Jeff Lynne

Nov 1, 2012 9:00 AM, Mix, By Matt Hurwitz

Strange Magic


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Mr Blue Sky album cover

On the two new albums, you play everything yourself. Do you miss having a band of guys around to play with?

No, not really. Don’t forget, when I first started recording, with the B & O, I was on my own. I always record by myself, which I love. I love playing every instrument—that’s my favorite thing, just making a whole, big landscape of racket, with me doing it all. If we’d record everything live, at once, I could never get the separation I wanted, and I could never concentrate enough on the bits that were really important. When you get those bits done early on, and they’re tight and just right, it’s much nicer to play to, to add all the guitars, pianos, keyboards and the harmonies. Once it’s solid, it’s just that much more fun to play.

Walk us through how you build a track.

I’ll start with a click track, which I’ll play to with a hi-hat for about 20 seconds, recording a really good groove. Then I’ll use the click to build up the tracks. I’ll put the snare on, and then tom-tom fills and snare fills. I can play a full rhythm track—I’ve been drumming since I was 13; I play on a Gretsch kit now that I got during the Wilburys sessions—but not necessarily great. So I prefer to build it up, with lots of assistance from Steve and the computer, and just layer it.

Nearly all the time now, I’ll also use a big fat bass drum—a 28-inch Ludwig from 1941 that belongs to Steve. You can cut the room decay down to different lengths. So on some really slow songs, you can have it quite long. Or if it’s a fast song, like “Beyond the Sea” on Long Wave, you gotta pull it in a bit, because otherwise, it’s just one big BOOMBOOM-BOOMBOOM. After the bass drum is in place, I’ll put the bass on, real punchy, dead on, on the note. Then I’ll put the guitar rhythm. From there, I have a foundation to work from.

One of the hallmarks of any great Jeff Lynne recording is the drum sound. How do you create that?

There’s a certain sound that I can hear in my head that I can usually create, depending on the room we’re in. I can always get it in here because Steve knows how to get me the old-fashioned drum sound that I love in that room—a little bit of room on it, and plenty of separation. But a big part of it is I move the overheads out about 10 feet. I don’t like close-up mics. I don’t like the clickiness of them. I especially don’t like a mic under the snare, that little Shure—I hate that sound. It doesn’t even sound like a drum.

This sound really goes back to even the earliest ELO days.

One of the things I do comes from the fact that I couldn’t get enough separation when I would record Bev’s drums. So I used to get him to double-track the snare drum and some of the tom-toms in a room, on their own. So you’d pick up that, along with just the room sound of those drums, which you can then turn up separately in the mix of the kit. It was a much better sound, because the room sound of those drums doesn’t bleed onto the bass drum and everything else. I did that from Day One—4-track the snare drum and the tom-tom. That is the drum sound, really. That’s all it is.

On Mr. Blue Sky, you match the signature sound of “Don’t Bring Me Down” perfectly.

That’s basically a snare that’s just crushed to death by a UREI [1176]. That’s as flat as I could have it without it blowing up or becoming a fuzz box. That’s how I did it in the first place, and I did the same method on the new version. On the original record, that was actually a drum loop from a different song. I just took two tracks of drumming—bass drum and snare, with a bit of leakage on the hi-hat—put it on the 2-track machine and did the old trick, wound it round a mic stand and my old pencil. I think it was two bars long. Recorded that onto the 24-track, and then I was ready to go.

Believe it or not, I think that had eight pianos on it, all doing the same note. God knows what I was expecting to happen. It just gets eight times louder! If you turn it down, it’s still only one piano. It doesn’t track like a guitar [recorded with multiple passes], because a guitar bends a bit. You can slightly knock it out of tune, and you get this big chorus effect. A piano doesn’t do that, of course, until you bang it out of tune.

Do you miss tape?

I don’t miss anything about tape, except the fact that you can tie your plants up with it. [Laughs.]

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