Last may, we heard that Dave Stewart (Eurythmics) and Mick Jagger had teamed up to form SuperHeavy, an international “superband” also formed with Joss Stone, Damian Marley and AR Rahman (film composer, who previously scored Slumdog Millionnaire among others ND). We’ve had the chance to interview producer Ned Douglas, chief engineer at Weapons of Mass Entertainment recording studio but also responsible for some recordings and production on this new “super album”.
Hi Ned! I know that you’re Dave’s staff programmer and engineer @ Weapons of Mass Entertainment in Hollywood. You’ve been using the Dangerous D-Box along this project. How did you end up setting up this gear for Dave Stewart’s album?
I’ve been working with Dave for a long while now, nearly 15 years as engineer and programmer. He’s marvelously creative and diverse and it’s a constantly exciting and interesting job. When we moved studios last year I took the decision of losing the desk we had as the faders used to stay a zero most of the time, it felt like it was a waste of space. Having the D-Box has allowed me to keep an analog stage in chain which is great, it has also means I have quick hands on access to talkback, headphone levels and inputs.
How did this idea of creating a “supergroup” come to reality?
Dave has always done a lot of work with Mick Jagger and the idea of forming the supergroup came out of a session they did together about 3 years ago. We’d worked with Mick and Joss Stone previously on the Alfie soundtrack so we knew they sounded great together. Damian and AR were then brought in as they wanted to create a truly international and diverse musical project. Everyone worked together for a two week session at Hensons’s studio (former A&M in Hollywood, NDA) where the bulk of the tracks were laid down, all the songs were created in the studio and born out of jam sessions with the band. The rest of the album was finished in a variety of countries and studios (including on a boat and a Caribbean island) and I’ve been involved throughout the entire project. Keeping track of it all has been white a mission !
With all these sessions in different places around the world, how did you manage to keep a coherent vibe and sound ?
With the bulk of the band tracks being laid down in the initial monster jam sessions the backdown of the songs has remained pretty consistent (thanks to Damian’s drummer and bass player). For most of the the sessions we’ve done elsewhere we’ve had it so that we can pull up a great sounding mix with almost noplugins from a stereo Protools session (thanks to engineer Cliff Norrel!) which meant that I could turn up with a laptop anywhere and have things as they were last heard with full access to the parts. A lot of what we did outside of Henson’s were vocals and lyrics but some songs like “Beautiful People” and “Warring People” were started fully programmed on my laptop and then recorded with the band later.
For this project, did you have to deal with unusual instruments or recording moments ?
AR Rahman has an interesting setup, he uses a midi controller called a Continuum which allows him to do micro tonal performances. He had it hooked up to a Indian sound module (who’s name I forget) which had the most bewildering midi setup I’ve ever seen. It meant he could do some pretty cool stuff though.
Now let’s take a closer look…
Is there something you try to achieve in every work you do ? From an artistical, technical and human point of view, which aspects in the music production process do you take care about the most ?
Something that I’ve learnt from working with Dave Stewart is that the vibe in the room in pretty much the most crucial element (and he’s a master at it) and that nothing kills a vibe faster than having to wait on technical reasons. Being able to quickly interpret people’s ideas and get things sounding exciting with a minimum of fuss is essential. In essence: people do their best work when relaxed and having fun and if that means recording in someone’s living room on a SM58 to get the best vibe then that’s the way it should be done (especially during the writing process).
The most important lesson I have learned however is: Always be in record!
As long as you can remember, what was your best studio moment ? And your worst technical nightmare ?
Be able to witness the writing process with great songwriters, as I’ve been lucky enough to, is always a magical experience. To start the day with nothing but an empty session and finish it with a song, created from thin air is something that never gets boring. Technically working in Jamaica has posed a few moments, unreliable power, blown speakers and the like… We ended up hiring a sound system from the local DJ when we worked with Shakira out there !
To read the full interview see: Interview with Ned Douglas