Dave Eringa | Interview
Dave Eringa produced his first Top10 album for the Manic Street Preachers at the age of 21 and has worked closely with them for over 10 albums. Over his career, he has also produced and mixed Wilko Johnson & Roger Daltrey, The Who, Ash, Idlewild, Ocean Colour Scene, Suede, 3 Colours Red and many others.
I caught up with Dave for a chat about how it started, what production values and techniques he uses today and his favourite Studios.
KMR : Can you remember your earliest time that made you decide that music was the direction for your life?
DE : It was a weird story. We really never had foreign holidays as a kid, and we did one time go to Florida for 5 days, which was a big deal, bit weird just 5 days, and I was I’m guessing 12, and into quite a lot of American metal, and on the plane I was sitting next to a guy from America with really long hair, who looked just like Sammy Hagar. Me being a precious little prick sitting next to him I leant over and said, "hey has anybody said you look like Sammy Hagar ?"
And he turned round and said, " Hey man, when we're in the studio, people say they can’t tell us apart! " and he was this American Glam Metal producer, he’d done loads of records one of the solo Paul Stanley/Kiss records, Sammy Hagar and things like Magnum. So I just bent his ear for the entire journey, to the point where my mum told me to shut up and let him get some kip, and I just got off the plane and said that’s what I wanna' do, because he’d told me about the job and I just thought he was the coolest man alive.
I did school and got a place at university, you didn’t do recording technology, there was the Tonmeister course in Surrey, but it was very music heavy and I do play keyboards but I'm not musically gifted should we say!
So I gave myself a year to get a job in a studio and ended up at Power Plant Studios in London with Robin Millar, which was great, and two weeks into my time at Power Plant out of nowhere, having never worked in the UK before Jeff Glixman booked the studio! (the Producer from the flight) and it was just a little signpost from life to say you’re on the right path. It was always that specific job, it was never I wanted to be a musician.
KMR : It’s strange how little things in life make you choose 'this is what I wanna’ do…'
DE : Yeah initially it was just because he was definitely really cool, and I certainly wasn’t, and I felt it was a path to that... haha.
KMR : Did you go in with any ideas of how it was going to be at Power Plant ?
DE : Power Plant was an amazing lucky place to get a job because Robin Millar who ran it was, and still is, a proper geezer, and a lot of studios at the time were getting their TapeOp’s to sign on but Robin saw you as a future Producer. Ok we weren’t paid tons of money, and we worked really long hours and the usual stuff, but the first interview after you’d got the job he’d ask, "what kind of Producer do you want to be?" It was great to feel that support, and every time the studio was empty he wanted you in there with unsigned bands, and listen to what you’d done and he would advise you. His ears were just off the scale! He would listen to a mix and say, "hmmm... that 1176 on the vocal you should’ve used a 175" and we’d be like "...jeez!!" He is such a great man, and he really really supported me.
He wanted to build a creative community, there was a little bit of empire building in there, of course, he had Power Plant and Maison Rouge. We had the Harrisons at Power Plant and the vintage Neve which was incredible with Otari’s, but then at Maison Rouge we had SSL’s and Studer's, so we were set up to get experience on all of it so I spent quite a bit of time down there as well, as we were moved between the two places, with the usual super long 100 hours a week.
KMR : Were your parents always really supportive?
DE : They were amazing and are lovely, but no my Dad thought it was the most stupid idea he’d ever heard! It was fortuitous for me at the time, in retrospect, he knew intuitively that the more he said it was a stupid idea the more I’d do it. My Dad wanted me to be an accountant... haha!
KMR : Who encouraged you to follow and focus on your dream?
DE : As well as Robin it was Colin Fairley who ran the studio group, he was the operations manager for Maison Rouge and Power Plant and he used to be chief engineer at Air in the 70’s recording some brilliant records and was just a lovely lovely man.
KMR : Were you particularly confident in your ability at that age or did that confidence come with the more success you had?
DE : I had confidence that wasn’t built on anything else other than pure stupidity! It didn’t occur to me to think anything other than I was going to be really good at it.
You just do it, I want to recapture some of that and combined with the wisdom of age, would be very powerful, I just wanted to get my hands on the desk, and I was probably quite a frustrating TapeOp for many of the clients as I pretty much assumed that they were all there to teach me my craft.
So I would talk a lot and after three months at Power Plant, we had lovely studio managers and engineers, but in the early stages they all thought," who is this kid?" and they had a meeting and all got together with Robin to tell him, " I don’t think so, you’ve got to let him go" sorta' thing’ and it was Robin who stood up for me and just said he had a feeling that I’d do something good one day. It was amazing.
It was pretty crushing actually when he told me! He said, "right we had this meeting and this is what everybody said, and what I said - so you better prove me right". It definitely quietened me down just a little bit, and enough to hang on to the job.
KMR : I presume when you started it was Tape, but what gear did you have there?
DE : Oh yeah, the first 10 years of my career was all Tape, because Power Plant used to be Morgan Studios in the 70’s, where All Right Now, Pinball Wizard and Maggie May etc were recorded and then in the 80’s it was Terrence Trent Darby, Sade and all those Robin records, but it was a really classic sounding room, great mic collection with a control room up the stairs but looking down into big high ceiling room. A bit like a mini Abbey Road, it wasn’t as big as Studio 2, but it was really classic sounding with a 32 channel Harrison, and a couple of 1176’s, 165’s, a Bell an AMS and an Otari, that was all you needed.
Then there was another 48ch Harrison upstairs which was more of a mix and overdub room. Then downstairs there was a modified Neve 8068, and there was just a ton of gear in that room, and Robin had this idea that it was going to be a vintage Neve but have all the facilities of an SSL. He bought a compressor for every channel but they were all outboard!! There were Fairchilds in there, Pultecs, API, DBX tonnes of really lovely equipment. That was an incredible room. It was conceived as a mix room, but of course, that was really the recording desk. But the Harrison’s sounded great, they were really cool, it was a Nashville desk, beautiful mic amps, really clean with a zinging top end, but really fiddly when you were assisting outside engineers you had to be there all the time, but beautiful sounding.
KMR : How did your work with the Manics start?
DE : Well about 6 months after I started the Manic Street Preachers came to do their 1st indie single on Heavenly, and Terry Hall asked me did I want to make the tea for the new Clash and I thought "that’ll be good". So they turned up and did Motown Junk and I made the tea. They needed a little bit of Hammond on it and as I knew where the D chord was, that was my first credit.
I think they recognised a fellow 'outsider'. Power Plant was a very cool studio with lots of indie and soul being made and was quite slick, and I was hair down to my arse, KISS t-shirt every day, and absolutely clueless that that might not be the coolest thing to do... haha.
They were make-up spattered punks in the world of 'baggie', and even though we were different kind’s of 'outsiders', we hit it off over a shared love for Appetite For Destruction. It was the first record I listened to with an ear to the production. That was the one, I could hear how they bounced off each other, it was really inspirational to me - not so much the misogynistic lyrics!
How did you go from discussing 'Appetite' to producing them?
DE : The Manics kept writing me postcards from on tour, which was really sweet, and then we did You Love Us, still at Power Plant, but at that point, it was just going into receivership and suddenly I found myself without a job. The Manics had gone off and signed their major label deal, and I ended up at Konk. I was brought it to TapeOp the Kinks album. Obviously being a Rock fan I was pretty chuffed with that, however, on the first day I managed to shut Ray Davies’ hand in the door!.. hahaha. Actually, it was an accident, we were moving a screen between the two studios and Ray said, "push", and I pushed and his hand got trapped between the panel and door! But he said he didn’t want to work with me anymore, but they’d already given me the job. So somebody else did the Kinks and I ended up getting a load of engineering gigs which was great.
I started engineering a lot of House remixes for a producer called Bruce Forest, which was a really good way of learning the topology of an SSL inside out, all the triggers and gates you need for all that kind of stuff.
Then around that time the Manics got back in touch and asked me to play keyboards on their first record, which was very kind and cool of them, clearly I couldn’t do all of the keyboard things like Motorcycle Emptiness and Little Baby Nothing as they needed somebody who could actually play the keyboards!
But anything I could do, they’d get me to do, so it was really great to get that experience and still be in touch with them. I think I was at Power Plant for a year and a half and then Konk for a year. Then I had a call from them when they were coming to do their second record, they felt their first record had been a bit too polished, and although it seems mental now, they asked me if I wanted to produce, and I was just too stupid to be daunted and just thought, "yeah this is probably how it happens".
We did a weird single that was never going to be a single, which was 6 minutes long based on American Pyscho, and we did that at a residential studio down in Kent. I remember when I was trying to add a reverse reverb I managed to record over the drum ambience…haha ..slightly less than brilliant!…but I managed to make it sound good and then got the demos, and they went really well and ended up getting the record. So it wasn’t like they just phoned me up and said," let's go and produce", it was a bit of a trial run.
KMR : Where did you record that album, and how long did it take?
DE : So I ended up leaving Konk and produced a top 10 album at Hook End Manor! Just learning on the job - as I’d lied to them about how many bands I’d been recording, and all the rest of it, but luckily I had an amazing studio to work in and lots of time. 10 weeks for 10 songs, but it really was, sink or swim.
KMR : Was everything written, and demoed in preparation?
DE : Yes, everything was demoed, 8 tracks were very well formed and then just 2 developed at Hook End, but they had time and some budget.
KMR : Budgets and timescales have changed, how does this affect you these days - how long are you given with a Band or artist to record and produce an album?
DE : Typically, I suppose it averages out to 2 days a track, as most of us have our own Mix rooms, these days don’t we, so we can do what we want when it comes to mixing. But I’ve had to do things much quicker, With Roger Daltry, all the music was done in 5 days the vocals were down in 3. Same with the Proclaimers last year, they were amazing, we did 13 complete backing tracks in 4 days, it was so good, the whole band set up completely live.
KMR : Is that how you prefer to work with the bad set up as one live unit?
DE : It depends on the band, but they were so well drilled, and all the plans for the sound we’d done up in Scotland. I’ll always do the 'band thing' as it’s so much more fun, how can the drummer get a feel for things if there's nothing to play off? In an ideal world, I would always want to get the bass with the drums as I think there's still a magic in people playing together.
KMR : Where timings change, with happy mistakes and human energy…
DE : I want that, I don’t always want a click, sometimes it's 50-50 but even a drummer who is amazing playing with a click has more freedom without, and sometimes music needs to speed up. I do think humans response to humanity. It’s definitely been a negative thing to me and in music being able to have perfection in the studio.
KMR : Can you remember when you made the transition across to Pro Tools based recording - is that what you use now?
DE : Yes I’m Pro Tools now, and that was 'Manic' led as well. They’d done the majority of Everything Must Go with Mike Hedges a good few years late in 1996 and I’d produced one track and mixed Australia. So when it came to doing their next album This Is My Truth, Mike was a hybrid of Pro Tools and Tape by then and Design for Life would have been done on 16bit 888's and 16 track 2 inch bounced for mixing, but I just didn’t have those facilities. They were going out to France and using Pro Tools and then coming to Rockfield with me and I didn’t have it, and they were like, "Dave you’ve got to get with the times."
After that record, they lent me the money to get my first rig, but probably for a year I ran it as a tape machine, I didn’t know what it did at all, I was a real Luddite! I didn’t even know what a cross-fade was, I remember I had to comp the piano for a Toploader record and I didn’t use any crossfades as I didn’t know they existed, which is insane.
Then I mixed a track for Neil Davidge, Massive Attack’s producer at Brittania Row, and he was running the PT rig, and just watching him for two weeks I was like, "oh..that can do quite a lot !"
KMR : So you managed to avoid the whole ADAT, DA88 side of things then?
DE : Yes I did, I was never into digital tape it seemed to me the worst of both worlds, either we’re on tape and it's great and sounds amazing - but it's a bit of a pain in the arse, or we’re on digital and it's great for editing but it doesn't sound as good - and a bit of a pain in the arse. But look at Alanis Morrisette's 27 million albums, so it doesn’t matter, does it?
KMR : Do you miss Tape?
DE : I do, even though I know all the frustrations with it. I still miss it. It just felt like more of a proper job. When we were editing together the drums on Tolerate it took nearly a day to edit the drum tracks, and I get quite hot hands so I had a big bowl of soapy water and a fresh blade for every cut...and then there were big rolls of two inch hanging everywhere...and," don’t forget that 2nd verse lying over there"...etc
KMR : It’s a creative skill or creative process with elements of 'flying by the seat of your pants'...
DE : It’s a lot more crafted process, it may not be more creative but it feels good…and smells good!...haha.
One thing that shocked me was years later we were doing the Manics 9th album and Steve Albini had produced a bunch of the tracks. They asked me to come and produce another 4 tracks after Steve had gone, and obviously, Steve had done it all to Tape.
So I continued with his Tape setup for the new recordings but routed the output of the Tape machine through Pro Tools so that we could have automation on the mix, as we were in Rockfield on the MCI with no desk automation. The correct input level on the Tape machine was 'redding out' a bit on the Pro Tools input monitoring meters whilst the band were laying down the tracks.
It was only afterwards when we were playing back from the Repro Head that it was showing -8 on the Pro Tools meters, which showed us how much limiting the tape had applied, and it definitely made me think bloody hell! It was a flat waveform when you zoomed out…
KMR : I know you’re a fan of the Roger Mayer 456 how does this work for you?
DE : Well the 456 has made me think about every aspect of my engineering. It's forced me into it with some of the idiosyncrasies, but I do now feel I don’t have to worry anymore. I get all of that 'thing' that I had with Tape, but it doesn't do it with noise or wow and flutter. Roger's analogy is ' it's like a beautiful analogue photograph being scanned into a digital image still looking just as beautiful.' It's all about presenting the converters with something beautiful to convert.
We want it to limit the high frequencies so that the converters can deal with the A/D. His thing is the reason digital doesn't sound as good is fundamentally the process of sampling can smear the phase at the top end by up to 70 degrees. It’s a total fluke the way Tape smoothes the top end but it takes that problem away.
It's like when digital CD was first showcased with Bob Marley master tapes, it sounded good, but that was because it was already recorded to tape! It’s made me focus so much more on gain structure, which has made it a much better recording process.
Next Dave talks about Studios, Outboard, Plug-ins and what he uses when mixing...
PART Two available: HERE