: Cool! So you learned your skills working on the best stuff. Did they train you as you went along or did you just have to learn by observing, looking over the shoulder of the engineer?

FLOOD: At that place there were four studios with 6 or 7 in-house engineers, 10 assistants and four runners or tea boys of which I was one. So when I was on the day shift I never even saw the studio because I was doing all the menial tasks but on night shifts I got to sit in on the sessions and assistants would take me under their wing. Slowly, you’d build up to learning enough to do your first job.

WAREZ: What do you think of the fact that to some extent, that whole thing has declined now that there’s less call for old-style recording studios because everyone has access to cheap, good quality home-recording set-ups? Do you think it’s a bad thing that there are fewer opportunities for people to train up and learn their skills?

FLOOD: I think it’s a shame because there’s experience that people can pass on and lots of that knowledge is being lost.

WAREZ: How long did it take before you were recording things yourself?

FLOOD: I worked at the first place for about two and a half years and I graduated to being an assistant, then moved to another studio where it was all film soundtracks and adverts. Then I got another job as an assistant engineer and worked my way up to being an engineer over the course of about 6 years.

WAREZ: So you had a long apprenticeship and really got to know your stuff?

FLOOD: Absolutely, it was invaluable.

WAREZ: What do you think is the main cause of changing the old way of doing things?

FLOOD: Computers and digital technology. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about photography, music or art or even in the book world; it’s the same thing. I’ve talked to lots of people and what seems to happen is, in the beginning with new technology, you have this massive thing where suddenly anyone can do it, almost going back to the punk ideal which is really good, but then the longevity starts to suffer so you find bands getting stuck after they’ve made their first great album and they can’t move on. Because it’s not just about having all the gadgetry, it’s also about having the experience to be able to work and interact with people and about knowing how to get results when it isn’t all going smoothly; the discipline of how to do things.

WAREZ: Do you think that in the same way, the Punk movement could have been responsible for making record companies think that you didn’t need real musical talent as long as you had an attitude and a marketing angle, paving the way for more manufactured acts?

FLOOD: Possibly, although I think that’s more to do with the late 80’s and early 90’s when there was a boom in the marketing and PR side of things. When people ask me what I do, I say I make music to be bought, not sold! Because on one hand, you’re crazy if you think you’re just making art; it is ultimately a commodity but on the other hand the music has to be good and should create its own demand.

WAREZ: Do you have principles on what type of artist you’ll work with, based on that?

FLOOD: It’s whatever I’m interested by but I seem to weed it out by meeting people or events pointing things out to me. I can’t do anything just for the money, there has to be something artistic or emotional about it. The music has to move me and I’ve got to get on with the people. If you then accidentally make something that sells shed loads then great!

WAREZ: Have you been asked by record companies to basically ‘polish a turd’ and use your reputation to help sell something?

FLOOD: Yes; on numerous occasions but I just turn it down. I’m lucky enough to be in a position where I’m able to do that.

WAREZ: Now that there are less opportunities to train in a recoding studio, what do you recommend as the best way to learn to engineer and produce?

FLOOD: It’s very difficult. And things are still changing at the moment, which makes it even more difficult. There’s only about half a dozen multi-studio complexes left in London. But what’s starting to happen is a lot of the old multi-studios are re-opening where there’s say 4 studios and they’re all separately owned. So one way of doing it is to try and apply for a job at one of those.
A good thing to do is to get together with a couple of like-minded people and try and do something yourselves. You don’t have to have all the bells and whistles on to start; experience is essential in the long term but to get the ball rolling all you need is naivety, passion and a desire to explore. If you say you want to go into it to make loads of money then get an admin job at a record company or publishing company! But if you’re doing it because you love music and want to learn, if for example you’re somebody who’s more into programming then hook up with someone who’s a great musician so you can cover all the bases. You can start doing that in your bedroom on your computer.
I know that now you can go to college and do a course in production or sound engineering so that’s another way… I’ve taught in a couple of colleges, mainly in Ireland and it’s a great idea but there really is no substitute for experience… you can’t describe to anyone what it feels like and what you’re thinking about or all the different situations that arise that you should be able to take care of.

WAREZ: In your own studio you have lots of vintage equipment as well as state of the art computer and digital stuff. Do you prefer one to the other?

FLOOD: It’s strange; I like both extremes for different purposes. All the vintage stuff there is old synths, which have great sounds. But I love high-end digital effects so my whole thing is based on flip-flopping between old and new and getting the best of both worlds.In the last ten years we’ve had this ‘old is bad, new is good’ attitude and it’s only now that people are starting to realise, there might have been a reason why something worked its way through for 30 years and why people were doing it like that.

WAREZ: Which software programme do you think is best?

FLOOD: To be honest, I’d much rather have a tape machine!

WAREZ: Do you believe that tape has a better intrinsic sound?

FLOOD: Yes, but also for me the most important thing is the psychology that goes behind it… I could do a whole interview on that subject! Briefly, its because you make decisions instead of leaving everything till the mix so your options are more limited about what you can do. Sometimes the more limits you have, the greater your creativity.

WAREZ: As in necessity is the mother of invention!

FLOOD: Absolutely; for example if you’ve got one microphone and one amplifier you can still make an album but you’ll have to try harder to use your creativity than if you’re in a huge studio with endless possibilities.Limitations can make you more disciplined and you won’t spend so much time concentrating on small sections, you’d be listening to the whole. Also because there was no ‘undo’ function, everyone involved had more responsibility, like if the little tape-op sitting in the corner screws up on a punch… nerve-wracking experiences like having to drop in a 100-piece orchestra 2 minutes before they go into £10,000 worth of overtime! It promoted team spirit and more of a sense of focus… the music was really important. If you were faffing around or not really paying attention you’d get caught short. And good mistakes can happen with tape that will end up being kept because they’re better than the original idea.

WAREZ: Having said all that, when you have to use a computer, what do you think is the best programme?

FLOOD: From an engineer’s point of view, Pro Tools is probably the best. It’s one of the main industry standards now and if you want to learn quickly go to Digidesign.com and you can download a free 8-track version of it. It’s a very cut back version but the basic principles are there.

WAREZ: Do you have any other favourite bits of kit that you can recommend?

FLOOD: My favourite microphone is the Shure Beta 58. There hasn’t been a vocalist in the last 15 years from Bono to Polly Harvey that hasn’t recorded with a Beta 58.People say ‘how did you get that amazing vocal sound’ and it’s just that microphone which is affordable but sounds great.

WAREZ: What speakers do you like to have for monitoring?

FLOOD: Speakers are very much a matter of personal taste but at the moment we’re listening to things through a little Panasonic ghetto-blaster; we call it ‘the box of truth’… if it sounds good on that it’ll sound good on anything! What you’re trying to do is to give the same feeling from a track through every different set of speakers so it’s a good idea to check your mix on lots of different systems.

WAREZ: What’s the first big gig you went to see?

FLOOD: It was pretty weird actually, my first ever gig was Tangerine Dream.

WAREZ: They’re quite influential now aren’t they?... it’s almost like you’ve come full circle! What were your other early influences?

FLOOD: Before punk I was a total pop head; I loved T Rex, Bowie, all the glam bands. And because of my friend’s older brothers and mine we got into prog rock stuff like Tangerine Dream and Yes. Then when I was about 13 somebody sold me this dodgy compilation and on it was this one track that stood out like a sore thumb… it was Search and Destroy by Iggy Pop so I started to go in that direction; the MC5 and all the godfathers of punk. When punk actually arrived, I was ready and waiting!

WAREZ: Are there any acts around at the moment that you particularly like?

FLOOD: For me 2005 has been an inspiring year because I love emotion and passion to come through in the music but I also love great pop. So bands like Arcade Fire, Kaiser Chiefs, Hard Fi, I really like them, it’s great when bands like these are getting in the top twenty.

WAREZ: Have you got anything lined up in the near future?

FLOOD: In 2006 I’m going to be producing the Killers with Alan Moulder.

WAREZ: Do you think the internet has had a damaging effect on the industry?

FLOOD: No; my personal opinion is I blame CD’s. I think they are one of the things that are killing music! It’s the way they sound, the fact that they look so trivial, so small and they’ve changed people’s music habits. Like you’d never listen to 70 minutes of music any more… everyone’s attention span is so short because you can flick through an entire album and dismiss it based on having listened to 30 seconds of music.Downloads, I think are brilliant because it encourages people to be pro-active and you physically have to download it. Whether it’s peer-to-peer or a commercial site doesn’t matter. Also you can check out a band; download a track for 79p or something whereas if you went to a record shop and you’re looking at a CD thinking it’s going to cost £15, you’re not going to take a chance on it. So the internet encourages people to listen to new stuff… if you think the first track is good, you’ll buy another one.

WAREZ: In what ways do you think the industry is changing?

FLOOD: I think everything will settle down eventually. At the moment the majors aren’t developing any artists and they’re starting to find out that you can’t do that or you end up with no new bands. At the moment, a lot of producers and small production companies are acting as development agencies. Myself, my manager and Dimitri Tikovoi have been working with a singer called Tigs for 2 years and it’s only recently that she got signed after we’d already made the whole album. So maybe that’s how things will be in the future, or maybe the record companies will start to develop bands again… I hope so!

……………………

That’s where we leave Flood to finish mixing the forthcoming Placebo album; as we leave we bemoan with him the demise of the great british intelligent novelty pop single in the vein of the Timelord’s ‘Doctor Who’ or Frankie’s ‘Relax’. Flood agrees that it’s essential that we shouldn’t forget the fun element, and that one of the most important things is to just enjoy making the music!