Category Archives: Interviews

Martin Bowes on Mastering for Vinyl

by Patrick Ogle

Attrition first set up shop in 1980 in Coventry, England. The end of that year saw the group’s first live incarnation. Attrition has gone through many line-up changes over the years and the music has changed stylistically—always electronic but sometimes dance, sometimes ambient.

One constant has been the man behind the band, Martin Bowes. In the early years the music was a sort of genre defying electronic post-punk. Early recordings such as This Death House followed shortly two years later by The Attrition of Reason set the tone for a career that is still producing innovative music. Resisting the temptation to catalog all of the band’s releases, all of the singles, 12-inch records and ephemera is difficult.

Bowes’ long career gives him not only decades of experience producing music , it spans the time period from when vinyl was king to the time when vinyl was “obsolete” and now back to a new relevance for the format.

Bowes has worked on his own albums but also with artists including; Psychic TV, Sol Invictus, Nick Cave, Marc Almond, AX, Sleep Research Facilty, and Merzbow. Bowes has remixed tracks for The Damage Manual, Mona Mur & En Esch. Die Form, In The Nursery and others.

Martin Bowes has recently opened his studio, The Cage, to the public and it would be an excellent studio choice for bands or projects looking to produce vinyl. If you cannot make it to Coventry, Bowes has some advice on recording for vinyl.

First off–you just opened your personal studio to the public. How did this come about? Tell us about the studio?

Martin Bowes: I had started building my studio back in the early 90’s as I knew it was going to be important to have control over the recording process… too many times we had spent far too little time in professional studios recording our music… I wanted time and control to make things sound how i wanted without watching the clock… so I started The Cage studios In 1993 for the recording of the Attrition album “The Hidden Agenda”… and everything since…

As a result of having this in a time when it was still quite rare for bands to have their own studio, I was invited to teach music technology at a local college here in Coventry, which I did for 16 years. I only ever had the time to use the studio for my own recordings with Attrition and for a few special projects I wanted to take on until last year when I finished teaching and decided it was time to open the doors of The Cage full time.

I upgraded the studio and had a whole new part of my house purpose built for this…it has quickly become very popular and I am lucky enough to be able to work on projects I believe in here.

If an artist came to you and said, “I am doing a recording that will, primarily, be released on vinyl,” what are the first things you think of with regard to the recording?

It is more the mixing and mastering where i will be making decisions in regards to vinyl. Let the initial recordings be as creative as possible and worry about technical issues regarding formats to the mix and master. The first thing I will ask is, “What kind of vinyl?” As opposed to CD formats there are many qualities of vinyl–seven-inch, 10-inch, 12-inch single, albums, and so on…all with varying capacity for playing back your music, and then the length of the material is going to affect it too…so there are a few things to consider.

And bear in mind that there will always be less dynamic range on vinyl as opposed to CD.

Beyond that, what are some other things artists should consider when recording for vinyl?

As I mentioned, formats are important….a bass-heavy dance tune is going to be best pressed on a 12-inch single where there will be room in the grooves to reproduce the bass end. And be careful about stereo sounds particularly on the bass end, and then some of the higher frequencies don’t always reproduce so well on turntables so you need to be extra careful of sibilance, etc.

These days, recordings are often released on vinyl and digital (skipping CDs). How to you bridge the gap, as a producer, between these formats that differ so radically?

Well, CD is only a high-end digital format and with transfer rates and storage capacity getting always higher then we are getting spared the low quality mp3s, etc. we had 10 years ago.

I don’t think it will be long before .wav files are the standard and .mp3’s are dropped into the trash can of history. (I was going to say dust bin). The formats differ but at the end of the day its the music that counts and it can be crafted for any format you like with some care.

You also hear vinyl releases that sound like shit. Usually this has to do with bad mastering or with NO mastering. Make the case for mastering your record with care.

It can be the mastering and it can also be a bad pressing… that’s not so rare either! So always get a test pressing when dealing with vinyl and always get another one if it gets messed up. But yes, of course all music for whatever format its aimed at does need to be mastered with care…and even more so with vinyl as it is more unforgiving than digital.

Now, specifically with regard to vinyl, how do you go about mastering a record?

I always give it a few listens to get the feel of the music and ask the artists what they are looking for as at the end of the day it’s their music, and everyone has a different idea of what they want.

Then I will get into details and examine frequencies, listening on different speaker systems including headphones…and if these are old recordings from tapes etc., I will first clean them up with de-noising tools, etc.

Then, depending on what needs doing, start getting the EQ tools and compression/limiting in place…but only if it’s needed. Sometimes as with mixing, less can be more effective than more. And a small EQ cut here and there may be so much better than lots of boosts. At the same time, I am also sorting out any vinyl issues such as the bass end and sibilant top end, etc. Once I have something I am happy with I get a test copy to the artist or label for their reaction and then make any adjustments if needed.

How can people in the USA get in touch re mastering or recording?

These days, I am dealing with artists from all over the world thanks to file transfers, so check out the studio page at and just email me on if you are interested in me working with you on your project.

We can talk over what you need and what i can do for you. Attrition started in 1983 with vinyl releases and like a lot of people we have recently got back into the format…. releasing Demonstro a double vinyl LP of rarities last year… and have more planned for our latest album, The Unraveller Of Angels, due out this autumn. If anyone wants to check out the Attrition website please do at

Girl Detective Interview

Rani Woolpert and Jay Oppman are Girl Detective, a Chicago-based postmodern/alt-rock duo who create lush, often shoegazey sounds that call back to the best of the 80s-era 4AD bands. Since Woolpert featured Turntabling’s “house band” and DJ multimedia project Paisley Babylon a while back during her stint on Transistor Radio, we thought it was high time to return the favor. Especially since Girl Detective performs live on Monday, April 30, 2012 at 8PM at Martyrs in Chicago located at 3855 N. Lincoln Avenue.

Describe the Girl Detective sound–your press kit defines you as an experimental, cerebral…listening to tracks like “Life’s A Movie”, it would be easy to associate GD with the as-of- then defined “Post-Modern” sound, that later got shoehorned into “Alternative”. But what are YOU thinking?

Rani: Boy, for me that’s a super tough one. I listen to tons of music, but have never been very good with labels or genre tags. I’m going to leave that to Jay to elaborate on any specific titles. People who have heard our music have used those labels you mention, and that is where we got those from. I saw it and thought… yeah, that sounds like us. I can say more of where we come from, though, as far as our influences.

When I first heard Jay’s music, I had been working with someone else to write songs and was having difficulty trying to create melodies and vocals. I was using this other musician’s songs, and they were more electronic and I felt like I needed a solid guitar sound in there to give me a background to come up with vocals.

I did a Craigslist search through musician postings and found Jay on there and linked to his page. I had been looking for someone with a Robin Guthrie (Cocteau Twins) – type guitar sound, and when I heard Jay’s samples online, I was totally blown away. His music was really dark, and made me think of Depeche Mode as well, which is one of my all-time favorite bands, and I was really impressed with his guitar playing and just the overall sound. I contacted him and we did a little with that other project, but I said I’d also like to see if I could try writing some vocals over his music, as I thought it was just so cool! A bit more about what I’m into… I listened to those other bands I mentioned, but also to Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, New Order, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Jesus & Mary Chain, The Smiths—just so many of those fantastic 80s bands.

They have been in my bloodstream, you could say, since they were part of my teen years and I’ve never been impacted by music in the same way since–that is the language I speak. In the creation of a vocal sound, I don’t try to go for anything. I’m just singing, but I think what I love does come out someone in there. I think Morrissey, Dave Gahan, Martin Gore, Elizabeth Fraser (Cocteau Twins), Peter Murphy and Sinead O’Connor are all mixed in there somehow, as those are the people I most sing

I can say more about what I’m going for as a person coming from a visual arts background. I have a background professionally in motion graphics and some audiovisual art direction and I have an interest in creating/crafting rich environments like Bill Viola has done with some of his sound/video installations and like Laurie Anderson was doing with her performance art that also integrated A/V and kinetics. I sort of live in this rich dreamscape in my mind and it’s multi-level.

Jay’s songs are a rich soundscape and they already have that going on. For me, as a vocalist, I want to tell stories and go to some other place with what I’m doing. So, when I come up with vocals (which are usually completely improv) I am kind of accessing that state to make them at all. And, I think that the music is actually being received that way, as that is some of the feedback we’ve been receiving—that sense of otherworldliness or something. It’s astounding, as I have that in my head, but would have no way of knowing how to put that out musically. But I think it’s just happening. What would you call that genre?? Again, that’s a tough one!

Jay: If music was a drink and you wanted to order a Girl Detective you would mix The Cure, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Cocteau Twins, Depeche Mode, Joy Division/New Order, The Church, Dead Can Dance with maybe a touch of The Beatles and Pink Floyd.

Girl Detective is a duo, so there’s obviously a bit of a challenge re-creating the lush sounds of your studio work on stage. What do you and bandmate Jason Oppman do to keep the music as multi-layered as what you’re doing in the recording studio? Or have you stripped the sound down to a more basic approach for the live gigs?

Rani: Yes—that is a challenge. Our sound is a really rich tapestry and we want people to experience the depth of it at a live show. I know when I go to see music, I really want to be taken out of my day-to-day thoughts. Just like with movies. I want to live in that world for a while. And, we want to do that with our live shows—to envelop the audience within a blanket of sound. So, we wouldn’t want to strip the songs back any. Actually, kind of the opposite is true. Vocally, I’ve been pleased with my voice just given some house reverb, although we are working within our own arsenal of tools (Jay has tons of expensive gear!) to create a more fine-tuned solution for the live sets.

Jay: As Girl Detective is in the early stages, we are using our backing tracks of drums/bass/piano/synth from our studio recordings and doing all guitars and vocals live. As we evolve we may play bass and piano live, too. I would imagine for certain shows we may possibly go with a stripped down version of a few songs depending on what type of venue and event we are playing, but at this point we want listeners to first hear the songs with the lush sound before taking any layers away as we want them to become familiar with our sound/style.
Continue reading Girl Detective Interview

AM & Shawn Lee Interview

AM & Shawn Lee collaborated on 2011’s Celestial Electric, released digitally and on vinyl on the most excellent ESL label. We’ve covered ESL artists before–most notably Chris Joss who is still cranking out amazing retro grooves like nobody else can. (Joss released a fantastic new album, “No Play, No Work” in October.)

The AM & Shawn Lee collaboration has a lot of  analog synth texture to it, which always sounds great on vinyl, but there’s also a heavy singer/songwriter vibe–Nilsson meets Gary Numan Uptown?

The Numan reference is probably too doomy for this album until you get to tracks like Dark Into Light, which is a bit heavy handed on the rhyming, but arguably one of the best cuts for lovers of heavy, low end synth.

Turntabling interviewed AM & Shawn Lee by e-mail just before they started their new tour (details at the end of the interview).

First-a bit of background. Tell us a bit about AM & Shawn Lee, how things got started and what’s going on now.

Shawn Lee: Well, according to legend, AM emailed me after hearing my music on the radio in LA. This is true! I emailed him back.  We stayed in touch with cyber exchanges. I played on one of his tracks. When he came to London we hung out at my studio and I went to his gig. We hit it off… I later came to LA to play some live shows. I invited AM to sit in with my band on a couple of tunes. He did! We hung out more. We listened to records. We bonded…I said “We should make a record together”! He said “yes”! We did!!

This may sound obvious given the state of the music biz at the moment, but how did you decided to start releasing things on vinyl as opposed to the easier, more cost effective route of digital-only sales?

Shawn Lee: Well we were releasing in the obvious digital formats anyway. We are both fans of vinyl and it was clear to us that this album would have to be on wax. It smells lovely!!!! Nothing sexier than 12 inches of round platter, baby!

Do you find that the vinyl format serves some of your music better? Thinking of the Gary Numan-esque synth tones on tracks like Dark Into Light where the analog format would definitely favor those textures…

Shawn Lee: You can’t beat the sound fidelity of new properly cut vinyl. It ain’t a record til it’s a record- you know what I mean?! Not to mention it’s a great visual package as well.

Technically speaking, what was your major challenge of putting out digital and vinyl formats?

AM: Well the most obvious thing to do is have it remastered for vinyl…which we did. This is very important. We also re-did the artwork layout wise. We did a gatefold vinyl so we had more space to work with. Andy Votel (Finders Keepers) was kind enough to do all the artwork which is amazing. George Horn mastered the album for vinyl.

What is it about turntable culture that keeps it alive after all these years, in your opinion–sound quality aside, what attracts you to vinyl as a format not only for releasing music but also collecting?

AM: I think the main reason is that it is so tangible. It’s big and requires you to really put attention into artwork and layout. The 60s and 70s were such a magical time for that because so much went into the photograhpy, artwork, layout and liner notes. There was a certain pride in it.

I think that is coming back because many of us look back on those types of records and want to give our record the same love and sense of pride and detail. Oh wait, you asked about sound! Ha ha. Well, vinyl just is. Nothing sounds like it. The highs have a certain crispiness about them and the lows are so warm and full. But I personally think the resurgence has more to do with aesthetics than sound.

Any plans to stick with vinyl for future releases? Or is this more an experiment for you? What’s your experience been with vinyl as a format for the new album, and how do you like how it’s doing so far?

Shawn Lee: Yes we plan on releasing future records on vinyl . The CD as a format is dying out but vinyl continues to live on. As far as physical formats go, Records are the real deal. Vinyl is final….

Give us some dirt on working closely with Thievery Corporation and how do you like the ESL family?

Shawn Lee: Thievery are like a rock and roll circus! Long hair, spliffs, Jack Daniels, yoga! It’s an interesting mix. I’ve known Rob Garza for many years now and he is one cool dude. Everybody in their band was super nice and it was a great experience all round.

AM: Touring with Thievery Corporation was pretty classically rock n’ roll and they were super cool. They watched our show every night. That says a lot. After our last show with them in Oakland they had an after party at a club down the street. We walked in and Rob Garza was upstairs in a private area surrounded by different folks.

He asked if I wanted a drink and I noticed he had  a Corona. I was like “sure, I’ll have a Corona.” He made a motion to someone and 10 min. later an entire tub of Corona showed up along with a couple bottles of tequila. I was like “oh yeah.”

AM & Shawn Lee are currently on the Dark Into Light Tour which ranges from New York, Chicago, Ohio and elsewhere in the US, all the way to Quebec. Get tour dates and info at

Paisley Babylon Interview on Transistor Radio

If you’re into Paisley Babylon, the band/turntablism project, don’t miss the Paisley Babylon interview segment featured on this week’s edition of Transistor Radio.

Transistor is an amazing Chicago-based shop selling vinyl, art, books and mixed-media art. I covered Transistor recently as part of the Vinyl Road Rage series and this is definitely one of the hippest new Chicago music haunts in the area.

One of the things that makes Transistor so awesome is their involvement beyond the four walls of the shop with things like their regular Transistor Radio show. As it happens, I’m performing at Transistor as Paisley Babylon this Friday (October 15th, 2010 at 8PM) and I was interviewed in anticipation of the show on Transistor Radio.

Host Rani Woolpert asked a lot of great questions about the origins of Paisley Babylon, how I got into turntablism, mashups and the like. Christian Marclay I am not, but he’s definitely the spiritual godfather of what I’m doing these days as Paisley Babylon with the five turntables, five echo boxes and crates of vinyl…

There are two other guests on the Transistor Radio show besides me–Chicago mixed media artist Damon Locks, whose work (what little I’ve seen) looks amazing, and ditto for sustainable architect and furniture designer Eve Fineman. They’re both well worth checking out. Transistor Radio is quickly becoming one of my favorite Sunday night listening pleasures–now I look forward to Sundays for it, along with my all-time favorite Sunday radio experience Word Jazz with Ken Nordine.

Friends of Paisley Babylon (I’ve always felt uncomfortable about saying “fans”) should definitely have a listen to the Transistor Radio interview with me about PB, but please stay tuned for Locks and Fineman after my segment. Good stuff all round.

–Joe Wallace