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Q & A: 2017 Tui-Winning Engineer Clint Murphy

Q & A: 2017 Tui-Winning Engineer Clint Murphy

At this year’s Artisan Awards held in late October, the Tui for Best Engineer went to UK-based Kiwi Clint Murphy for his work with Devilskin. The band’s ‘Be Like The River’ album was recorded at Modern World Studio, Murphy’s home base since 2009. This was his second Tui, following a shared one with Dave Rhodes in 2003 for Blindspott‘s self-titled debut. Working on the Manic Street Preachers’ ‘Lifeblood’, Thunder’s ’Rip It Up’ and Melanie C’s ‘Beautiful Intentions’, Murphy has achieved three UK Top 10 singles and three UK top 20 records.

Have you got a creative philosophy you follow as a recording engineer?

I like my recordings to sound like they are mixed from the initial tracking, even when recording the guide tracks. I want the artist to hear that first playback and think, “Wow, this sounds amazing and we haven’t even started recording properly yet.” I feel it cements the trust between artist and producer.

I also like to record a really good guide vocal, with a great mic and compression. I keep this guide vocal in the mix at all times when tracking, so when layering up other instruments I’m always checking to see how the new overdub fits sonically with that all important vocal.

Who haven’t you worked with yet that would be your dream-come-true client?

I can never answer this question with a straight answer… I think the ultimate satisfaction is producing that unknown artist who becomes a worldwide phenomenon. Aside from that, I’d love to work on a Rick Rubin production.

What do you listen to when you’re not at work?

I listen to a lot of local unsigned artists. I get myself to local gigs and festivals, and if I really like someone I follow them, and see if they want to come into the studio with me. I’m really into Yokana, The Nova Twins and Keir at the moment.

Can you remember the advance conversation with Devilskin about the sound they were aiming for with ‘Be Like The River’?

We talked about this less than on ‘We Rise’. We spoke about stepping it up on the production and songwriting front, but that was about it.

I always ask artists what they are listening to, and the usual names came up such as Cooheed, Sabbath and Deftones. However, Nic [Martin] was a wealth of information of new and exciting bands, and we would constantly exchange records we were into.

The band had only written a handful of songs, so I spent two weeks with them song writing. I was keen for Jennie [Skulander] to explore different vocal ranges, and vocal phrasing, so during this time I encouraged the band to write stuff in different tunings and key signatures.

I recorded these sessions and messed around with the structures, added beats, keyboards, and worked a lot with Jennie on vocal melodies. During these session we wrote Believe In Me, Bury Me, Grave, House 13, Limbs and Pray.

What gear did you use to achieve the sound of the album, can you remember?

We recorded the whole album at Modern World Studios, on their SSL Duality. A bunch of the demos (mentioned above) were recorded using my UAD Apollo Twin, and some of that stuff was used in the final mixes.

A combination of drums were used, including Tama, DW and Ludwig – we switched drums out depending on the song. I’m a big fan of Zildjian K Custom Dark cymbals, the bigger the better.

Our bass rig broke the day before the session, so in the end we used various DIs, pedals and the UAD Ampeg SVT plugin. We used three amps for guitars; a Marshall, a Peavey 5150 and Orange Thunderverb 200. Nail [Tony Vincent] is such a Marshall freak, I don’t think I could come to grips with how good an Orange or 5150 could sound.

For vocals I use my Sony C 800 G-pac, through a Neve mic pre, then an 1176 into a Chandler TG1 limiter.

Is there any memory that’s stuck with you from the ‘Be Like The River’ sessions?

Recording Jennie’s vocals is always a highlight. I like pushing her vocal range to the limits… I write a lot of her backing vocals, and I’m quite cruel with some of the notes I make her hit. When she hits the highest notes she’s ever sung, that is a cool moment.

Looking from the outside in, which NZ artists should we look out for next? 

I mixed a track for Armed In Advance recently. Greg Haver produced it, a track called Pain. I think these guys are great.

Have you got a tip for young engineers on how to develop their own sound?

I believe it just comes naturally. It’s something that you can’t force, and generally comes by making loads of records – including lots of mistakes along the way.