Interview The Producers: Charlie Andrew

DIY speaks to the producer behind Alt-J’s recent debut, ‘An Awesome Wave’, and plenty of other huge achievements.

‘This moment, right now, is my favourite’, claims Charlie Andrew as DIY asks him to pinpoint the finest moment in his career to date. And it makes sense. All good things come in threes, or so the saying goes. On this occasion, two quite remarkable happenings are occuring as we talk to the producer: The first being the release of the debut full-length of his own band, The Laurel Collective - it’s been a long time coming. The second is the release of Alt-J’s debut, ‘An Awesome Wave’. Now, you might consider Alt-J to be a success story that’s sprung up on us, but as we discovered in a First On interview two months back, they’ve had to perform under various different names for years now, only recently settling on the keyboard shortcut before seeing their first record do so well. So again, a long time coming. These two events have collided for Charlie, so it’s no wonder he’s experiencing the highpoint in his career right now. DIY spoke to the producer about his various other projects and his knack for multi-tasking. It becomes clear that he’s a producer who works closely with his artists, seeing them grow from the front-row seat that is the production desk.

Thanks for speaking to us, Charlie. It might be a particularly busy/hectic/hugely exciting time for you. You’ve got Alt-J’s debut ‘An Awesome Wave’, produced by yourself, out now, and then there’s also your debut album with The Laurel Collective. How are you coping with all of this happening at once?
Yeah it definitely is all happening at once! It’s really exciting, although it’s not really sunk in yet. I’m busy with various studio projects at the moment, which is diverting my attention from things going on around me. I am extremely proud of both albums and it’s brilliant that everyone now has the opportunity to hear what I’ve been up to. I had a moment the other day, at Alt-J’s Corsica Studios gig, when the realisation of what had been achieved hit me. I saw them play an outstanding gig and it was clear that they were settling into being a full time band very well. To see the numbers of people there and the crowd reaction was really something special…it’s exciting to have played a role in that and I’m so excited for them and for the journey they have ahead of them. The Laurel Collective album is obviously very special to me as well as it’s been developing over quite some time now with the rest of the Laurels which are like my family. Creating music with them keeps me learning and opens my mind to new ideas and I can’t wait for everyone to hear what we have achieved together. I think at our album launch (11th June at Camden Barfly) the realisation that the album is out, and done, will sink in quite a bit more. Yeah, it’s all quite overwhelming really but very very exciting…just taking one day at a time at the moment.

You drum in a band, you produce records and you also commit yourself to organising the In The Woods festival. You enjoy multitasking and giving yourself new challenges - is that a fair statement?
Yes. Sometimes I freak out about how much I have on but it all really excites me and ultimately I can’t imagine not doing one of those things. Because of the freelance nature of what I do some periods in time are busier than others and if I have a week off, or something, new tasks/challenges get born and then they all come to fruition at the same time!! I’ve only just realised that this is what happens so next time I have some time off I’m just going to sit and do nothing!

Have you found your comfort zone in any of these challenges? Is there anything you prefer doing in particular, be it with the festival or working on band’s records?
I have always wanted to make records from an early age. I’d sit with Bob (Laurel vocs) in my shed at home with my old computer, cutting up loops, for hours when we were teenagers. This slowly grew into the Laurel Collective. It has always excited me to listen back to something I created and to hear how my ability as an engineer/producer has developed is really interesting also. I hope to keep developing and pushing myself, and the music I create, forward. However I love being outdoors as well and messing around with tractors etc. I was brought up in the countryside so my heart is very much based there. The festival involves plenty of this sort of thing so I really enjoy that side of it. With the festival we (the other Laurels and my two best men at my wedding, Will and Tim) have learned so much by just gradually feeling our way through the years and I imagine this will remain the same for years to come as it develops and moves in different exciting directions. Overall I consider music production my profession but festival organising is certainly an exciting part of what I do. I do feel a lot more confident in all aspects of both but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to say I’m in my comfort zone (or be happy saying it).

You’ve also recorded with a few new bands - Eagulls, Micachu & The Shapes, Famy feat. WU LYF - are you always on the look out for new acts and how does it compare to working with a band like say, Madness?
I am definitely always on the look out for new acts. That’s part of what I find so exciting in what I do. I love helping a band develop and shape their sound. When a band or artist is still very undeveloped and raw, that’s when I really enjoy getting involved. I see it as more of a challenge and that gets me inspired. Madness are obviously a very well developed and established band. However working with them was a different kind of challenge. They are all great guys but I kept my head down to start with and got to know them before I started chucking ideas around. This is the same with every project. It is important to understand the dynamic in the group and how they write together as you are the vessel which the music they write will pass through to make it to the recording. I was originally put in the room with Madness to do some programming but then I ended up bringing my whole rig to their rehearsal room and recording all their new songs over quite a few weeks. The original idea was just for demo ideas but they have taken on a life of their own and as the record develops quite a few of these have remained. With a band like Madness it’s important to remember their past as well as try to bring them into a new market. This is a balance that doesn’t necessarily need to be considered with a new act.

You’ve moved your studio from Shoreditch to Brixton. What was the reasoning behind this? Was there anything about the East London scene that you didn’t enjoy?
Not really. I have to spend a lot of time in East London for gigs etc. However I live in Wandsworth with my wife, Kirsty, so it is the total opposite end of town. For some reason for all my time in London I have lived south of the river and I really like it, probably because I’ve got to know it really well. The studio in Shoreditch was quite a trek to get to everyday and it was basically a big warehouse. It had plenty of character and it gave me the opportunity to record music in London cheaply. This was a great help as I tried to get my name out there a bit more and I loved its soul. We (Laurel Collective) also rehearsed there. However it had its downsides in that it was extremely hot in Summer, freezing in Winter…there were only 3 weeks a year that it was comfortable in! Also, you could hear the road outside etc. so all in all the studio in Brixton is just a much better fit for me at this stage in my career. Now I can walk to work through two parks (I get my fix of greenery).

With Alt-J, you’ve been working with them since their very beginnings, when they were under the name Films. What’s the experience been like, seeing them grow into what they are now?
The experience has been unbelievable and I have loved seeing them grow into the band they are now. I very first heard a recording they had made on their laptop, in a bedroom, over three years ago and it was really raw and loosely played. But there was something there that I thought was really special. Joe’s voice is certainly very distinctive/beautiful and the beats that Thom was coming up with were really inspiring. It had a hip-hop tinge with mysterious instrumentals but quite an accessible melody on top. Brilliant. I invited them to my Shoreditch warehouse and they played a little gig for me first from which I decided to work on ‘Matilda’. That was the first thing we did and we were all really happy with the result. The guys were studying at Leeds and it was about 6 months before we had the opportunity to work together again. ‘Breezeblocks’ was the next track and again it excited us all. It all felt very easy I think. I remember going up to Leeds to sit with them during a rehearsal and soon after we recorded ‘Tessellate’ at my new studio. This was one of the first things I did there and again it was really exciting to sit back and listen to the result. At this point they had more time to invest in the band as they had finished their studies and in the year that followed things started to really pickup pace for the guys and they quickly got a great manager and then a record deal. This meant we could continue recording the rest of the album earlier this year, which was brilliant fun. We’ve also looked at aspects of their live show and I ended up doing sound for a few gigs and tour managing them at the MIDI festival as well, which I really enjoyed. This was before they got a full time crew. It has been so satisfying to see these things happen for them as I have always loved the music and am so glad that now so many other people are loving it too. As I said previously, I felt quite emotional to see it all come together so well at Corsica. To have seen them develop as players and writers over the last three years, and to have been so close to them along the way makes it very special for me. I am very proud of them and their achievements. They deserve it.

In terms of production, ‘An Awesome Wave’ sounds extremely sharp, almost unique, sonically. Do those guys like to experiment and is this a trait that they share with you as a producer?
We all have a very similar mind set in the studio. I think this is why it has felt very easy to make. All our influences seem to coincide. If a song was less developed I’d set up the studio as if it was a rehearsal and we’d just play with new arrangements and ideas until something was shaping up. Again everyone seemed on the same wavelength for this. However sometimes the arrangements of their parts were already spot on and there wouldn’t be need for experimenting as it was already right. Experimenting and just trying things is something I like doing and I know the guys like doing it too. Sometimes stumbling across a new sound that just fits is really exciting and there a quite a few instances of this on the album. So yes we all like to experiment and see what we discover.

Eugune McGuinness is another interesting touchstone; his sound and image has pretty much transformed completely under your watch. What’s he like to work with?
Eugene is great to work with. He seemed keen to try something new and push things in a new direction. He had certainly done lots of background listening and had plenty of ideas. This was a co-production with Clive Langer, who is a brilliant and lovely person. He has become a great friend and when the three of us were in the studio it was great fun seeing the tracks come together. The songs were mainly written by Eugene on his guitar so there was plenty of trying parts out and seeing what stuck for the album. This was an album that came together over time as Eugene was away touring with Miles Kane for quite a bit of it. Now he’s doing his own shows, he certainly has clear ideas of how the live show should be and is very much in control there. I’ve not had anything to do with that side.
We’ve just done some more recordings very recently - more of a live approach and it seemed to work really well. I’d like to do more of this with Eugene down the line.

Is there any particular release or individual moment of your career so far that you can cite as your favourite?
This moment, right now, is my favourite. Both releases are extremely important to me and mean so much in different ways. I’m excited to see how they fare down the line!

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