- Can you remember the first moment that music made a huge impression on you?
I don’t really remember a specific moment but loads of little ones. I loved all the pop songs I heard growing up but when I heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” it all clicked. It opened me up to a whole world of music. Music became an obsession and once I learned how to do one thing I was on to the next, I loved listening to albums more than anything. I was endlessly curious about how those sounds were captured and fit together and I wanted to figure it all out. I remember fairly unsuccessfully trying to record into the family computer but then one year I got a Tascam Portastudio 4 track for Christmas and that was the best thing. Every night I’d just make up little songs and overdub bits. It made me happier than anything else and was a great way to learn the basics of recording.
- How did you start out in music?
I’d never played an instrument at school but somehow I found myself at a guitar lesson when I was around 10 at the Nerve Centre in Derry. I started going to the all ages shows there and was blown away but how good the bands were. I met a lot of people and when I was 13 joined my first band. I played all throughout my teenage years and had some incredible experiences - when I was 18 I decided I wanted to move to Belfast and study Music Technology at Queens. I spent much of this time writing, recording and touring. I learned loads about music and growing up. After that band ended I graduated and started working in a venue, spending all my free time making my recordings better, reading everything I could, trying things out and asking people if I could record them. At some point I booked Start Together to record a band and from then on have spent ever possible minute in the studio.
- What is a normal day in the studio with you like?
Every day is different and that’s my favourite thing about the studio. I love the mix of personalities and working with different groups of people to help them realise their ideas. Some days are relaxed and everything happens as if by magic, some days are more considered and focussed and there is much deliberation over finer details. I like it all. Before a day in the studio I meet with the band in advance and if possible go to a show. We talk over the demos, listen to recordings we like and plan the session. I then make a channel list based on our approach and arrive a few hours before the band on the day. I’ll place appropriate backline, microphones and patch everything in ahead of their arrival while ensuring any last minute ideas and notions can be accommodated quickly. From there it’s always different but always about the song, the feeling in the room and capturing the right emotion behind the performance.
Days in Studio 2 and 3 can be different as much of the time it can be unattended which I also really like - I get to really focus in on mixes and details. Other times I’ll be working from there on pop and electronic productions, often with just one other person and it is very collaborative, navigating through songs, synths and studio magic together.
- Do you have any rules?
No rules for bands but I like to show up early and be prepared, I like to work quickly and leave the studio as I would like to find it for the next producer when I’m done. I’m very aware that recording is not cheap and it’s often a big decision at the end of a long period of writing and saving. It’s a big deal for the artist and I do everything to ensure they have the best possible experience. A few hours into every session I find everyone settles, we’re all in a room together making something, everyone is equal and we’re one big band, that’s my favourite approach.
- What is your favourite thing about being involved in creating music?
It’s exciting to be the first person sent half a demo, a voice memo or a rehearsal recording and a privilege to be ushered in to help an artist explore and develop their music to present it to the world. I love that we can meet at the studio at in the morning and be leave that evening elated having created something that never existed. Months later you might get a vinyl in the post and see videos of the band touring the record you made and it’s a wonderful feeling seeing other people respond to the music you created together and take ownership of it. The thing you all made in a room in Belfast becomes someone’s favourite song or record and that is genuinely mind blowing and life-affirming.
- How does making your own music compare to producing or mixing with other artists?
I’ve always done both in tandem so in many ways it feels normal to me and one informs the other in a very organic way. I love working with other artists, I feel like I always learn a lot. There’s lots of talking about music, recommending bands and pedals or whatever. But more importantly than that I get a lot from seeing their process - it inspires me to think differently and try new things. Lately I’ve been approached to work on projects because of my own music and I've really enjoyed being involved creatively.
- What’s been your most rewarding experience so far?
I’ve been really lucky to have many - as a musician I’ve got to travel all over the world and meet people I never would have otherwise and tour with bands whose records I grew up with. This year, releasingBe Kind by my band Beauty Sleep has been very rewarding - so much of that record was written, produced and mixed either alone or with my bandmate Cheylene. It was an ambitious project for us and at times a huge workload, I’d spend my days recording or mixing other artists and when finished for the day I’d be full of energy and excitement and keep working on the record until late. I’m delighted with how it’s been received and it’s led to some wonderful experiences already.
Generally I just I love listening back to things I’ve worked on and find it rewarding to see the artist’s career advance, play bigger shows, get national radio play - that’s all so special. I have also enjoyed being a guest on various music courses and workshops in the UK, Ireland and Morocco. I like teaching and talking about music production, helping to demystify things and encourage the participants.
- How many times do you say "tune up" during a session?
I’ll keep a count of it next session! Probably not often enough for me and probably far too often for the bands. I remember once telling a guitarist after a long day tracking and tuning that they now needed to tune the Moog. They were not happy.
- How do you feel music in Northern Ireland has changed since you started playing
in bands and recording back in 2011 or so?
Back then we wanted to move to Belfast and stay in Northern Ireland because it seemed like the most exciting place to be in a band. It felt that there had been a shift, it was very communal and people were helping each other out. It seemed like that was a big deal but as far as I can tell in 2019 that’s just the norm and it’s incredible. Between bands, across genres - people want to encourage one another. People here are making music for the right reasons and they’re saying something they believe in.
- Advice to new musicians starting out?
Go to shows, meet people, ask lots of questions, offer to help out with whatever you’re interested in. Be up front, honest and helpful. Everyone had to start out once and most people in the music industry are happy to help point you in the right direction. Oh and HAVE FUN!!!