Friday, 25 November 2011

K&A with Alex Fenton (Swanfield Studios)

Something a bit different now... only a wee bit mind you!  He's the music producer of choice for a lot of my favourite up-and-coming Scottish bands, so it's about time I had a wee chat with the man himself, the man behind Swanfield Studios over in Leith...  Alex Fenton.   Not content with his recording studio which (cue plug) offers track mastering, production and training sessions for any music tech wannabes out there, Alex has recently..., well, I'll let him tell you...

Kowalskiy:  Who is Alex Fenton?
Alex:  Music producer, audiophile and sound engineer jedi.

Kowalskiy:  You've got your fingers in a lot of pies these days, what with Swanfield Studios and rumour has it you're starting a label AND you've just joined one of Scotland's most exciting new bands on bass. Fancy filling us in?
Alex:  Sure can David (K: that's me by the way!). We try to cater for as many areas as we can that can help the modern musician. Rather than just recording bands, we help with producer advice, offer video services, mastering and production as well as providing training and courses in mixing and recording techniques. We’ve recently set up Fentek Records and the label thing is definitely a work in progress. If we can help bands we like by releasing their stuff and helping out with replication etc., it becomes easier for them to get to the stage they want.

The exciting band you refer to must be The Stormy Seas. After recording the album for them over the last year or so I’ve just joined them playing bass. My first proper gig was the album launch which was a bit scary! Awesome gig though and absolutely packed as well.

Kowalskiy:  The exciting band I was referring to was indeed The Stormy Seas. The debut album Of Rust And Loss is brilliant. How'd you sum it up for folk out there who haven't heard it yet?
Alex:  A crashing wall of jangly raucous bitterness.

(K: As a fairly substantial aside, the debut album from The Stormy Seas is a fantastic record, the sort that conjures images of Skuobhie Dubh Orchestra, Meursault (minus the laptop - there'd be nowhere to plug it in you see!) and Thirty Pounds Of Bone all cooped up below deck on an old, ramshackle boat being battered by the wind and rain.  I do have an overactive imagination though!   Of Rust And Loss is out now and you can get your copy over here.  Here's one of my favourite tracks, The Tall Ships...)


Kowalskiy:  What's going on at Swanfield Studios at the moment? Any recent bands in that we should be keeping an ear out for?
Alex:  There’s quite a variety of music we get through the studio. Recent projects include production on some reggae rock and hip hop stuff, plus recording sessions for Thank You So Nice and Snide Rhythms. I’ve also recently finished a couple of songs for singer songwriter Ewan Butler and a live gig recording for Iron Sun. Obviously the Stormy Seas album has just been released but other recent projects include Kung Fu Academy (who also did one of our live video sessions) and a solo album from Hugo de Verteuil. Plus we’ve got some other albums in the pipeline which I’m really looking forward to but won’t mention just yet!

Kowalskiy:  So who else have you had in for one of your live sessions?
Alex:  There’s two sessions in the series so far. Blues rock outfit Underclass did our first one and Kung Fu Academy brought us some post funk in the second. I’d like to do more video sessions to be honest but there’s loads of other stuff keeping me busy so there’s no regularity to the sessions.

Kowalskiy:  If you had your pick of any unsigned band to bring in and work with on their debut album, who'd it be?
Alex:  That’s a really tricky question. There’s something a bit mystical about the recording process and it’s really hard to predict how sessions are going to go. I depends on so many factors like the mood everyone is in, how well the various personalities work together and how receptive the band is to producer input. There’s a few bands I’d really have liked to work with but rather than pine after them I try to relish the opportunities I do get. Albums are my favourite kind of work. I prefer to work on bigger projects where it’s more like a piece of art than just an audio recording.

Kowalskiy:  If I can't draw you on which unsigned band you'd like to record, how about which unsigned band(s) are catching your eye at the moment?  Let's assume no future recording obligation!
Alex:  I can give you a list if you want but I’m not going to single out anyone! Birdhead, Woodenbox, The Last Battle, Jonnie Common, Verse Metrics, Shooting Stansfield, Star Wheel Press, Cancel the Astronauts, esperi, Randan Discotheque.

Kowalskiy:  Very diplomatic Alex!  So, who's the biggest divas you've had in the studio??
Alex:  Fortunately, I don’t have to work with divas and I’d generally choose not to! I’ve had a few run ins with music industry folk, generally those who think they’re better than everyone else. This tends to be in a live situation rather than recording though. If any ego battle kicks off I tend to stay out the way. In my experience, I’ve found tour managers and guitar techs to be the most unreasonable!

Kowalskiy:  What else can we expect from you and Swanfield Studios in the future?
Alex:  We’ve got some big plans for new projects. The tuition and training side is a big focus so we’re enhancing the courses and workshops we provide down at the studio so anyone who records their own music can get some hands on tips and a leg-up in the quality of their production. Our next free workshop in Red Dog Music is on 1st December where we’ll be going through the ins and outs of mixing technique. Sign up page here - musicmixologist.eventbrite.com.  We’ll have another live video session in the new year with Scotsman Radar Prize winners Sebastian Dangerfield which I’m looking forward to. You can check the series so far at live.swanfieldstudios.co.uk.  There are some other quite exciting ideas in the pipeline but I’d rather keep them to myself at the moment ;-)

We'll just have to keep an eye out for these new exciting ideas then!  So, just a reminder for anyone interested in the ins and outs of mixing, all info on next Thursday's workshop can be found over here.

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