INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Inpress DECEMBER 19, 2012 - by Magoo
TWO HEADS ARE BETTER THAN ONE
Nigel Godrich, best known as Radiohead's producer, now has an album of his own. Australian producer Magoo wants to know all about it.
Radiohead's producer Nigel Godrich is plugging his own album, a new musical project called Ultraista which he recorded with Beck, REM drummer Joey Waronker and vocalist Laura Bettinson. Much to his annoyance, he knows that in any discussion he has with the music media, they're going to mention the 'R' word. To a much lesser degree, ARIA Award-winning Australian producer, Magoo is in a similar position and will forever be associated with another 'R' band, Regurgitator. When Magoo spoke to Godrich over the phone exclusively for Muso, he was sympathetic to NigeI's plight and kept away from tales of Yorke, preferring to get inside the head of one of the world's most successful producers.
Magoo: I am curious about how the project came together before you met Laura, when it was just you and Joey. Were you just hanging out between schedules when you were in the same town?
Nigel Godrich: Exactly. He and I and another friend named Guss. So many times we just got together and we would be recording or jamming. Most of it we did in London but we are working all over the place. Guss and Joey both have little studios and I have a big studio. It's nothing out of the ordinary, we just made a concerted effort to get a bunch of backing tracks together. We spoke about a certain aesthetic about electronics and a repetitive rhythm which is played. Obviously electronic music that is repeated is exactly the same. You get a human being in and they can repeat but it will sound different every time. Afrobeat was the reference point. So that's how it started and then we had an intense three-day session, like a right ol' recording party and ended up with bits of music that we would then... essentially what I did was took all the music off and kept the rhythm and started again. That's the basis of the record.
How much of this stuff did you have together before you thought you had to find yourself a singer?
Quite a lot actually because we'd done tiny snippets which might have been a minute long or three minutes or whatever. It would be a feeling, a little movement and we would leave it at that and move on to the next one. After a while we would go back and look at things and see how they could build and be structured.
I read about how you put up posters at an art college. You were trying to find someone who was not even necessarily a musician to sing. Did you actually audition anyone from that process?
We actually got replies with music that they had made. We were trying to find someone who was an interesting character, who could sing but maybe hadn't thought about taking it seriously. The last thing we wanted to do was have a singer-songwriter with their chops together who had their version of what they wanted to do already sorted out. What we did end up finding in Laura was someone who did have their own thing going, but it was very compatible and didn't work against what we trying to do.
Do you ever have free time, Nigel?
Oh, I do. I have an awful lot of time to stare at the wall and think about what I am doing. I have a very unstructured life. It's a blessing and a curse because it can actually drive me crazy but it allows me to drop anything and do something on a whim.
You don't seem like the kind of guy that is going to have a holiday sitting on a beach?
I really wish I did. I think I really give myself a hard time with time. I have read about so many incredible people, incredibly productive people who describe themselves as lazy... and I think that I am lazy. One of my best friends, Nicholas Godin from Air, who is full of wisdom... says lazy people are the smartest because they always try to get the most using the least effort. I think I am one of those. I'm not like idiots who just work for nothing. There has to be a good economy of your effort. It is very important to being creative. You can't waste your energy on something that is not really going to contribute to the end result. That goes for anything. If you are a recording engineer and producer, then you know what I am talking about. If something sounds finished or good, you don't need to take it apart and put it back together again.
I always find that I have my best ideas on the toilet. You have that break and have that golden moment, pardon the pun.
It's like when people started using Pro Tools, they'd say I miss pushing rewind. When you used to rewind you had this moment to think about things. You don't get that space any more. I think that I work better at night when everybody else is asleep. The world is quiet, there are no distractions. I am terrible in the mornings as a human being. I am just not a good morning guy. Nothing really good happens until after dinner. That's fine when it is just me. When I am working with other people, it's hard because people don't all keep the same schedule.
I hear quite a bit of Brian Eno in his David Byrne-type phase in your work. Is he a bit of an influence?
I guess so. I am a big fan of that era Talking Heads.
The Remain In Light period?
Yeah, that was huge to me. It was an incredible piece of work but I'm not a fan of "Heroes", for instance. There are things I am a fan of and things I am not. Obviously there is an idea behind Music For Airports, the ambient moments which I totally understand and love. I have an enormous amount of respect for the guy but I don't try to emulate anything he has done and never would. Whereas I would try and emulate Trevor Horn. This is a good example of how things happen actually. I try to do Trevor Horn and it sounds like Brian Eno. I understand why you say that. He thinks outside the box. He is not hemmed in by a set of rules he thinks he has to follow. At times he has done things in his career that changed the way that everybody does things.
Have you met Brian Eno?
I have met him a few times. He is very gracious, a very nice man. The thing that I like about Trevor Horn is... even if it is too pop for me, like Frankie Goes To Hollywood or something, even within this mainstream pop thing, he is incredibly obtuse and bold... That's the thing I really do try to emulate as an idea, rather than a sonic palette. With Brian Eno... I like the sound of space, the ambience and echo and reverb. I like to see big spaces when I listen to things because I see things when I hear things.
Getting back to the Ultraista album... without getting too technical... is that just the way Joey plays, or is there a bit of manipulation going on or a bit of both? To me it sounds like there are a few layers of drums in the way that dance music has multiple loops or some sort of loop and a bit of programming underneath. It feels like you've gone for that aesthetic but done it live.
That's exactly right. Basically there are electronics going on that he is playing to which is woven into his sound. Sometimes the drums are being processed through a piece of electronics that is making a rhythm that he is playing to. It's like they're rubbing against each other.
I just wanted to ask how you go being on the other side of the glass so to speak, promoting an album?
It's fine. It feels a little bit, like, uncomfortable but I think that is good. It's a nice change and it is important to make yourself vulnerable. It's important not to be afraid of things... and it's important to just do... stuff!