Killers, Prodigy and Bjork collaborator and the Focusrite ISA range

22 Oct 2012

You may not know Damian Taylor by name, but you've almost certainly heard music that simply wouldn't have been the same without his input. That may seem an odd statement, but it's made clearer when you hear how he describes his job. "I'm a studio nerd and a bit of a sonic midwife: someone who helps artists deliver their records. You could call me an engineer, producer, programmer, technical enabler, collaborator, or pretty much any other title you could think of!" 

Damian first worked with Bjork in 1999 on the early stages of her album "Vespertine", but it was late in 2005 they began to work more closely and intensively on "Volta". In 2007-2008, he was her musical director and an electronic musician on the 18-month world tour for the album, and he subsequently spent two and a half years helping her with her epic "Biophilia" project. Damian also worked with The Prodigy on both "Always Outnumbered Never Outgunned" and "Invaders Must Die", produced and mixed Stateless' critically acclaimed "Matilda",mixed the debut album "Feel It Break" from Toronto band Austra, and produced and mixed Diamond Rings quirky "Free Dimensional".Recently Damian has been immersed in production of The Killers' new album "Battle Born". As you'd expect, he's been involved in making some pretty envelope-pushing sounds. 

To shape these sounds into the masterpieces he creates, Damian uses loads of synths, software, and a really wide range of outboard equipment, from custom-modded compressors to DIY mic preamps and effects. (Plus a wealth of inspiration from musical sources as diverse as Detroit techno and Indian classical music.) But his staple preamps are from Focusrite's flagship ISA series: the ISA430MkII and the ISA828

When recording Damian usually rides preamp input gains manually to manage the vocalist's dynamic range and avoid compression. This way he gives himself more control over the sound as a project develops towards its final mix. 

"I've found with the Focusrite that there is a much broader sweet spot in the gain structure of the preamp and consequently far less need to ride gains as dramatically to maintain tone, especially in comparison with some of the vintage stuff I have used." This is a big plus for Damian:  I really value the way the pre can handle large dynamic changes; in Björk's case her dynamic range is absolutely immense and it deserves to be captured properly without having the life squeezed out of it. It's just the fact that you can capture what she describes as 'the small sounds and the big sounds' really easily in the heat of the moment. She'll very often use her first takes ever of a song in the final mix so I'd have to be ready to record them without having any idea of what she might sing or where the production of the song would wind up." 

Damian also finds that the Focusrite sound tends to be more versatile and usable as a song develops. "We were predominantly using two channels of old Neves a couple of 1176s, but I started noticing the more 'rock and roll' characteristics of that stuff showing up where it wasn't needed. It was almost so coloured that you'd be halfway through recording a take as a song was forming and realise the colour was not entirely appropriate. But what I found with the Focusrite stuff was that it always felt really solid and usable whatever direction a song took; never lifeless or sterile and it never painted you into a corner. I'm not sure if the Focusrite is imparting its own character or actually more clearly allowing the character of the source to come through in a really satisfying way. Either way it doesn't matter - the results are great." 

All these factors make the ISA range an engineer's best friend, as Damian explains, "In this day and age I'm finding that the artists I work with have much less time and patience to sit around while you experiment with chains and tone. It helps knowing you've got something that works incredibly well in all situations that's going to be able to handle what's being thrown at it in the heat of the moment. 

"The 828 is increasingly crucial for me as I can keep a ton of stuff plugged into it all accessible with a quick button press or knob tweak. When you're in a room without a console this is invaluable as you can jump from recording vocals to guitars to keyboards to effects in an instant." 

Damian summarises by saying, "You just need to know that your gear is solid, it's not going to mess anything up, it's going to give you great results and that you therefore can devote all of your energy to the artist and their ideas rather than the gear." 

Check out this video with Damian shot in and around his stunning studio, Golden Ratio, in Montreal, Canada.