PARK SLOPE, BROOKLYN: We know what you’re thinking. You’ve seen this name somewhere before. And not only on the marquee of the Apollo or littered among the best of your old soul 45s: this James Brown’s engineering credits appear on records alongside iconic producers including Butch Vig, Alan Moulder, Flood, Kevin Shields, Daniel Lanois and Gil Norton.
Since starting his career in London, Brown has moved stateside and worked with an impressive roster that features some of the most recognizable alternative acts the major-label world has on offer. He’s engineered and mixed records for Foo Fighters, Nine Inch Nails, Arctic Monkeys, U2, Bjork, The Bravery, The Killers, and Brazilian Girls.
As of this week, Brown’s most recent credits include a new release from one of the moment’s most -referenced independent bands, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart.
We talked to Brown about working alongside his heroes, building a studio for Foo Fighters, and joining Flood to help the Pains re-interpret their quirky “twee-pop” sound as something decidedly more muscular and hi-fi.
You recently spent a lot of time with the Foo Fighters out west helping them build a studio. Can you tell us a bit about that process?
I first talked with Dave [Grohl] about recording Wasting Light at the end of 2009. He said he wanted to make it at home, and that he was keen to replicate some of the sense of accomplishment they’d felt making their third record [There Is Nothing Left To Lose] at his old house in Virginia.
He had a room in his current home that they wanted to change from a Pro Tools-based studio to an analog one. All of the major construction work had already been done for the room’s previous incarnation.
There was an existing control room and an iso booth, and there was a small room directly beneath the control room that we could use to house the tape machines. So it really it came down to us adapting what was already there, finding a way of fitting enough of what we needed to handle recording a pro-grade record, and adapting as best we could to things like the shape and acoustics of the control room.
Then, in March, I put up a handful of mics, got a quick drum sound and recorded some rough demos with Dave and Taylor [Hawkins] just to see what we were dealing with in terms of the sound of the garage.
To our surprise it sounded awesome: aggressive, present, punchy – basically perfect for the kind of record they envisioned making. So we didn’t do a thing in terms of treatment to the garage. All we did was put three large gobos up on the inside of the garage door to stop some of the noise escaping and annoying the neighbors.
From the beginning, we had a pretty clear idea that this was going to be a straight-ahead, balls-out rock record: no ballads, no acoustic guitars, no strings, etc., so the pre-amps, compressors and EQs were chosen with that in mind. We got an API 1608 console with an additional 16-channel extension. In part, we chose it because of its compact size, but mainly, it’s because I’ve loved the sound of API gear for years. Their EQ is just so musical…