[kj] (OT) More from Sam Roberts about KJ and working with Youth

Rheinhold Squeegee kjlist at live.com
Tue Feb 11 17:06:49 EST 2014


A fairly interesting read, but I'll include the salient section here for the ADD among us:

Gazette: How much of that had to do with Youth (Lo-Fantasy’s producer, and bassist for Killing Joke)?

Roberts: I think a lot. I think we were ready for
it, too. It makes us sound like a bunch of teenagers, really (laughs):
“We were ready for the challenge!” I don’t want to say we’re slow
learners, but we’ve made a few records, we’ve been in the studio, we
know what brings the best out of each individual member of the band, and
then as a collective, how to dredge the best performances out of
everybody. And I swear, every time we finished making a record, we’d
say, “OK, next time, guys — next time we’re gonna do this and we’re
gonna do this.” It’s almost like an immediate reaction to what we’ve
done. Once you realize that you can’t change what you’ve done, we
automatically start thinking about the next thing, and how we’re going
to go about it differently and how we’re going to implement all these
lessons learned. From the missteps to the things we did right, and
parlay them into the next album. But then you have somebody like Youth.
It’s even the way he presents himself: he’s like, “I’m your record
producer.” He’s there to create a mindset, to create an environment,
more than he is to nitpick over which notes fit with which notes or
which frequencies create the best sonic template for a song. He’s there
to destabilize, disrupt, rebuild a band in a way they’ve never seen
themselves before. And we didn’t sign on for that knowingly — it just
became apparent that this is how he works. When he came over from
England the first time, we were here for a week, in sub-zero Montreal
temperatures, locked away in our rehearsal space with him. And he would
just sit there rolling cigarettes and poke holes in everything we’d
done. I had been working on the record for a year up until that point,
so obviously my first reaction was to think, “How soon is this guy gonna
leave?” (Laughs) That was the first day. I was like, “This is not what I
signed up for at all.” And he’d say stuff like, “Well, the bridge isn’t
the bridge. The bridge is the chorus. The chorus isn’t even the chorus.
That’s the pre-chorus.” And you’d have all this British terminology. He
refused to call a bridge a bridge — it had to be the middle eight. We’d
say “the bridge,” and he’d say, “No, it’s the middle eight.” So it’s
all this stuff. But he also had this complete irreverence. He never just
said, “You know what? You’ve done a great job. Just keep doing what
you’re doing.” He’s like, “I can’t believe that’s the chorus. That word —
what’s that word? Shapeshifters? That’s a good word. That’s the chorus.
That’s what I want to hear. I want to hear ‘Shapeshifters.’ ” How many
times? “Over and over and over again!” (Laughs) It’s like, take the hook
and bash people between the eyes with it.

Gazette: Well, that’s total Killing Joke.

Roberts: Exactly! And I’m always precious with the
hook. It’s like, you just put it here, and then maybe again here. But
Youth knows how to make music that will resonate, for lack of a better
word, with everybody, and make them want to dance, make them want to
sing, even if it’s that one word that gets stuck in your head for the
rest of the day. He’s not afraid of that. And I have a natural
reluctance towards including that sort of arrangement or composition.
I’ll always just put it there one time, so that that one person who’s
stoned enough will say, “Did you hear that guitar part?” But it only
happens the one time. That’s always been my approach to hooks. But not
Youth, man.

Gazette: Well, Youth’s approach sounds more akin to
your live approach. Not that your live approach sacrifices subtlety
entirely, but it’s more of a hard-grooving band on stage.

Roberts: Absolutely. And Youth’s just like, “Well,
let’s harness this and let’s build the songs around these hooks and
these ideas.” So after a week he’d essentially thrown the whole thing
out, turned it upside down, but then he left to go on tour with Killing
Joke again. And so we just took his suggestions, his ideas and we
started to implement them. And we had two months till he was coming back
to actually track the record. And yeah, the songs basically underwent a
transformation in that time, until we could own those ideas, in a way.
Because before it was just, throw everything into a pot, and the songs
were popping here and all over the place, and they had no real shape to
them anymore. So we had to reconfigure them, but with Youth’s vision now
included in it. And so we were ready to go in the studio, and then he
came in and he’s like, “I don’t really like that bit.” (Laughs) Are you
kidding me, man? That’s your idea. “No, that doesn’t work.” That’s one
beautiful thing about him, one of the many: he didn’t just get off on
being the one whose idea it was. “No, it’s not very good. Let’s try it
this way.” So things were constantly changing. There are a million
different versions of this album out there somewhere, in some digital
never-neverland, because it was constantly, constantly transforming.

Gazette: Maybe that’s what helped every song have
its own individual character. It’s still an album, not a piecemeal
collection of tracks, but each song seems to reflect the light in a
different way.

Roberts: That would be the culmination of a long
time … (pauses) well, not a long time. A day. But you can do a lot in a
day when you’re tracking like we were, because you can go, “OK, we’ll
change this. Play it like this.” And then when we listened to playback …
Youth listens to playback at about 120 decibels, so you actually have
no idea. EVERYTHING sounds good at 120 decibels! I mean, once you get
over the shock — you can feel wind coming off the speakers and we’d be
dancing, celebrating the victory at the end of each day, but I didn’t
know what was really in there. What was the mixer going to hear when
they got down to it? (Laughs) Like, “OK, here’s the vocal take, here’s
the guitar take” — it was never about that. It was about the whole, the
effect of the whole. And fortunately, it was all right. (Laughs)
Fortunately, in the end it was OK, but he really just came in there and
we created our own world for 12 days. A world where nothing was certain.
A world where you couldn’t take anything for granted, whether it be
your abilities or whatever. And it wasn’t a negative thing: it was just
that you had to be ready to change all the time. And that was a very
different approach to recording music than I’ve ever been a part of

Gazette: How hard was it to let … well, especially
somebody like Youth in, but just in general to let anyone into your
circle? When I think of tight bands — tight in terms of camaraderie —
you guys are right up there. So for another artist to come in, other
than someone like Joseph (Donovan, the Montreal-based producer of
Chemical City and Love at the End of the World) …

Roberts: Oh yeah, Joe’s in our band, basically. In
our minds. But I think that’s what we need. It’s funny, because there’s
always that moment at the end of demoing where we have that conversation
with ourselves about who’s going to produce this record, and our first
answer is always, “Let’s just do it ourselves. Because, well, this
doesn’t sound half bad — we’re almost there. If we just polish it up a
bit, we should be able to do it.” But then there’s that moment of
realization that we can’t make those decisions for ourselves. We can’t
challenge ourselves enough, the way somebody like Youth can, or the way
(Collider producer) Brian Deck did in his way. We need that outside
influence, as uncomfortable as it is. And I take your point to heart,
absolutely: we are a very tight group of people on every level now, and
it’s hard for somebody to just come in now and be a part of it. A real
contributing, fully fledged voice in that circle. It’s difficult. But
not for Youth, because Youth doesn’t give a shit. (Laughs) Youth takes
over. Youth is the show.

Gazette: So are you destined to work with only very strong-minded alpha personalities as producers?

Roberts: I think in a way, but … (pauses) no, no,
they have to do it the right way. I think we would balk at egomaniac
taskmasters. I don’t think we would function like that. Youth has a very
different way about him.

Gazette: Yeah, and I didn’t mean to imply he’s a steamroller.

Roberts: Oh, he is! (Laughs) He is, but he does it
in a good way. He’s very much like that. It’s very hard to argue with
him, because he plays bass in a band with Paul McCartney (the
electronica duo the Fireman)! Just that fact alone negates so much of
what you could possibly argue about.

Gazette: Almost more than that, I’m sure you have to
have a lot of confidence to play with Jaz Coleman in Killing Joke. He’s
hardly a shrinking violet.

Roberts: Yeah, and Youth’s the kid in Killing Joke.
He’s the young one. He gets what our drummer gets, that unfortunate
role. But to us, he’s been on tour with Joy Division and he’s made
albums with the Verve, and he’s regaling us with these stories of all
the bands that we grew up listening to, and still listen to, and admire,
and he was there. He was in the thick of it. And he’s very, very humble
about the whole thing. He’s not an egomaniac. But he’s incredibly
strong-willed when it comes to expecting out of you as a musician what
at this point you ought to expect. You’re making a real record. He’s
like, “I’m a record producer. We’re making a real record here.” And you
had to be prepared to take your lumps along the way. Things like,
“That’s cabaret, man. That’s lame!” What does that mean? What does it
mean to say “that’s cabaret” about a guitar solo or whatever? I don’t
know, but I don’t like it. It doesn’t make me feel good. So I guess I’ll
try it differently this time!

Gazette: Was there anything he pushed you guys to do that you felt just went too far, that you had to scale back?

Roberts: I think that thing about the hook. I think
that that, for me, was the big tension. And then there was this other
phenomenon: “the jams,” as he called them, where at the end of a long
day, when we were all pretty much tapped out of anything musical, he
would make us jam: basically, taking a chord progression and just
playing it, letting it eventually develop into a song. And you can tell
which songs — there are two that made it onto our record. If you listen
to them now, knowing that, the chords don’t ever change — it’s just the
dynamic that changes and it’s the same all the way through. And that’s
because those are actual recordings of us jamming for about half an
hour, cut up to give them some shape. They had no lyrics, there was no
melody — it was all just spontaneous, live off the floor, free-flowing
playing. And then when I went to Spain, to Youth’s studio, afterwards,
he kept on me: “You gotta work on the jams, man!” I don’t want to work
on the jams — I want to work on the other 12, 13 songs that are actually
going to be on this record, and we need to finish them in a week. We
don’t have much time, we’ve got to get everything ready to send off for
the mix. “Yeah, I really think you should work on the jams.” (Laughs)
That was one of the points that he would grind me on, and he would
never, ever let up. And eventually I said, “You know what? If it’s gonna
get you off my back about these goddamn jams …” and I would sit and I
would write in the morning. I would write the words and I would write a
melody, and we would track it right there. And two of the songs made it
on the record. They bumped off these other songs that had undergone a
year’s worth of work, a year’s worth of deliberation, but they just had
this power that was born out of that moment.

Gazette: Is Golden Hour one of them?

Roberts: Golden Hour is one of them. Good call.

Gazette: My favourite one on the album.

Roberts: (Smacks the table) It’s one of my favourite
songs on the record too! And I put a lot more work into a lot of other
songs. That one I wrote staring out over the hillside in Spain from my
hobbit-hole window — because he designed the studio around Hobbiton,
Lord of the Rings. He actually did, from sketches. Yeah. There are
sketches all over the place. I lived in a hobbit hole. It’s not even a
joke. And I would sit there in my hobbit hole and I wrote Golden Hour
and another song, which, again, if you listen to it the chords don’t

Gazette: Which one?

Roberts: The Hands of Love.

Gazette: Ha. Another one of my favourites on there.

Roberts: And that’s Youth! I would never have done that on my own, but he pulled that out of us.

Gazette: We were talking before about the importance
of rhythm to this album, and the songs head off in a lot of directions.
How hard was it for Josh and James especially to embrace where this was

Roberts: Josh loves it, because we get to focus on
the drums — although I keep threatening to replace him with a drum
machine: “They’re getting really good these days. They sound really
good.” James … (pauses) James has this very unique style, so if I write a
bass line on a demo, he’ll always come back with a counterproposal. And
Youth is a bass player. So this was either going to be James’s worst
nightmare or a dream opportunity, really. And it just so happens that
James and Youth have very, very similar styles of playing. Not to get
too specific, but they both play with a pick, and they both like really
digging in. They’re not light bass players. And so Youth really brought
out the best in James. And he worked very closely with Josh, because
Youth’s first priority, once the song is a song, is always the drums and
the bass. And keyboards also. He dragged … no, not dragged — he pulled
great performances out of everybody in the band. And that is ultimately
the most important thing that a producer brings to the equation: how to
pull the best out of everybody. And he really did it, and I think that
that’s why the record turned out the way that it did.

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