An Australian architecture student bumps into famous producer/engineer Flood while studying in Ireland, returns home to start playing in bands, and eventually moves to London and becomes an in-demand engineer and producer? Sometimes the truth is rather fantastic. I had to figure out Catherine Marks' unusual career path, so we met up over breakfast on a rainy London morning, off of Portobello Road.
You'd studied classical piano when you were younger?
Yeah, from like four to 15. I'm not really that good anymore, but I think it helps to be able to communicate notes and chords, at the very least.
I heard that you studied architecture in Melbourne.
When I did architecture at Melbourne uni, I had to do a compulsory year at a firm before I went on to finish my degree. For some reason, I thought it would be a good idea to do it in Ireland, because my mum's Irish. Dublin was full of amazing musicians, at the time. I started going to see bands, which I'd never done before. I met Flood maybe halfway through the year of my time there. It was at a Nick Cave concert, and we got along really well. Someone had mentioned that he was a music producer. I don't think I understood what that was, at that point. I think at my going-away dinner I asked him if he'd produce me, and he said no. I think he was working on a U2 record at the time. He said, "I won't; but if you are really serious about working in music, I'll help you. Go back, finish your degree, and work out if you want to do what I do. It's a big sacrifice."
It's overwhelming. So you went back to Melbourne to finish your degree?
Yeah, I joined a couple of bands playing keyboards. The first band I was in was called The Wreck. I would say it was kind of ethereal indie-pop. Then The Wreck broke up, and I joined this band called The Harlocks.
Was there kind of an open invitation to come to London and work with Flood?
No. In his mind he thinks I pestered him, but in my mind I think that he called me regularly to make sure I was still coming. Either way, we had stayed in contact over those four years. When I eventually moved to London, I became the assistant to the assistant engineer, Andy Savours. But I didn't know what it was to work in a studio. I'd never personally recorded anything. I was not technically savvy, at all. But I was so excited about making music, and being involved in making music. Even the things that I found difficult I was determined to figure out. There's a real dynamic in the studio, which I definitely know now and it's incredibly crucial, but I really didn't understand it then. I'd been working at an architecture firm, and I had people who were working underneath me.
How did you approach learning some of the technical side?
I asked a lot of questions; probably annoyingly. I still constantly apologize to Flood now for the way I was. But Flood and Andy also had this thing they called the "war of attrition." I'd ask a question when I thought it was the appropriate time, but it obviously wasn't. They'd reveal a little bit of information, which of course made no sense to me, at all, because it had no context. I'd ask, "What does compression do?" They'd go, "Well, it does this... but this is all we're going to tell you, for now." I still joke to Alan Moulder that I think I've finally worked out the difference between attack and release. He knows that I know things, but we don't have those kind of discussions. He laughs at me because I don't profess to be overly technical, but I do actually know all this stuff. The technological side of things is, like, 25 percent of it.
How did you get up to speed though?
After three months of shadowing Andy, Flood gave me the keys to this project studio up in Kilburn, which he called The Boys Bedroom. It was a mess. All his mates had been using it. I started sorting things out and repatching. I slowly started teaching myself all the equipment. He just kept throwing me in the deep end. "There's a session here, and the band wants to record 25 tracks, in six days." Things would break down; I'd just stay calm and work it out.
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