Since critically acclaimed indie rock outfit The Maccabees called time on their career in 2017 after 13 years and four revered albums, founding member and occasional producer for the band, Hugo White, has embarked upon a new career in the studio. Daniel Gumble caught up with him in his London facility to discuss gear, production techniques and life after the band…
What was the decision behind getting into production after the band finished?
In the early days with the band I was making demos but I didn’t really see myself as a producer. However, by the third album there was a question mark over whether I should do the record or if we should go with a producer, which we did. At that point I felt the task was too big, but the record didn’t work out with the producer for various reasons, and we had about a month left to deliver this record. So I was thrown in the deep end with it! I was like, give me the hard drive, I’m going to redo this record, and I rebuilt it from scratch. It was an insane amount of work, but it worked and everyone was happy. From that point on I realised I can compete at that level, and from then it was decided I was also going to produce the next record, which was the final record we made. And it went to No.1, which was great! By that point I knew I wanted to be working in the studio. I learned a lot from being in the band – so much of being a producer is about people skills and understanding that band dynamic, which is so complex.
How valuable was your experience with the band in shaping you as a producer?
Only recently have I reflected on how well being in the band has served me as a producer, especially working with younger people. I understand all the situations they are going through, like dealing with labels and management etc. And I’ve worked with some great producers – Stephen Street, Ben Hillier, Markus Dravs, and I’ve had a long-standing relationship with Cenzo Townshend who mixed our first, third and fourth albums. He’s still mixing the stuff I’m working on now.
You’ve also been writing in the studio with some of the artists you are producing. Is that something you would have entertained during your time in the band?
No. We were so closed off, we wouldn’t have let anyone in. Until a year and a half ago I didn’t realise that everyone else co-writes everything. We were that blind to it; we didn’t think anyone could or should try to change our opinion. But now it’s really opening up and people are seeing that that’s how things work. There’s a lot to be said for doing it both ways. There were five of us, so a bad idea never really got through. By bouncing off each other you keep improving on what you originally had. If you’re a solo artist you don’t have that, so they need a co-writer.
Who have you been working with?
I started working with a guy called Matt Maltese. He’s a singer songwriter I started working with at a very early stage, when it was just him and a piano, but we’ve gradually built things up and got a band together. It’s been great, taking someone’s vision and realising it. I’ve also been working with a band called The Magic Gang, who are a bit more like The Maccabees were; they work in detail and they want it to be right before they bring it to the producer. I’ve also been working with Ten Tonnes, Jessie Ware and more recently I’ve been doing writing sessions with a girl called SOAK. And a couple of other potentially exciting things are in the pipeline...
Do you have a particular style of production that you bring to each project?
It’s really about catering for what the artist wants, and a lot of the time people can’t say what it is that they want. People rarely start a project knowing exactly what it’s going to sound like; you learn along the way, so it’s about understanding them and getting on the same wavelength. I want to make records that deliver in the modern, competitive sonic world, without taking the life out of the music and the performance.
You must have learned some useful things from the producers you’ve worked with in the past…
Someone like Stephen Street was great because you had confidence he was in control of everything, which is really important. You need to feel like the producer is solid and is dealing with everything - someone you trust, basically. Markus Dravs was amazing at dealing with everyone in the band and the complex band dynamic we have. He would step into our discussions and find a solution.
How difficult was it being in the studio with a band full of writers?
It made the writing process go on forever! We would spend months on songs. Everything builds up and it becomes an intense world you work in together. There are a lot of producers now who co-write knowing that they go in at the start of the day and you come out at the end of the day with a track that is fully written. Not that that is a perfect way to work – there is a lot of bad music written like that – but in the modern world I think spending months on writing a track is problematic. I want things to be quicker and more efficient. I’ve started working on Ableton and using it as a really quick writing tool.
What’s your set up here?
My most treasured mic is the Neumann FET 47, which is our go-to vocal mic and we use it on guitars too. Also the Coles 4038, which are overheads used for acoustics and percussion. I use BAE 1073 preamps and a rack of APIs, and some API EQs, plus a lot of plugins. More recently I’ve started using UAD stuff, which has really made things come to life. Monitor wise I use Adam A8X for tracking. It’s a fairly simple set up.