Producer Profile: Alex Newport (At The Drive-In, Death Cab For Cutie, City and Colour)

“At some point I figured, there’s no reason you couldn’t do that with a kick drum or an effects return. Those moves help create these subtle dynamics that really make the song come alive.”

Most of Newport’s mixes are completed in Future Shock, his own personal room on the East Williamsburg/Bushwick border. Although he’s been based in the States for years, transplanting from California to New York in recent years, many of Newport’s sessions keep him traveling.

“Many of my clients are out of the country,” he says. “I have ton in Canada and several in Japan and a lot of British bands I work with.  If I’m producing it often makes sense to go wherever the band is, but typically, if I’m asked to mix, I’ll do it at my studio. Having my own space is helpful because I’m able to manipulate budgets and make them work, and since I know where everything is it tends to go more quickly.”

Future Shock is built around an Amek Einstien console that at first glance appears to be an “in-line” console with individual on monitor and send on each channel. Closer examination reveals that this is actually a unique design that crams 80 individual automated channels into a modest 7’ frame. Channels 1-40 line the bottom of his board, with faders for channels 41-80 stacked directly above them.

Although he’s never used all 80 on a mix, Newport says this incredible flexibility allows him to warp individual sounds in parallel without thinking about the board’s limits. He mixes these individual tracks down to 1/2″ tape through a single SSL G384 stereo bus compressor.

Aside from his penchant for avoiding the excesses of digital recording, Newport doesn’t have too many necessities when it comes to gear. “I don’t really need physical or tangible touchstones,” he says. “Just musicians with real honesty and passion.”

“My main goal is to make the bands sound like bands. I don’t really use plug-ins or Auto-Tune and I’m a little wary of doing too much writing in the studio. Better, I think, to do some pre-production with the band in advance so the session becomes more about capturing than constructing. With all of our advances in technology, a lot of peoples’ favorite records still seem to be the ones created with the methods from the 60s and 70s because they sound honest and dynamic.

“I really prefer working on tape, and when I do use the computer, I still mix on the analog desk with automation and analog hardware. Automation in the computer feels fiddly and unmusical to me when compared with working on real faders.”

CITY AND COLOUR

In homage under stained glass

Singer/Songwriter Dallas Green was reluctant to perform under his own name, and so took the moniker City and Colour. We’ll let you make the connection.

“I first heard Dallas a few years ago and was just really blown away. He exhibits some of the same things I heard in Death Cab and At The Drive In. He’s just a real, individual musician. His voice, especially, is just unique and fantastic. He hadn’t done a lot of work with a producer yet, so I was really excited to see what I could bring out of him.”

Newport at the MCI JH 2" 24-track tape machine during City and Colour sessions, Catherine North Studio. Photo by Haris Cehajic.

“The mic that I preferred most often on the acoustic was the Beyerdynamic M160. It’s not too expensive, so it’s within reach for many people, but it’s absolutely fantastic on almost anything. And the main vocal was the Shure SM7- another mic that’s not terrifically expensive. It’s very directional and will take EQ really well.

“On a few of the more rock-sounding things we did use an [AKG] C12. But on many songs the rhythm of the guitar and the rhythm of the vocal are symbiotic and I felt they really had to be done in one take. When I’m recording acoustic guitar and vocal together, it becomes important to choose mics that sound good and are very directional.  The SM7 is great for that. With a large-diaphragm condenser that’s not as possible – you get more bleed, and then phase becomes more of an issue.

“We also did quite a few songs where he wasn’t using headphones. We would play the tracks through the monitors and he would stand signing a few feet behind me. It was a pretty incredible experience for me. Dallas is one of the most incredible singers in the universe, and to have him singing that close to me was quite breathtaking.”

At first, Newport was wary of recording in Catherine North studio of Hamilton, Ontario. It’s an open-plan design where the control room and live room are one in the same. He’d avoided these kinds of studios in the past, relishing the sonic distance and perspective that working with a separate control room afforded him.

“Then Dallas told me that his friend Dan [Achen] who had produced the last City and Color record had owned the studio, and he wanted to pay homage to Dan in whatever way he could. As soon as I heard how much of a special place this was for Dallas, I didn’t care about the lack of control room or anything. If it was a place he felt good about and had a vibe, that was good enough for me.

“And it is a really cool studio. It’s built in a former church, so it has these 40-foot high ceilings and stained glass windows. The open plan makes things a little bit trickier, especially when it comes to recording drums, but the vibe of this space more than made up for any of that. In the end, the album was recorded and mixed entirely to tape. We didn’t turn on the computer once. [On this album] I just wanted the sound to be as real as his songs are.”

FADE OUT

A “European city” in the States

With clients in Japan, Europe, and Canada, Newport finds himself traveling more often than not, and rarely tracking near his Brooklyn home. So, with a whole world to settle in, much of it more affordable than his current digs, why choose New York City?

“I always wanted to live in New York,” says Newport. “It’s more like a European city with a city center you can walk to. I’d always been thinking of it. I eventually ended up with a New York-based manager, and when my lease came up in California, I said ‘maybe I’ll try New York after all’.

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