INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Audio Pro International OCTOBER 6, 2008 - by Andrew Low
PRODUCER AND ENGINEER MARKUS DRAVS
Producer and engineer Markus Dravs talks to Andrew Low about working with Brian Eno, and how best to combine new and old technology...
Many musicians and engineers born within the last four decades are either followers of or in some way influenced by the innovation, musicianship and production of Brian Eno. Millions own his albums, although fewer have seen him live and only a very lucky few have had the opportunity to work with him in the studio - Markus Dravs is one of the latter.
Dravs assisted Eno at Westside Studios, which sparked a four-year working relationship. But don't let Eno's fame overshadow Dravs' own acclaim. His personal credits include work with the eccentric Icelandic singer Björk, American indie mainstream crossover artists Arcade Fire, '90s alternative stars James, Eno's solo records and countless other amazing projects.
Dravs began his career in London's Parsifal studio where he learned basic recording skills, which he fine-tuned during downtime sessions at the studio. Subsequent years were spent training and working with Clive Langer and Allan Winstanley (Madness, David Bowie and Mick Jagger, Morrissey and Elvis Costello), followed by projects with Gary Langan (Art Of Noise, Queen) and Julian Mendelson (Yes, The Mood) before he began working with Eno.
Dravs was surprised to find that Eno was very easy to work with during his first project with him at Westside Studio. He explains: "Not only was he a huge idol because of his production techniques, I was also extremely flattered by his willingness to share his knowledge with anyone interested. He used some of the outboard gear in ways I hadn't seen before, and I was very interested and kept asking and probing, and he never grew tired of explaining.
"A year or so later (I was working at Metropolis studios by now and hadn't heard from him since the Westside sessions) his manager called me and asked if I could assist him in his home studio in Suffolk for a week. I jumped at the chance, and that week turned into four years."
Coldplay recently employed Dravs and Eno to produce their latest album, Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends. Dravs says that it was important to keep the writing process as organic as possible. He explains: "From a production perspective it was essential to all of us that the record should evolve from a performance point of view and that the songs should be developed from within the band and not assembled in the computer."
The album was recorded in various places, thus the recording set-up changed quite a few times. Everything from a Studer twenty-four track to a laptop with Apogees and Chris Martin's built-in laptop mics were used during the sessions.
While Dravs has worked with a wide range of artists, possibly the most eccentric he has recorded is Björk. He notes, "Björk is very poetic in the way she describes the emotion of what she would like to express with a song - she's adaptable in terms of whether it's this or that bass-drum for example, but she knows exactly what the function of a particular instrument should be and what image it should portray. She definitely has things mapped out in her head, but there is a fair bit of experimentation going on into how to best transform that into a production."
Dravs explains that her vocals are often recorded in a very simple fashion. "A lot of times, Björk would listen to an almost finished mix and then pick-up a Shure SM57 mic in the control-room, with the speakers on (with a bit of Urei compression on) and re-sing the lead vocal in order to adjust her singing dynamic to what she's hearing at that point and then lay down a blinding performance, as she has got such great mic technique," Dravs reveals.
Arcade Fire's album Neon Bible was mostly recorded in a renovated old church. Dravs comments: "We used a lot of Coles Ribbon mics as well as Larson's and old Neumans for the close micing and AKG's for the ambience/rooms, setting up a lot of stereo pairs in different locations. We then did a few run throughs and decided on the most suitable sound for each song"
As evidenced by his credits list, Dravs has relationships with several high-end studios, but his home-base studio has an Amek Hendrix, Logic and Apogee's 16 AD/DA and other bits of outboard. He explains: "It's really a place for me to work when I feel like it, and only when I feel like it, but also I can go and cook some food/wash some dishes while taking a break from working on a track or mix."
Aside from his credits and work with extremely innovative and influential producers, Dravs feels his ability to enhance an artist's vision is his biggest asset. "I generally stay away from the, 'oh you can't do that' - I'm more about, 'If you want to achieve that emotion/energy in a song you can go about it like this or that," he says.
Another key to Dravs' success is his desire to keep his eyes and ears open and continue learning about new gear while always searching for vintage classics to use. "My favourite way of working would still be tracking the band to analog tape. Then transferring the best three or four takes to Logic (using Apogee's 16 AD/DAs) and do any additional overdubs/edits in Logic."
Dravs continues: "The fact that I can sit in a hotel room/garden and program/edit in Logic on my laptop and then open it up on a bigger platform when I get to the studio is total bliss to me. To me the secret when working with computers is to use them with restraint and not to take out all the 'corners' of a recording."
From his early days Dravs has trimmed his chops with some of the best producers of our time. His work ethic, attitude and personality have helped him evolve into a hugely successful, forward thinking engineer who stays true to axioms of the past.