Music Etc: A Pearl of a Production

Kristeen Young’s latest album, The Knife Shift, is a bold and sonically diverse record that evokes a strong rock sensibility set against a thoroughly modern soundscape.
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Kristeen Young’s latest album, The Knife Shift, is a bold and sonically diverse record that evokes a strong rock sensibility set against a thoroughly modern soundscape. Working with industry veteran Tony Visconti (David Bowie, The Next Day) as co-producer, Young enlisted Dave Grohl to contribute drums and guitar to the record. This helped establish the overall tone and direction for the record, which is hard hitting and emotionally driving. Young, currently on tour with Morrissey and already looking towards her next project, is squarely focused on the future—but Pro Sound News asked her to take a moment in the middle of her tour to reflect on the recording of The Knife Shift, which releases this month.

Kristeen Young recorded her latest album, The Knife Shift, with producer Tony Visconti and rock impersario Dave Grohl. On vetting new material:

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I’ve been touring with Morrissey for about a year and a half and the material on my new album consisted of songs that I had written in between all the tours and playing live. In fact, I think I played almost all the songs live before we went into the studio. I’ve been playing solo on the tour, so for the most part, the songs are very different on the record. I like to play things live and work out material in advance, kind of like a comic performer does. My voice seems to settle into the song better if I play it live first. If I record it too early, a lot of times my voice isn’t right. I like to live with it for a little while before I record it.

On working with Tony Visconti and Dave Grohl:

We’ve worked on a few records together and have a very stable working relationship. Tony is a great anchor, and that’s kind of what I feel like his presence is like on all my recording sessions. Also, I always have lots of ideas and he always recommends running with them. He doesn’t say, ‘No, that’s impossible.’ I really like that open kind of energy in people. Dave Grohl, for example, has that same kind of energy in abundance and was ready to try anything. I am also a co-producer on this record along with Tony, since I did lot more work this time around.

One of the first things that we did on this record was go to the studio in LA where Dave Grohl and I played the initial tracks. He played drums, and I played keyboards and sang. In fact, you can hear my voice in some of the drum tracks. This was very inspiring and fun, and for me, it was my favorite part of all the sessions. This experience sort of catapulted all the other parts of the record forward and set the tone for everything.

On emotions and sounds:

I can get really emotional in the studio and Tony and I have screamed at each other. For the most part, I find the recording process very liberating however, and I love that part. The mixing process can be very tense for me though. I try to not let it become that way, but it is all about trying to communicate sound to other people and that can be difficult. Sometimes Tony and I can come from completely different places—he can be very meticulous and ‘pretty’ with sounds, and I am completely the opposite. I always want things to sound much uglier. In the end, we usually meet in the middle somewhere.

On recording vocals:

I try not to do a lot of comping on the vocals and I do like to lay down a single, entire performance. That’s also why I like to sing the songs live for a while so I can find the voice I want before I get in the studio. On my next record, I want to do even more of that. We test different mics in the beginning but keep things moving. I don’t really like anything to be a long process and I want to keep the flow moving as fast as possible. My core belief is that the magic is in the moment and it is important to get things done quickly. I try not to belabor anything.

It’s very hard for me to record voice with anyone else besides Tony because he is very meticulous with his feedback. Other people I record with will be like “That’s great!”— even when I know when something is not great. I feel like Tony gets the best performances out of vocalists because he is so meticulous with that feedback.

On reflection and self-criticism:

I don’t listen to any of my music after I finish it, at least not for a very long time. Honestly, I usually feel bad about everything immediately after I’ve recorded it; I always want to change everything. When I do listen to it though, it gives me more perspective on what I want to do on the next record and helps make the direction a more clear moving forward. For example, on my next record, I already know that I want it to be more ‘live sounding’ and that I want to record it very quickly. I am not going to want such a multi-layered ProTools-type of record.

On combining perspectives:

Tony and I come from very different places, sonically speaking, so we will try different versions of things. I will pull a little in my direction and he will pull in his. For example, “Jealous of Loved Children” was one of the songs that we had about three different arrangements on until we found the right one. I am on the fence with a lot of different styles, so I need to get all the percentages just right.

Jacques Sonyieux is a devout explorer of recording studios and the artists that occasionally inhabit them. Please send any tips or feedback to Jacques at: jacquessonyieux@gmail.com.