Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Sunday Conversation with Mike Southworth

In a few weeks, Ripple Music artists, Fen, will be releasing their fifth full-length album and eagerly awaited follow up to Trails Out Of Gloom. With Of Losing Interest in the can and buckling our building supports with its sheer volume, we wanted to get to the root of how this disc came to be so awesome . . . so, we went to Fen co-producer, Mike Southworth, for the low down on how he gets sounds from the artists heads into our ears.

Mike, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions!

What’s the history on Mike Southworth? How long have you been in the production game?

I’ve been producing albums as my main job for about 10 years. I feel really lucky to be able to make a living doing something that I love. I went to a music school in Nelson, Canada called Selkirk College in the late 90s and then moved to Vancouver and started producing and playing full time. A couple of years after moving here, I started Creativ Recording Studios. It was a small-ish studio with basic gear but I did a ton of albums there. We’ve now expanded to a 3000sqft facility with two control rooms, a big live room and tons of great gear and instruments.

How did you acquire an ear for capturing sound to tape? Is it something that you’re taught or more of a raw talent, like a musician, who is continually crafting their art?

Like playing an instrument, recording is a never-ending learning experience. Styles and equipment are always changing so you have to keep learning if you want to stay current. I think I’ve always had a good visualisation of what I want from my recordings but over time,  I’ve gotten better at actually knowing how to get there.

Digital or analog recording, which do you prefer? What’s your pro’s and con’s for either format?

Since most of my engineering experience has been post 2000s, I never really got to use tape much. There’s a few people that still use it, and it does impart cool tonal qualities to a recording, but for my workflow I’m way more comfortable in the digital realm. Plus, the scarcity and costs of using tape makes it prohibitive on most projects. Digital plugins have come so far in the past 10 years. At the rate they are improving, I don’t think it’ll be long before digital plugins makeup the majority of the signal processing chain.

When you work with an artist, how much input do you have? I’m sure it depends greatly on if the band comes into the studio with a set idea of what they want, but do you ever try to influence an artist’s direction?

It really depends on the artist or the project. Some albums I co-write, produce and play most of the instruments on - others, like FEN’s, it’s more of an engineering/co-producing gig. The guys in FEN always have a very specific idea of where they are going with each song which usually is a good thing. I just help them get there and do a bit of steering along the way. ;)

Fen’s Of Losing Interest is a full sounding, thick and multi-layered album, and being that it’s your fourth album with the band, what did you do different on this one? What did you learn from recording this album?

Since it’s FEN, there’s still lots of thickness and layering, but we really made an effort to strip it down in comparison to their previous albums. I really used the live room and it’s tall ceilings to make all the instruments blend together. We wanted the album to sound like a hyper-realistic version of being at a FEN live show so I made liberal use of room mics and tracked less overdubs than on the previous albums. FEN’s previous album, ‘Trails Out Of Gloom’, was very overdub heavy and more acoustic based. ‘Of Losing Interest’ is back to more of a classic FEN sound with Nando and Jeff on drums and bass.

How many artists do you typically work with in a given year? Who are some of your favorite bands that you’ve had the pleasure of working with?

I usually work with about 15-20 artists per year in a wide variety of styles. For example, in addition to the new FEN album, I’m just finishing a lullabye album with my wife Hilary Grist, a roots album for Karly Mundy, an R&B/Pop album for Dawn Pemberton & BJ Block and an album with singer-songwriter Ailsa Rose. Some of my proudest productions are Warren Dean Flandez’s ‘Vintage Love’ - Nominated for a 2012 WCMA, Hilary Grist’s ‘Imaginings’ and of course all of the FEN albums! ;)

As a producer, who has influenced you the most? Are there certain producers that you would like to collaborate with?

I’m a huge fan of Jon Brion’s production and playing, he’d be fun to work with. I also love Justin Vernon (Bon Iver)’s work. Then there’s the classics like Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno. It would be really intimidating working with those guys though!

Thanks again for taking the time to field these questions!

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