The Rupert Hine Approach to Record Producing | Rupert Hine
You may be surprised to learn that as a producer, Rupert Hine has some sixty-five albums credited to him, though it is only in recent times that his name has started to mean anything outside of the record business. Something that has come about largely through his successful associations with Howard Jones and Tina Turner. David Etheridge chatted to him in the studio about his career to date and his approach to record production.
In the world of record production, the combination of Rupert Hine and Farmyard Studios in Chalfont, Bucks, is a proven winner. Successes over the past few years speak for themselves - gold and silver albums adorn the walls in the studio complex featuring such worthies as Saga, The Fixx, Howard Jones and Tina Turner. In fact, one might be forgiven for thinking that Rupert Hine is a fairly recent 'name' amongst producers. However, in a career spanning twenty-one years in music, and with over sixty-five albums to his credit, it may come as a surprise to find that Rupert has been producing since 1972. David Etheridge takes up the story...
After an early period of mismanagement and utter chaos in his career, Rupert managed to amass songs in his spare time. This, coupled with a renewing of his friendship with Roger Glover, bassist/producer with the then burgeoning Deep Purple, led to his first solo record with the group's own label, Purple Records; he described those days to me:
"I went, at that point, from one extreme where everything was going wrong, and I was seeing the armpit of the music industry, to the other. Here I was, signed to a friend's record label, an old pal, being produced by that same old pal on songs which I'd entirely written, none of which he bashed or smashed around. He took them for what they were and put together a great collection of musicians to record them, which included Peter Robinson on keyboards, Caleb Quays and Mick Grabham on guitars, and Paul Buckmaster doing all the arrangements."
At that time, Rupert was writing on guitar, but has now become well-known for his keyboard work, being self-taught:
"Self-taught everything, in fact. I've always felt that if you learn by what you hear, rather than by what you're told or what you read, it's the best way of finding out what you really want to say, because you only really pick up on the things that you like. I've always been lacking in technique, but never been bothered by it - I enjoy that lack of technique, because I'm always finding some way round it, and in that process I stumble on something new or something I haven't done before. That in turn becomes very inspiring. I often feel that with the real archetypal classical musician, the reason that he seems to, generally speaking, have such a hard time composing/creating, is because the learning process has been academic, and has not been through one's ears and a love for what one simply hears."
On Rupert's first solo album Pick Up A Bone, the lyrics were provided by David MacIver, and the album was credited as such, analogous to the combination of Elton John and Bernie Taupin. After a ten year partnership, David MacIver left, for America, and Rupert began to work with new lyricist Jeannette Obstej.
"In twenty-one years, I've basically only written with two partners. The lyrics have always been strong, and I'm a great believer in only opening your mouth when you've got something to say. I can organise that much more intuitively and musically than I can lyrically, so I've tended to work with people that I admire as writers. Another writer I've worked with is Martin Hall, who co-wrote a lot of the songs on Quantum Jump's second album with me - a great sense of humour, a wonderful, dry, Midlandsy wit. David MacIver was also an extraordinary wit, and most of his words were superb as a play on words or a trick of the tongue. Since then I've become much less flippant with my music, and wanted it to be much more communicative on more emotional levels."
To return to the chronological scheme of things, by the time it came to record Rupert's second album for Purple Records, Roger Glover was nowhere to be found owing to Deep Purple's dubious accolade of being the biggest dollar-earning act in the music business for 1973, or so said Billboard magazine.
"I spoke to Roger when he was doing one of these ginormous world tours with Purple, and he just said, 'Well, why not produce it yourself? You've got a love of sound as much as you have composition'. That was a very unlikely thing to happen in today's terms, to have absolutely no experience of record production and yet to have someone encourage you to do it."
"So, technically that album, Unfinished Picture, was the first thing that I produced and it was recorded with Simon Jeffes (now with the Penguin Cafe Orchestra). It certainly was an original album, and I can say that with pride, but it wasn't particularly commercial or relevant to its day - it was outside of its own time. I'm not implying that it was advanced, either - it was just odd. I can still play it now and get some enjoyment out of it, because it wasn't trying to do anything other than just be itself. That's something that I've always strived to do, but I will have to say, as a producer, you can't force that opinion on others because it's often an anti-commercial, an anti-major success point of view. One has to temper it when producing other people; inject it as often as possible into their thinking rather than into their records."
"I was amazed to find that people actually asked me to produce their albums off the back of this one record Unfinished Picture, because it was so outside of everything else that was going on in the industry. I couldn't understand why anyone would want me to do it. I asked myself, 'What does producing involve? If I'm actually producing someone else, what am I supposed to do?'. And the first person to risk it was a lady called Yvonne Elliman, who at that time was best known for playing Mary Magdalene in every 'Jesus Christ Superstar' product there was - the album, the Broadway show, the Ken Russell film - it was endless! She was sick to death of being Mary Magdalene, and said she wanted to make a rude record that would adjust people's thinking that perhaps she was rather a raunchy lady after all. She wanted us to be really brazen and open, and there were songs about her lesbian fantasies, and songs about her food fantasies (which were very sexual!). So we (David MacIver and myself) ended up writing songs specifically from her point of view. That's when we first coined the term 'Bespoke Songwriting'."
"All the guitar solos on it are, in fact, Howard Jones playing keyboards but sounding like a guitar."
"I've always believed in that since - right up to the stuff I've done with Tina Turner on her last album Private Dancer. It's very much like putting yourself in the position of almost being a psychiatrist with the artist. I spend a long time talking to them, finding out really what they would be writing songs about if they were so au fait with the songwriting process that it could be as natural for them to express their feelings through songwriting as it could through singing. So that when they finally get to sing these songs, they can sing them with real belief - as if they had written them. That way, even the strongest moments lyrically can be an 'eyes popping, beaming smile on their faces' kind of moment, because they're getting such a buzz out of expressing that idea, which they may not have dared do on their own."
From the beginning of Rupert's career as a producer, he went for the musical direction as opposed to the 'progressed engineer' syndrome:
"From the tender age of eleven, I had one of the very earliest tape machines - a little HMV, 1 7/8ips, open-reel tape recorder. When I was fourteen, I was taping things from the radio and splicing them together in the most outrageous formats, and thus making 'musique concrete' out of it (although I wouldn't have called it that at that age!). I'd invite all my pals round and give them a twenty minute concert which was just simply edited stuff from the radio waves. It included lots of things played backwards, lots of things at different speeds - I remember I used to record things at half-speed by just holding my finger against the tape reel. I've always had a love for recording and what you can do with sound, and really I suppose it was only a matter of time before that came out in a way that I could actually manipulate and combine with what I was also interested in doing as a writer."
"The first engineer to give me a lot of input was John Punter who's now also a producer. He engineered my first solo album, and the second album was engineered by Steve Nye (well known as Japan's producer), who had been the tape-op on the first album. I remember I had great trouble getting Steve as Dave Harries, the studio manager at AIR London, wouldn't let me use someone to engineer who was only a tape-operator at that time. I had to explain to him that that was the whole point - that I was starting from scratch and I wanted to be with an engineer who was also starting from scratch. It was so enjoyable working with Steve on that album. He and I then worked on many projects in a row for about three years - we did about twelve albums together, all production jobs, which included the Quantum Jump albums. The process was very much one of learning together - we would quite often wander out of the studio and ask someone how to do something when we were both a bit stumped. 'How are you supposed to do this?' we'd ask, and then on the way back down the corridor we'd be saying - 'Well, that's how you're supposed to do it, now how can WE do it?'; we were both always interested in new ways of recording, but you do have to know the right way first! "
Rupert Hine tasted success as a performer through his involvement with Quantum Jump - the group of highly experienced session players that Rupert became part of in the mid-Seventies.
"Quantum Jump was always trying to be a regularly gigging band, but inevitably these bands made up of very active musicians, active in the sense that they were all individually involved in other areas as well, mitigated against it. It was 1974 when we got together, just after I'd done Kevin Ayers' Confessions Of Dr. Dream album, where I met an American guitarist called Mark Warner who was very hot on the session scene at the time. Continued work with him led to my being struck by his extraordinary level of technique which you only found out about in tiny doses - he wasn't always thrusting it down your throat. That coincided with meeting Trevor Morais, the drummer who I'd met again through the Paul Buckmaster/Peter Robinson gang, and they used to come up to this place called Farmyard Rehearsal Rooms and organise these almighty jams with about twenty musicians."
"We used to record these sessions on one of the first Mk. 1 Teac 4-track open-reel machines that I'd ever seen (which Trevor bought when it was first imported from Japan), and though these jam sessions were fairly impossible to listen to afterwards, they were absolutely fantastic fun to play. It didn't matter what level of technique you were at, you could find yourself playing alongside someone who was just blinding as a technician; but finding a pocket to play in quite happily."
"From all this, I got to know Trevor Morais quite well, as he owned Farmyard, and he had been re-evaluating what he wanted to do in music after some experiences of his own with The Peddlars, a band who started out playing R&B and ended up on the cabaret circuit. I had also been doing some work with Caravan's bassist, John Perry. And out of this ensemble I began to see that maybe there was a chance of putting a band together based around my songwriting essentially, because the others were more players than songwriters, but they were good arrangers. As we were all so busy with various sessions, band projects, and production bits, it was difficult to keep everyone together, but in the end someone came in with the finance to buy us six months away from it all, which we did - we sat and worked out a whole album, even played a few gigs before we went and recorded it. The album was, I think, good because of all of that, it was a very clear-minded record, called simply Quantum Jump."
"I was amazed to find that people actually asked me to produce their albums off the back of this one record."
"Two years later, we made a second album as Quantum Jump but basically we had no hits and the records didn't sell well enough to keep people, who were involved with so many other projects, together. I continued producing, and it wasn't until two years after we'd abandoned the band that it happened - we had a 'hit'! That came about solely due to Kenny Everett, who had loved a track called 'The Lone Ranger' when it first came out in 1975, and in 1979 it became a hit. He used that 'Tawakamakatangi' word that's on the front of it in his radio show a lot, just for silliness's sake. So when he came to do the first 'Kenny Everett Video Show' on TV, he wanted to use 'The Lone Ranger' as the theme tune for the series. I thought, 'What an odd idea - especially as it's so old. Well I'll remix it - I'll at least try and make it sound more contemporary, because the sounds on it are a bit woolly'. So I did: I got out the original multitrack tape and did the most extraordinary things with it for that time - like replacing drums, copying the first verse and substituting the third verse lyrics because it always sped up between the chorus originally. In the end, it would have been quicker to have re-recorded it, but I believed that there was some kind of magic in it that I shouldn't deny, so I re-mixed it, and that got to number three here in the UK and sold almost half a million copies at the end of the day, which is quite satisfying!"
By the demise of Quantum Jump, Rupert had already begun his fruitful association with the Farmyard Studios - then called the Farmyard Rehearsal Studios.
"1979, the year that we had the hit with 'The Lone Ranger', was also the year that we opened Farmyard Studios. And the week we opened was the week we were at number three in the charts - one of those special moments really, it was a good time. The bank were very happy, as we were seen to be successful. All the time we'd been planning the studio we'd been very active in the business, but we weren't attached to a hit, so it was the equivalent of a bottle of champagne on the ship's bow when we had this top five hit."
"Farmyard Studios as it is now, came about through the fact that, in the late Seventies, a lot of people used the Farmyard barn as a room to connect a mobile recording studio to. The Rolling Stones left their mobile studio here for about four years - they used it as a base; it would go off on gigs and tours and would always return here to be serviced. Eventually, we began to understand why people were coming here - they liked the sound of the barn."
"By then, I was recording mainly at Trident Studios and AIR London where I would do rhythm tracks, but I'd come up and do the overdubs here at Farmyard using a mobile, then go back to Trident to mix. Soon I started to do some rhythm tracks here as well. The sound of the barn was great, just very natural.
It would make drums sound very big and ambient, but very dumpy: they wouldn't sound bright and live as we now think of ambient to mean, but they'd make them sound huge - Cecil B. de Bonham style! Yes were up here doing much of their Relayer album at that time, so were Jethro Tull, Genesis... lots of bands. We finally said - 'This is crazy, we should build a control room in the barn' - not try and go all West End about it, but at the same time try and make it technologically brilliant, yet leave the feeling of the place untouched if we could."
"So we got a brand new Trident TSM board and brand new Studer tape machines - everything to as high a level as we could afford at that time. Then I did all my production work up here, obviously, to get the whole thing going, and lots of other people started using it, this time as a studio rather than a rehearsal room with mobiles outside."
The vital ingredient of success is an intangible one in any area of music. Nevertheless, I asked Rupert the mind-boggling question - 'What would you say gives you the special touch with so many people when producing them ?'.
"...we have enough problems in the world today through blinkered thinking without having it in music as well."
At first, he seemed stumped...
"Errrr - gulp! People tell me that I haven't been altogether successful in achieving this mind you, but my objective has always been that you sit down with an artist and between you make the best record that you can make. It sounds ludicrously simplistic, I know, but it is actually quite crucial to the attitude. What that is meant to infer is that you don't put them through your 'production machine', but you try and start where possible, from scratch, and say - 'Well, we're gonna make a record, how shall we record it? '. Then you make your choice."
So your aim is for a record to sound like a Howard Jones record, or a Tina Turner record, and not for it to have an aural signature of - 'This is a Rupert Hine produced record'?
"That's absolutely my attitude. The only reason I qualified it before is that I am now being told that people can recognise a Rupert Hine production, and I don't actually treat that as a compliment - I find that worries me. I think that there is a very recognisable contribution from Steve Tayler (Farmyard's engineer and Rupert's collaborator on most of his production work), which people wrongly identify as 'my sound'. Perhaps that's the reason?"
"From a sound point of view, if you're looking strictly at sound equalisation, then Steve Tayler is an absolute master in my opinion, which is why I'm still working with him and have done since the beginning of the studio here. As I'm sure anybody knows, when they work with any combination of artist and engineer, or producer and engineer, once you've got to the point where all your labels for things are so clearly understood by both parties, there is such an enormous amount of time saved, helping creative flow, that it always becomes very difficult contemplating working with someone else. One's understanding, one's common vocabulary, is such that you only have to say one word, and that implies a mass of stuff that, to a new relationship, would need an afternoon to actually demonstrate. So our recording procedure gets to be very smooth-running, very well-oiled."
"Steve, more than anyone else that I've ever come across, understands what I call 'sympathetic equalisation'. I credit Tamla-Motown to be the first people to really understand sympathetic equalisation. 'Selective equalisation' is another way of describing it, where one is looking at essentially each instrument having certain peak frequencies that it operates at, and will always operate at for the duration of a song and maybe even for the whole album if you want that album to have a complete sound. In an effort to have all instruments not arguing with each other, you find the best selective frequencies; so there are little peaks, little slots within the frequency range, which instruments have to themselves. Obviously, they're networked, it's not just one big hump - we're maybe talking about three or four particular spots which are bagged by that one instrument, and wherever possible, you make sure that no other instrument bags those frequencies. You just move them either side if they do. Tamla used to do that very well on their records, and Steve Tayler understands that system very, very well too. At the end of the day, it can give you all kinds of clarity, especially within parts that don't have that clarity within their arrangement to begin with. Rather than simplifying the arrangement, changing the parts drastically, it can quite often be achieved by this sort of EQ process."
"I've enjoyed engineering for a long time, even though I didn't start out as an engineer. When we were overdubbing those albums before Farmyard became a studio, with mobiles, I ended up working the mobiles myself - it was easier. I would leave the engineers to do rhythm tracks with me, and to mix with me, but I would go for weeks doing the overdubs on my own. That was my best experience for getting to grips with all my thoughts and theories about equalisation and trying to put them into practice."
"I've found that at the end of the day, whilst you could probably cope with most overdubbing situations on your own, you certainly couldn't cope with rhythm tracks and mixing. You couldn't be distanced enough to be a real producer - you'd be too involved. Working with an engineer who is so sympathetic to the kind of ideas that I like, so naturally like me in terms of ideas about sound, it leaves me in recent times to be freer to do what I think a producer should do..."
And what is that?
"To offer continuously creative input, and, wherever possible, to be judging whether artists are in the right condition that particular day, or that particular hour, to do what they're trying to do - just mentally, how they're feeling as people. You need to be continuously monitoring people in that kind of way to know the best times to attempt things."
"I am now being told that people can recognise a Rupert Hine production, and I don't actually treat that as a compliment - I find that worries me."
"For people like Tina Turner or Chris de Burgh - solo artists - I literally do all the song arrangements as well as producing and playing most of the instruments, which I enjoy doing. And obviously, if I'm doing all that, then it's really important to maintain objectivity as the producer."
"It would be absolutely wrong to suggest that one could remain objective all the time, but the thing is to recognise when you're not. If there is a skill, I think that's one of the main ones - to recognise when you've lost it, and don't force yourself into making a decision against that feeling. Explain to the artist that, while you may be there to be their objective ears, you too have to take a break or pause sometimes. And that break for me can be very short, it doesn't necessarily mean a week off. It invariably means an hour on the motorbikes outside going nuts, or a good game of snooker! I find those things good for clearing the brain - I'm a great believer in playing hard as well as working hard; it serves a very useful purpose in studios."
You have mentioned in the past that, as a songwriter, you have an aversion to instrumental solos. How does that fit into your production work?
"Ah, yes. Well, I try not to be dogmatic about things at any level; when I feel myself getting dogmatic I take myself outside and give myself a good talking to, because it generally means blinkers, and we have enough problems in the world today through blinkered thinking without having it in music as well. So I try and train myself to be as open to any idea as possible. Occasionally, some pre-conception will creep through and form a little barrier which I know is in there, but as long as I talk very openly about it to people, particularly people I'm working with, rather than just trying to foist it on them, I justify it along those means."
"There are a few people who will use a solo to be a real expression of the heart - it will be so much a crying out of somebody that probably doesn't have the control over his words and speech that he does over his instrument. If we're talking about that kind of expression, then obviously that's well outside my comments about solos, even though they are solos as such. I'm talking about the obligatory solos of the Seventies and classic rock bands, which again we don't really see much of these days."
"I tried to explain to The Fixx when we were doing their first album that essentially, being a songwriter, I liked the idea of whatever it took to get the song across, and no more. It was at that time that I came up with the idea that a solo shouldn't be a chance for just one person in the band to shine, why not make it a much more open debate and have this eight-bar period as just a space where things can happen? Nothing's planned - it's a studio moment, but everybody can be involved. I really enjoy them, and so do other people."
"Howard Jones rose to that challenge enormously, which is surprising because he's probably the most accomplished keyboard player I've ever worked with, and that's now over some sixty-five albums that I've produced since 1973. Howard is technically stunning and also has that personal thing through his soloing, a very kind of personal element that comes out that I think is born of the real songwriter. Even on the very first single that I did with Howard, there is a four-bar sound moment, slap bang in the middle of 'What Is Love'. It was one where there would have been a solo. In all the records I've done with him, including the albums, there's not one single solo on any of it. There are a couple of sneaky solos on 12-inch versions, but that's all."
"I've just completed an album with an artist called Martin Ansell, and that's actually got a lot of solos on it. It was my effort at getting rid of this dogma of mine just for one album - just to see what happens. All the guitar solos on it are, in fact, Howard Jones playing keyboards but sounding like a guitar. He played them from his Yamaha KX5 keyboard, which anyone who has seen his live shows will recognise. The MIDI from the KX5 is radio-controlled, so he has no cables at all, and can play any of his dozen keyboards remotely from the KX5 by a flick of a switch."
"We used a similar idea in the studio, using the same kind of amplification that one would expect when recording a guitar, but the sound source was keyboard generated. The actual sound that Howard basically used was about as far removed from a guitar as you could imagine - if you heard the raw noise before it left his instrument and went through the guitarist's effects boxes and amps and everything else, it sounded about as much like a guitar as it did a toenail, to be honest!"
So there you have it, another Rupert Hine production that sounds like it deserves a good listen.
Interview by David Etheridge
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