Jake Gordon | Interview
Jake Gordon is a MPG nominated Mixer, Producer and Engineer who has worked with artists as varied as Dizzee Rascal, J-Hus, Emeli Sande, Lethal Bizzle, The Vaccines, Everything Everything, Tinchy Stryder, Clean Bandit, Plan B, Naughty Boy as well as mixing the Mercury Prize winning album by Skepta. Working out of Miloco Studios, Jake is now the 'go-to mixer' for urban music and I caught up for a chat about how he likes to work and how he started his journey...
KMR : So Jake what is your main choice of DAW these days?
JG : It's always Pro Tools, it always has been. When I started it was a Pro Tools studio based around a Pro-Control but I have learnt and taught myself Logic, only because every now and then people send me a Logic session. It’s just useful to be able to get around in it.
KMR : Do you prefer recording audio in Pro Tools or in Logic - and have you used Ableton at all?
JG : I guess I’ve always thought of them like Neve and SSL’s - they both do the same thing just all the buttons are in different places! I started on Cubase about 15 years ago, but I don’t use it at all now. I’m doing the Dizzee Rascal record and he used to be a Logic guy but now he’s downloaded Ableton and he’s just flying!
KMR : Are you more of an "in the box" guy?
JG : Well, other than every now and then...my mixes always start and finish in the box, so it’ll be ITB yes. I wish I wasn’t really but it's mainly just down to how the mixes go. I don’t have my own studio currently, and sometimes you only have one day to do it, so I need to be able to take it home - where I'll often get calls like ‘ we’re in mastering send me the pre-master’ - or 'we need this tweak etc'. I think if I wasn’t in the box I'd probably have lost a lot of clients by now!
My vocals 99% of the time always go out into the Tube-Tech CL1B hardware because it sounds wicked. If there's some cool outboard then I’ll throw it out into it, anything that's a bit weird. If I'm on top of it and feeling good then why not, I'll have a go.
KMR : I guess if you have the time really?
JG : Precisely. If not, then there are the UAD versions, but it’s mainly the CL1B pretty much on every mix. The Eventide H3000 I've got back into, it's one of those pieces when you can’t figure something out, it's just wicked - we just try that. I’m sure, maybe it's a placebo thing, but I’m sure the flangers and the choruses in the box just can’t reach the same depth. They sound one-sided in the box and the H3000 just sits nicely it doesn’t take up any space it shouldn't, it just sounds great.
KMR : Do you use guitar pedals as effects?
JG : I use a couple of Sansamps sometimes, putting drums through them, or the bass and parallel it and just smash it to bits. It sounds terrible to say, but I don’t really care about EQ's. If I want to EQ something I’ll find something ITB that I can EQ with. Frankly, if I want it to sound a certain way, I’ll get to the sound whether I’m using SSL, Waves or ProQ - but the weird stuff I think that’s where it’s at. Like the Sansamps, and the Mutator, Eventides…
KMR : Things that don’t react the way you expect them to?
JG : Yeah, like "that was unexpected - brilliant let's use that!"
KMR : Did you start off ITB?
JG : I actually learnt out of the box, but I don't know if I can remember how to recall an SSL! In terms of recording I always prefer a console, but these days I’m not doing so much tracking. The last big thing I did was the Emeli Sande record which was 2 years ago. I do find the flow of a desk works better when you’re recording, especially when you’re recording lots of instruments. I hate giving myself options, I’d rather put it down!
KMR : Sometimes too many options can be too distracting...
JG : Oh, 100% - actually having said I’m ITB - the API Console 550 EQ’s are brilliant - they sound really good.
KMR : How do you track vocals - what do you use on the way in, do you keep the CL1B just for in the mix?
JG : When tracking vocals it’s always been a Neumann U87, some sort of Neve preamp and then an Empirical Labs Distressor on the way in.
KMR : What mode on the Distressor, 1176?
JG : 4.1 usually, it's just a sort of subtle thing, I like using it, I think it comes from assisting where Distressors are really easy to recall with the numbers.
KMR : Do you always use a U87?
JG : I tend to just always put it up, especially when I don’t get a lot of time to experiment. When I did the Skepta record the first take we ever did ended up on the record! Sometimes he wouldn’t tell me he was going in the booth, and I'd turn around and he’d be stood there, and I’d have to be 'ok cool, right let's go'. It’s more about getting it down and capturing it. So the U87 you know it works, you know it sounds good - if it sounds bad then it’s probably something else.
KMR : U87 into a Neve then 1176 is kind of a working standard, isn’t it - what other mics do you use?
JG : Yeah, you know what it is. If there’s a Shure SM7, especially on rappers that sounds really good, a U47 is always nice. There was a mic called the LOMO 19a19 and they are phenomenal! I've never used it on a rapper, but they used to have one in Hoxton Square when it was open and I think they’ve got a couple in The Pool. They look ridiculous, they’re like Soviet throwbacks.. tiny little valve mic - kind of thin sounding but in a really nice way, it’s not like a C800 bright.
KMR : What tools help get you to finish tracks - do you have a standard mix bus chain?
JG : I tend to use the same mixbus chain as that's how I started off out of the box. So it’s always a very OTB style chain: a UAD Curvebender, into an SSL Compressor, then I’ve been using the Waves C4 multiband every now and again, and then Ozone, but that basically just limiting. I’ll get a kick and a Snare sound, then I get into it and just mix into it. I will adjust them though if it sounds shit!
I learnt with the GML 8200 EQ and SSL compressor but with the UAD software I also compared the Massive Passive and just sort of preferred the CurveBender on the mix bus.
KMR : Which other Engineers or Producers helped you start off?
JG : When I was 16 I was assistant at a studio called The Library which was owned and run by Julian Standen, who most people may know as Jules who runs Gearslutz.com. So I started with him, and then he started off Gearslutz, so I worked with Tom Stubbs who was his engineer, whilst doing a BTec at the same time, but I spent 5 days a week at the studio. Jules was wicked - he was hard! He was old school, I appreciated it. He’s done so much for me man, he’s got me every job since. It was the Studio etiquette sort of thing I learnt, where you just shut the fuck up!
KMR : Yeah, where you don’t say anything for two years...
JG : Exactly! He was so up for teaching me stuff, and if there wasn’t a band in then I'd clean the studio from top to bottom, and he’d say 'OK, I’m going to be here for 3 hours, so go and mess around with Pro Tools'. The Studio was cool, and Jules is brilliant - I owe a lot to him, I haven’t seen him for a while, but he seems to be doing alright with Gearslutz! He took the time to train me, and show me things like ‘this is how we coil a cable’, things like that.
KMR : I think I had the same lesson on day two when I was a tape op - these things you never forget!
JG : It’s the one thing I get really annoyed at other people with! 'Why you doing the cable like that?? ’ haha!
KMR : So what did you do after The Library closed?
JG : Jules then hooked me up with Fortress Studios in Old Street, so I was at Uni and at weekends I was at Fortress, and then after University finished I was there full-time.
KMR : How did you end up at Miloco after Fortress closed?
Miloco had just revamped their studios and were throwing a party so I went along and Jules introduced me to Nick Young. Nick then asked me to be the assistant at The Square, which is now closed unfortunately.
They were just putting a Solid State Logic desk in The Square for a chap called Lex - Alex Dromgoole who is amazing! I think he used to be one of Spike Stent's guys at Olympic and I went into The Square and I don’t think I had a day off for about 7 months! Fortress was fantastic but it was definitely more indie bands, I think Miloco came at a good time and really kicked it on a bit.
KMR : Miloco brought a new level to running studios at that time, didn't they?
JG : 100%! I spent a whole bunch of time with Lex - I was the assistant in the studio and he was brilliant. It was the first time I'd ever assisted on mix sessions. At Fortress the assistants never bothered, so when Lex came in it was all on the board, fully SSL, at Fortress it was Neve and previously at The Library it had been Pro Control. So I learnt how to do all his recalls on the SSL so that was fantastic.
KMR : Assisting on mix sessions has changed so much now...
JG : It used to be one of the most boring things in the world. These days my assistants don’t even have to do recalls. It used to be terrible - assisting with a band is great, but with mixing it’s you and the other bloke, and he’s doing all the work!
KMR : ..and they don’t want to talk to you
JG : Exactly - he doesn’t want to talk because they’re just getting on with it. At least with the SSL recalls I got to see what was going on, as I was writing it all down..not that there was much outboard as he was all on the desk.
KMR : He didn't use much outboard then?
KMR : Yeah he had his way, I don’t know whether it was a Spike Stent thing or not, but Lex felt that the EQ's on the G Series sound fantastic. The compressors on the G sound fantastic so why not put everything through the same sound because we’re trying to mix it all together. The same tones on everything. Unless it's not working on the board then why bother because the EQs sound great… the compressors are all like DBX160s anyway!
Then I started working with Dan Grech who was all in the box. As much as I loved Lex’s way of working on the desk, probably Dan’s way influenced me more. He produced the first Vaccines record which I assisted on. He did that thing where he'd done the drums at RAK - and then he had a U87, SM57 and an RE-20 and one lead, which was plugged into the Neve and the Distressor. If he wanted guitar he’d plug into the U87, bass the RE20 etc - his mantra was it sounds good, the mics sound good, then if it sounds shit there's something wrong at the source.
KMR : There's something to be said about walking into a room and just making it happen, isn't that what makes a good engineer?
JG : Yes one of the guys who is exactly like that is Phill Brown, and to assist with he's phenomenal, he was brilliant. I was moving around the Miloco studios, and I was down at Music Box and he would just walk in and just make it work. He always used both 1176's one on the vocal and one parallel, and I remember he came in one day and one was broken. He was just like’ yeah ok no worries I’ll compress it and it'll sound the way I want it to ’. But I think that comes with experience, not being scared of things not going to plan, and just having the confidence to make it work.
KMR : I’m sure at some point he’d have experimented with compression to find his sound, and then trusting his ability?
JG : Yes of course and also just not being freaked out. Sure, sometimes turning up and not having your favourite plug-ins available can be annoying - but as we're in a service industry you just have to use what you’ve got. Frankly, it's not the plug-in that'll make a kick drum sound bad it’s you.
KMR : Speaking of plug-ins what could you not live without?
JG : Soundtoys probably. All of the Soundtoys pretty much go on every single channel, EchoBoy always sounds fantastic. I just go through the presets randomly and then adjust the time to where I was and you get these mad settings - and every now and again you hit jackpot. Also Crystallizer and the Little AlterBoy. Oh yeah and AVID LoFi, I use LoFi a lot, I think I read an article a few years ago from Tom Elmhurst where he took it all down to 10bit or 8bit or something, that's where I first heard about that idea.
KMR : LoFi is great, I use about 0.5db of distortion, then drop it down to 12bit - I’ve even used it on a mixbus when the track was sounding ‘too nice’!
JG : Yeah, it sounds brilliant! I've done something similar but with the Ozone exciter on the master bus - it's just the thing when people say its ‘too clean’ then I use it to excite and make it sound a bit crunchy.
KMR : How do you find spending a lot of time getting wonderful recordings and then having to lose a bit to get it like the demo?
JG : Well, we all overthink things don't we, and if I don’t listen to the rough mix I just wouldn’t get anything done. These days clients want it exactly like the rough mix, absolutely 100% like it - and you’ve got to beat it and make it so much better!
KMR : Do you work on singles or albums mainly these days, how do you think it’s changed for you since you started?
JG : I love doing albums. I just don’t get as many as these days artists don’t do it like that, very rarely do people come to you with 12 songs, they usually have one and then a few months later have another. But with the albums I have done, you’d always go back to the first track as usually it's wrong, but then you start to get the vibe and you get a great sounding album.
I do think it's changed over the last 8 years, I also rarely get booked more than like 5 days in advance - it just seems to be a very different way of working. The first 5 years of assisting were all bands and I’m really happy that's how I started, and it’s a shame that a lot of assistants these days may not get that opportunity.
KMR : Loudness wars?
JG : Well, I usually just have to make it louder than the rough mix - it's a shame as inevitably it is at the end of your lovely mix, you then have to slam it through a Limiter and send it off!
KMR : What artists or projects are you working on currently?
I'm currently working with Dizzee Rascal on his album and its wicked, he’s producing it all himself and it sounds really sort of English and very cool. There's another guy called BiG HEATH from Cambridge, he’s really good.
KMR : Thanks for the interview!
Jake is represented by Pieces of 8 Music