Nick Brine - Interview June 2008
Following the Priestesses interviewing the Gods in the Temple of a dressing room, Priestess Jo went down to the rather nicer environs of her local pub, with producer and Leeders Farm maestro Nick Brine. Here’s her interview with the Stone Gods’ producing Archangel, with the able assistance of her admirable better half, David.
Jo: Have you always wanted to do this?
Nick: From a young age. Played guitar from about the age of 8 –always wanted to play, but always was interested in how records were made. Sounds bizarre – never wanted the limelight, but wanted to be a musician. Always interested in why – well at that young age you don’t really know why records sound different, you just kind of listen to music and think that the band just plays it live, and that’s how it happens.
Jo: When I was little I used to listen to Terry Wogan in the morning, and I always used to think that the bands were in the studio and they’d come in to sing. I was so disappointed…
Nick: Yeah… I did really well at school and I was all ready to go to university. My parents thought I was all ready to go on and study – architecture, actually, and all that kind of stuff, that was the plan anyway – the the opportunity came up at Rockfield to do that. I was 16, school was finishing, I saw the advert and thought ‘I’ll go for that’. It was something I wanted to do. I’d been recording with my band. I was in a band at the time, I always did all the recording, I was always recording rehearsals. Could never not record it, always annoying everybody.
Jo: Born to do this then
Nick: Yeah, that was it, finished school on Friday and started work there on the Monday morning.
Jo: Pretty good, I wish I’d managed that!
Nick: So my whole holiday between my school life and my working life was one weekend. That was spent absolutely rapping myself because I was starting a new job!
Jo: I thought you were going to say absolutely plastered, really
Nick: No, it wasn’t. well… it probably was…
Jo: Or both at the same time, not pretty!
Nick: The band I was in at the time, well, we were all tearaways.
Jo: Enough said… Right. What careers advice would you give to would-be producers and music managers?
Nick: Start at the bottom, doing whatever you have to do, and you HAVE to put the hours in. You have to do all the rubbish jobs, you have to take the crap from people. It’s all a good learning process. No matter how bad it might be at the start when you’re working with people who might not be treating you very well, you’re working 100 hours a week and getting paid – for instance I was paid £29 a week when I started. Didn’t matter whether it was £29 or 29p. Even though it feels like the hardest job in the world and you don’t get on with the people you work with, they’re giving you a load of stick or something, you always learn something. Just stick it out, you’re always learning. And there’s no way round it, you have to do the hours, you don’t get good at it overnight. Try and work with as many people as you can, learn off everyone, and just be prepared to do anything. Don’t say ‘I want to be a producer so I’m only going to produce.’ You can’t. If it means making the tea for a great producer for two years, then you make the tea for that producer for two years.
Jo: And then you can be Rick Astley!
Jo: May or may not be a good thing…
Nick: No probably not.
Jo: But he’s fine, he’s made his money! So, how bored did you get, back then?
Nick: There was no boredom. For me, I was doing… I walked into that studio at 16, and the first day I remember I got told to sit on this chair. It was a band called Sepultura playing the loudest music I have ever heard in my life. Sat in front of this massive two speakers. I just got on with them really well. I mad ethe tea, got on with it, shut up and did what I was asked to do. Immediately I thought ‘Wow, this is just going to be the coolest job in the world!’ Four weeks later a band called the Stone Roses turned up – absolute legends - I really admired them after their first record, thought it was great – and spent 14 months working with them. There wasn’t boredom with them, because we played football most of the time. The rest of the time the studio was empty, and I was allowed to go in there and fiddle. I didn’t do a lot of work… There is boredom now – not right now – the middle period, when I was an engineer, when you might be assisting for a producer who does all the work himself and you know you can do it. We call it babysitting, you’re just there looking after the studio. You don’t have to do any work, just be there. That’s when boredom sets in, and frustration, because you just want to be part of making that record and you’re not, really. That’s the boring part for me, if I ever have to do that. You can’t bored producing because you don’t have a minute to sit there and do nothing.
I talk a lot on breaks and stuff – I’m the studio joker!
Jo: I can think of one other candidate, but I don’t know them all, just one band!
Was it always your intention to have your own studio, or did it just happen, or was it one of those things you never thought would happen?
Nick: Just kind of happened really. The studio I came from, Rockfield in Wales, I was involved in the day to day running of that as well. I was an engineer, a producer, maintenance man, assistant engineer, worked the office, looked after the cows, fed the ducks, baled hay, everything involved in a residential studio on a farm.
Jo: Not much changed there then, it’s just in Norfolk!
Nick: No I do all that now! I wasn’t running the place, they had a studio manager, but I used to help out and do a bit of everything. With this one I just fell into it, having worked with The Darkness. Dan phoned me up and said ‘I want to build a studio, can you do it?’ I’d built two studios before, one for another legendary rock star - bass player for Oasis, Guigsy – and one for somebody else. So I came up and built it. The plan was then to do the next Darkness record which I’d been offered to produce, but we all know what happened next, there was no more Darkness. Dan said he wanted to take the studio to the next level, I agreed, and he said ‘make it commercial, and if it is commercial I need someone to run it.’ I thought long and hard about it. I’d been based in Wales for a long time, 13 or 14 years. I was freelance, working all over – in the States, Europe, anyway, but that was my base and my home, my studio that I loved. Fantastic studio. It’s always hard, but building this one with Dan – all of a sudden my heart was in this one too because I built it from scratch, and it turned out fantastic. The change of scenery was good, a new lease of life, and all that. I haven’t stopped working since! It was supposed to be calming down! Become a studio manager, work 9-5, Monday to Friday maybe, but it’s been 100 hour weeks, non stop. No week ends off.
Jo: What is it about Rockfield then, that made it so special?
Nick: I think three things. Kingsley Ward, the owner. Absolutely as mad as a hatter, but fantastic guy.
Jo: He’d have to be! You’ll be heading that way…
Nick: I know! He has a never ending supply of stories of all the greatest bands from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, because they all went to Rockfield. Some of the greatest records have been made there, and bands, and the history. The first thing is Kingsley, the second is location. It’s a fantastic part of the world. Not so far from London that bands won’t go there, but near enough. It’s got an airstrip, bands used to fly in. The third thing is that it’s just got that magic that you can’t put your finger on. Abbey Road’s got it, Studio 2, we’ve got it here, and a couple of others that I’ve been to. You walk in and there’s an atmosphere straight away, creative and makes you feel important.
Jo: It’s got the ghosts.
Nick: Yes. You just have to go and see it and you’d know why.
Jo: Are you going for the Rockfield feel, or are you aiming for something different?
Nick: I think that with the nature of Dan’s farm, the area, and the nature of the buildings, it’s always going to be like Rockfield anyway. It’s going to have that look and that feel to it. It’s different in some respects. We’re quite unique in the way we set it up – a little bit quirky but we wanted it to be like that, technically. It was done intentionally but it also just happened. It was partly dictated by the way the farm is, the buildings and all that kind of stuff. Also by the kinds of studio I like, and that Dan likes. Some of it was dictated, but everything I liked about Rockfield, I took there. Me and Dan have worked in so many studios all over the world that we just took all the little things we liked and tried to put them in without overcrowding. And it’s kinda worked. It’s ongoing. It’s the kind of thing that’s never going to be finished. There’s a bit more building work and it’ll be right by the end of year.
Jo: Someone will go and bring out new stuff for it anyway… How do you feel about some of the bands you’ve had in the studio? Have you really had any star quality pass through? Yet?
Nick: Seasick Steve. Phenomenal. Fantastic. The way he recorded the record was great for me, because I come from an old school way of recording, Rockfield was very old school. You don’t get to do that any more because most bands need the aid of computers because they’re not good enough, to be honest. It’s also become so you can’t live without computers as a production tool. You get so used to using them, and the things you can do with them are incredible. It’s great, and you do need them, but when someone comes along that wants to record totally old school, live, with no computers – if you need to put two tapes together, you have to physically cut the tape. The fact that I could do that after my grooming at Rockfield was perfect for him. To record things that way with a guy with fantastic ideas and fantastic voice… what he played with his drummer, just the two of them, was the record. There’s no change, manipulating it, no changing time, no effects.
Jo: Real stuff!
Nick: The production in it is to capture the real thing. Simple production, and that’s sometimes the hardest to get. It’s a really organic record. He writes about his life stories, he’s fantastic. KT Tunstall, as well. She really impressed me.
Jo: I can’t say that she’s crossed my path…
Nick: No, but regardless of whether you’re into her music you can see that she’s got something going on there, and she just impressed me. Ultra professional, quick, great with ideas. On the case, and a really great musician. Apart from that, we’ve had a few in that are… alright. But, we’ve got Teenage Fan Club coming in. One of my favourite bands, and I’ve done two albums with them in the past, so having them come to this studio now is great. They’ve been with solo projects, but not as a band, before. Our next big thing. Great musicians and songwriters. There have been lots of good things, and some not so good. I don’t produce all the bands that come in. I can’t have opinions on all of them cos I’m not involved in making the record, just running the studio. We did a band called The Rifles. A London band with Atlantic Records. Sounded good what was coming out, and there’s big things apparently happening for them. We could have another hit on our hands for the studio.
Jo: Sadly you don’t get paid extra if the bands do really well… How much patience have you got?
Nick: The patience OF A SAINT. That’s an easy thing to say, but everyone I work with would say it before me. People see what I have to put up with, and say ‘how do you do it?’ I don’t know. You just learn. It’s another asset. A big part of the job, and being good at the job. A tool, being able to focus and not lose it with people.
Jo: And not say what you want to say?
Nick: Well I pretty much do say what I want to say. It’s hard when you’re all tired, after working weeks and weeks on end, like 14, 15, 16 hours a day, to have that patience. For 15 years, up until end of last year, I’d lost it twice.
Jo: That’s quite good!
Nick: Then I lost it twice in one week, with the same person. So I doubled my tally of losing it with the artist. That’s still only 4 times in 15 years!
Jo: That’s VERY good! I’m impressed with that! What misdemeanours have you, and will you, slap hands for? In the studio?
Nick: Well, the pet hates… bands are bands, and they do what they like, really, but some of the younger bands, just starting out, they come and their instruments are in a right mess. Drummers are the worst. And I hate it, because you spend a day putting their instruments right for them. It’s costing them money, going into my time, when they could just do it easily at home before they come. Bands not rehearsing. But there’s not really anything else – anything goes.
Jo: What are they not allowed to touch, that’ll send you ballistic?
Nick: Well they can’t change the settings on the desk. That’s a big NO. So is messing with the tape machine. They don’t touch the tape machine! The computer is ok, it’s always saved and backed up. They can’t touch the outboard equipment either. There’s not much they can’t do. There’s one thing, when you’re editing, and you really have to concentrate and it takes hours – and the band will sit at the back of the room and all talk through it. I usually give them about 20 minutes and then they get a very polite ‘Will you leave the room please.’
Jo: That IS polite.
Nick: They always ask ‘When do you want us back?’ so I go ‘Don’t come in the room until I call you’
Jo: The next question was ‘Is it your round?’ but we’ve done that… so do the technical and creative sides of the job marry well?
Nick: They do. But some producers and engineers aren’t musicians and aren’t that musical. A lot are, some engineers are just technical. A lot more than I am, which is fine. They might come from more technical backgrounds, more the maintenance kind of side, but I come from a more musical background which is why it was so easy for me to go into production, I suppose. I really think it helps if you are musical, because with a band you’ll be able to hear immediately what they should be playing, when they probably don’t know that they’re playing it wrong. You need to be able to hear that. A technical engineer can be great as well to understand why you need to do things a certain way, probably better than I can. I do everything on feel and based on what I’m hearing. I don’t tend to go ‘technically we shouldn’t do it like that’ because I don’t care, if it sounds good we do it like that.
David: How much influence then, do you feel that you have over some bands?
David: How they sound? Do you think that’s a good thing?
Nick: I think it is. That’s why bands use a certain producer, they like a certain sound and they want to go for that. Sometimes you’re engineering and just there to capture the band as they are. Your job then is not to mess it up, just don’t turn them into something they’re not.
David: I was reading something about the John Peel sessions, when the Jesus and Mary Chain went in, the producer said ‘You don’t want all that feedback, do you?’ and that was their sound.
Jo: They wouldn’t have been anything without it.
Nick: No, a producer can really mess a band up, and a record. The young bands - I do a lot of stuff for free if I like them, put stuff out on my own label to help them out – people I know maybe through friends. They’re the ones who aren’t great, but in a couple of years they will be. You’re always asking the question ‘Right, I can record you as you are, and give you a true representation of your band, only making you sound sonically better than you’re used to, or I can produce you into sounding something like this kind of band I imagine you want to sound like. But it’ll be nothing like what you are. Hopefully you’ll be that good in a couple of years.’ And they always choose the second one. They always want to sound amazing, and sometimes that’s their downfall, because they send that to a record company. Record company comes to a gig, and it’s shite, and that company will never come and see them again. WE had a couple of bands in recently and the recordings are phenomenal. I’m really pleased with them, they’re some of the best ones I’ve ever done, and they’re blown away. But it’s nothing like the bands are, and I just feel a little bit like I’m cheating with that. I’m doing it to help them out, but if I had a choice I would prefer to work with something that’s good in the first place.
Jo: Is it easy to get to the heart of what they want, and need? Or a lot of reading between the lines?
Nick: Yeah, a lot of reading between the lines. You know, a lot of musicians look at you and nod and say yes, and you know they’re thinking ‘No’.
Jo: There’s a lot of tact?
Nick: A lot of tact. 90% of the job is getting on with the job and being able to understand the people you’re working with and what they’re after. Loads of people can engineer and loads can produce, but it’s not messing it up, half the time, and getting to the root of where people see their careers going. You always talk about what kind of album you want to make, how you’re going to do it. That’s dictated as well by how you’re going to record it - live, what instruments you’re going to use, which studio you choose…
Jo: How many have you got?
Nick: Obviously I’d choose Leeders Farm every time! But if Leeders Farm was booked and I had to go somewhere else, then we would sit down and have the conversation about which studio. That would dictate the sound and everything.
Jo: What percentage of bands that you’ve worked with do you reckon are going to make it in some way?
Nick: The recent bands I’m working with, yeah? Umm… I would say... 20%. And that's not because of me!
Jo: No, dear…
Nick: It’s the nature of the music business. Obviously not everyone can make it. But things that are going well… there’s a guy called Mark Ruebery who’s now got a record deal, just done the video for the second single. Reviews have been great, he’s a singer songwriter. He’s doing really well. Then there’s Stone Gods, might do something, you never know (joint snorks). Seasick Steve’s going to be massive this year and next year. I would bet my house on it. Apart from that, I’m only working with 10 or 12 bands, so can’t think of anything. The Rifles, but I wasn’t producing that so I can’t claim anything for it.
Jo: Who’s the most difficult lot you’ve ever worked with, and who’s the best musician?
Nick: The most difficult band. It’s weird because one of the most difficult people I’ve worked with is Mark, who’s my best friend. He won’t mind me saying that cos he’ll agree with it. He’s horrendous at times, but also one of the best that I’ve worked with. It’s really odd with Mark, a rollercoaster. The hardest band I’ve worked with for a session wasn’t producing, was as an engineer at Rockfield for a band called Carcass, a kind of death metal band. It was a very hard session. They weren’t particularly difficult as people, the session was just hard.
Jo: Who don’t you want to work with ever again?
Nick: I don’t mind naming names on this one. PAUL O’DUFFY. Put that in big capital letters.
Nick: Gave me absolute hell when I was learning as an engineer. Trying to think who else was difficult. I’ve been pretty lucky, I think. That one difficult album, Paul O’Duffy gave me a lot of stick. Everyone else is ok. Owen Morris is a big producer, he has the reputation of being the hardest person to work with. I think he’s absolutely fantastic, a legend.
Jo: He obviously liked you! Do you think variety is running out?
Nick: No, think it’s there, if you’re prepared to look for it. I think Joe Public doesn’t see it because they get saturated with everything that’s on E4 and magazines. If you actually like music and you go out there and look for it, there’s plenty of variety. It’s just unfortunate it’s not given the exposure it should have. There’s a lot of bands I like, and the majority of people will never have heard of them. That’s a real shame, and now you have to point people in the right direction for music. Music channels, magazines, they’re all fashion driven. It’s hard to follow when it’s only going to be around for five minutes until they move onto the next thing.
Jo: Which is why I don’t pay attention to a lot of it in the first place, really. I can’t stand rap and hiphop and RnB, so that’s 90% of it all anyway.
Nick: Yeah, 90% of what’s on TV. I didn’t answer who was the best musician.
Jo: No, you didn’t!
Nick: That’s a tough one, isn’t it?
Jo: Just give me a few!
Nick: Ok, let’s start off by saying Dan Hawkins, shall we? That’s one of them.
Jo: Does he pay you for that?
Nick: Hee no. He really is a good musician. I think all of Teenage Fan Club are fantastic musicians. Seasick Steve, again – just his style of playing and the feel that he gets. You stand in a room with him and it’s so emotional when he sings, it really hits you. He has such a loud, passionate voice. Umm… It’s weird because I’ve worked with some musicians who are fantastic players, but who don’t necessarily do it for me feelwise. You can look at them and think ‘wow, that’s amazing playing’, but… Bruce Springsteen is a fantastic musician, Great vocalist, great guitarist. He was ultra professional. There’s no one who would win hands down, I suppose. The Beta Band are quite interesting musicians. They’re like producing musicians. Quite clever, quite arty, they’re the most interesting in the way that they record and the ideas they come up with.
David: How much do they bring into the studio, in terms of their songs? They sound to me like a lot of it is done.
Nick: A lot of it is done and pieced together. The overdubs aren’t, we come up with those in the studio. Beta Band don’t some in with much, really. They create and create and create. They all have a little workstation that they sit at, the song playing in their headphones. They sit there for days, burying themselves away, and they all come to me with these ideas, and go ‘There you go, make them work’.
Jo: Cheers, lads!
Nick: Really difficult, but SO interesting to get four people’s take on the same song and then put it all together.
Jo: That’s a really odd way of doing it.
Nick: It is, very odd. But when it comes off, you get some really interesting records.
David: I can imagine that pre-digital age it must have been impossible to piece all that together, there must have been a big change.
Nick: You’re always programming. It took forever, and you were cutting pieces of tape up, putting them all together. It took a lot of skill, and that’s all gone now. I’ve worked with some engineers who have never recorded to a tape machine. Kingsley, the guy from Rockfield, told me the other day that there was a band in, and they asked ‘what’s that?’ and he said ‘that’s a tape machine…’ and he just went *head in hands gesture*. But, his tape machines are odd. Big. But there’s real tape on them, and they’re going ‘what is that?’ And that’s when you realise ‘I’m of another generation!’ already, and I’m only…
It’s hard to pick a musician because there are so many I could pick. So many fantastic drummers too, but it’s hard to say, because it’s about the songwriting as well. Too many. But Dan’s good! He’s alright.
Jo: Alright? He started off as a drummer, then was a bassist. Does he still do that, or stick to his guitar?
Nick: He’s drummed on a couple of tracks.
Jo: I’ll see if I can spot them!
Nick: Not telling you for who!
Jo: *snork* right okay.. umm… where was I? Oh yeah. Are you a mentor, and an agony aunt?
Nick: Oh yes. Bands come to you. I’m a bit of an agony aunt for Dan.
Jo: Well, that kinda figures, really.
Nick: I’m like his wife. Only in certain ways!
Jo: Well, he needs one!
Nick: Yeah! When you’re making records with young bands, it’s really hard on them, the pressures to make a record, the amount of money involved. You do take them under your wing and give them advice. Some of them might be struggling with their relationships, or struggling personally or battling with drink problems. You are there to be, even though I don’t see myself as that old, a father figure to them and look after them. That’s part of making the record as well. Keeping everyone together, keeping their spirits up, sorting out any problems. You have some artists, they’re in tears, because it gets too much for the. You do get all that. People have bad days but they know they’ve got to come in and perform. They don’t feel like it, they’re down and everything’s going against them. They’ve still got to go in and perform, and that’s where your people skills come in, knowing how to deal with them. Some people you know when you’ve got to leave them alone. Others you know when they just want the attention. A lot of them do. I’m always very honest with people and tell it how it is. If they need to be told to snap out of it, shut up and get on with it, then that’s what you’ve got to tell them. They also need to be looked after a little bit. You have to play the game sometimes, unfortunately, the way you have to tell them ‘that was great, really good, really liked it, but we’ll just try it again, to see, cos you never know.’ You have to do that sometimes. Other times you know you can turn round and say ‘that was absolutely AWFUL, get it together and do it again’. Also you know you can’t say that to certain people.
Jo: Or you’re not getting your tea, and I’m cooking?
Nick: I only cook for Stone Gods, cos they like my cooking. I don’t cook for anyone else.
Jo: Shall we move onto Stone Gods? What are their studio peculiarities, and were they sure right from the start what they wanted to sound like? Did it evolve? Who is the nightmare to work with?
Nick: In Stone Gods?
Jo: Yeah, are they all crap at something?
Nick: They all have their good points and bad points! Not many bad, to be honest. No, I think we kind of knew.. they’re very professional. They’ve worked hard, all of them, there was a lot of pressure on them, obviously, with the new band after The Darkness. They’ve all handled it, really. Ed really got a lot of pressure on the second Darkness record. He got a lot of stick, had a really hard time getting his drum part right. He was really nervous and hoping he could do better. For him it was really important he didn’t go down that same road again, and luckily he didn’t. Did a lot better this time.
Jo: I’m very impressed with the drumming on the album.
Nick: Ed could have been the nightmare after the TD record, but he wasn’t. he played a lot better, held it together a lot. Whether that was because me and Dan were producers and he felt a lot more comfortable, or he’d been practising more because he didn’t want to go through that experience again. Toby – absolute legend. You just think with Toby that there’s no way on earth that he’s gonna come in and play those songs. A little cheeky chap who spends most of his time on the computer, watching Spanglish, that’s his favourite film, and you think ‘here we go..’ then he comes in and nails it, like a true professional. Dan – he’s…er... he’s Dan… Dan will spend days turning ideas into more ideas, building on stuff. He’ll spend time, just me and him, putting things together, building and building on it. It takes that amount of time, not a case of not knowing what to do. Exploring lots of different avenues. And Richie – well Richie nailed it. He would come in, do his warm up, sing his four takes and we’d have it. We’d always have it, we’d never have to go back and redo anything. He was still finding his voice, learning how he was supposed to be as a front man, as a singer, and he nailed it!
Jo: Reports from the tour so far are that he’s much better already than the last tour, and people were impressed with that.
Nick: Yeah, he’s come on, he’s a good front man. It is early days for him, and he’s done well. We kinda knew, talked about what kind of record we wanted to make beforehand, so we all had the same idea, really. It took a while. New band, finding their feet, finding their sound.
Jo: They’re a lot older and more experienced than the ones you normally get though, aren’t they? A bunch of 19 year olds are a bit different from the 30 year olds who’ve been around in the business, touring, whatever.
Nick: Yeah. They’re all professional, all turn up for work on time and put the hours in. Apart from Dan. *chuckle*
Jo: It’s his house!
Nick: Well they all lived there. They all turned up for work, when recording the record.
Jo: Riiight.. when you were recording, what sort of problems were there?
Nick: The main problem for Dan would have been… when he ran out of Trident Splash.
Jo: I’m sorry? Oh, chewing gum!
Nick: If you could mention Trident Splash, we are trying to get and endorsement for Dan from them. You might see it coming up in a few interviews. I’m not kidding, that was a problem! We’d both given up smoking, we were on a massive health kick at the time, and Trident Splash kept us going. We went through so much it was ridiculous, and if we ran out, we would send Asa, who was the assistant then. No matter what time of night it was he’d have to go to 24hr Tesco’s in Norwich. When I think of problems I think of that. Other problems -I suppose that when you come out of a band as successful as The Darkness, you’re always going to be dealing with the aftermath of that, financial implications, closing a business down – it was a business. Trying to make a record with a new band while trying to deal with those things is quite difficult. We had no technical problems, the studio held up, it was all really good. Trying to think what else happened – nothing much really. Ed’s peculiar rashes. The usual things.
Nick: Facial rashes, from hairdye. Other than that, Dan’s tab at the Boars! That was usually a problem.
Jo: For Dan or the landlord?
Nick: For Dan! We were just there a lot.
Jo: Does very good food, apparently.
Nick: If we didn’t want to cook we’d go to the Boars!
Jo: Scampi and Chips?
Nick: That’s Dan’s favourite!
Jo: Yeesss… we know… So, is SG’s sound still evolving, and if so, which way is it likely to go?
Nick: I think it’s still early days for them to decide that, really. Usually you look at evolving the songwriting, and sonically, but on this record because they’re quite established musicians. It’s already quite grown up sound and it’s already well put together. I don’t think it’s decided where they go from here. I don’t think they would just make exactly the same record. I don’t think anyone’s thinking that far ahead, at the moment, whether to go heavier or more commercial, or what. They’re still finding their feet. I think that from the live shows, the sound will evolve, as well. What they are as a band comes across live, and that will go into the next round of songwriting. There are already a few tracks knocking about because they’re always writing, anyway. Look out for a Christmas Number 1, too.
Jo: We’ve been down that track, we don’t want to go through that again! Is there anything they really don’t want? That they tried, hung their heads and were very embarrassed about? Musically, not personally, although if you want to divulge any secrets…
Nick: None of them are embarrassed, they’re all proud of what they’ve done. On this record there weren’t any songs where we went ‘that was really horrible’. The songwriting was always good, to the point where we had to struggle to pick the songs to go on the album – 20 songs down to 13 was really difficult.
Jo: There’s only one that we didn’t know, Wasting Time, which they hadn’t played live.
Nick: Yeah. The other ones have been B-sides now, and B-sides on the next single. No, nothing to regret, really.
Jo: No embarrassing tapes to sell on ebay?
Nick: No. They all do embarrassing things as they go along, but nothing really serious.
Jo: Don’t they ever cock up?
Nick: Well yes, but not on a grand scale, when they’re playing! Nothing to go in the history books.
Jo: Dan’s known, when he’s playing live, for having technical problems that no one else is aware ever happened.
Nick: They’re constant, his tech problems.
Jo: But no one else ever notices them, even the people who ARE quite technical. He seems quite anal about it.
Nick: Yes, he’s anal about his guitar set up. He has one of the best guitar tech in the world, though, working for him, but he needs it. His set up is phenomenal, far too complicated but he gets the best out of it. He’s happy with it, and it sounds good. Now, what have they been up to that might embarrass them?
Jo: Best moments, worst moments, and moments at least one of them is trying to forget?
Nick: Best moments with Stone Gods? There are two, no three. Mike Fraser agreeing to mix the album was a very happy night. Finishing the album. And seeing that first gig in Leicester. Seeing that, thinking ‘that’s my boys!’ was very sentimental. We were all so tired after all the work we’d put in all year, and finally the album’s finished and they’re playing live. To see how nervous they were beforehand, of what people were going to think of them. At the end of the day though they don’t think too much about what people think. As long as they’re happy and comfortable in themselves and what they’re doing, that’s what’s important. As a new band in their position, coming from where they did, that’s where it all begins. The next one will be when I sell a million, and I get my platinum disc. That will be the happiest moment!
Jo: Worst moments?
Nick: Oh god. One of my worst moments with Stone Gods was ending up in the pond. That’s another story and I’m not going into it!
Jo: Apparently that’s a lake…
Nick: Dan’s had a couple of injuries. Not really a worst moment, but there have been thoughts of a major label coming in and taking them on, but that’s still round the corner. It’s a new band and a new career and you have to treat it as such.
Jo: Some of those are going to be quite cautious after what happened last time anyway.
Nick: Exactly, and so that’s still possibly on the cards. I don’t think that’s a worst moment or disappointment.
Jo: A realisation of it? It’s early days yet…
Nick: They’d have liked that to have happened. But, they’re working with great people, anyway. For me, there weren’t any worst moments. It was the usual process of making a record, it had the usual ups and downs. There were days when you didn’t want to do it, think you could do a good job today.
David: Were there any particular songs that were difficult to do?
Nick: Burn the Witch took a lot of drum work. It was quite difficult to get the feel of that track right. Beero was a massive song to record. It went on and on, getting that right. There weren’t songs we had to record and scrap and do again. Defend or Die took a lot of effort.
Jo: It turned out well. That’s my favourite on the album, though it wasn’t, live.
Nick: Everyone went through personal things – the odd bereavement – you remember doing a record for that thing happening at that time. The ups and downs of life.
Worst moment with Stone Gods – clearing up when they left.
Jo: Well.. umm.. they’re boys, and it’s not their house… What’s technically their best song?
Nick: For me, Burn the Witch was the hardest to get the feel right. It seems straightforward but it’s not. There was a lot to do with where the bass drum lies in it. Technically drumwise it was important to get that right. Beero from a production point of view was the biggest track to get right – adding all the bits, where to put things.
Jo: Is there anything you think they are still capable of, and would benefit from?
Nick: There’s no doubt they’re going to get better. This is just the beginning, you know. They’re a great band already, but with someone like Dan as a driving force the band will get better and stronger. The songs are already really strong anyway. I think Dan has a lot to offer as a songwriter, as have the others. They wrote a lot of that album. Richie is just going to go from strength to strength. There’s a long way yet though to go, for them. What would they benefit from - a band like that needs to be playing big venues, it’s a big sound. They need the right people, and hopefully they have got them in place.
Jo: More of everything?
Nick: Yeah. They have an opportunity to build on – great record, great songs, doing the shows.
David: Do you think they get the exposure that they deserve?
Nick: No, they don’t, no. I think it’s very difficult for a band like them. Trying to shake the Darkness tag off – you can’t completely, I know.
Jo: We do our bit as well!
Nick: They would probably benefit from me doing percussion and backing vocals live on tour with them.
Jo: Do you think so?
Nick: Not drums. I am percussion king, though, I did all the percussion on the record. So yeah, me, live, doing that and some vocals.
Jo: That’s another question – have they ever considered having a female vocalist?
Nick: No. there might be a track where it’s needed, but I don’t think they’ll be going down that route. There may be a collaboration or something, you never know, in the future. But I can’t see it for Stone Gods, at the moment, anyway.
Jo: Last question, then. Do you only rock, or are you cross-genre?
Nick: I grew up with The Beatles, in my house. Mum and Dad were obsessed. Well, not quite that bad… the earliest recording of me is at age about 4, singing pretty much all the Beatles songs. Mum’s got that, on cassette of course. I started off learning the guitar with some blues music, Robert Johnson, Freddie Guy, Muddy Waters and BB King. So I grew up with blues music, then I got into my rock music due to my elder brother. Stole all his albums and just bought everything else. I had really really long hair.
Jo: I’d have to see that…
Nick: I was a proper rocker. I’ll show you the pictures one day. I went to see every great rock band that was out at the time – just endless.
Jo: So you and Rockfield and Leeders Farm and Stone Gods are ideal partners then?
Nick: Yeah, but after Stone Roses, every indie band wanted to come to Rockfield, so I became known for recording indie bands not rock bands. Then the Britpop thing happened, and Oasis, and I was working for them. That then kind of made me a Britpop engineer/producer. It was what was happening at the time, at the end of the day it was live music and guitar music. There wasn’t much rock music about anyway. I still like my indie music, though not really the mainstream bands. It’s mainly rock. I listen to a lot of pop music but that’s because I work with singersongwriters and do some somgwriting. Lots of it, to be honest, is just dire, but you have to listen to everything, because you never know who’s going to knock at your door. It’s all interesting, if it’s good and if there’s something there that appeals to me I’ll work with it. Doesn’t have to be rock. I like folk, not really keen on jazz but I don’t have much experience recording it. I like to record a rock band, there’s nothing better, but like working with indie bands as well. Working with Seasick Steve doing blues was great cos it brought be back to my roots when I first picked up a guitar. I like a lot of 60’s music purely for the songwriting. The lyrics are fantastic, they create such an image. Motown’s fantastic, I love soul music.