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"Today I do quite a lot of stuff in a similar way, especially in my work with Massive Attack. But I'll do anything, from very electronic music, like I did with Depeche Mode and Erasure, to acoustic albums, like recently with Beth Orton. I just don't do club mixes anymore. There are plenty of people out there who go to the clubs every night, and know much better than me what goes on. But I do get given quite a lot of singles to mix where others have had two or three goes at mixing and they just couldn't get it right. I will listen to it and say: 'I'll redo the bass, change the keyboards and add a few beats.' And people seem to like that."
But, asserts Stent, that's not the same as producing a record: "I don't look at it like that. When the material comes to me, the hard work has been done, which is getting the performances. After that I just do my thing. It's easy. I just get given the tapes and I'll get on with it. And I don't have to deal with all the political and personal problems that come with making a record. Of course, I'll talk to the artist, and the producer and the A&R people beforehand. If there's a demo, I'll always listen to it, to get an idea of the original intention. And then I'll bring a fresh vision to the material, and a clear approach. That is why they come to me. Some people have spent months on an album, and they often lose the initial vibe and any capacity to be objective. So most people say to me: 'do what you want to do'. And nine times out of 10 that works. In some cases that involves quite a bit of restructuring of the songs, bringing out the hooks, or adding extra beats or synthesizer sounds. In other cases it's just a matter of getting the balance right. When they asked me to mix the Spice Girls' 'Wannabe', others had already mixed it about five times. The problem was that the vocal balance hadn't been quite sussed. It's a very quirky pop record, and there's not a lot going on with it, and my work was all about getting the vocals to sound right. It was quite tough to do, even though it only took six hours."
So Stent's approach to mixing is not a form of production! Well, he could have fooled me, and also the people who pay him royalties. However, what is clear is that the scope of freedom that he has will vary according to the projects he does. Mixing as part of an ongoing creative process, as practised by KLF and Massive Attack, is obviously where he has most input. At the other end of the scale are traditional pop records, like those of the Spice Girls, where he has to come up with a radio-friendly format, leaving less room for experimentation. And somewhere between these extremes are cases like the latest Björk album, Homogenic, where Stent's work is the final stage in the making of the album, but where he has ample scope for improvisation. He explains how he draws all these different strands together: "I may mix three different types of music in a week. I get off on that. I don't like to be pigeonholed. I think that if I did one genre of music only, I'd be bored shitless. I love pop records, and I love mad experimental records. It's with the latter stuff, like with Massive and Björk, where I can get out all my gadgets and effects boxes and go crazy. Tracks can become like an engineer's playground. Like the track 'Pluto' on Homogenic, I just distorted the f**k out of everything."
Stent responds: "I will only take on projects that I like. I am very honest about that. You have to be, because I can't do things that I don't enjoy. It would sound like it. Of course when I do a whole album there will sometimes be certain tracks that I'm not so fond of. If the vibe of the rest is good, I just get on with it. But I love that track 'Pluto'. That track was mixed in two hours. I got it sounding really good and powerful, and I was playing around with this compressor trying to see what it would sound like with the vocals distorted. Björk walked in, and I asked her whether she was ready for this, because I wasn't sure she would like it. But when I put it on, she just danced around the control room. She loved it.
"By contrast, when I was working with Massive Attack we had everything running live. They came in with stuff on Pro Tools and sequences in Cubase Audio, and there was an Akai MPC3000 as well. I worked on Mezzanine over six months, with long breaks in between. What happened was that we mixed one track, and they would take that home and that would then suddenly become the intro for another track, and over a period of time the whole album would come together like that. We may have mixed 20 tracks, and some would become parts of other tracks. We were changing arrangements all the time, so they were songwriting at the same time as mixing. Obviously you don't want to put anything down to tape during a process like that, there would be no point. It works best for Massive when everything is relative, and we can change anything at any time. With analogue technology that would be impossible, so hard disk technology suits them really well.
"U2 also change things constantly, and yet they like to work on analogue tape, which means the edits are harder to do. I recorded their album Pop for them, which was an unusual project for me, because I was in Ireland for the best part of a year. I'd come home every weekend to be with my family and to do occasional mixes at Olympic 3. 'Wannabe' was mixed during one of these weekend breaks, and I also did some work recording Madonna's vocals for Evita during that time. I agreed to do Pop because I'm a friend and admirer of producer Flood, and because I had worked with U2 before, together with Nellee Hooper, on Goldeneye and the 'Kiss Me Kill Me' track for one of the Batman movies. They're brilliant people who treat me well." 2b1af7f3a8