Almost four years ago, after a 19-year run, the studio savvy group Stereolab went on hiatus. Here's a look at the co-founders, Laetitia Sadier and Tim Gane as well as their thoughts on recording and creativity in the studio.
Fresh off the release of her second solo album, Silencio, longtime Stereolab front woman Laetitia Sadier took a break from her US tour to discuss her albums' intricacies. Members of the French group Aquaserge helped record the album, including Julien Gasc, who along with Jim Elkington, (Horse's Ha and The Zincs) joined us to discuss Silencio's recording process.
As a vocalist, how did you approach recording and editing, in terms of both making sure you said what you wanted to say, as well as still allowing for spontaneity and life in the recording?
Laetitia Sadier: Well, it's quite fantastic with Pro Tools; we do three takes, maybe even five, and then we comp the best bits. We play it back and it's, "Oh, a good take." No one can hear that it's a cheeky composite. [laughter]
A little different than when you started making records 20 years ago.
LS: Yes! Dropping in and out on tape...
Do you feel like it's maybe too easy to rely on modern computer techniques?
LS: No, I think you still have to be good at what you do, and I don't think it takes away the difficulty. It does make it easier, in certain respects. For the drums, you can play, loop, and quantize it; but you can also change it so it's closer to the way a human would play. All these things really help, magically, but I think you still have to have good ideas to surprise people and be creative. You don't have a "creative" button in Logic. Sometimes it's downright cheating, but...
You're still responsible for the feeling. There's no shortcut for that.
LS: No. You still have to have intent in what you do for it to be the cement or the glue.
Julien, you tracked with an old Studer radio desk, through your converters, and then into Pro Tools. Was there a particular signal chain that you found yourself coming back to?
Julien Gasc: Yeah, the [AKG/Telefunken] D 19 mic. I think we used it for some takes on "Next Time You See Me." We were recording live and there was a good moment, but we were not sure.
LS: Yeah, because I couldn't play the part! [laughter]
JG: But finally we did it, and it was great. The room was full of mics. We had Rockwool walls that we built; those were great for playing live. It's always exciting to play a song live; it's full of adrenaline. Everybody's like cats, you know [holds up hands as if to have claws], like that. I like that, on that song in particular.
LS: It's true. There's a particular kind of pleasure in doing that, which exists nowhere else.
You've mentioned in the past that dreams play a big part in your writing. Does it ever seem as if a particular dream has been realized when you listen to a mix for the first time?
LS: It depends who's mixing. [laughter] I like working with Emma [Mario], who is a drummer and engineer. I handed in the Toulouse session to mix, and he has a lot of poetry in his mixing. It renders this kind of dream-like state. I don't have a precise idea, because I know if I start having expectations, very specific expectations... I know what I like, I know what I don't like. I go by that, and I trust the process. In the end I want to be surprised.
Jim Elkington: Ultimately I've been disappointed with any record that I've had all the decision making process on. I'm like, "Oh, I knew I was gonna do that."
JG: It's always tricky. Take an adult and a child; give them each a piece a paper and pen and tell them to make a drawing. The child will go [makes scribbling motion], and say, "Okay, I'm finished." The adult will go [pretends to be very meticulous] and there's no end with the detail. We have to be more childish with records and say, "It's done."
LS: Yeah. It's my first record ever that I wasn't there for the mixing.
Have you found software synths making their way into your recordings?
L: Jim's wife bought him an iPad....