Steve Osborne

Apr 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Barbara Schultz



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KT Tunstall's Drastic Fantastic album is another project that has guitars and beats. Can you describe the progression of her sound from singer/songwriter to more of a pop musician?
That was her decision. With the new album, she wanted to get a band kind of sound. It's a different groove. When we did her first album [Eye to the Telescope], it was a departure for me, but I just thought she had something special. I said to her, “A lot of girls come along who sing and play acoustic guitar, and we have to find the right vehicle for you to stand out.” Her boyfriend, Luke [Bullen], is the drummer, and the first thing we did was we went into rehearsal with just the two of them. I got him to play some songs, just the beats, and we worked on those beats — trying to get them as contemporary as possible. She plays the acoustic guitar like a drum anyway; she's very rhythmic.

So I thought, “Well, that's the basis of the album.” It's her playing acoustic guitar and Luke drumming, and trying to capture the rhythm and the interplay between the two of them and getting her to sing at the same time. I always have her playing guitar while she's singing because then you get that vibe between the vocal and the rhythm guitar. The more I produce, the more I try to get things done at the same time. I find that too much overdubbing makes things sound stale.

What did you discuss in terms of the new direction that Drastic Fantastic would take?
KT really wanted to make an electric album. She didn't want to do another album that was acoustic guitar. And the songs are much straighter and lend themselves more to straighter beats, as opposed to the first album, which was quite shuffle-y. It had a lot of swing. This new record has more straight rock beats.

I think every record has its own organic kind of growth. You find out how things are going to sound as you go.

How did you approach The B-52s project?
Keith [Strickland] had done a lot of work before I started. They'd done very good demos and good vocals. But Keith had wanted me there because the New Order album [Get Ready] was one of his favorite albums, and they asked me about the process of making it. I said that Bernard [Sumner, lead singer] said it was almost like they recorded the album, then I remixed it and then they re-recorded it. So the process with The B-52s was similar.

First we went through Keith's demos, and some of them we kept and a lot of vocals we kept, because this band really has a vibe. If they all go in and do vocals in a room together and there's all this off-mic interjection and stuff going on, it's really difficult to re-create that. I'd say it was maybe 50/50 between vocals we kept and vocals we redid. Same thing with Keith's guitars; a lot of his guitars, we kept. Predominantly, what I would work on was grooves, bass lines, making the sound as contemporary as possible.

Where did you work?
We did half the sessions in Clubhouse in upstate New York, with Rick Morris engineering. He worked with me on KT's albums. Then we went back down to John Keane's studio in Athens, Georgia, and Dan Austin engineered. Dan's a very good producer in his own right.

Is it all real drums on this album?
It's a mixture. We were using real drums, but we would edit them and put beats behind, as well. We would edit the real drums to fit really tight on the programmed stuff, even if you can't exactly hear the program stuff. But on all the songs, there will always be some real drums, because without some air moving it can sound a bit stale.

The main thing with The B-52s is the lyrics are just brilliant, and it was really enjoyable. Sometimes making music can get a little too serious, so it's refreshing to work with a band who understands that vibe is about having a good groove.

Do they have as much fun in the studio as it looks like they're having?
Yeah, it's all fun, and that's my idea of how to make a record. We're not all just stroking our beards.

What would you say were the key pieces of gear to the sound of this album?
One of the big things was the RCA 44BX on Fred Schneider's vocal. That was stunning. As far as mixing, we had a Trident desk, so that was a big part of mixing the drum sounds.

How do you capture those amazing female vocal harmonies?
Cindy [Wilson] and Kate [Pierson] would always be in a studio together, and we would record them that way because there would be interplay. Kate has her own [Neumann] M249, and Cindy uses a U87.

Where did you mix?
We mixed it at John [Keane]'s. Because we were working in Pro Tools, the tracks were kind of mixing themselves as we were going. When we got to the end, we split up the desk — we'd take maybe all of the drum sounds and mix those up and re-record it back into Pro Tools, so everything would end up as being in the box. Generally, we'd record stuff, take it out and mess it up with analog stuff, and record it back in.

But I don't worry too much about what gear and what mic. Making KT's first album, that was done on a shoestring and it was a huge record. I'm finding that too much music now is based on being in time and in tune, and the technology now is being used to achieve that. To me, it's about getting back to more performance-based music.

Barbara Schultz is a Mix assistant editor.

Selected Production Credits

P=Producer, M=Mixer, E=Engineer

Note: Other producers, engineers and mixers also contributed to some of these releases.

Headswim: Despite Yourself (1997), P/M
U2: Pop (1997), P/E/M
Placebo: Without You I'm Nothing (1998), P
The London Suede: Head Music (1999), P/M
New Order: Get Ready (2001), P/M
Starsailor: Love Is Here (2002), P/M
The Leaves: Breathe (2002) P
Doves: The Last Broadcast (2002), P
Peter Gabriel: Up (2002), P/E/Programming
KT Tunstall: Eye to the Telescope (2005), P; Drastic Fantastic (2007), P
The B-52s: Funplex (2008), P

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