The Remix Man. But he was stumped by Adrian Deevoy
Paul Hardcastle is a lot more than 19. He has a recording back catalogue, an album in the pipeline and a huge reputation as a re-mix merchant.
"Yeah, I used to do that. Two tape recorders. Bung it all onto one. Play it back into the other one with a 'live overdub'. I used to get some really weird sounds doing that. Not good sounds, just weird. Things would get so hissed up and distorted they'd take on a whole new character. Eventually I thought, 'this is ridiculous, how can I have a career in music when all I've got is two cassette recorders?' So I saved up all my money and bought a Teac 144 Portastudio which in comparison was like an SSL. God knows what I'd do with one now. I've got an ACES 24 channel desk now which isn't the best desk in the world but it gets me by.
"I used to do some basic sampling as well which involved poking a microphone out of the window and recording passing crows and a bit of traffic. It wasn't bad actually. It was as good as the 'Frog' sample in the Emulator library."
Paul Hardcastle's mercurial rise to fame leaves a history that could well be yours or mine. He has never been in Deep Purple, he hasn't even owned a castle. He's just done what you and I did but did it that bit better and persevered that bit more.
"If one record had a profound bearing at the beginning of my career then it was He's The Greatest Dancer by Sister Sledge. I bought this little Korg 700S and I used to play along to that in my room. Then I swapped that for a Korg Delta and got a couple of little chord books... C major... A min... I thought yeeahh! I'm there! This is it! A riff! Then I got involved in this band. I didn't really know that they didn't want me for my expert keyboard playing — they wanted me for my ideas.
"Honestly I was so naive then. I went to a record company and played an A&R man some of my songs and he was pretty impressed and he said, 'did you write all these yourself?' and I said, 'naah, I didn't write them. I just made 'em up!' He pissed himself. We got on really well after that.
"I think the thing that really helped us to get our name about was the way we used to promote ourselves. When we brought out our first single we took about 2000 copies — there were only about 3000 pressed because it was independent — and took it around to all the record shops ourselves and said 'have a listen to this. How many do you want?' We took copies around to all the magazines and papers. We really did a good job and on the strength of that the single went to No. 41."
The two bands Paul was associated with were Brit-Funk outfits Direct Drive and First Light who both achieved favourable chart positions in the Stateside dancefloor charts and tickled the nether regions at home. But it wasn't until he was approached by Island to remix Third World's Now That We've Found Love that his name as a producer came to the surface.
"The first thing they did was to play a re-mix of the track and to me it sounded exactly the same, just slightly differently arranged. So I asked them how much I could actually change it. They said I could do what I liked so I took a copy of the 24 track and totally scrubbed everything off it apart from the lead vocal and made a completely new backing track. I kept the timing about the same — around 118bpm — and played everything else myself. I didn't actually change the chord structures but I added sevenths and ninths to the chords to make some of them a bit fuller. Then we put the vocal onto a piece of half inch tape and actually spun it into the new track. That was a joke, it took about two days with the backing vocals as well. Then I took the tape into Island and they were dancing about all over the office. I was really surprised because I'd changed it so much. Even Third World liked it. Well they would really, they got a hit out of it."
The next bizarre re-mix request came from Dave Robinson, gaelic guru of Stiff records. For it was he who presented the Jellybean of the East End with four classic Ian Dury tracks to revitalise, rejuvenate and re-mix.
"I took all the tapes and all my synths up to Air studios and again removed a lot of the stuff from the tracks. On Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick I kept all the vocals and the guitar because that was one of the most recognisable sounds on the track. I fattened up the bass and actually played the Linn along with the track. If you play hi hat manually along with a track it gives it a lot more bounce and it sits up in the track. Yeah, I'm a pretty good hi hat player. I've got a bit of a history as a hi hat player. Steve Levine used to use me to play his hi hats. He used to use a Linn and then get me to play along with the hi hat and overdub the cymbals. I play a mean Zildjian crash.
"On Wake Up and Make Love To Me I took the bass off completely and replaced it with a more Beat It type of riff. We kept the voice the same on all four of the tracks but we added some backing vocals on Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. Me and the engineer and anyone who was knocking about standing around a mike yelling, "Sex and drugs and..". Really bricklayer. I mixed it down quite low in the track but it really pads it out. It was great when Ian Dury heard it because he said that I'd changed a lot of the parts that he didn't like.
"To tell you the truth I just like playing over tracks that other people have started. It's a bit like playing over records in your bedroom with your guitar when you're young. When you're set apart from the records you can be more objective when you hear the finished track. It's not scavenging or living off other people's ideas it's giving them a new lease of life! That's how I like to think of it anyway."
The fact is we're not really interested in Paul Hardcastle's tormented conscience. We want to know what gear he's got. So it's up to the spare bedroom to take in the-hardware. The first thing you trip over is a Linn LM-1, followed swiftly by a DX7, JX8P, Emulator II, Prophet 5, Mini Moog and the ACES desk along the back wall.
"The only thing a re-mix should do is enhance the song itself"
"I do everything in here. The only thing I don't do is mix. Actually I've just got some Roland gear, the SDD 3000 and the SRV 2000 reverb so I might even start doing a spot of mixing here. At the moment I do it all at Sound Suite in Camden with Alvin Clark who's probably the best person in the world to work with. It's not SSL but it doesn't need to be. I mean it's very nice having SSL with gates on every channel but you can get by without them. 19 was all done here."
The average age of a combat soldier in Vietnam changed the average young producer with the average Funky background into a star, if something of an anonymous star. The cut-up protest song has now been number one in 13 different countries and I bet you're wondering how it was made. Well...
"I got out the old TR808 and set up a dance rhythm: I think the 808 is such a good machine. It's very precise and it's like the backbone of Electro. The handclaps on it are great. We gated those to reduce the length so there was space between them. Most of the samples were AMS and Emulator. The drum sound was mainly TR808. We beefed the snare up with AMS and had it triggering the snare on the Linn 2. I used very heavy delay on the bass drum. The thing is I could have programmed the beats in but they wouldn't have faded into the mix in the same way. There's this bit in the Destruction Mix where this bloke is getting his brain's blown-out — "You're 18 and you're wearing somebody's brains" — and to illustrate that we used this backward droning bell that I'd sampled on the Emulator. It seemed to go really well with the words. I mean we could have used a Major 7th or something but it didn't seem very apt.
I wanted the bass to be very droney so I did that all in real time on the Prophet. Perfect 16s — harking back to the old hi hat playing. It was all semitones to give the impression of suspense like they used in Jaws. The string sounds were JP8, I put one side through a phaser and kept the other side straight and the big parmph! is a sampled orchestra. A real one that we messed about with a hell of a lot. Yes, we paid them all a session fee!"
All the voices on 19 were taken from Paul's video recorder. The quality was obviously poor so the Aphex Aural Exciter was brought into play to tweak the soundtrack up. Considering that the video tape was suffering the ravages of four previous recordings and full transmission noise they haven't turned out at all badly. Paul now has the master tapes from the original broadcast which he intends to use on his forthcoming album. But all this wasn't without its share of legal wrangling.
"I think all that's sorted out now. It's typical isn't it? If that song hadn't been a hit no-one would have even bothered. As it was the bloke from the broadcast tried suing and Mike Oldfield said it sounded too much like Tubular Bells.
Everyone tried to dive in. I could have got actors in but as I've explained to everyone it would have lost that feel it had and it wouldn't have been believable. We used a sample of this bloke from Sound Suite screaming, that we built up with Lexicon 224X — it sounded like a woman in the end. Even he was joking about suing the other day."
"I think I might start the Destruction Mix with a gun battle or something like that. Now I've got the mastertapes it should be a lot easier to transfer stuff to tape and all the voices should be a lot clearer. I'm thinking of doing maybe two tracks in a similar vein to 19. Quite a lot of editing and really big sounds — although I'll use big sounds on everything — but I want those to have a sort of message as well. Like modern-day protest songs. The rest of the songs will be pretty Funky dance tracks because really that's my medium and it's the stuff I personally enjoy most."
Is it difficult to re-mix your own material?
"Oh God it's a nightmare. I can't be at all cold-blooded about it. It seems a bit stupid to take you own master and rub everything off and start again so I either end up doing a completely different song or just changing the original mix such a small amount that it's unnoticeable... which is pretty pointless. It's a very difficult thing to do. It's so much easier when you're dealing with other people's material."
So what is the secret of a good re-mix?
"If you're going to re-mix a track — somebody else's track — I think you should make sure that it is as different as possible. There's no point in just whipping the faders up and down. That doesn't mean anything. Similarly just elongating a drum break or putting in 20 handclaps instead of eight doesn't do anything for the track. The only thing a re-mix should do is enhance the song itself. Putting a bass drum through an AMS for the re-mix isn't important if the bass drum doesn't mean anything in the context of the track".
Will the album feature some wild remixes?
"One track on the album is going to be completely off the wall. I want to come up with something really strange that'll freak people out completely. Something really revolutionary... Christ knows what I'm going to do...
"I'll tell you something I am going to do soon — a single with Phil Lynott. It's going to be a really Heavy Metal thing with pumping bass and lots of guitar solos."
Sampled, cut-up guitar solos?
"That's a good idea. I can't think of anyone who's done a very blatant cut up of a guitar solo. That could work really well. Hang on, if I use that you won't try suing will you?"
Interview by Adrian Deevoy
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