It’s hardly surprising when you spend time talking with Simon Gogerly that he has such an eclectic discography. Growing up in the 70s listening to Bowie and Prog Rock then catching the end of Punk in his mid teens, he eventually found himself ensconced in the era of synths and bad haircuts: the New Romantic movement. It doesn't seem to have done his career any harm. He's worked with everyone from U2, Paloma Faith, New Order and even on the London 2012 Olympics with Underworld.
ARE FRIENDS ECLECTIC?
I was very much into bands and really got into music heavily from when I was about 11, mainly through David Bowie. I was introduced to his albums by another kid at school. I could never afford to buy albums but I bought the occasional single and borrowed albums wherever I could. But we're talking mid-70s where a lot of the music was accomplished virtuoso type-stuff. I felt like there was no chance of becoming a musician because as much as I liked the music you had to be classically trained or sit in your bedroom for 10 years learning how to play guitar solos. So I veered towards art and went to art school. At the same time the punk stuff happened and it all suddenly became very exciting and the possibilities were very open. So I joined a band.
“When a vacancy for an engineer came up, they suggested that I do it. And even though it meant taking a 50% pay cut, I thought ‘this could have a future’ so that’s how I joined Mayfair.”
Was this a punk band? Did you have a Mohawk?
It had all changed to post-punk, New Romantics, Electro, so I got into the electronic stuff. I really liked a lot of those electronic bands like Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Depeche Mode and some of the more eclectic stuff like The Associates. I joined a band with a couple of guys - they were 19, I was 21 or something like that, and we had a TR808 and a couple of mono synths and I could just about hold a couple of chords down on the guitar. And that was it. It was like an electro-pop band with punk attitude and we just used to play gigs anywhere we could find around South London. It just kind of went from there.
All the time I was working in theatre as I'd studied theatre design. But I very quickly realised that I really wanted to go down the music route. I got a job with one of the hire companies ‘Audio Rents’ initially as a delivery driver. But it was great as I got to know where all the top studios were. I was out making 10/15 deliveries every day of Lexicons and high end microphones. So I got to know the equipment and I got to know where all the studios were and quite a lot of the people working in them. Some of the people I met at that time are still around now, people like Spike Stent.
Audio Rents was based in Primrose Hill, just round the corner from Mayfair Studios, so I got to know the guys who worked there & became good friends with one of the engineers, Noel Rafferty. When a vacancy for an engineer came up, Noel put me forward for it. And even though it meant taking a 50% pay cut, I thought ‘this could have a future’ so that's how I joined Mayfair.
THE ACCIDENTAL MIX
You're known really these days for your mixing. So how did that journey go? Obviously engineers are at the front of the recording process with mixing picking up at the end. They're trying to curate that whole journey. Where did the decision come for you to be at that end of the process rather than the start?
I suppose it was what I was always interested in, what I wanted to end up doing. It happened naturally really. I didn't specifically aim just to do mixing and I did start off like everybody else doing all the recording sessions. So I went through all that process of learning how to mic up a drum kit. John Hudson at Mayfair was my mentor so I learnt a lot of that stuff very quickly.
A few of my first freelance jobs were just recording, primarily with Stephen Hague. I think what happened was that I'd been down the electronic band route and I already knew quite a lot about programming. I had an Atari and a sampler and very few of the other engineers knew that stuff. Inevitably I found myself getting drafted in onto sessions where they needed drum replacement or midi stuff as well as engineering. That naturally led to doing some of the mixing as well and soon I was mixing at Mayfair. My first big thing was ‘Altogether Now’ by The Farm.
That’s a great track, a real anthem.
Yeah, funny thing is that I was just drafted in as a replacement engineer for Noel who couldn't work over a weekend. The next thing I know I ended up mixing the track. He told them that I'd got an Atari and a sampler and I could program drum loops, things like that. So I ended up doing a bit of drum programming on it as well as mixing it.
The beat in that really is driving that track along. Is that partly where you went in on it? There's that backbeat that drives it along.
Yeah, they already had some of that. It was fairly well thought out but they needed a bit of tightening and refining.
Knocking it into shape?
Yeah, and there's a guitar section in it which is a little recorded loop. All the ideas were there but they needed it bringing into shape. So that was a great thing to go in on. But being an in-house engineer/assistant, I didn't get paid any extra. It was difficult enough to just get a credit, let alone actually getting paid, but thanks to PPL, I do now actually get something.
2012 - PALOMA FAITH AND THE OLYMPICS
Your discography is incredibly eclectic - it's everything from U2, Paloma Faith to New Order. Is there a reason you haven’t let yourself get pigeonholed? Or is it just the way the work comes in? Is that a conscious decision?
Partially, yes. I've tried to avoid doing the kind of stuff I suppose I'd class as being too cheesy. But work is work: you take what comes. I suppose you gravitate towards people who've got similar taste really. A lot of it stems back to working at Mayfair because a lot of the people I have worked with were people I initially met there, like Nellee Hooper.
Let’s talk about the London Olympics and your work with Underworld. ‘Isles of Wonder’ seems almost a summary of your musical journey, would that be a fair assumption?
Yeah there's a lot of things in there and I really love working with Rick from Underworld who I've done loads of projects with now. They are hugely popular around the world, probably more so in other countries than here in the UK. I remember hearing the first couple of Underworld albums when we were working on New Order and thinking that dance music has suddenly clashed with indie and all sorts of other things.
It must have been great being part of the whole Olympic thing, one of those moments. Although there are millions of people involved in these processes, just to be asked must have been great for you.
It was fantastic, yes. It was a funny year actually and an extremely busy year for me. It was when the Paloma Faith album ‘Fall to Grace’ came out. I'd started off the year before with Rick on The Olympics and it was of course all extremely secretive.
I’m guessing the biggest NDA in the world?
Yeah exactly. We were having to get assistants in to get things set up but then had to get them to leave. So it was just me and Rick left in the studio while we were recording stuff. We couldn't tell anybody what it was. We just had to pretend it was other material. We were recording early drums for the whole big industrial revolution section with all the drummers etc. Eventually all the things we recorded were either replaced by massed drummers or they were incorporated in the track. But we were mapping out that whole section from eight months before. It was a lot of work and I was involved very much in the early stages. Then everything went off to Abbey Road with Rick. They had a whole new crew of people coming in--broadcast mixers and such--but I did a lot of stem mixing for that stuff. Then in the last two to three weeks before the actual ceremony, Rick said ‘oh we need to mix all the music for the athlete's parade’. It was due to be two or three hours long. I spent the next couple of weeks working day and night mixing lots of different versions of Underworld tracks and High Contrast tracks. It all had to be at the same tempo all the way through because of course they wanted a way of making all the athletes walk at a certain speed to keep it on schedule. It was hard work but it was great fun.
“ Over the years I’ve developed quite a hybrid way of mixing. I tend to have things I find important like bass drum, snare drum & lead vocal and a couple of other things separate. Key instruments will have their own channels and most of the other things will be submixed one way or another.”
THE CRAFT OF MIXING
Let's talk about the craft of mixing, you've mixed everything from U2 to The Olympics, and almost everything in-between. Is there a standard template in your head when you come to a mix or is everything a reinvention each time you get to it?
I suppose I still approach things in the way that I initially learnt how to do it, which I inherited from John Hudson and also people like Bob Clearmountain and Michael Brauer at Mayfair. All of those guys start with a standard set-up and a lot of that comes from working on a large format console I guess, where you have a certain number of effects sends and returns. You have certain things set up on them, like Lexicons, and in my case now the Bricasti, a couple of TCs. I've got a Lexicon and a Sony reverb as well. So I have a fairly fixed set-up as far as what's happening with the desk. It’s sort of the old school way. I still set things up in that sort of tape machine layout of drums, bass, guitars, keyboards, vocals. I go from one side of the desk to the other and I just find that's comfortable as I know where everything is. I have a colour-template for Pro Tools and it's laid out in the same way. So it's quick and easy for me to find my way around the mixer, especially now working on sessions that may have a hundred tracks or more.
Thinking about the size of a modern session, are subs and stems all part of that process?
Yes very much so these days because I don't have a large format SSL any more. When I set up my own place, I got an SSL AWS 900, which is really nice, but obviously there's a limitation - just 24 analogue channels. So yes I have to do a certain amount of sub-mixing within Pro Tools. Over the years I've developed quite a hybrid way of mixing. I tend to have things I find important like bass drum, snare drum & lead vocal and a couple of other things separate. Key instruments will have their own channels and most of the other things will be submixed one way or another.
You mentioned Michael there - do you ever ‘Brauerize’ a mix?
Yes, I don't do the same thing but I guess I've got something similar. I quite often generate an extra bit of frequency off something and mix it in, particularly things like bass drums, because I tend to treat my drums altogether. I use a Culture Vulture and outboard compression and stuff like that so I'll have those as a sort of drum buss. But then sometimes that treatment will squash in the low end of the drums and sometimes you just want more beef in them. So I'll quite often split off a separate sub-bass, sub-kick channel and mix it back in.
I'm fairly basic I suppose in comparison to what Michael Brauer used to do. I don't feel you can really do that without having a massive desk. To a degree, he's pretty much mastering as he goes along as well, I prefer to leave mastering for somebody who knows what they're doing. Obviously there's pressure on you these days for mixes to sound loud and fairly finished.
I was going to come to this, the whole problem of A&R and record company pressure on you as a mixer. I think mastering engineers get it worse than mix engineers. Do you find that there's more and more of that pressure coming to you?
To a degree yes and also it's just communication really. In the old days you were always in the same room as people but of course that doesn't really happen now. I do have people come and work with me in my place. Generally those sessions are the ones that go the smoothest. You just sort out problems as and when they arise. You work together which often brings out the best ideas. Now a lot of the time I'm doing mixes and sending them off to people and sometimes with the more pop-based stuff there can be a whole range of people involved. This includes A&R to managers and multiple producers sometimes. Of course not everybody's going to agree about everything through the mix. You've got this whole time factor of having to wait for five or six different people to weigh in with their opinions.
“I was really pleased when I got the Exponential ones because I’ve finally got a plug-in that behaves and sounds similar to more of the outboard stuff.”
THE MIX OF HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE
You've probably used a lot of gear on the journey because you've been there in the 80s, 90s, all the way through to the present day. There's been a revolution for us in studios. So what did you reach for over the years in the racks, reverb-wise in particular?
When I was still working in commercial studios and certainly at Mayfair we had the standard gear - one big Lexicon that was usually a 224. But my personal favourite of the Lexicons was the PCM70 which I've used all the way through my career. I have a MPX550 which I think is a very good modern Lexicon, kind of mid-range. But I was also introduced to the Bricasti about 8 or 9 years ago.
So how did you hear about Exponential?
I heard about it on the Pro Tools Expert site and on the Music Producers Guild Facebook page. There were various people saying it was good. So I had a look at it. Then Dave Miles from MPG suggested that I get in touch with you and see if we could hook up and get one. That was the connection there because I've worked with Dave on a couple of projects before.
Is this your first venture into reverb plug-ins?
No, I've used quite a few of the standard ones before. As far as impulse response plug-ins, I've used TL Space and I managed to find some Bricasti impulse responses which is quite handy because I've only got one Bricasti. I think it's nice to have a variety of different sounding reverbs as well. I've got a slightly eclectic collection of outboards and I've always slightly preferred the sound of the outboards but I've started using the Revibe reverb plug-in and a couple of others. But I've never found them to be as good as the outboard stuff. I've pretty much stuck with the outboard and used the occasional plug-in reverb just for special effects like a big cavern sound or something like that.
I was really pleased when I got the Exponential ones because I've finally got a plug-in that behaves and sounds similar to more of the outboard stuff. I really like the sound of the R2, I suppose probably because it's got that slightly Lexicon thing about it, but I've used the Phoenix for realistic sounding live spaces. In an ideal world of course really, what I'd like to do is live in a mansion with lots of different rooms and have speakers & microphones everywhere.
So you say you're using them a lot more these days, are they your go to plug-in now?
In terms of ‘in the box’, I'd say yes. I've been experimenting with them over the last month or two so I'm still finding my way around. I feel like I'm still scratching the surface to a degree.
“You’ve got to be prepared to fail and keep coming back which isn’t easy because there will be a lot of times when you want to give up.”
THERE'S ONLY ONE RULE
What advice would you give 18 year old Simon?
Well I would say that persistence is one of the most important things. You've got to be prepared to fail and keep coming back which isn't easy because there will be a lot of times when you want to give up. I know that I've certainly felt like that from time to time but I'm obviously very glad I didn't. I would say one of the main things as far as equipment and stuff like that's concerned is to experiment as much as possible. You don't need expensive equipment to make great records. You just need to be prepared to try new things with it.
That seems to be partly informed by your artistic background. Art is about trying something, isn't it? Obviously there are fundamentals in art but often it's about making your own mark?
Yes - the only rule is that there aren't any rules. If there are, then break them.
If his career to date is anything to go by then breaking the rules doesn't seem to have done Gogerly any harm. Perhaps best summarised in the words of one of the bands he has worked with: U2. "We thought we had all the answers, it was the questions we got wrong."