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From tea boy to mix extraordinaire: Cenzo Townshend talks career highlights

With a CV boasting a liberal sprinkling of stardust, Cenzo Townshend has put his magic touch to a plethora of records from some of the world’s top recording artists throughout his career. Among those to have passed through the doors of his Decoy Studios out in the sticks of Woodbridge, Suffolk, include Ed Sheeran, Tom Jones, Christine and the Queens, Kaiser Chiefs, Everything Everything, Jamie T, Blur guitarist Graham Coxon and a great many more. 

During that time, Townshend has seen a fair few changes to the industry, having worked his way up the industry ladder from tea boy all the way to mixer extraordinaire. Daniel Gumble finds out how he made that journey and where he sees the industry headed…

What made you want to work in the industry?

A long as I can remember I’ve wanted to be involved in making records. I spent most of my school life listening to great albums by Bowie, The Stranglers, Fleetwood Mac, and Pink Floyd. I remember thinking that working in a studio would be like making history.

How did you get involved with pro audio and the broadcast sector?

I started working life as a DJ, ending up in Miami in the mid ’80s – a tough life! A year or so later, I realised that I’d better get back to London and get a ‘proper job’. My first interview was at Trident Studios, in St Anne’s Court, Soho. I turned up in a suit, felt like an idiot and got the job. I became a tea boy.

Tell us about your most recent project?

One of my most recent projects is Everything Everything’s forthcoming album, produced by James Ford; such a great band and it’s a blinding album. Other than that, I’ve recently been mixing albums and singles for Haim, LP, Magic Gang, Rat Boy and The Sherlocks. I’m currently working on the forthcoming Light House Family album and Ten Tonnes EP.

You have worked with some huge artists and albums throughout your career. Which for you were stand out as being the most special, and why?

I’m very proud of the Maccabees’ albums I was involved with, one of the very best British bands. Another highlight has to be working on Graham Coxon’s album Love Travels At Illegal Speeds produced by Stephen Street. All the instruments were played by Graham, what a genius!

I’m really proud of Regret and Distant Past by Everything Everything. Also Jamie T’s albums: Panic Prevention and Kings & Queens. And of Florence and The Machine’s debut album ‘Lungs’. That really is a timeless album.

What is the most challenging project you have worked on, and why?

My most challenging sessions have all been with U2, who are rarely constrained by rules. On a mixing session of All That You Can’t Leave Behind, Brian Eno, who was producing, called me from U2’s studio in Dublin to tell me that he would be concerned for my sanity should we facilitate the band’s request for more tracks. He’d say “48 is more than enough!” I remember finding myself in a control room with U2, Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, mid-mix, re-recording drums while Bono is standing next to me between the monitors, performing into a Shure 58 at the top of his voice. That I found challenging.

Tell us about the biggest changes you have seen in the industry during your career, and how they have impacted upon your job.

Obviously the biggest change to the way we record and mix has been the progression from tape to DAW – countless tracks and endless possibilities. The upside is the enormous scope for creativity; the quality and affordability of portable interfaces is a real game changer.

For mixing, I still use an SSL console, but these days it’s hardly stretched at all. All the automation happens in Tools; just summing, drive and compression comes from the console.

What are your three most essential pieces of kit, and why?

An essential bit of kit would be my Audient ASP8024, there’s something great about recording a band with this console, almost gluing a thread between tracks. I’d have to say that NS10’s driven by a Bryston, and my old 1176 are also indispensable. Oh, and my Amphions … my SSL and Waves and UAD plugins.

What advice would you offer to younger self at the start of his career?

Get into property. Apart from that, be the most hard-working person in the room and always be super organised. Keeping good relationships with clients and colleagues is far more important than I realised when I started.

What are your predictions for the next few years in the world of studio mixing? Do you see any major technological shifts/revolutions on the horizon?

As for what’s next, who knows. We’ll always need great sounding rooms to record in, acoustically sorted mixing rooms to listen in, inspiring monitors to judge our work and natural sounding microphones. What can I say? All that and more can be found at Decoy Studios!