- Album This interview has been made to promote the McCartney III Official album.
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MusicRadar: McCartney III was made at Paul’s own studio – but we’re guessing that it’s unlike most peoples’ ‘home studios’?
Steve Orchard: It’s an amazing setup we’ve got here. It’s centred around a 60-channel Neve V Series desk, then we’ve got some vintage Neve preamps: 1081s and 1064s, we’ve got 10 channels of those. Then we’ve also got 10 channels of Focusrite ISA 110 vintage modules too. So that’s the bulk of the preamps, then we’ve also got some Helios and Chandler units as well. There’s a very good mic collection, a nice live room, everything is set-up, mic’d-up so we’re always ready to record and mix at the same time. It just depends on what we’re doing, often tracks will change. Paul will decide what he wants to do, so we have to be ready for any eventuality.
MusicRadar: Given the circumstances the album was created under, did distancing and precautions make the recording more difficult?
Steve Orchard: A little bit [tricky], but we were conscious of everything – we’d come in every morning and wipe everything down with wipes and all of that stuff, so we were being very careful.
Keith Smith: I think we were all aware, even from early on that we had kind of formed a bubble. Paul lives down here in Sussex on a farm and only had his daughter with him. I’m going home to a family, so is Steve, we’re pretty remote, we weren’t mixing with people outside of that. We really were bubbled. For the first couple of days I was tuning a guitar, wiping it and giving it straight to him.
MusicRadar: What is the main recording format in the studio, is it tape or a DAW?
Steve Orchard: Pro Tools, really. We do go to tape sometimes, we’ve got a variety of tape machines here. There’s a Studer J37 four-track, one-inch which sounds amazing. We often use that, Paul loves that machine. We’ll often do half-speed recording and then play it back at different speeds for different octaves and the tonality shift that you get. Or to get something deeper we’ll record something at 15 ips and then play it back at 7.5 and transfer that into Pro Tools.
Keith Smith: He’s really big on drums on it, there seems to be something about drums on one-inch tape that captures just a big fat sound.
Steve Orchard: We’ve also got a Studer 16-track with a two-inch headblock on it, and a 24-track too. We use [tape] as an effect rather than a method of working, because Pro Tools is the main crux of it. But we’ve got nice mics, nice preamps, I think that if you get the front-end stage of your recording chain correct, and as vibey as you can then it’s captured nicely.
MusicRadar: Can you remember the first thing that you started out recording?
Steve Orchard: It was Long Tailed Winter Bird, I think. Which was a follow-on from the title music from When Winter Comes. It kind of spiralled on from that really. We did a couple of versions of the outro music that sort of morphed into this groove that Paul’s playing – the main acoustic riff in that. That was the beginning of the whole record, it kind of took us off on this route.
MusicRadar: Does Paul have an order for how he likes to track different instruments?
Keith Smith: Yeah, often it’ll be whatever he’s written it on. So if he’s at home sat at his piano writing Women and Wives then he’ll come in here and generally start on the piano. I’m always amazed, because I guess coming from a live background: everything seems to start around drums. You get the drum sound and then go from there. Paul’s never worked like that. It always starts from the song. That’s kind of how some of this started. When he did Pretty Boys, he sat down and said ‘I’ve got this really nice little thing I’ve been working on’. It was a riff that he’s had going for ages, I recognised it from way back when he started playing it. He just sat down with an acoustic and knocked out the vocal and the acoustic at the same time. Then it just developed.
Steve Orchard: There’s no set rules with how he likes to work. If he’s got a song that’s fully-formed then he’ll sit down and put it down with whatever instrument he’s written it on, like Keith said. Sometimes with a click, sometimes without depending on how it feels. But really it just depends. With some of the songs that were more constructed, like Deep Deep Feeling, we’ll use Pro Tools like a canvas, almost. Throwing ideas at it, moving things around, changing tempos, keys, and seeing what gels together.
MusicRadar: In those instances would he go back and re-do the parts to the finished arrangements?
Steve Orchard: We wouldn’t really go back and re-do things. Quite often it’s the original take, and if it feels right that’s the most important part. Paul will go out in the live room and say ‘Doesn’t matter what it sounds like, let’s just do it!’. But then that’ll often end up being the final part, so it’s got to be right. Everything matters!
Keith Smith: Steve often has to deal with a lot of spill. Paul will sit down, and he’ll want to perform it as a song, so he’ll do the piano and the vocal at the same time. From there it just develops and develops and poor Steve will have to somehow deal with the spill on the piano mic from the vocal.
Steve Orchard: You just have to record things with that in mind. I’ve got a big piece of foam that I’ll stick in the piano with the lid open, that helps cut out some of the spill. Also we use a Kaotica Eyeball, the big pop shield, that helps a lot as well. I’ll use some very close micing.
Keith Smith: It’s part of Paul’s process and creativity, I think. He doesn’t like the interruption of having to get things technically brilliant. He’ll often say, like Steve just said ‘It doesn’t matter!’. He’s focused and in the vibe, and he really likes to keep going. He doesn’t like hanging around for much!
Steve Orchard: Yeah, he loves to work quickly. Because we’ve got everything set up and ready – there’s been times where he’s done a piano track, I’ve pressed stop on Pro Tools, looked up into the live room and he’s already behind the drums going ‘Come on!’. It keeps you on your toes!
MusicRadar: Do you have any go-to methods for dealing with bleed when you haven’t managed to eliminate it during the recording?
Steve Orchard: Izotope RX8 has been superb on certain things. It works really well for getting rid of click spill or anything like that, it’s like audio voodoo. But I really do try and get it under control at the front end, then deal with anything else in software – or copying and pasting bits and pieces. Occasionally we’ve had to re-do bits of guitar where there’s vocal spill and the final vocal melody has changed. So then we’ll just drop in little bits, but not very often. Music Rebalance is astonishing too. I used that a little while ago on some piano, we had a piano and vocal. I took the vocal fader down and you could still hear tiny bits of it, but it was nowhere near as apparent as it was.
Last updated on January 10, 2021