The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Things I Have Learned

John Leckie On That Stone Roses Album & The Trouble With Kids These Days
Dan Wale , August 25th, 2009 13:23

Stone Roses and Radiohead producer John Leckie On Making That Album, nuclear apocalypse-proof mixing desks, and why the ease of mySpace music distribution might not be a good thing

Add your comment »

You never know when the right act will cross your path

I wasn't in Manchester so I wasn't aware of The Stone Roses at all. The Dukes of Stratosphear album was almost three years before it in 1985, '86. When I met them they were aware of it, they asked if I was the one who had done that album and I said 'Yeah!' They did enthuse about it a little bit but it wasn't a really important thing, I don't think. I think they really chose me on Geoff Travis' recommendation. Ian Liked The Adverts record as well but it was never really spoken about, we just got on with the work. You just say 'we're going to make the best record we can'.

The Stone Roses' confidence was no put-on

You can hear from the demos that the Roses had the songs; all the lyrics were written, they seemed to have had experience, they were very well rehearsed and they wanted to try lots of things. But they weren't frightened. What you hear is the band, that's the way I work, really. They play and I record them and we enhance everything with overdubs and double-tracking — any number of different things. You have to do a degree of arranging but that's part of the creative process. They didn't seem to feel any pressure other than that they were a band making their first album and didn't want to lose the opportunity to make it good. So there wasn't any pressure to prove themselves — they knew they were good.

Chemistry is vital

You're never sure of anything . . . until it's successful. You can be as confident as you want but if it ultimately comes in for criticism then it's common to blame the producer. But that album would never have gotten released unless everyone approved it. Everyone was really happy, there was no bad vibes about it, we just did it and everyone was totally positive. That's the way it works, that energy translates into the recording and it takes on a life of its own. If you have doubt and hesitation then you need to fix those doubts. I worked on the second album (The Second Coming) for over a year and for various reasons I didn't finish it with them. I left of my own choosing so it's not a case of would I have liked to have finished it — no I wouldn't; they'd changed from being a unit. That bond didn't exist between them.

Remastering is not always a case of 'Turning it up'

The reissue is not brick-walled at all, but it's up to what's called a 'commercial level' — don't ask me what that is. If it was quieter it wouldn't be as loud as other bands, so if you were to compare this to one of the earlier CD releases — if you put the two of them into iTunes for example — you'd be amazed at the difference. You'd have to turn it up a lot. When we did this, though, no-one had CDs; The Stone Roses never had a CD release, originally. The main thing was that when it was done for vinyl — and later it was always a copy of a copy — a lot of the bass was cut out, there wasn't much low end. To squeeze sound onto the groove of the vinyl very often you do things like turning the last track down due to distortion created by the increasing tangent of the arm of the record player against the record. You can maintain the overall volume and eliminate that distortion if you reduce your level on the higher frequency and turn the whole thing up.

Good things are made to last

The Stone Roses was mastered at Metropolis but at Abbey Road you've got equipment that's thirty years old. You can't beat it. It's called 'Mil-Spec'. Military Specification; it can't go wrong. It'll survive a nuclear attack, like those Silver Microphones . . . they'll blow up and still work.

Young bands these days lack vision

There's this funny thing nowadays where you get really young bands, fifteen year-olds who have been together for a year, who are expecting to be of the same calibre as the Stone Roses — who at the time were in their mid-twenties and had been playing continuously for five or six years before they made their first album. There's not many bands today that I could compare The Stone Roses or to The Verve. The calibre — the quality of the playing and the quality of the vision of the band is not there. The reason for it is that the hunger's gone. In times past there was so much hunger for music: we never had CD players, or mobiles phones or any of these access points for music, so records became very precious. If you owned a record it was like your clothing — your possession. With music now considered to be free, and so freely available . . . there's so much of it that young people learning to play become saturated and don't really want to excel themselves. They're not focussed on what they want to do, like 'all I'm going to do for the next three years is play guitar, twenty-four-hours a day'.

Easy access to the means of getting your music out there is not a good thing

One thing record companies did was provide budgets but they're not going to provide a budget unless they think you're going to deliver something, so they acted as a filter and only the 'best' people got to make a record. Now obviously it depends on what your idea of 'best' is but I can tell you that I once drove to Manchester with a record company A&R guy and he had a box of about a hundred demo cassettes that had been sent in. He said 'come one let's play these on the way up' and do you know? Out of those hundred demos there were probably two that you'd want to play again . . . not two that you would want to sign or make a record with but just play again. When you look back at that and you say, 'OK, we're gonna invest in a band in a professional way' and you've got a box of a hundred cassettes, or even a thousand . . . those people are now making and releasing records; they have a MySpace and a website, and people listen to them. Some people say that's a wonderful thing, that those hundred demo tapes are being heard and are freely available — or even for sale — and that these people have the ability to express themselves. But what's really suffering is the level of aspiration, to aspire to be someone great which is what the Stone Roses did. The vibe of the band was to take things higher. There was a lot of soul music in that band, and the idea of taking things to the next level. Sly and the Family Stone, Michael Jackson; these people were all about excelling themselves. Michael Jackson couldn't have made those records in his bedroom and there's a good reason for that.

The Quietus is going to have a rest from writing about the Stone Roses

Lucia Lanigan
Aug 26, 2009 9:40am

God knows there's a glut of new music being flushed out through the exciting new channels available to us, but what Leckie's missing there is that most of it sounds much more 'professional' and sophisticated than those 100 demos he mentions (and indeed many of the artists signed via the old A&R system), which would have been drab four-piece rock bands rehearsing in garages, pretty much. Technology works both ways; the problem now is that it's so difficult to sound really, really bad, (unless you're spectacularly thick, like The Twang or someone) so everyone gets a pass for being good but not great.

Reply to this Admin

Marc Bright
Aug 26, 2009 3:58pm

In reply to Lucia Lanigan:

But that's just the technical level improving with technology - the tuning, the pitch, the mixing. I completely take Leckie's point that the quality of the music isn't better just because it's easier to record and distribute and is in fact worse. In the early days of all this digital distribution I remember quite a few websites, streaming radio stations, etc. setup to deliver you unsigned music. After a few months of trying what I thought was fantastic (no more A&R filter man) I realised that over 99% of it was shite and really, I'd happily pay the A&R man myself to filter the stuff for me and even suffer missing the odd one in a million gem that he didn't spot.

Reply to this Admin