John and I were in France last spring, and thought we'd search out some home recordists in Paris. I tracked down Air and we also came across some acquaintances of theirs (through the fabulous boys of Tahiti 80) by the name of Mellow. While Mellow may not be a well-known band in the U.S., their work has had massive exposure as the soundtrack of Roman Coppola's movie CQ, and they were hard at work on a new album, Dragonfly, when we caught up with them.
Patrick Woodcock and Pierre Begon-Lours are Mellow, and they graciously met us at Patrick's mother's home, where they have a studio, The Mellow Workshop, built in the basement. We hung out upstairs having tea and then took a tour of the winding rooms downstairs, where many odd instruments and fun recording gear were to be found. Plus there was some guy messing about in Pro Tools.
Who's the fellow downstairs?
PW: The fellow downstairs is the sound engineer, and he comes to do additional production, and then we're gonna mix together in a big studio. Pierre is our sound engineer, it's just the fact that at some point we need an external view, another point of view. He comes from Liverpool, and he's somebody who can really give a totally different view.
You get wrapped up in your own way of doing things and hearing it. It's nice to have an outside ear.
What's the name of the engineer downstairs?
PW: Marcus Draws.
He's worked with Brian Eno and Björk, hasn't he? I know his name from Nerve Net. Is this movie CQ funny?
PW: Oh it's great. You gotta see it.
Roman Coppola. Is he the son of Francis Ford Coppola?
PW: Yeah. I highly recommend it. I really didn't quite know what to expect but I'm like, "Oh this movie's a gas."
It's very sixties... It sounds like the Barbarella soundtrack.
PW: You know, it's impossible for a band to do this type of music without being a soundtrack, you know?
Did they give you a rough cut to work to?
PW: Yes, rough cut. At the beginning they had just the synopsis. Just the paper and so we had each week, we had a VHS cassette with all the new shots. What we were missing...
Did you rent gear to play the video on with sync?
PW: No. Actually we used the JVC. It was just like a challenge to do it, because we had to synchronize the Pro Tools with this analog VHS, so we asked for a VHS with timecode on the left, we used to work with another computer 'cause the old Pro Tools only did sixteen voices, so we had two computers synchronized on the VHS. And one remote control. Can you imagine? A nightmare! The mixing, 'cause we had to premix everything for the final mixing, we sent the tape out. We did some two-track kind of ADAT or Tascam. This is for the movie itself, and then we had to do another mix for the album, in an old place, we mixed on an old Helios console.
What studio was that?
PW: The studio Del 'Aire, northeast of Paris. Big, big place — very messy, but lots of old gear, 1960s — '70s. He had an old amplifier, which had belonged to George Harrison. It was the very desk that had recorded Exodus, Bob Marley.
PBL: When we first started, I worked in a studio, actually used to own half of a big studio in the '90s, and it was an MCI desk, which came from Super Bear [Studios] and had recorded War. So some of this material was recorded through that console, the very beginning.
Were you recording at night, off hours, or for free?
PW: Night, usually. And then we decided we wanted to build something that was more adequate to our needs.
Do you both play all the instruments?
PW: I play most of the instruments. Pierre does drums and programming and, uh, hits me when...
PBL: On stage it's you who hits me when I play badly on guitar and bass.
PW: It's funny, because he's the boss.
So what are you using to record to now? You have Pro Tools?
PW: Yes. We just moved to Pro Tools Mix Plus. We just updated to Pro Tools because it was a nightmare to work on bouncing to ADATs. CQ was a big nightmare.
That was done with two ADAT machines?
PW: No. The extra tracks were on the second computer on just like Cubase software, which is not possible to do anything. It was synchronized, it was okay, but if you wanted to edit something or change it was very complicated to go back.
When's your new record going to be done, supposed to be done?
PW: Uh, should be finished in a month or over a month
Are you going to keep Marcus working the whole time?
PW: He's going to do five or six tracks on the album. Pierre and me, basically Pierre, is going to do the rest. It's...