beat in the bahamas
Eddy Grant has been growing in Barbados. Andy Duncan checks the garden studio. Martyn Goddard brings back a pictorial seed or two.
How did you evolve into a one man band?
All the years I was with the Equals I used to do most of the overdubbing work. Anything that needed fixing, I would fix it. Drums, guitar, bass, piano, whatever it was. At first it was really through the reluctance of the other guys to be in the studio. They would come in, do what they had to do and go and that would leave me and the engineer and we would have to do whatever was necessary. Eventually I got to know about the studio and whatever it took to make records. One day, I think we were making "Black-Skinned, Blue-Eyed Boys", the bass player didn't turn up. We had no regular bass player with the Equals and I had phoned the guy we used and told him that the session was at IBC and to be there at seven o'clock. At 10 he wasn't there and at 12 he still wasn't there. Eventually I said this is ridiculous. I know I can play bass, I know I can play drums and all the rest of it. To hell with it, as from today I'm never going to use a bass player again! After a time the drummer started becoming reluctant to show up so I started doing that, and after a while I was doing the lot.
Then I decided to have my solo career, and I decided nobody else. From time to time I've relented and had people come and play – not through a choice to go out and get somebody but just because someone was there, a friend who wanted to play and I've said OK, play. Now it's even worse than that. I say, why should I be bothered with putting up with their mistakes and their head problems and their games? I just do it myself and it's much easier.
What was your original instrument?
My first instrument was trumpet, and then I went to guitar and all the rest followed. Strangely enough I think that the instrument I play most naturally is piano. I don't really spend much time practicing but I have the facility to play all the instruments and not take much time to learn them. I don't really have much time to follow one particular instrument – I play what I consider to be organically rather than academically. I understand instruments and how they work, so with a little practice on each, I can do what I need to do recording-wise.
How do you put your tracks together?
It depends on the track. Sometimes I start with a click-track and then put on an acoustic guitar and a voice. Or I start with a piano and then a voice. Sometimes I even start with just a voice. You get a different feel every time. Then I just go on, bit by bit, adding the instrument that is required, because after you've put down the first voice or instrument the song tells you what instrument it wants to hear. If there isn't such an instrument then you go to the synthesiser and try and create a similar sound to the one you're hearing.
So you don't record any demo?
No, I never demo. It's a waste of energy. You may get a greater degree of perfection, if that's possible, but then again you lose the urgency and, especially recording as a one-man unit, by the time you've finished putting down 20 different instruments or sounds it could take you a long time.
What do you think of drum machines?
I don't use a lot of drum machines. Sometimes I'll use them for a bass drum, a Linn or something, and then I play real drums on top. That way you get the push and pull of actual live recording. Drum machines all have one fault right now and it's a tragic fault when you're laying tracks. The tempo is never as constant as they would have you think and anyway, you can't beat a human being playing a drum kit. I mean really and truthfully. You cannot. It's a fact. There's just something about it.
I love drums. How and why I can play them only God knows because I don't actually go and practice drums.
At what stage do you record the drums?
Normally the drum is the song. I sing the song in my head and by then it's already got a tempo and a drum pattern and that will go down at that stage. Then, normally, if there are going to be any rolls or crashes, they'll go on towards the end as the picture starts to emerge more clearly with the other instruments. Other than that the drums will tend to dominate the musical picture.
Do you always record on 46-track?
Normally always. I use one machine to store the original master recording and the other one with a slave two-track mixdown to record the other tracks and to preserve the quality of the recording, saving on the degradation of quality as you jump from track to track. Per track we usually use one slave reel and, unless I'm going to go for horns which I did with the Musical Youth album, then I go on to another, to take away – so we use two slave reels.
Do you use digital mixdown?
I've got the new Sony F16 and I use it, but only for safety and storage. I'm now transferring all the Equals masters onto digital, because I own them now, with a view to re-releasing albums in the future.
What made you choose Otari multitracks?
Because my technician, who knows about such things, told me that the Otari has the most up-to-date electronics of all the machines on the market. He said forget the names, today the Otari is the best instrument you can buy. So I bought one. I've always been one not to follow convention. Before this I had a Lyrec because at the time it was doing the best job for the money. At the same time we had a Spectrosonics desk, which did the job, but now I want something better and I've got what I consider to be the best console in the world today, the Solid State Logic.
It is an incredible piece of equipment. It makes you ask yourself how did you manage before. I know how we managed before, we spent a lot more time doing things that weren't necessary. With the SSL it saves a lot of hassle. If you plan your work well you can go through it like that. With the SSL you can pay a lot more attention to detail and do it in your own time, so to speak. In every recording there is always one particular little bugbear and if it happens with a normal desk you have to keep dealing with it every time it passes when you're mixing. With the SSL you deal with it once, the computer takes note, then you can forget it and pass on to the next bugbear. You can concentrate a lot more on quality and you hear the difference. You hear that you've been able to remove this click and that noise as and when you've wanted to.
Then you have the options of the total recall and being able to choose between your mixes without wasting a lot of tape.
Do you edit your finished songs down from long recorded versions?
It depends on the song again. It depends on how much I want to live with that song at seven minutes or whatever. Most times I don't really want to live with that long a track. I used to but now I tend to record everything at about four minutes and then lengthen it if I want to, put other arrangements on another part and so on. That way it saves tape, which I'm always aware of, having not had the money to buy a lot of tape in the past. I'm still an economically minded producer and artist. I still think in terms of saving where I can. Old habits die hard.
How do these methods work out when you collaborate with other artists like Musical Youth?
To me it's not collaboration. To me it's them bringing to me what they want to do and musically I give them a song, they play it, I listen to it and then I treat it. To me that's not collaboration, that's production. I tend not to want to collaborate with anybody anymore. It's an annoyance to the soul in a way. There are people who want to work like that; I would never like to have to sit down with anyone to write a song. I've never done it and I wouldn't like to start now. I wouldn't like to ever compromise my work to the degree where someone feels that in order to produce someone I have to do that. I don't like to produce people, period. If I do it has to be someone that I like.
So if they want you to work with them it's on your terms?
Yeah. I think it has to be that way. You can only have one head on anything. The moment you have two you start to have conflict and you start to waste time. Wasting time is wasting money and I don't like to waste money. It's being practical. If you have the rules clearly defined before you start then you don't waste anything.
How do you get on with all the various keyboards on the market?
I'm selective. I know that basically they're all the same but that each one has a particularly dominant sound. I treat my synths like instruments. I find sounds that even if somebody else has used it on their recording I use it in a special way that makes it my recording. That's how I use them or else forever you'll be running to Manny's or Sam Ash buying the latest keyboard which has one new dominant sound and all the others which are just any old sound.
I may buy the next version of the Synclavier or Fairlight but right now I still think that they've got some way to go. They are not quite as sophisticated as I would like. When they reach the next stage I think I'll buy one. Part of the problem with me not buying the Fairlight was the bass drum sampling. At first I wanted to have a Fairlight here, to record everything into it and put it on to tape straightaway. But I found that there was a problem with the quality of the bass drum sample, the low end of the acoustic piano and things like that, so I left it alone. It was all right for a toy but when you pay that amount for a toy, that's a serious toy. I do find electronics interesting, it's just that right now we are at the small end of it and they are charging us so much that they are asking us to pay their development costs.
People ask me how I retain the sound of a band when I make my music. My music doesn't sound like techno-pop. It is about enthusiasm and discipline and I don't sit still musically. I don't think in terms of this will make me a hit or that. I go and I'll try, try whatever it is. Try to make a different sound or a different groove. If an artist is allowed to be that creative then people will be the better for it because they'll experience a different aspect of that artist every time.
I don't try to impress anyone. This place is this place. You come and you either like my studio or you don't, everybody will have their own feelings about it. Like Phil Manzanera said when he came here, the place has to be like an exclusive club. They never have queues outside and it's a bit like that here. No-one is rushing you to get out because someone else has booked in. There's no talk about lock-out time. It just doesn't exist in our vocabulary. It's a place to work. It's also a place where you can have a good time but it sure is a nice place to make music.
Interview by Andy Duncan
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