Andy Barlow on working with David Gray and using Spectrasonics and iZotope plugins on new Lamb album

Andy Barlow on working with David Gray and using Spectrasonics and iZotope plugins on new Lamb album

After chatting with Andy back in 2010 we couldn’t resist getting back in touch to catch up and hear about how using iZotope and Spectrasonics has contributed to his latest projects.

Hi Andy, it´s safe to say you´ve had a pretty epic year in terms of projects – first up you produced David Gray´s new album "Mutineers" which was released in June and cracked the UK Top 10 album chart – how did that relationship come about?

Rob Holden is Dave´s Manager. He also manages Damien Rice and Orbital (who are friends of mine) and I have known him for a few years now, he´s a brilliant manager who really thinks outside the box. He felt that Dave needed to make an album that was a departure from his other albums, and thought I may bring something ‘outside the box´ to the table. My mission brief was to not to allow Dave to make the same record again. I’m a fan of Dave, and think that his voice is up there with the greats!

Gray is quoted as saying, "Andy’s brief was to take me out of my comfort zone and not allow me to make the same record I’d made before" – was that something that happened over time or did you know from the start what you were going to do?

Dave is a very established artist, and when we initiated the sessions there was a rigidness to Dave´s vision for the album. There was a learning curve that the album took, with Dave and I found the best way to eclipse this rigidity and have a new more open way of expressing the record. About halfway through the album, we had a real breakthrough with the track ´Mutineers´.

We both really liked one simple arpeggio that bridged the chorus to verse, so we scrapped everything else and then built a song around that one part. In the process a trust was formed which in turn cracked the album open.

He´s also gone on to describe you as "A courageous guy" and that you "took him on creatively like no-one else has done before" - that´s certainly some acclaim! Were there any particularly trying times during the recording process?

Dave and I came from fundamentally very different places in our way of relating to the creative process. He was coming from a place of "We’ve really got to break our backs on it, and we’ve got to put the time in and knock it all down and it’s a long slog!’ ” I was kind of like, "are you for real?" And he said "yes". And I said, "How about we enjoy it and have an adventure and learn new things and have a positive outlook?" And he said, "Oh no, no," and for the first few weeks, whenever there was a waft of fun or enjoyment, it would quickly navigate back to this laboured approach.

The tide turned during work on the title track, when I suggested chucking all of the song except for one small interlude. He said, "So you want me to lose the verse, the chorus, the middle eight, the lyrics, and the melody. What does that leave me?” I said, "I don’t know what that leaves you but I’ve just got this hunch.”

It kind of got out of control and we went to our respective corners and got ready to put on the gloves again but it just broke open the writing process. And four hours later we’re in the middle of it, and he’s got a look on him like he’s found something that he’s lost — that’s the only way I can describe it. He’s just got this essence to him, and he’s smiling! And I said, "you’re smiling! You’re actually having fun!"

So how is this album different?

I wanted to make a record that Dave and I both love and go to whatever lengths to achieve this. The most successful of our collaborations were the more embryonic tracks, so there was more room for me to do my thing. Also, because some of the songs were essentially being written as we were tracking, there was a beginner´s mind aspect to Dave... I think that´s one of the most important aspects of this album.

And, in addition to Mutineers, you´ve also got a new Lamb album release around the corner ´Backspace Unwind´. This is your 6th studio album, following ´5´ which we spoke about in our interview with you in 2010(!) how does this new album compare to that one?

Yes, a new Lamb album! I’m really excited about it. Its just been mastered this weekend and sounding really fresh. This one is more electronic and dirtier, yet also managing to be more musical. I bought a lovely upright piano which is on a lot of this record, and marked a difference in writing, where we wrote at the piano, then translated it to the studio, again something I picked up while working with David Gray.

Are you still using your Spectrasonics instruments regularly? Do they feature on this album?

Spectrasonics instruments are all over this Lamb record. I am a huge fan of Omnisphere, it´s my go to synth for pads and weird and beautiful atmospheres. Trilian is also a workhorse. I love the live page - easily being able to sculpt the bottom end to suit the track, and really fun and fast. I´ve imported most of my sample library on to Stylus RMX, which is definitely my loop player/ manipulator of choice and features on nearly every track

You´ve also started using iZotope´s RX 3 software this year, what do you think of it so far?

I´m really impressed, especially at how the audio is visually displayed and how tools traditionally from a graphic design paradigm can be used, such as the lasso tool. With careful use, amazing results can quickly be achieved with little or no audible artefacts.

What kinds of audio problems have you been resolving with RX 3?

We used several pianos on Mutineers, including a particularly beautiful but ancient upright. It has the habit of producing loud mechanical pedal noise, which would be distractingly present if left untreated. I´ve used RX to remove the pedal noise whilst completely maintaining the instruments character and subtle nuances. I´ve also used it to remove lip smack from vocal takes on Lamb 6 with satisfying results.

And which features and tools of RX 3 have you used to do this?

For de-smacking vocals I use the Declick & Decrackle tool. For removing mechanical noise such as the pedal noise produced by Dave´s upright, I use my favourite feature, Spectral Repair. This is very, very cool!

Is there anything that RX 3 doesn´t currently do (that you´re aware of) that you would like it to?

Not really...... As algorithms and computer power improve, it may be useful to be able to remove more extreme artefacts.

Are there any tools/features in RX 3 that you were particularly surprised by?

Yes. At the end of the Lamb 16 string session at Air Studios, we had a spontaneous Happy Birthday sung by the team, accompanied by the ensemble. The out and out shrieking at the crescendo pushed one mic’s input a little too far and the recording clipped briefly. After the session, I tried the DeClip tool and was very surprised with how easily I was able to, essentially, turn down the mic input gain AFTER recording! This could be session saver.

What were you using to repair your audio before you added RX 3 to your studio?

I´ve not owned any tools prior to RX that can perform the spectral functions of Spectral Repair.

What other iZotope plug-ins can we find in your studio?

I love IRIS, such a good idea and a great sounding instrument, I still don´t really know how it works, but am really impressed with the results and how it turns the visual into such interesting audio. Also I love Stutter Edit - totally off the wall and weird and wonderful, very easy to play with then, before you know it, 2 hours have passed!

So, looking ahead over the next few months, no doubt you´ll be busy promoting Backspace Unwind, what else have you got coming up?

Lamb start a 40 date tour of Europe at the end of October, so we go pretty much straight into production and rehearsals, then off to Australia and hopefully the States early next year, while composing my new LOWB solo album. It´s going to be a busy year.

To find out more about Andy Barlow you can visit his website here or head on over to the Official Lamb website here.