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Interview with Romesh Dodangoda

Romesh Dodangoda

Interview by Mike Newdeck

Many of the bands that we enjoy today owe a debt to the producers that they have worked with. Often the unsung heroes, it's their job to bring out the full potential of the band on a record, fine tuning elements of the songs and getting the right overall sonics that suit the band's music. Cardiff based Romesh Dodangoda is one such hero, whose expertise can be heard fleshing out anyone from Stone Broken and Witterquick through to Bring Me The Horizon and Motorhead. Fireworks caught up with him recently to talk about what it's like to be a producer.

Why choose production over becoming a musician?

I was more interested in being in the studio than being in a band. When I used to record with my band a long time ago, I was always fascinated with the recording process and how the song came together. That to me was more fun than being in an actual band! So I think it was these experiences which steered me more towards music production than just being a musician.

Take me through the process of how you get from meeting the band to getting the final recorded product?

Every situation is different but I'll try and meet up or speak with the band, find out a bit more about them and figure out what they are trying to go for. I'll usually have some rough demos sent to me so I can also get some ideas about the production and see if the songs need some work in regards to the arrangements. From there we will work in the studio, usually starting with everyone playing together as that's usually how everyone feels comfortable. Once we have the rhythm section down, we will start overdubbing other instruments. I try and work with each artists according to what will be suited for them so sometimes we may start from the demo and build around it until we have the track. Every session is different!

Once everything is recorded, it then needs to be mixed. This is putting all the parts together and getting them to work in a way where everything can be heard with a good balance, nothing is over powering and also giving the record it's sonic sound.

What's the number one quality you need as a producer?

Patience. When you are working with artists you can't always rush things so you need to allow time for the magic to happen. This can take a bit of time, or you may have to come back to something if it's not quite there. You know when it's right though!

What's the most difficult part of what you do?

I think most parts of my job always have a solution, even the trickier sides. There are times where maybe you see a song going in a different way to the artist so that can be a tricky situation. However, I always respect the artist and what they want to do, so I'll always try and make their vision happen as best as possible whilst giving my advice and helping them steer it into a better direction if it's not quite right. It's the artists' record at the end of the day so I want to make sure they will be proud of it!

What involvement do you have in the songwriting process?

I don't have a lot of involvement in the initial writing but as a producer I will get involved if the song needs work. Having me as an extra member on the team in the room can expose things that maybe the band hadn't noticed before, maybe the intro is far too long and it's not going to work if their goal is Spotify for example. The long intro may work if it's a band who doesn't care about that and has a vision artistically. I try and bring things to the table that will enhance their song.

Do you need to be dictatorial sometimes when you work with a band? Stick or carrot?

No, I definitely don't like to do that. Making records is a team work. There are a lot of people on the team, not just the band, but studio assistants and whoever else is on the session. Everyone has to work together and understand what their role is to get the best out of the record.

Does a band need to trust what you do in order to let the process work properly?

There certainly has to be trust, but I think that people usually trust me going into the studio otherwise they wouldn't have hired me...I don't think?!

I've heard some producers get artists, vocalists in particular, to do multiple takes until it's right. What's your approach?

I will usually see how the artist wants to do it. Everyone prefers to do vocals in different ways. Some like to do multiple takes of the whole song in one pass, others like to break it down into sections. In most cases I prefer to break the song down a bit so that we can make sure the vocal is the best it can be for each part of the song. If it's a bit more of a Punk Rock vibe though, maybe the honest delivery is more important. It changes depending on the song and artist really.

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How experimental does it get in the studio and can the fine tuning be frustrating?

It can get experimental, especially with guitars! I have a lot of pedals and amps so guitarists seem to have a really fun time playing around with sounds. I like doing that, I find you can really get creative and find some new ideas that wouldn't have happened if you weren't in the studio with that equipment.

How long does it take to record an album with an artist? Or does it vary?

It varies. Budgets are usually where the time factor will vary. I have spent two weeks on albums and two months, it just depends

What's your pet hate when it comes to being in the studio?

People not being prepared. I always like the band to be as prepared as they can so we don't waste any time in the studio. The band should know the song well, so when I get involved we have a decent starting point. From there I can help with the arrangement if it needs to be better. Just knowing the song well is a great way to be prepared. If there are extra guitar parts that the band might want to try, it's great if they can get an idea of what they're trying to do. Some players like to write them in the studio but if you're working on a tight budget, the more prepared you are the better.

What band/artist would be on your bucket list to work with?

Aerosmith. I love how big their records sound, the songs are always great and the records always sound weighty.

Why do bands need a producer? Can't the just do it all themselves these days?

There are certainly a lot of bands doing things themselves which is fine. However, I believe that it's important still, if you are serious about the band, to make sure that your releases sound as good as they can be. They need to compete with albums people buy in the shops which have had producers work on them. Otherwise, I think people can subconsciously think it doesn't sound as good and may not treat you as a band on that same level....if that makes sense! I think great sounding records will always be here for a long time. Working with a producer also brings in an extra member who can help steer everyone and get the best out of the song. It's not always easy to do that when you're part of the band, it's hard to step back and look at it all sometimes.

How has recording/mixing changed from the 80s through to the present day? Do modern recordings sound better or worse in your opinion?

I think it's just changed and obviously become more modern. There are certainly still things we take from the 80s, big snare drums, reverbs, drum machines etc.

Which piece of kit has been a game changer for you?

There are too many things for me! I would find it hard to work without my Audient mixing console. It just sounds really good, it's got really flexible routing, everything I record goes through it. I've had mine for quite a long time now

Which band/artist has been the most fun to work with and why?

I've been very fortunate to work with so many great artists, I would find it really hard to pick one. I'm lucky when I get to work with bands who are already friends, that is just always a fun time. A lot of bands I work with end up being friends so when we work together again, it's seamless.

Do you market your own plug-ins? For the uninitiated, what are they and which specific ones have you used?

I have just developed my guitar plug-in with the American company STL Tones. It is called Tonehub and you can get my pack for it which then gives you a lot of guitar amp sounds exactly how I mic them up, except you can now use them in your computer. I love it, I'm really proud of how it sounds.

Which Motorhead album did you work on and what was it like working with them?

I worked on 'The World Is Yours' album. I recorded all the guitars to that record with Phil Campbell. I love that guy, he's so funny and has the best stories ever. It was a privilege to be in the studio each of those days as I'd get a new legendary story each day! He's an awesome
guitarist and I love working with him. It was great to be asked back to produce the Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons record too.

What was it like recording Bring Me The Horizon's album 'amo'?

It was a great time! We spent two months in North Hollywood recording it. It was nice to be able to take time to get sounds without rushing and I'm really proud of how it came out. Everyone worked hard on it.

Are you conscious of not over-producing an album so that it can be more easily replicated live?

Most of the time I'm not too bothered. My focus is on a great sounding album. 90% of the time the band will be able to play it live. If I want some extra guitars on the album, they're going to go on. My focus is to make the album sound the best it can and I think people like to hear something interesting sonically rather than something that's a bit stripped back, although sometimes, that can actually be the perfect approach.


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