Andy Reed’s Synaesthesia
Creating Pictures with Sound
By Bo White
Andy Reed’s a true believer, young enough to appreciate the musical zeitgeist, and old enough to bridge his creative impulses with historical perspective about creating aural landscapes and capturing sound in a certain way. Reed can speak to the benefits of both digital and analog recording. He is able to find that middle path, using both technologies to create a hybrid sound that is classic and warm but can be edited and corrected. His late seventies 8-track recorder, once owned in turn by Mark Farner and Dick Wagner, records bass and drums in analog thus receiving a better low end response by slamming the tape. By getting it really hot, you get tape compression that is transferred into a pro-tool program, which is digital but still captures the analog warmth. Confusing?
Reed explains it further, “It’s like when you take a picture with real film and you get that clarity and bright color. When you scan and print the photo, it looks pretty good and it has much of the original brilliance. But if you take a closer look, the quality of the reproduction is not 100%. You have to give up a little bit for the convenience of digital.”
Reed is a student of sound reproduction whose work is inspired the incredible sonic sorcery of George Martin, Geoff Emerick and the Beatles. He’s gone so far as purchasing the deluxe edition of Recording The Beatles (curvebender.com) that describes in incredible detail all the studio equipment as well as their tricks and techniques in forging the revolutionary sounds on each of their albums. From there, Reed purchased a program called Reason that contains the Abbey Road keyboards. It samples all the famous piano sounds in Abbey Road.
Andy also told me about the Virtual Beatles Instrument collection from EastWest. It took EastWest over a year of research and equipment procurement and gathering a team together to put it all together. The team consisted of Beatles engineer Ken Scott as well as Wings stalwarts Laurence Juber, Denny Seiwell and others. Over a million dollars of authentic equipment was purchased – drums, keyboards, guitars and basses along with period amplifiers, microphones, recording consoles, and tape recorders. The result was a reproduction or samples of authentic Beatle sounds e.g., the flute in Strawberry Fields, the harpsichord on Because, or the heavy metal guitar on Ticket to Ride.
Reed, being driven by his impulse for quality and authenticity did not stop there. He found out that EMI contracted out the old mixing consoles at Abbey Road to Chandler Limited in order to recreate them. Reed purchased one complete channel of an Abbey Road Console that gives him the three complete stages of signal flow – microphone pre-amp, EQ, and compression. He even purchased a U47 microphone from RELUSO, a version of the tube microphones used by all the greats including Sinatra and McCartney.
OK. Reed is a - FANATIC…but loveable. Andy Reed has been in the business long enough and is savvy enough to separate the wheat from the chaff and still keep his head above water. Beginning with incredible power pop wunderkinds The Haskels and even later with the Jedi Mind Trip franchise, Reed steps to the beat of his own drum.
In his spare time he’s forged an identity as a solo performer with a downright stubborn tenacity to create original music that is both beautiful and though-provoking. He has a message and a mission that sustains his craft. With that in mind, Andy and I conducted the following interview in his home studio near historic Center Avenue in Bay City.
How long have you been in the music business?
Eleven years starting up with the Haskels, of course – with my brother Jason. From the very beginning we were writing songs and recording. My fondest memories are with the Haskels. We were young and hungry and very aware of wanting to be creative. We were gigging a lot for little money and driving all over the place. We even opened for Cheap Trick. I can never go back there, being that naïve. I’ve learned a lot.
You’ve recorded music in both band and solo formats. What are your personal favorites and why?
Now, it’s definitely solo. With the hustle and flow of life it’s harder to put together a band. And as I developed a personal style and perspective it’s harder to fit it into a band format. But I miss bouncing ideas off others…though I do it with Donny (Donny Brown of Verve Pipe fame). I’m really proud of Fast Forward (Andy’s solo CD, released in 2008) – just listening to it…I was proud of it. I’m on Kool Kat Music, a popular Indie Pop Label. They got Fast Forward released around the world. I’ve never had that kind of distribution before. absolutepowerpop.com named Fast Forward the 7th best record of 2008. It even got into Brazil’s Top 100. It’s funny, at the time I thought I liked the songs and performances on Fast Forward but I was wearing so many hats I kind of forgot what the overall sound was like. I felt good about the notoriety – people liked it!
One of my favorite songs of yours is Let Down by the Haskels. I love that monster guitar riff. How did you get that sound?
We recorded that on a digital 16 track we had at the time. I used a telecaster through my VOX AC30 amp (the amplifier preferred by many of the British Invasion acts like the Beatles and Kinks). That’s always been my tonal preference – the classic British sound. It’s a blend of the Telecaster and Rickenbacker guitars that have that tight punchy sound.
How long have you been producing CDs?
With the Haskels I recorded all the demos for Rewind, our first CD. Let Down was the first good thing I recorded on my own – that was about 2002 or 2003. The first artists I recorded outside of the Haskels and my solo stuff was Kenny Stahl and Brett Mitchell (both were wonderful 1st class pop constructions). They were a lot of fun to produce.
How do you define the role of producer?
Generally, a producer has to find the artists’ identity and styles, dive into their world and bring it out of them – to help them find their own unique sound…an artist may have many different perspectives. For instance, Brett Mitchell likes Wilco, The Beatles, Dylan – he’s all over the place so you have to find a happy medium – sound-wise and production-wise. Plus with someone like Brett, it gives the producer more options …a guitar lick in the bridge and a synth part in the verse
How are you able to get the artist’s best performance…how do you define best? Is it technically perfect? Gritty? Does it convey an emotional integrity…a personal honesty?
It has to have all those things. One of the pros of recording digitally is I’m able to record several takes and choose the best parts.
What do you do if the music is good but the lyrics are hackneyed or trite?
I know my place. Depends on how I know the artist - the relationship I have with them. Sometimes I make a suggestion, especially if they ask. But typically I do not deal with lyrics. If the lyric or spot isn’t working. I might say it’s a Dylan thing. It gives the suggestion some credibility
What do you do if the overall composition is sound, the lyrics are phenomenal but the band or performers do not have the chops?
Well, with Pro Tools you can edit so easily that you can make anyone sound good. I read a magazine Tape-Op that contains blogs that are really self-confessions of engineers and producers that take barely useable rubbish and Frankenstein the pieces together. If I had a situation somewhat like that I would just tell the band they are not ready to record
As lead singer I imagine you are sensitive to the needs of the vocalist. How do you get the best performance? How do you coach the singer?
Well, it’s the same thing stylistically, knowing the genre and try to fit the vocal within that mode. You have to concentrate on pitch, emotion, tone and timing. If one of those things is off, I’ll stop the tape and we will start over. Pitch is so important and it’s hard to keep up. Singers will go flat or sharp so I’ll get them to sing the song 5 times – if the emotion is there I’ll take the elements that have the best pitch and vibe.
Can something be over-produced Like Roy Wood’s Wizard…too many layers?
I think so. If you have a song, chords, melody and lyrics, everything else is supposed to complement the song, not walk all over it. You think of a guy like Brian Wilson, a genius - that puts layers of production on his songs. But it all boils down to the song – if you take a great song like God Only Knows (Andy sings it accapella) – it will sound good whether it is accompanied by a 50 piece orchestra or just a guitar
As a former failed drum student of Bill Kemp. I truly appreciate the central role of the drummer and I despise drum machines. How much attention do you give to the backbeat? Do you prefer the pop and snap of power drummers like John Bonham of Led Zeppelin or the laid back groove Levon Helm created on Music From Big Pink – sounding more like beating on a cardboard box than a professional kit?
I love to record drums and getting the drum tones to match the music. Sometimes I may choose a “Ringo” groove or a big “Bonham” beat. I like big punchy sound and a nice bright snare riff that pops. I like to get the definition of the drums to cut through the mix. Donny Brown (of Verve Pipe fame) helps out in that department – and in a lot of other departments. I’ve learned more about production from that guy than listening to any record. He’s given me a hands-on approach to everything.
Some audio enthusiasts prefer the sound of vinyl records over that of CD, this despite the apparent technical advantages of the digital format. Founder and editor Harry Pearson of The Absolute Sound journal says that "LPs are decisively more musical. CDs drain the soul from music. What are your thoughts about this view?
CD’s are too clear. You get a lot of separation, which can be a plus. With vinyl everything is grouped together more. It sounds like a band. In the sixties and seventies that was what the artists were mixing to. That’s what they heard in their head when they were recording. Dark Side of the Moon is a case in point. That’s what Gilmore and Waters heard in the studio.
It seems that there is a mixed views about analog recordings versus digital recording. It is thought that analog recordings have a warm sound lacking in the digital process. Famed record producer Joe Boyd (Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, Pink Floyd, Maria Muldar ) discussed his views on making records in his incredible book White Bicycles. “The five years I spent making records in London there were huge leaps in technology. From the four tracks I began with, we went to eight, the sixteen, , each increase doubling the tape’s width. Just before I left for California came the beginning of the decline; some bright spark figured outto squeeze 24 tracks on to the two-inch tape that previously held sixteen. The reduction in track width significantly degraded the sound quality. The best sound of all, of course, is straight to stereo, no mixing, no overdubbing - and no digits.” What are your thoughts?
I agree 100% - that it is sound in its purest sense. The wider the tape, the fewer the tracks, the better the quality. Now they are trying to make the digital sound closer to analog. It gets better every year. Now it captures about 85% of the analog sound
What about the Phil Spector –led “Back to Mono” movement?
I never mixed in Mono but I like the idea of it. It would be a lot harder to separate everything. I have no projects now that are appropriate for Mono.
Who are you currently producing?
I’m working with a country band Mandi Layne & the Lost Highway. I’m doing Brett Mitchell’s next record. We are so on the same page. He’s fun to work with! I’m also producing Dam Melnar, a singer songwriter from Lansing and the mighty Maybe August.
Is there anything you would like to add?
The bottom line is I’m part of making music and music is fun. I always find a way to express myself even if I’m just pushing buttons and placing microphones. Somehow I’ll make it all fun and maybe just maybe …someone is going to like it
You can contact Andy Reed @ (989) 450-6749 or email him @ firstname.lastname@example.org