Any time we chat with an artist that’s worked with Shane Edwards, it’s virtually guaranteed they’ll gush about his beatmaking black arts like a tween girl gushes over her favourite boyband – entirely unprompted, too.
Edwards started producing out of necessity, unable to afford any external help to lay down his own band’s material. But the Sydney-native stalwart soon discovered a love for the art that spread far beyond his own musicality. Today, he’s one of the most sought-after names in heavy music, thanks in no short part his unapologetically unique approach to the recording process – which has led to such instant classics as Hellions’ Opera Oblivia, Trophy Eyes’ Chemical Miracle, Saviour’s Let Me Leave… The list goes on.
Hell, he’s even linked up with musical titans like Hans Zimmer, and put his own twist on a rendition of the Thai national anthem.
With stacks of new projects in the pipeline (including the tensely awaited fourth Trophy Eyes record), Edwards has many a late night behind the console to look forward to. He’s currently making the magic happen in Bangkok’s Studio28, where he recently set up shop after a storied six-year tenure holding down the fort at Karma Sound.
In a bid to uncover some of the secrets behind his in-studio sorcery, Australian Guitar caught up with Edwards on a short break from recording with the Thai royal family – y’know, just a casual day on the grind…
Do you find that having a background as a musician helps you get the most out of the artists you work with?
Oh, 100 percent. I started out as a guitar player – I obviously still am, of course – and the feeling you get when you play a guitar is completely unique. So getting to translate that onto the record, really understanding what the person is playing and all the details they’re trying to nail… It really helps to know your way around the instrument. I play as many instruments as I can to get a feel for them, so that I can record them as best as I can.
Are you the type of producer to become the unofficial extra member in a session?
Yeah, absolutely! Whenever I do a production job, I become like a silent bonus member. Because I’ve got to care about the project as much as they care about it – sometimes I care a little bit more than the band! I always base myself off the mantra that I like to amplify the band, not change the band. I like to bring them out of their shells, not to get them to shift or change or anything like that.
One thing I’ve gathered from interviewing some of the artists you’ve worked with is that you’re really good at pushing an idea to the extreme, and really trying everything that’s possible to get the best version of it on tape. How do you typically approach a concept that requires a lot of experimentation?
I like to break rules. For the Agnes Manners record [Fantasia Famish], we wanted something unique with the guitar sound, so we went to this old store and bought a cassette player with a jack input, plugged the guitar into that, bounced it off the tape and ran it into a cab – and it was the coolest sound I’d ever heard. I just like to try crazy things and break all the rules of recording.
So you start every session in the software as a blank canvas – you don’t have any go-to presets or chains that you key in when you’re recording. Why do you find it so important to start from scratch every time?
For me, every song is like a fingerprint – no two are the same. And although it does take a little longer, starting from scratch every time always yields the best results. Sometimes if, for instance, there was bass tone or something that sounded cool in an earlier project, I might open up an old session and see what I did, bring that in and tweak it. But that very rarely happens; I usually just attack everything as a brand new thing.
Especially when you’re working with a band like Hellions, or on the past two Trophy Eyes records for example, you’ve got these tracks where there’s so much going on – strings and horns and synths and all this other stuff – and then a full band of heavy punk musicians playing on top of all that. How do you go about creating such dense and dynamic soundscapes without the mix sounding muddy or overblown?
It’s very tricky. I used to mix in the box, and I found it pretty difficult then. But I mix on a console now, and that does half of the work for me with the separations and stuff like that. Other people can do it really well in the box, and I wish I could do it like them, but yeah, I’m a bit of an analogue-hybrid guy. I’ve got two Solid State Logic X-Desks and an API, all my tools… Yeah, it’s very difficult [laughs]. But usually in the analogue world, I can get that separation as close to perfect as possible.
Do you find that recording analogue helps in capturing the raw energy of a band?
Yeah. For me, the analogue gear gives me not just the right separation between layers, but the right saturation as well. I’ve spent a long time collecting specific pieces of gear to get it all done – I love the API sound, for example, that’s become a big part of my work. I got this console at the start of 2016, so Opera Oblivia [by Hellions] and Chemical Miracle [by Trophy Eyes] were the first two records I got to do with it. I just felt at one with it. So I’ve built my rig around that – I’ve added some clean SSL summing and a whole bunch of line amps, compressors… Y’know, slowly just growing and growing the arsenal.
Do you have any other secret weapons?
I cannot live without the Eventide H3000. It’s on every record I ever do, it’s the vocals on everything. People say, “Why don’t you just use plug-ins? Reverbs sound like reverbs!” And it’s like, “Yeah, but the Eventide speaks to me!” It’s so bright and transparent and shiny, and it just brings vocals to life. So I use that with everybody, and I typically use about eight to ten, sometimes twelve different patches out of it, and I print it in one at a time. And then I’ll mix it once it’s printed back into the system.
It really is a labour of love!
Yeah, man! Every one of my recordings, if you open up the mix sessions, you’ll see that the vocals are always all done with hardware – I don’t use any plug-ins after it’s been printed through the hardware. And all the effects are printed on hardware as well.
What’s the most intense record you’ve done?
Rue [by Hellions] was pretty big. The biggest session I ever did was mixing the Thai national anthem – that was something like 430 tracks of layered orchestral instruments. It was a big, big, big session. But other sessions are big in the sense that there’s more to do.
I would say that Opera Oblivia is my favourite record of all time, because we did that in 21 days from conception to mastering. We were hyper-focused, but with an open mind. Again we had a totally blank canvas, and we just ran for the hills – and it just came out like that! It was one mix with no tweaks or adjustments.
It was really funny because I had Trophy Eyes booked in the day after we finished Opera Oblivia, but they arrived a week early, so we were all hanging out together while Hellions finished up their sessions. We finished the final listening session at three in the morning one night, and then we started Trophy Eyes’ record at ten in the morning, seven hours later – so I had to delete everything about the Hellions session from my mind.