Interview with Rick McMurray - 20th Jan 2007

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With Rick back in NYC, he is interviewed at the studio to get the latest on Ash's fast-approaching new album, taken from

Hello Rick. When did you get back to America?
On Monday, which was the day we started mixing.

When were you last over?
For the photo shoot in December. With hindsight, it probably would've been a good idea to get myself an Air Miles card before we started recording.

does mixing actually mean?
It's when you finish recording stuff and you basically balance out the levels between vocals, guitars, drums and bass. It's like the final magic touch to finish it off and add a bit of sparkle before it gets mastered. The mixer will tweak a bit of guitar or put an effect on the vocal or turn the bass up. Things like that.

So the person who does the mixing essentially has a talent for hearing music?
Yeah, they know what effects to put on what and how things are going to sound. Michael Brauer is doing it and he's a bit of an enigma. He's been around for years. We've already had the story of when he did a record with James Brown. He's pretty cool.

Does it make a difference what stereo you play the songs to him on - cos it'd sound different on an expensive studio speakers or some cheap tinny speakers.
Well he's got his own studio that he works out of, so he's got his favourite speakers that he's got used to. He listens to what's called the rough mix, which is vaguely balanced in the right places. Then he'll figure out what he likes about that and wants to keep. Then he'll just make the rest of it sound better.

Is his say final?
No, he gets it to a place where he's happy with it, then we'll go up there and spend another two or three hours on it until we're all happy with it.

Does each musician tend to argue for their own part to be louder?
No actually, I think we all tend to have a consensus. It's the overall thing that everyone's more concerned about, like, can you hear everything? Is everything balanced? It's not really a case of 'turn me up', 'no, turn me up'.

It must be quite hard to listen to it carefully and break it down when you know it so well.
Well I guess if you're working in the studio on a track you've probably listened to it about 500 times before you get to the mix stage, so you kind of know what's in there and you're listening out for it. It does take quite a lot of concentration. And you do have to go and listen to it on something else as well. Michael's got his huge studio set up with the big, top end speakers and then he's got like a shitty little boombox. If it sounds good on both, chances are it's there.

And is there normally a definitive eureka moment where you know it's done? Or does it just come by degrees?
Well usually it takes two or three listens when we initially go in to hear what he's done, just to get your head around what's going on and what's been done to it. And then from that point, if something's missing you try and figure out what it is and make a few changes, which you might then decide don't work. It's not like there's one moment where it all comes together. It's just changing the tiny little detail. But having said that, Michael does get so close to getting it right. We've had mixers in the past where it's been really laborious, but it's been really easy with Michael.

So what's the difference between mixing and mastering?
This has actually been the main topic of conversation from Michael over the past couple of days. Most mixers hate mastering, because they see it as someone doing something to their mix that fucks it up. But mastering is basically... it's a hard one to explain. It's kind of like alchemy. I don't know what happens, but I think wizards are involved. It's basically making things loud enough and making sure everything is the same level across the entire album. It's all about compressors and squeezing the music and suchlike. I dunno. You're probably best having this conversation with someone who isn't a drummer!

Would it sound a lot different between mixing and mastering?
Not a hell of a lot different. I think masterers try to make things sound a lot louder. I guess they want you to have the loudest track on radio so that it really leaps out. That's the kind of thing that pisses off a mixer, cos you're compromising the mix by boosting the levels. But if you've got a good masterer they should actually bring out what's happening in the mix.

Has Tim finished the vocals now?
Not quite. He's been pretty flat out in the studio. Last night him and the engineer were in here until about half five and then Tav went up this morning to give Michael the final version to mix and that song will be finished tonight. So it's really exciting in a way.

That kind of turnaround is like Band Aid.
Yeah. So there is a lot of pressure on Tim. We were a bit freaked out a couple of days ago because he had a bit of a cold and his throat was pretty bad. There were a couple of days when he couldn't sing, but thankfully he can sing again now.

Does that mean he's got like a Rod Stewart rasp going on?
I wouldn't say that, no. It's more of a James Hetfield growl. So it's gonna be tight, but it's all on schedule and we'll make it.

How many songs are mixed?
I think we'll have five by today and then he's making a start on 'In Hell' which is the huge, epic track. That should be finished by Monday afternoon, hopefully.

When's mixing got to be finished by?
By the end of the month. We're definitely on track as long as no spanners are thrown in, like colds or studios going up in flames. And then we're straight into rehearsals.

Indeed, the big announcement this week was the tour.
Yeah, that's why I'm looking after myself these days. After Christmas I decided not to drink for a while, because there's so much going on.

Who came up with the university tour idea?
Us, Tav and our agent just talked about a different way of coming back, because we've done the small venues tour to come back in the past and we wanted something new. I'm really excited about getting back on the stage. We've got a lot to finish off first, but I think the excitement of playing the new stuff will be incredible.

And you're the only Ash member who actually went to university.
For a year, yeah. It didn't really suit me. It was Queens in Belfast.

One of the cities you're not visiting this time.
Yeah, Mark's been telling me some of the MySpace fans in Ireland are a bit freaked out that we're not coming on this tour. But we'll definitely be coming later on in the year. We haven't announced it yet, but it's in the planning stage. So tell them to calm down, we will be there very soon.

Has the first single been decided yet?
I think so. Let me just check with Tav that I can tell you what it is. Hang on a sec. Tav, is it OK to say what the first single is? No? Oh. Sorry, I can't tell you. But it has been decided.

And is the treatment for the video sorted?
Actually we're waiting for that to come in the next couple of hours. The guy who did 'Burn Baby Burn' and 'Sometimes' and 'Orpheus' is doing it again. We work really well with him.

When will you be filming it?
I think it has to be by February 5th. The plan is to film it in New York or somewhere close by.

Presumably you won't get a long period at home in Edinburgh for quite a while now.
Yeah, this is me for a while. I might get back for a night or two before the tour starts.

Are you ready to live out of a suitcase for the next 18 months?
Yeah, I am. I had a little help from my girlfriend before I left. She helped me devise a new packing technique. It's not folding the clothes, it's rolling them up. It's fantastic. If it wasn't for a few little gadgets like keyboards and drum practice stuff, I could probably get away with a bag that's hand luggage size, which would be amazing.

And the clothes come out reasonably uncreased because they're rolled.
Well, certainly no more creased than they would be in my previous packing technique which was to throw stuff at a bag.

So you're all set to go.
Yeah. There's a real buzz in the studio at the moment. There's a certain level of stress too because we're finishing the stuff off, but I'm definitely enjoying it. You might get a different thing from Tim because he's got a lot to do, but he's on it and it's all happening and it's exciting. With one of the songs last night, 'End Of The World', we heard the rough mix this morning and it sounded great - Tim had this amazing new guitar solo. So, yeah, we're all buzzing here.

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