The Tech Godfather of Industrial Dance and Synth Pop uses Universal Audio to Realize his Sound
By Marsha Vdovin
Many record producers, when asked, have a favorite record with a classic sound that influences their own work. Gareth Jones, when asked this question, replies 'no'. He strives to NOT sound like anyone or anything else. His 25 plus years as an engineer, mixer and record producer has been a quest for complete originality and creativity.
Engineer & Producer Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones has been the technical genius behind several musical scenes in the eighties whose influence is still felt: Industrial and Synth Pop. Jones developed an interest in tape recorders and electronics at a very young age. His only formal training was at the BBC. "I had a kind of general musical training at high school, I guess you call it. But I wasn't very good. I was very enthusiastic, but I dread to think what I sounded like on all the different instruments I played around with at the time," said Jones. "I was never in a rock band or anything. I was in more like school orchestras. I played the piano quite a bit when I was a teenager. But I was always very interested in technology and music. I had a simple valve tape recorder when I was a kid, and I mucked around with tape editing, playing about with sound effects, and all different kinds of things. In fact, I got my basic training at the radio station in this country, at the BBC. Mainly because I didn't know how to get a job in a recording studio."
With a fiery passion Jones started engineering for young punk bands in the early eighties. A German punk band brought him to Berlin, where he stayed for more than a decade, producing some of the most influential albums and sounds of that era such as Erasure, Nick Cave, Einstürzende Neubauten, Bronski Beat, Wire, Nitzer Ebb, and Depeche Mode.
"I was recording a German punk band in Vienna and the manager wanted me to go to Berlin to mix. Obviously now, I'm happy to work anywhere. But at that time I very much wanted to go back to London and mix in a studio I knew. But the manager showed me what was at that time Hansa Studio near the Berlin Wall. It was quite amazing. At that time Hansa was one of the most high-tech studios I'd ever been in. It had a very big Solid State Logic mixing console and Universal Audio compressors in the racks."
"It was such a great opportunity. I really tapped into the studio and started doing lots of work there, bringing lots of English bands over. I had a really close relationship with Meads Records at the time-I still do. The exchange rate was very favorable for English bands to work in Germany as well; so all these things kind of came together. I was working in the studio a hell of a lot, and producing some bands there, so I just relocated."
Jones used this opportunity to explore new recording techniques. "I wanted to create a new sound and Hansa Studio played a definitive role. At the time I thought that I was creating a new sound, but looking back, I can see that I was simply part of a whole movement. We were all quite young, and we were all breaking out of small, dry studios, acoustically dry studios. One of the amazing things about the Hansa studio, and a couple of other studios we worked at in Berlin, was these huge rooms that we had available. It became possible to record that classic '80's, great big, gated, 'reverby' snare. There was a real interest amongst the bands in big acoustics. Once we started working these big rooms with P.A.s feeding sounds into them, we were able to give a different kind of acoustic character to many elements of the mix."
When industrial bands such as Einstürzende came in, creating a cacophony of noise using machines, feedback and found object percussion, Jones managed to capture the rich, multi timbre 'music' within. His attention to sonic detail is unparalleled. That trademark sound grabbed the attention of Synth Pop bands such as Depeche Mode, who were influenced by these industrial percussives. "There was a great amount of cross fertilization going on, because we used a lot of sampled metal sounds, even before we went to Berlin, and I introduced Neubauten to samplers, as well. The first album I did with Neubauten is full of samples. On Halber Mensch there's loads of triggered samples, and on Yu-Gung, the amazing 12" we did. So there were lots of ideas coming from both sides. I was learning a lot about noise, and industrial music from Neubauten, and learning a lot about song structure, melody and atmospheres from Depeche Mode as well, and just started mixing it all up."
One of Jones's strengths as an engineer is that he used the 'air' of the studio to separate out the different tones to create sonics that were never muddy or over crowded. These days, Jones says, it's fairly trivial to place sound in different size rooms using all the wonderful convolution algorithms that are available but in the early eighties they were using the acoustics of rooms they recorded in. "We were putting instruments and different sounds into real acoustic spaces. The air 'around' the sound was a very important part of what I was trying to do in the '80s"
"One room at Hansa Studios was really massive and that was it's major attribute. It was really big, and that in itself was a huge inspiration to the artists. We could place the microphones a long way back, when appropriate. With higher-budget projects we put massive P.A.s in this big room. It was a very exciting and creative explosion of new acoustics."
Analog hardware such as the 1176 and LA-2A were also very influential in the creation of this new sound. "Obviously, the thing about the 1176s for me, and for all of us, is that it is a compressor that has masses and masses of uses. I think I know many of my engineering colleagues would say, if they could only have one compressor, then it would have to be the 1176. It's got enough knobs to allow you to change the sound a bit, and it has a fantastic result, so of course that's always part of the signal chain. There was also quite a few older bits and pieces, older Telefunken mic pres knocking around in Germany, some very old valves-I had an amazing valve tube Telefunken mic from the '30s that we modified up that became a major part of signal chain for about 10 years, because it just had incredible sound. Lots of British gear as well. There was a big, old Neve console, with 1073s, in the big room in Hansa. It was very creaky, not brilliantly maintained, but had enough channels working to make great sounds."
Jones was an early pioneer with digital technology and introduced his bands to sampling. He became a savvy drum and keyboard programmer, creating the sonic signature that we now call Synth Pop with such bands as Depeche Mode, Erasure and Bronski Beat. "We recorded individual hits. At the time when I was working with Depeche, no one played the drums. The first album I did with them used a drum machine actually, then we moved forward from that, and the producer, Daniel Miller, bought a Synclavier. I used AMS sampling delay units, where you could lock samples-a very famous bit of kit from the '80s. Gradually we expanded. The Synclavier then went polyphonic, and the AMS went 2-channel, and it was all very high quality, load your own samples in, record the part to tape. Eventually we moved to more advanced drum machines and samplers."
Jones moved back to London in the mid-nineties and is still seeking out new bands and new scenes. He's working in some of the best studios in London-Strongroom, Abbey Road, Mayfair, Olympic and constantly finding and creating new challenges. "It was just great for me to move back to London and be surrounded by a whole new group of incredible, inspiring people. It raised the bar, to be honest. I was a really big producer in Berlin, and when I came back to London, I was just one of like 300 guys. [Laughs.] So that raised the bar. I developed-my skills developed massively as a result of that, I feel. So it was a good move, and a challenging move. It was appropriate. I really loved Berlin. I still love it. It's a special place in my heart, and I love going back there. But I'm also very happy to be working in London."
|Vince Clarke's (Erasure) private Synthesizer Palace
Flexibility keeps Jones working and he's well versed in the digital and laptop paradigm as he is in analog. "I'm truly flexible about spaces to work. I like the artists to choose. I'm very artist led, so I'm very happy for artists to choose spaces. And so often, the decision about where we work is artist led, or record-company led, and I kind of pride myself on being pretty flexible. I think the records are all about the artist, and it's their sound and it's their recording. If they have a feeling about where they want to work, then I'm happy to do it. Plus, it's also very budget led. I work on some bigger-budget projects and some smaller-budget projects, and if I'm on a small budget, then I might be mixing in the box. The thing I love about mixing in the box is recall-ability. It kind of suits how I like to work. One of the things that's fairly amazing about Universal Audio is the blend of digital and analog."
The 1176 has always been a mainstay for Jones whether in the analog or digital format. "I put it on everything, I turn knobs until it sounds good and then we record it. [Laughs.] What is so good about the digital emulations that UA has done, particularly the 1176, is it's so quick. Most of us use it almost interchangeably with the hardware one. If I'm mixing in a big studio, the amount of time it takes me, if I'm sitting at the rig, to drop in a software 1176, and get a result is a quarter of the time it'll take the assistant to plug up a real hardware one, and fiddle around with it, and change the cable. What's so good about the UA gear is that it is actually 'not' neutral. I think the UAD-1 is famous for that. People love the color. Same with the LA-2A plug-in. I use that a lot as well. I love it on pianos. Obviously it hasn't got noise, it's got color and that's what's so great about it."
The London music scene is thriving right now, recording studios are booked and Jones's very busy. "There's a kind of re-emerging band thing going on, certainly in Britain the last few years. A lot of people and record companies are waking up to that fact. I'm just starting work on a record for Domino here in London, and Laurence, the owner of Domino, is very keen that the record should be mixed in London, in a big mix room. This is driven by him, this is what he wants. It's not something the artist is particularly fussed about, and I'm very flexible, myself. But the record company wants it done like that, because he values the extra vibe and punch and polish that that big room can give."
Jones is constantly seeking out young, creative talent and loves helping them to realize their potential. "My work is very artist-driven and generally any originality is the artists' own, or a direct response to their songs and vision. Essentially I am helping them to tell their story. Not 'getting in the way' is a very important part of enabling a creative studio environment. Knowing when to do nothing, and press record. Alternatively, where appropriate, taking the time to assemble complex chains of equipment in search of a new sound, or to emulate a memory; often both on the same project. Always flowing. Flexible, reliable, intuitive great-sounding tools, that are fast to use, are a big part of this endeavor and, of course, this is where the UAD-1 scores highly."
Read more about Gareth Jones at www.garethjones.com