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Backtalk: Q&A with Tom Dalgety

Killing Joke, Royal Blood and rock royalty

Tom Dalgety began his career in Bath recording studios NAM and Riverside, engineering for the likes of John Leckie, Steve Osborne and Mark ‘Spike’ Stent before his move to producer and setting up his own studio called The Lair. His credits include The Maccabees, Simple Minds and Siouxsie, and last year he received industry recognition for his work on Royal Blood’s eponymous debut album, leading to him bagging the the 2015 MPG Award for “Breakthrough Producer of the Year”.

Dalgety went on to work on a host of innovative projects last year including Killing Joke’s latest album Pylon, a fusion of post-apocalyptic dub, disco and cinematic heavy-metal guitar.

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m just about to start a record with another one of my all-time favourite bands, can’t wait for that. Also, I’ve just been producing and mixing a new band called Inheaven, an alternative indie band from London, who are awesome! Uplifting, epic and highly individual.

How did you approach recording the Royal Blood album, and what do you rate about it?
We made the album at three different studios: NAM, Rockfield and RAK. We were at NAM before the band were signed. It has a great sounding live room, very dark and thick sounding.. Then we moved over to the Coach House at Rockfield, which is actually where I first met the band a few years before. I love the Neve 8128 there. Then after that we did the last two tracks at RAK. The duo have a unique rock dynamic.

What is your current set up at The Lair?
It’s just a unit on an industrial estate in Bath. It used to be two rehearsal rooms, but I’ve turned one into my control room and the other into a live room. It’s certainly not posh, but I trust how it sounds in there, and that’s all that matters really! I’m actually just about to move into a bigger space. I mix mainly in-the-box, with a few bits of gear as hardware inserts, on a Pro Tools HDX system – there’s no console there. Monitoring wise, its mainly Unity Rocks and Neumann KH310s. I also have lots of weird little things – radios and iPod docks – that I like to check things on. I have a load of outboard pres. Chandlers, UA, some Calrecs and an amazing pair of Rosser mic amp/EQs from Rockfield. Dynamics wise, I have a Smart C2, which sees a lot of use, and a bunch of dbx 160s.

You have done two albums for Killing Joke. What is it that you admire about their music and approach?
They’re one of my all-time favourite bands, so working with them the first time round was quite daunting! I think they’re one of the only bands who can deliver white-hot aggression and emotive beauty in equal measures.

Given that Killing Joke are such a strong team of individuals with so much experience, opinions and insight my main role as producer was just a case of getting the best out of each element of the band. They have such a broad eclectic range of influences, punk, dub, disco, classical, industrial. I just made sure it hang together well.

What was the work flow for Pylon?
It was quite a crazy collaborative period, because everyone is dotted around the globe. Me and Geordie (guitarist) did a bunch of demos in England, Big Paul (drums) lives in New York, so he would record grooves and ideas and send them to the rest of the band. Then they all got together for a few writing sessions in Prague too. All the main recording and mixing was done in Pro Tools, 44.1 and 24-bits. We did some extra bits of recording at Youth’s place in Logic.

How were guitars and drums recorded?
When it comes to recording Geordie, a lot of the hard work is already: his guitar (Gibson ES295) is insane and his ‘top secret’ chorus/modulation unit is fantastic. The main sound of the record was his Framus live rig, recorded with Cascade Fathead ribbon mics. I always take a clean DI when tracking guitar, so later on down the line we re-amped some of the parts through a smaller Egnater rig. The stereo width is crucial to his sound, so when re-amping you have to be very careful with the phase.

We did all the drums in a great studio in the Midlands called Vada. The live room is an old chapel, an amazing sounding room. It has an SSL G series console too, which I love. The gated reverb on tracks like Euphoria is actually the room mics being compressed and gated to tape.

Jaz Coleman (vocals) has an incredibly dynamic range. How were vocals recorded?
I always use a Shure SM7 on Jaz. I tried a few different things at Youth’s place in Spain [El Mirador] when we were doing MMXII, the previous album, and the Shure seemed to be the most versatile, and also it was the only one that could handle the SPL that comes out of his mouth! I usually use the UA 1176A over his vocals, and also the sound toys Microshift plug-in sounds amazing on him!

How do Killing Joke know an album is finished?
When they stop calling me at 2am! But no, seriously, when it gives me goosebumps!