Darrell Thorp Interview Part 1:"The moral of the story - at least for this kind of record - is to get great musicians and then turn them loose to play..."
With Mitch Gallagher about his music, home studio, gear and everything related to the recording sessions and the release of his latest EP entitled Foundation...
Today I invite you to the second part of the interview with Mitch Gallagher. A man of many activities.
A man who devoted his life to music... and today there will be a lot about music, because we will talk about his latest EP entitled Foundation. I'll ask Mitch about the process of making songs for this album. We will talk about the details of the recording sessions... We will also visit his home studio and check what equipment he uses for daily basis.
There will be plenty of details and information that you won't read anywhere else. So, If you were interested in the first part of the interview, there is a great chance that the second part will seem even more interesting to you...
If you are one of those readers who start their adventure with Mitch Gallagher right now, stay with us and necessarily read this interview. I guarantee that you will learn many interesting things that will help you during your private adventure with your own music...
Adrian Lucas Witaszczyk: Hi Darrell, thank you for agreeing to meet!
Darrell Thorp: Hi Adrian, no problem. It's a pleasure!
Looking at your career, I can't help but ask about Beck, it seems like he's a very important artist for you, a big part of your professional life, why do you come back to him? What factor determines this?
Oh, well, honestly, it's not a factor of me going back to him. It's more of a factor of him. He keeps calling me.
I mean, I'm just honored that he keeps calling me. So, on the artistic sense of working with him all the time, I'm always excited, but at the same token, on the financial side of it, I'm like, yes, he's calling me again! Woo! You know, it's work! Yay! So there's always two sides to that coin.
How did your adventure with him begin? How do you recall working with him for the first time? I know there's some inaccuracy here, but if I remember correctly, it was probably on the occasion of the 1994 album, One Foot In The Grave. Am I right?
You see Adrian, it's funny you say that, but no. What happened with One Foot was actually.... I believe it was the 20th anniversary of One Foot In The Grave and he decided to put out a double. Man, I don't remember, but, he probably have... he recorded about 20 songs for that project. And then when the album was released, it was paired down to 10 or 11 or something. So he actually had me remixed the entire record to rerelease for an anniversary collection. But then the way it's always labeled on line is it goes by the date of its original release. So people sort of think that, our first meeting was One Foot, but, um, actually our first meeting was a Midnight Vultures era.
Okay, so, what kind of artist in the studio is Beck? After a few albums together you know for sure what is crucial for his sound, I mean the equipment, the way of mixing….
Yeah, I know that he definitely expects a certain sonic character and quality, when he walks into the studio.
It always depends on what he's trying to achieve, but generally if it's a band tracking thing, I'm really trying to make it sound as big and complete and as sonically as I can while recording. So, the raw tracks are impeccable.
It already sounds like a mix. That's what I'm achieving all the time.
Is he some kind of analog freak, or do you sometimes use plugins?
Oh no, Beck is much more flexible than some might think! He wants to use every tool to his advantage in the studio,
whether it be a plugin or analog or digital compressor or reverb, it doesn't matter to him. It's just about, if it does the right thing on what are we recording and does it achieve the vision that he's looking for.
So, he connects the worlds of digital and the analog, looking for the best possible solution....
Exactly. He looks for what inspires him and allows him to be creative!
Let's move on to the stage where you've started to deal with mixes for good….
Jay-Z and The Black Album, how do you recall working on this release? You were responsible for its sound…
Yeah. So DJ Quick, who produced a one or two songs, maybe a couple more on that record, he was working around
Ocean Way Studios a lot and we just met and started bonding and he asked me to help him mix the single Justify My Thug.
I kind of had no idea what I was walking into, and he was just like, Hey man, can you just help me mix this?
And I was like, sure! You see, Dj Quick, he's a great producer and a really good engineer, but he's always came from the Hip Hop side of engineering. So he was more intrigued by it. He was like, Hey man, how would you approach something like this more in the rock world? And I started showing him stuff and he was like, wow, that's cool! I never knew you could do that!
So that was kind of a unique situation to work together like that way.
And where did you get the idea of acapella version of the album? It's quite an unusual solution...
Oh, from what I heard, that was Jay Z's concept. He was just like, Hey, just put the vocals and let's see.... which it paid off, didn't it? That was an amazing kind of approach , It wasn't my idea, that's for sure!
Oh yeah! A really great surprising and very fresh decision!
What's the most important thing about hip hop? I'm asking from the mixing/production side? Elements that you should pay attention to. The rules you have to follow when mixing great Hip Hop record... you know things like,1176 on vocals... parallel New York Compression on drum groups and so on…
Well, before I know Hip Hop producer, engineer expertise, actually I kind of find working on Hip Hop quite challenging for me. I don't do it all the time and it's such a different mindset for mixing, I mean, first and foremost you have to make the kick drum or kick drum samples, whatever they are.... you have just make them louder than loud without blowing up your speakers. Then the snare just has to rip your head off, then the vocal has to sit with the snare and then, last, not least the bass has to follow with the kick and then everything else is kind of ear candy around it.
That's definitely the main focal point of Hip Hop to me. Some other things that I've learned is, if you're on a console, you just crush it! Mix it as hot as you can, and then turn it down on the backend, you know, turning it down in your mix bus just to get it into Pro Tools or whatever you're printing to....and never forget about a stereo buss compression! A good amount!
On which desk did you mix it? I'm asking this, because, a lot of the good old classic Hip Hop records, is largely the sound of SSL. First 4000, then 9000 series, if you had to say why this character, this desks works so well in Rap, Hip Hop music?
In my opinion, part of it is the way the console is distort., if you'd ever have a chance to look at a classic like Hip Hop session, especially if they're working on a console. You could see that they're gain stage, you know, so out of control!
It's just the console glowing red with peak lights including the stereo bus. And it's part of the sound. You know, when you put it all in the concept of the mix, you don't really notice that the kick drum kind of crunching up a little bit and the snare crunching up a little bit. it's just that electronic excitement and things like that.... That all adds up to make a mix more exciting! I think a lot of Hip Hop guys have realized that and made it work for them in a really cool way.
Anyway, going back to the album and your question, Yes, that Jay Z album was mixed on an SSL 8K, you know, an 8K is the same as a 4K, just it has a film's center section. That's the only difference I think , it was more of a film console.
And what is most important to Jay-Z, the factor that causes to affect people is?
To Jay Z?, I think it's all about the vocal and about the chorus and the hook more than anything!
I have read, that you also had the pleasure to put your voice on the album.... on the highly acclaimed, award-winning Hail To The Thief album, by Radiohead, where you were also an engineer....
Oh WOW! Where did you find that?
I found this information on allmusic. You can find it in your credit section! I was curious, so I decided to ask....
No way! Really? Are you sure there's that information? Wait! I have to check it out! Oh, my, it really is!
Okay, so, what can say.... They lie. I assure everyone reading this interview that of all things that Radiohead may want from me, that's the last thing they want me to do. Wow! But thank you for paying attention, Adrian....
So, how do you recall that period? What do you think was the most important thing about the award for Best Engineered Album?
it's one of those things where.... when you're nominated and you win, it's an incredible honor. It was my first Grammy award winning thing and that was an amazing opportunity. I learned a lot working on that record, that's for sure.. There's just so many amazing things to say about being an engineer on that record. It was such an incredible journey....
While working on that album, did you have a feeling that it would be awarded?
No, not at all. I never really think about that. I try think about the fact of how I'm trying to make a piece of art, what to do to help an artist, realize their vision for a piece of art to release in the world, because it's a funny thing being an engineer.
I feel like I do artistic things and I help with artistic choices. But at the same token, I don't really feel that I am an artist in that regards. Like, Beck is the artist, Radiohead are the artist, you know, it's their name on the front cover. not mine.
So, it's really about their dream and their vision and I'm just happy to be there and working as well so I didn't really think about the sort of award aspect. I mean, don't get me wrong. It's amazing when you're recognized for your labor of love that way and that it's welcomed. And within the recording Academy, that is amazing. that's just such an honor. and when it happens, and if it happens, it's a great honor. And I'm super excited and I celebrate like nobody's business, but, that's kinda the way I approach it and I think about it all the time.
What were your duties during this session?
Well, I was an engineer and I was mostly just engineering with Nigel. Nigel has a very unique workflow about him and that had been the third time that I've worked with him. And so I picked up on his kind of traits and habits of how he likes to approach things really quickly. And that's why we got along so well. so it was just, a unique experience to be just responsible for one of the first sessions that Radiohead ever done where it was both Pro Tools and analog tape at the same time.
So, making sure that everything was archived and sync properly, as well as setting up sessions, getting things going for a particular songs or recordings or whatever it might be, that I was always responsible for that type of stuff.
Did the band was well prepared for this sessions?
Yeah, they were, the cool thing about Radiohead is they like to come into the studio to record an album with, maybe let's just say 10 or 15 songs. But what they've done is they've gone into their rehearsal space for a couple of weeks and first they just flushed out this songs as a band. Especially in the case of Tom's, the songwriter, he writes, the songs and then presents it to them and then they go in and rehearse for a couple of weeks and then start recording shortly after that....
Since we're at Radiohead.... How did you remember the work with Thom Yorke on his solo album Eraser? How did these sessions look like? Did the way you work, the atmosphere, differ from Radiohead?
Yeah, because the Tom sessions were more one-on-one with, just Tom and Nigel. So it was much different.
Plus, the Tom sessions were all kind of electronic only. And if Tom played anything, it was just his guitar through a 57 or something. It wasn't even anything, special. And a lot of times Tom would just record himself. He would just go into a little room and set up a little workstation and do his keyboard overdub or part, sometimes sing himself. It was really kind of a cool way of working. A unique way of working. Not a lot of artists can do it or maybe they do more of it than I'm aware of now..
Can you tell me more about vocal chain and the techniques you used to mix Chris Isaac's vocal parts on First Comes The Night?
Well, It's usually an 1176 is my main vocal compression. at the same token, I usually use a Fab Flter or a Massey de-eser or sometimes I use both. And depending on what I'm looking for, I may use a combination of a Neve 1073 and the API 550A for EQ. The Neve is great because it has the high pass filter, so it;s handy for that thing, and I like the warmth and the thickness of the low end, but I prefer the smoother top on the high end of an API. But you know, sometimes I prefer the 1073 on top end. It all depends....
1073 gets knd of a little bit more grainy and gritty to me. It sounds too wide sometimes. So that's it. Depending on what the tambour of the song or the key or the tempo of the song, I may do a combination of both, a 1073 and 550A, or I may just do one or the other. Just depends on what I think is needed.
What does Sir Paul McCartney use in the studio? Does he have any kind of favorite outboard gear? What color does he expect and seek while working on the album?
I think Paul surrounds himself with really talented people and I don't think he really cares about what the process of recording is. He just wants it to sound good, and however you achieve that I think is okay with him. He's not really micromanaging that. He's very worried about and he's more particular about his songs, what he's playing and what he's performing and what he's writing. So he's thinking about that the whole time.
In recent years, you have also been able to add Roger Waters to your impressive CV. Was that one of your dreams?
When I got the phone call, I was extremely excited about that concept. I mean obviously who isn't a fan of Pink Floyd?
And, man, that was a great, cool project. It really was! Unfortunately, I'm credited as an engineer on that, which is fine and dandy, but I was only around for the first two songs of that. I was not in by, and what happened was, is I got sick, I got the flu, and I was down for over a week. so the project kind of kept going without me. And by the time I kind of came up for air to say, Hey, I'm back. I'm not sick anymore. They were like, well,, we're kind of going along and we're kind of fine without you.
Is that okay? And I said, yeah, of course. You know, it was unfortunate, but it's.... Oh, it's a tough story.... what are you going to do?
Oh, that's too bad. I'm so sorry...
Well, That's life....
Maybe we should change the subject,The first album that enchanted you, when you felt you wanted to be connected with music?
Oh gosh, geez. Oh boy. I'm going to be honest. That's a tough one. I don't even know if I remember that concept.
I'll say this. I remember just sitting around listening to music as a kid, I think as most people do, as most engineers and musicians do, and just kind of being extremely mesmerized by how the heck did they do that? I think it was more to do with the fact of just being super intrigued and curious about how the hell they record this? How and what was done? what was the process done to this, to make it sound this way? that's really what kind of drove my interest in becoming an engineer.
What element of your workflow have you been training/develop for the longest time?
Ooh, Damn. Good question. Well, I'm always trying to work on one thing that I'm always trying to achieve and struggle and I struggle with all the time.... it's the harshness in a mix. it's such a delicate operation to try rid off, you know, Tame something that's really, really harsh, but still make it feel bold or musical. It's such a tough thing to do. And still to this day Im struggle with. sometimes I'm like, what? I get so frustrated because I can't figure something out. I can't figure out how to tame something down and make it feel Like it belongs in the track, but it doesn't rip your head off! Cause I don't want that!
I want the listener enjoy the full sonic experience of it.
What do you use in this fight? I don't know, Fab Filter? Things like Brainworx Refinement, or maybe just some regular De-essers?
Sometimes Deessers will work. I usually use Fab Filter multi-band or Fab Filter Q3 now because it has a Dynamic section where you can make frequencies be dynamic, I mean, the frequency points to be dynamic in there, which is kinda rad.
That helps. Also, McDSP makes a great thing they call it their active EQ, I think it's active AE 400 and AE600, which is a four band or six bands. Those work really well as well because, it works quite differently to me than the Fab Filter does.
I find that you can get a little bit more surgical with things with the McDSP AE400, then the Fab Filter. That might just be my go to. I Haven't figured out a way to deal with it on the Fab Filter. Multi-band those are my go tos.
Tell me more about your favorite gear and plugins - if any….
Well I've mentioned them a couple, I mean a lot of 76, 1073 is my favorite Preamp and Eq combination. There is also API 550a, for EQ, Mainley Eq's are amazing, Distressors are amazing. U can't go wrong with a Pultec..... Plugin wise, I kind of use the same stuff as well, like 1176, 1073. The API, most of the ones that I use are all UAD. I love the UAD SSL Channel Strip. I also love the Brainworx SSL Channel Strip. I like the new BrainWorks Focusrite Channel Strip. And of course I love all the Fab FIlter stuff. I use it all the time. It's such a useful tool. Oh, and also Sound Radix plugins, dude, those are a huge key in my mixing process. Sound Radix as far as Auto Align for phase aligning drums, Drum Leveler. I get away with so much stuff without having to re-sample all the time.
What in your opinion, I ask here about analog equipment, is not worth buying today? What can be successfully replaced by plugins? I mean the things which plugins are really close to their analog brothers…
First, you can't go wrong with any of the Universal Audio stuff. There are some of the most well modeled analog, emulations, as well as the Brainworx stuff. Some of they analog simulations are amazing. Kind of those are my favorites but hold on, there's also Kush Audio, Kush does a really good job. I mean, it's funny because he makes analog gear and then he's digitized them into plugins. So his plugins are quite incredibly useful. Really good.
Yes, he has one equalizer. I don't remember it's name, Let me think.... I think it was Clariphonic .
Yeah. Clariphonic, which is freaking rad. Yeah. it works really well!
Let's talk a little bit about headphone work and the 21st century…. What do you think about all these very popular headphone mixing applications? This type of software is advertised as an effective remedy for the disadvantages of acoustic room adaptation.... Waves has recently released another plugin of this type…. From a scientific point of view, they don't make much sense....
Man, I personally have not tried them. I just haven't had a time. It's really difficult for me to sit down and kind of like play around with new things. I don't really have that much free time to experiment with new things like that, unless it's a situation where I need to do something. so for me personally, I have never tried any of those. I've heard from friends that they're kind of cool. Um, I say this, I think that everything that comes out today and is released today is a tool. And if it helps you achieve your goal more comfortably and easy and more efficiently, should I say, then go for it. It's great. you know, just because engineer a likes to use it doesn't mean engineer B, will benefit from it. So that's how I approach any new equipment.
Yeah, thank you, Darrell. That's a very wise answer. I think your words will be very valuable to my readers!
I know that all depends on the project, the type of music, but if you were to give a more detailed answer and say, when it is better to use digital, when analogue and when hybrid mixing?
I think It really depends on your budget. You know,, I think it goes back to the same thing. If you're more comfortable working on analogs and then you can afford to work on analog do your album on analog. If you're a more comfortable working on digital then obviously digital is a cheaper footprint to afford then more power to you on that aspect. that's kind of how I approached that.
If you'll allow, let's go to Foo Fighters for a while... On Concrete And Gold album, you've been responsible for a lot of things, not only mixing but also mastering…
You have experience in both fields, so... how do you see the difference between mixing and mastering?
Mixing and mastering to me definitely it's a two step process. I prefer to have a mastering engineer go over my mixes.
That's the way. I like that extra air print, especially with level matching tracks, that's really difficult for me to do.
The funny thing about the Foos record that happen was, when I was mixing the record and I was just using Ozone to put up on the references for everybody to listen to. when it came back from mastering, Dave just didn't like it as much.
He thought it just sounded a little cooler with what he had been hearing for a couple of weeks and just didn't feel like it improved the record in any way, shape or form. So that's why I'm credited as a mastering engineer and then I asked my partner who is a real mastering engineer to sit down with me and help me label match and sequence it and put the parts together. So that's what happened there.
Today, more and more often, the differences between these two stages are blurred, young engineers treat them as a single stage. Is that a good thing? What impact does it have on the final quality and success of the project when we mix and finalize the project at once. What are the cons of this type of work?
I really don't think that. I kinda feel like, if everybody has an opportunity and everybody can afford within their budget to send their tracks, their mixes to a mastering engineer, I think that they should find somebody that they trust and feel like you know, this is a guy that I can work with. it's such a good thing. Even if Sometimes I feel like, Oh, I've got a mix and it sounds amazing and I think it's perfect, doesn't need to be touched. And I'll give it to partner David Ives, and he'll master it.
And I'm like, okay, what did you do? And he's like, well, I ran it through my playback chain and I just took a little bit low mid out of it and that's it. And it just sounds 15% better. it's, that little thing, but at the same token, you know, you can kind of get feedback like, Hey man, your mix is too bright. Your mix is too harsh. Your mix is too boomy, all those little variables that kind of stack up that you can help yourself in the long run. I think that's why I kind of feel like it's a crucial step.
And in your opinion, it is possible to do effective mastering at home away from the mastering studio?
I think, you can do anything you want to at home. Personally, I think that you don't have to be in a studio to make it happen. It's definitely nicer to be in a studio to make something happen, to keep working, but you can do a record anywhere, man, That's the call. That's the cool thing about today's world of digital and DAW.
Colors is your triumphant return to work with Beck, congratulations, a great album and a great mix! Can you tell me a little bit about how the concept of the sound of this album was born? You heard the demo, you got raw tracks and what do you pay attention to during the first audition of the material?
Well, I'll say this, I worked on the record, but as far as the Sonic footprint goes and everything, all the decisions that were made, those choices were made between BECK and the producer, Greg Kurstin. that's how Greg works. he's really good at that. He's really talented about that stuff. he's been doing it long enough. So my case, as far as working on the record,
I did a lot of arrangement editing for Beck. And I also did a lot of vocals for him. recording vocals, excuse me, should I say, you know, vocal copying, tuning, that kind of thing. And also we we put real drums on stuff. I recorded all the drums.
I recorded all the strings on the record. it was a various hodgepodge process of little bit of this and a little bit of that.
But like I said, the main core of Sonic elements that you hear on the record was Greg.
Can yiu say something more about the sound of bass in the title track? I mean, Colors. Do you remember how this sound was developed?
So just to clarify, the only song that I mixed was Dreams. And I mixed the Colors version of Dreams. Everything else is either Greg, the producer mixed it or someone else. I would love to take credit for all that, but I can't.
Right, and what about this great snare drum sound? Do you have a knowledge about the snare drum on the album? Is it a sample or acoustic snare?
I know most of it are samples, but I don't know if there are actually acoustic samples of a real drum or they're actually more synthetic things. I don't quite remember what the particulars of each song. So, they are samples. Let's just say that.
Is Morning Phase the album you consider your best work? If I asked you about the album you are most proud of, would you mention it?
Yeah, well of course I would. Yes.
Tell me more about the equipment you used for this album. The whole thing has a very distinguish, warm, round sound.... Do you use a Neve 1073?
Well, a lot of the record was made on a console is called a Delcon and there's only two of them made, so, really rare console's., The original one sat in Ocean Way Studio B for years and years and years, and then Beck did a little something around and he figured out and purchased the second one. So, he had the console set up in his studio at the time that we were making that record. So a lot of the guitars and vocals and keyboards and lot of things like that were all done on that console. And then.... Gosh, It's hard because some of the songs was cut on an Neve 8078, a couple more songs were cut at Sunset Sound, and their Sunset Sound Custom Console, , So, literally a crazy mixture of anything and everything.
And the only thing I don't think it ever was worked on was an SSL, in any way, shape or form for whatever reason.
As you see, we had a lot of great equipment to choose from. So that's part of it.
Was the sound idea born before the actual session or only during the mixing of the material?
I think it was kind of born after several tracks were recorded. I know we were just going for the biggest sounding concept that he could get his hands on literally. And that genre of Acoustic folk, but at the same token, man, I don't think sonically it wouldn't be anything if it wasn't just for the fact that he's such a damn good songwriter.
The artist you dream of working with?
Oh man! Dude! the funny thing is, that the artists that I'm dream of working with, I'm a fan of theirs. So it's that weird cross point of like, do I want to ruin my fandom by working with them or do I want to put it on my resume? So it's that interesting little tidbit. like I mean, my favorite band is Refused. , I dropped my phone in the toilet. If they called, like, Oh my God, what? Who? Huh? ,So I, I don't know if they would ever call me., maybe, the possibility is there, especially with my Foo Fighters credit. So I do a little bit more rock genre, but,, for sure though, I would definitely, take the call, that's for damn sure!
Listening to you, I'm thinking about Beck, and how many great things you've done together. So many interesting engineering techniques, unusual studio rooms. I thought of Bruce Springsteen's album, entitled Nebraska, which was recorded in the bedroom, using only a guitar and a small tape recorder. It was supposed to be a demo, but after listening to the material it turned out that its atmosphere is impossible to play in the studio...
I don't know if I associate well, but Beck also recorded similar things...
I don't really know much about it though, but I know which record you're talking about for sure. This album was recorded in a small bedroom in a fairly simple way. Well, you know, honestly though, he has done kind of things in that nature before.
I'm trying to remember, he did something with Jack White a long time ago. That was a very, very similar to what you're describing. It wasn't done in a bedroom. It was done in his guest house, which he turned into a studio and it basically all he had was an ISO and then they did it on the run, funny enough man, they did it all on a half inch, eight track. So, that's how the record was made.
Yes! That's the project I meant. Thank you Darrell! Yeah, with Jack White! Great thing!
Okay, in conclusion, a few words to my readers? Any tips, tricks?
Okay, well, I would say this, one of the cool things about us are what we do is we are usually paid by someone to learn and to grow our craft, which is pretty rad. It's always and always, on the job training., so it's such a cool thing. but at the same token, I think I've learned a little bit in my experience and also maybe my self confidence as an engineer that sometimes something can't be fixed and it can't be changed. So I think what's key is when you get to a point and you realize that, okay, no matter how hard I try, no matter what I do, I just can't make this better. I can't fix this, it is the way it is and it's just gotta be this way. I just have to let it go.
I really think that part of that process of realizing when to let something go is so crucial in your career, and as far as just like sonically, you know, whatever it may be, man it's so hard because I'm guilty of it as well. I'll just beat something to death until I can't think straight anymore. And then I'm just like, okay dude, it is what it is. but just because you don't particularly like the way the snare drum sounds doesn't mean somebody else who's a drummer is going to go, Oh my God, that is the best snare sound I've ever heard in my life. so you have no idea how, because at the end of the day, guys, we're making art, so what art is going to affect everybody differently? And that's such the unique thing about it. It's really is , there is no right or wrong. It's just, it sounds good. It doesn't sound good to you. So it may sound good to person a and may sound okay to person B. It may sound terrible. The person c, it's the way it works. So, t's such an incredible thing that we get to do where we get to learn and work and get better as engineers and keep striving engineer. And I try to do the same thing. I'm still trying to figure things out and train my ear and I really enjoy projects where I go into, and learn something new too,, to take into account and to apply into the next project that I'm working on.So It's fun, man. Sometimes it's fun. Sometimes it's frustrating.
When you're talking about this snare, I immediately thinking about Lars Urlich snare sound on St. Anger. I really liked the sound of the album, but you know, a lot of people will tell, that the snare sound is trash.....
Yeah, that's the point! It's all subjective!
Thank you very much, Darrell. I've enjoyed talking to you!
Thank you! It was a great time Adrian!