Steve Dub Producer Interview
Miloco Recording Studios, September 2005
Settle down ladies and gentlemen for the first installment of Miloco's record producer interview series: the
Steve Dub Producer Interview.
Our in-depth trawl through the inner workings
of Miloco's beat-filled almost-resident and persistent purveyor of Chemical Brotherly Madness, Minty Royale Clors and Alabama-soaked Truelove...
A month at Miloco rarely slips by without a visit or two from our favourite (alleged) speaker-mauler. So come down and discover the teenage
meanderings, apprenticeships and realisations that transformed the humble 'Steve Jones' into the mighty 'Steve Dub'...
Miloco: You've recently been in Miloco with Madness [for their latest album The Dangermen Sessions, Volume 1]. What was it like working with the
STEVE DUB: Oh it was interesting. We picked up the project after they'd already done a lot of the recording. They were making this covers album of
old Jamaican classics. They're all such precious recordings for them to be attempting that a lot of people weren't sure that they should, but they
were full steam ahead: 'No, we're going to do such and such' - and brilliantly so - and put their own identity on it.
Miloco: I read that Woody [Daniel Woodgate] said they'd recorded it 'old school' and then you'd mixed it 'new school' - would you agree?
STEVE DUB: Yeah, yeah, it was that kind of thing. I produced it with a guy called Seggs and we gave them the luxury of hiring in lots of nice old
keyboards and things. We worked up in The Toyshop & spent a lot of time with Mike [Benson] getting his keyboard sounds, trying to capture some of
the Studio One vibe if we could, which is a hard thing to do, so we hired in some interesting keyboards. An old Vox Continental, a really nice organ,
instead of this Hammond he'd been using before, and it sounded much better straight away.
Miloco: So you did quite a bit of re-recording as well?
STEVE DUB: Yeah, we did a lot of reworking. We reassembled a lot of the drums, and the bass...and we worked on this old keyboard called an RMI which
was one of the first synthesized keyboards - it's from the 60's and apparently the Beatles used one. It's a really weird keyboard. It's got a
synthesized clav sound, a synthesized piano, a Harpsicord , a synthesized something else - it sounded really good.
Miloco: And this was all done in The Toyshop?
STEVE DUB: Yeah, we spent weeks up there reprogramming. And then some time in The Garden re-recording stuff. I think we spent a 3 months in all on it.
And considering that when we got it the album had [already] been recorded, it goes to show how much 'additional production' can mean sometimes.
Additional recording and production, can still [mean] 3 or 4 months of work. And it is really nice to do that because sometimes it's just
'Here you are: mix it'. But I got this and said, 'No, it's not right, we need to re-record it to make sure it's as right as can be before we mix it.'
Miloco: And do you think after all that everyone went away happy?
STEVE DUB: Yeah. The project meant a lot to them and they wanted to put the time in. With budgets being what they are you don't always have the
time you might want, but when you're working in a place like The Toyshop, which doesn't cost the earth, it's possible. It's not always possible
to use somewhere like The Neve Room for weeks on end - that's when it starts to get expensive.
Miloco: Do you think that type of thing will become more and more commonplace with the advances in home-studio recording - that people will just bring
things to a studio for a final mix?
STEVE DUB: I think so. Yeah, absolutely. I tend to use The Neve Room just for mixing now.
Miloco: And to destroy a lot of speakers, so I've heard...
STEVE DUB: Allegedly...Well I always claim that I, erm, have often gone in there after someone else has... after they've burned the life out of them...
STEVE DUB: ...Cos the first time I turn them up they blow up! But it's not just me! I work with Tom Chemical, from the Chemical Brothers, a lot and
he turns it up quite loud. But yes, apparently I have a reputation...
Miloco: So how did you start out - how did you get to where are you now?
STEVE DUB: When I was 17 and retaking some O-levels and taking a Geology A-level and not doing very well at any of it and totally disinterested. I
decided to just not go to school anymore and picked up the Yellow Pages and rang every studio in London - literally - and when I got to 'L' I got an
interview with Radio Luxemburg...
Miloco: What, you just rang and said, 'Hello, I'll do anything'?
STEVE DUB: Yeah, just rang and said I'm looking for a job as an assistant tape-op. I'd been down to the local Hospital Radio three times so I said I
had "experience in radio" and they gave me an interview and I got a job as a junior...can't remember what it was...like a runner, basically, in Radio
Luxemburg's studios at Shepherd's Market near Hyde Park. So I worked there for a year or two. They had a little radio production suite and they also
had a lovely old Neve desk recording studio, and so it was whilst working there that I realised I was probably more interested in the recording side
of things. At weekends I used to get my friends down there and record their bands and i really liked it... I was then lucky enough to get on a YTS
scheme down at a studio called Konk, and I worked there for about a year and then got the sack but luckily got a record deal at the same time. It
was for a record called God is in the House, with my mate George. We were called Rumble Dub and got a deal with Pete Tong and thought 'That's it,
we're off!' Then this guy called Steve Trevell appeared, out of the mist, with a Studer 24-track and an Amek desk and a load of outboard. He'd
recently lost his studio space and said: 'I need somewhere to put this.' It was hilarious, carrying all this gear around London and storing it in
various places - I remember the Studer tape machine was kept in a friend's flat for a while...taking it up in the lift and wheeling it down the
corridor...So we put all the gear in this little place in Clapham and that became Dada Studios. And that's where a lot of things happened for me.
I did a lot of stuff for people like Billy nasty and Dave Wesson- early progressive House stuff. People like Hard Hands started using that, and through
that I met Leftfield, and then The Chemical Brothers. We did a remix of a the Leftfield/Lydon record and basically I've done everything they've ever
done since, bar about three tracks.
Miloco: It must be fantastic to have that kind of established relationship, do they (and you) have anything coming up?
STEVE DUB: Yeah I think so. I think he's starting to write a new album. But with them [The Chemical Brothers] we tend to do three week slots in The
Neve Room - they do spend a long time in there, probably about 9 or 10 weeks.
Miloco: And so at what stage would you tend to get involved? Do they come in and it's all there and written?
STEVE DUB: Well some tracks yes, and some tracks no. What we do is - working to an Audio work station - get an idea of a track, get a sound up, get
a really interesting sound on the drums, say, or a certain part, and that'd be printed back into Audio. And then we'll log that and he might take
that back home and carry on working on it. Or another time we'll do an entire mix, he'll take it home decide to rewrite some of it. But he'll love
the drums, for instance, or the bass, but we'll start everything else again and totally rewrite the track on top of those elements.
Miloco: So you've got total flexibility...
STEVE DUB: Yes - total flexibility, and it makes it good fun cos the mixes on a lot of those tunes come about over quite a long time, so you have
time to live with things and assess them and make sure they are really good.
Miloco: That must be a nice thing, a more organic approach...
STEVE DUB: Yes, exactly. And the whole thing is just layers and layers that've come about over time - y'know, sometimes the drums were mixed a year
before. And then the final mix will be the from the stems: the drums, bass, and a guitar from somewhere, then a whole load of new sounds he's written
and then a vocalist on top. Other stuff can be a standard mix of, you know, 60 channels of everything you can imagine...
Miloco: When there are a lot of guest artist collaborations - with the likes of The Chemicals and Mint Royale, for example - do you find it a tricky
thing to manage?
STEVE DUB: Well, yes, sometimes. You have to have the whole thing ready for that moment. It's quite awkward. Say you're in for a week and you've got
four mixes to do, and a vocal, and a guitar and bass overdub, it's then quite tricky to say 'Okay, the vocalist's coming in on Tuesday at 2 o'clock'.
But so far, touch wood, it's worked out fine. And it does give you a deadline to work to, which I think is quite healthy to be honest.
Miloco: And how do you manage the fact that they're just walking in cold to a session that you've often been working on for weeks?
STEVE DUB: Well it depends on the person. Usually they've had the track up front and demoed it. But again it depends. With The Chems they'll have
sent out stuff months in advance and set up all the collaborations before we go anywhere near the studio, and probably demoed it up in a home studio
whether they've given it the go ahead or not. In fact there's probably more stuff that hasn't made the records than has - y'know if they've sent it
to a singer and it just hasn't worked out. But there's a real craft in what they do in finding the right person for the right track - I don't think
enough people realise how hard that is to do - it's not an easy thing. It takes a lot of effort. And time and money.
Miloco: So do they tend to write things first and then think: 'So-and-so would be good for that', or do they set out to write a song with a specific
person in mind?
STEVE DUB: I think they start with the tracks. And then, after an amount of time, it'll become apparent if they want a vocal on it or not and then
they'll start chatting amongst themselves about who'd be right for it. They tend to go for quite un-obvious choices - they spend quite a bit time
thinking about who'd be an interesting collaborator to work with - and then they might not be able to get who they want, or they didn't come through
with what they wanted, and then it's back to square one.
Miloco: That must be awkward for them to deal with?
STEVE DUB: Well yes, and on some tracks it's happened three or four times. Whereas others it's just spot on there and then.
Miloco: I know you've got quite a lot of co-writing credits over the years, but do you do any of your own material?
STEVE DUB: I do yeah. I used to do a lot of Techno and House: this band called Sour Mash, and Vinyl Blair, and Shi-take with Zoom Records, a lot of
instrumental stuff. But because of the time and my age I wasn't too conscious of the publishing side so I signed it away to some...someone who...who
wasn't too interested in returning it to it's rightful owner. And he's long gone, moved to Australia, so the publishing for all those tunes went with him...
Miloco: Do you feel that the level of collaboration you tend to enjoy now satisfies your creative urges?
STEVE DUB: Absolutely - and I'm writing things with a few different people at the moment. But you know, if it's a situation where it's going to happen
then it does, and if it doesn't it doesn't. What I do varies so much. Sometimes it's just straight mixing, other times it's a lot more involved than
that, and sometimes it's somewhere in between. It might just be adding a couple of sounds, or a bit of programming, or I might be nowhere near the
computer at all.
Miloco: Is that what keeps you interested - the variety of projects?
STEVE DUB: Yes, exactly that. If it was the same thing on every project then I would get bored. I don't have any set systems - I tend to try and
approach different things in a different way and take on the role required for each new scenario. With The Audio Bullies and the Chemical Brothers
for instance, cos the things are kinda quite close [stylistically], I try and use the equipment in a different way to try and get a different sound
on them. Like with The Chemicals there's a lot of compression on individual sounds while the Audio Bullies might use two or three compressors on
the mix. So I'm conscious of that - especially working in the same studio a lot - of trying to change things around a lot to get different sounds
out of the same pieces of equipment.
Miloco: And do you like coming back to the same place - you've been in and out of The Toyshop for years now, for example?
STEVE DUB: Yeah, yeah, I really like that space. And The Neve Room too: having worked in there for some 11 years now, I know the room and I love the
room and I feel really confident in the space. And I think that's really important - especially if you're working with acts you haven't met before,
it's nice that you're comfortable...and from the feedback that I've got, whenever I've got a client to come along they tend to use the place and love
it and will often come back again and again.
Miloco: Well that's excellent news all round...
STEVE DUB: Exactly. They just need to clone the room now cos quite often you can't get in there. And with a lot of the other Neve rooms in London
closing down it's getting problematic at the moment. But let's see what happens - they keep threatening to build another studio at Miloco...it would be good...
Miloco: There's obviously been a lot of different styles involved in the various things you've done - what would you say is the one thing that attracts
you to the idea of working on a project, that lures you into signing on the dotted line?
STEVE DUB: Well to be honest it's when you meet the people. It's more to do with the personalities - do you think you're going to have fun doing
it - cos ultimately it's got to be an enjoyable experience. Even though it's challenging sometimes, and you sometimes wonder what you're doing,
but 80% of the time it's good and I think if you enjoy making it then people enjoy listening to it. So I'd say it was more about the people you're
going to spend 14 hours a day with in a confined space - you've got to get on with them and have fun and connect when you make a record. Obviously
you've got to like the music too - but I'd say equal quantities of both. Because no matter how much you like the music, if you meet and don't really
get on then I don't think it's fair to work on the project - you want to feel you're giving your absolute best. I don't like to just cruise through
a situation. , I want to be stimulated, I want to like to be challenged.
Miloco: Do you find time to give yourself a break?
STEVE DUB: Oh yes. I like to take breaks in between projects. I don't understand why people work week-in week-out without a break - to me that makes
no sense at all.
Miloco: Presumably you get 'tired ears' as it were?
STEVE DUB: Tired ears, tired mind, no life - I don't think somebody in that state is giving it their best. I think if you walk in to do an album
project and you've maybe had three weeks off and been away for a few days and your head somewhere else then you walk in and you're really keen to get
on. Whereas if you walk in and you've had like two days off in four months do you really wanna hear another drum kit being set up? Maybe at 21 you
do, but certainly not anymore. And, like you say, your ears - my ears just can't take it anymore.
Miloco: And with the beat-heavy stuff you tend to be involved with...
STEVE DUB: Yeah, though to be honest I don't tend to monitor that loudly all the time. I mean some of the people I work with are just mad, and I'll
walk out the room when they turn it up full on. But they're DJs and they want to be aware of how it'll sound in a nightclub, and it's absolutely their
prerogative to do that, and I wouldn't ever question that. So I just keep an eye on it from slightly outside the room - out of the firing line...
Steve 'Dub' Jones was talking to Miloco in September 2005
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