The music producer Gareth Jones lives in North London between Camden and Hampstead and has his music room in the same house. Right now he is sitting in his kitchen and not in the studio. I am in my studio in Stockholm and we are talking through Skype on the web with the camera on, which makes the interview more personal than just dialling his number on the phone. It would have been nice to see the studio though. He will soon visit Sweden, but not Stockholm, so I will not be able to meet him unfortunately.
It's a miracle that we can have these amplifiers in our laptops.
I am interested not only in his use of the Softube plug-ins but also in his music career and his thoughts about making music, as I know that Gareth has been in the music business for many years.
So I ask him how he feels that the scene has developed?
When I started with electronic music the scene was very different. All the equipment was way more expensive. Although I did start in a kind of a punk studio, the first real electronic record I did was with John Foxx and we made it on tape. And that was a big part of the sound. The approach to the work was enjoying the analogue world and the synthesizers. Only the really successful bands had a lot of equipment. For the John Foxx record Metamatic we had a minimalistic approach and used very simple equipment. So we spent a lot of time exploring the boundaries of the few pieces of equipment that we had and tried to get the very best out of it.
I mix it on Monday, listen to it on Wednesday and Thursday, and then I change it on Friday.
Are you still using hardware or software alone?
Now it is very easy to have 200 software plug-ins or instruments on your laptop and not really exploring any of them because there's not enough time. When I started with electronic music I wasn't even using computers except very simple drum machines like the CR-78 Roland drum machine that I guess was called a CompuRhythm. It had a computer program inside but felt like an analogue drum machine. John Foxx's Metamatic was made with a 16-step ARP analogue sequencer, ARP Odyssey, Elka String Machine, the CompuRhytm, and a flanger effect. In the 80's when I worked with Depeche Mode in Berlin we worked in the big Hansa Studio. Now on our laptops we've got the power of a big studio. And that is a miracle, amazing!
Do you miss hardware?
I have always been fascinated by computers. There are some things that I miss but they're all still there if you want them. I really liked working on tape because of the psychology of it with the limited number of tracks, and watching the reels go round and round was a really good fun. It's really a different work flow and different psychology, maybe a little different sound too. But you can still do that if you want to. I mixed an album last year for a band from Glasgow called Sons and Daughters and they recorded on 16-channel tape because they wanted to have that experience.
So we spent a lot of time exploring the boundaries of the few pieces of equipment that we had and tried to get the very best out of it.
It's still possible to use tape and still possible to use the old analogue synthesizers but hard to keep them in good repair. The new modern analogue synthesizers are much easier to keep in good repair. Few of my friends and colleagues have got space for the old synths and they are very expensive to keep running. Everyone likes to mix the hardware with the software when they can. I do have a few analogue synthesizers but I don't have much analogue hardware anymore, only microphones and a single channel strip, my audio interfaces and a Fat Bustard summing amp. And loudspeakers of course.
Now we have to take a short break because his cute ginger cat Malcolm wants to get in through the window.
Do you think that plug-ins are comparable to hardware and do they meet your needs?
The computers allow you and me and everyone to afford all the equipment. It's really about budgets. I like mixing on computers. The Softube plug-ins are all about mixing for me. I like being able to come back to the mix the next day and adjust it. That suits my mixing style a bit better than a big analogue studio. I mix it on Monday, listen to it on Wednesday and Thursday, and then I change it on Friday. The mixing on the computer for me is very creative. Not only more cost effective than in a big analogue studio. It allows us to be revisiting the tracks all the time and improving them.
I suppose you are very interested in the technical stuff. Do you feel that the technical equipment and knowledge is important?
I mix music and produce records and have a sound engineering background. I hope I have a musical sensibility too and I do program beats and work with synthesizers and so on, but I have never been in a band, only the school orchestra when I was a child.
When I started as a young sound engineer a lot of my responsibility was to run all the technology so that the musicians and the artists could create and record their songs with minimum amount of stress. That was my job to interface between the artist and the technology. But I really don't care about the technology. It's all about the music in the end and a lot of the music I work with is with songs so it's really about the voice and the noise that's going on with the voice. I can remember still when I listened to music as a child, all I could hear was the voice and the noise. Then I gradually worked out how the noise was made around the voice. I believe that ideas are important because the technology doesn't really mean anything. It's really about the musicians and everyone's ideas and the approach and it's the same with mixing. That's why I think that we from the old school can comfortably mix with the computer in a studio. An analogue sensibility helps. I do love technology. I'm a geek as well. But I know that it's not that important.
And now more about the Softube Plug-ins. In which program do you use the plug-ins and which of the plug-ins are your favourites and why?
I do a lot of mixing in Logic and I have a lot of fun doing remixes and playing about in Ableton Live. Those are my two workspaces. Because I've got the analogue aesthetic and the analogue history and I come from an analogue world, I like tools that give me a bit of colour and behave the way that old analogue gear behaves. Those plug-ins that I love are actually rebuilds of analogue gear. That is what Softube plug-ins do and they do it really well.
The Valley People Dyna-mite compressor is a really wonderful piece of analogue gear and has a very special sound and Softube successfully emulates it in the computer. They also do the Tube-Tech CL 1B Compressor compressor and Tube-Tech Classic Channel that I don't think anyone else does, which is another wonderful colour that we know really well from the 80's and the 90's analogue world. Softube also do a Summit Audio TLA-100A Compressor compressor. For me, Softube make some really unique stuff that exists in a corner of the room where no one else is making anything. That makes it really special, useful and really good.
I have talked about all the different compressors that I like but of course I use different EQs. But, for me there's so much fun to be had working with compressors for colour and tones and then mixing in different amounts of compression with the direct signal. Several of the Softube plug-ins have got nice mix controls on which makes it very convenient. This means you can do very extreme compression and then you just mix in a little bit without having to route it via a parallel bus, which is the normal way you do it. A lot of people are making EQs and we all are using EQs when we are mixing of course but I always get excited about the compressors and the overdrive kind of tools cause that's what I like.
How did old school artists accept the digital equipment?
When I was working with the Depeche in the 80's we all embraced the new technology together. Alan Wilder was a technology and studio person as well as a musician. It wasn't that I brought this technology to the band. We were all super interested in the new technology, and not only possibilities for music making. When I was working with them on the three Berlin albums in the 80's it was really all about the synthesizers and samplers and we were all discovering them together.
The same when I worked with another legendary grandfather of synthpop; Vince Clarke and Erasure. I did introduce Logic Audio and computers to Vince in his analogue studio. I went so far with Erasure as to make an album completely with software synthesizers. We did that once and then we fell in love with analogue synthesizers again and realized how much fun it is to use both if we can. Martin Gore and Vince Clarke have huge amounts of analogue synthesizers and they didn't throw those away. The synths are wonderful tools and they keep using them. I learnt a very huge deal working with these people. They are so super talented of course, and very generous with their time and ideas.
You've experimented a lot with atmospheres, large amplifiers and other things. Do you still do it or do you think it is enough with plug-ins?
I've always been interested in the acoustic space around the sound, because it has a very different emotional response if a violin is being played at the end of an aircraft hangar or if you hear it being played very close in your front room. I build chains on my computer in many similar ways as I do in the analogue world by sending sounds into overdrive boxes and into guitar pedals and into software amplifiers and into artificial rooms. Softube makes these cool amplifier simulators like the Vintage Amp Room and the Bass Amp Room which I've used to give a colour and extra space around parts in a mix. It's a miracle that we can have these amplifiers in our laptops. It's a huge truck full of wonderful gear for me to use at the click of a mouse button.
It has been very inspiring to hear Gareth Jones talk about music, but unfortunately we ran out of time and I had to leave him and the cat Malcolm to continue their work.