Federal Audio recently caught up with Australian producer George Carpenter to chat about his new production studio and Amphion monitors.
So you recently returned from seven years of living and working in Melbourne back to the Gold Coast where you grew up. How’s the transition been?
It’s been amazing so far - my girlfriend and I grew up here and after the year we had in 2020 in Melbourne it’s so nice to be back up with our families and QLD friends. Pandemic aside, Melbourne was an incredible home to us for many years and a place where I really stepped up my game as a professional.
The calibre of songwriters, bands and players down there is truly remarkable and the studios and the people who run them are all so passionate and encouraging. There’s a level of quality and vibe in places like The Aviary, Woodstock, Sound Park and Sing Sing that I wasn’t accustomed to till I made the move and started working down there.
Coming back now, I’m excited to bring a bit of that energy and experience home to the Gold Coast.
The Karl S. Williams record Lifeblood which you produced and mixed just got awarded the Gold Coast Music Awards’ top gong for Release of The Year and also earned an award at the QMA’s early this year - can you tell us about what it’s like working with Karl and the process of making the album?
Karl is a true artist in every sense of the word. The album took a long time for him to be ready to make but not because he’s a slow songwriter - he’s actually incredibly prolific - but I think because he really wanted to say something meaningful and powerful about the times we’re living in. It was clear when we were talking about which songs would make the record it was going to be a very emotive and important body of work.
Engineers Sam Swain and Rich Stolz came onboard to help me cut the bed tracks at the famous Sing Sing South for the piano tunes and Woodstock Studios in Balaclava for the guitar ones.
I was juggling double duties for the record - overseeing a lot of the engineering as well as producing and playing drums. It’s something that I love to do but it’s not without its challenges.
I have to really trust the songs, the players and ideally have a trusted engineer helping me. Fortunately, I think this was one of those special ones where everything and everyone came together right at the right moment.
Karl is at his absolute best live in the moment singing and playing so that’s what we opted for. We cut the tunes as a trio with Karl on the 9’ Yamaha grand at Sing Sing or strumming his trusty Epiphone Emperor through an old Tweed Deluxe at Woodstock along with the fabulous Crick Boue playing one of his old Fender Precisions with flats and me playing one of my Ludwig kits or in combination with a couple of vintage kits that were at the studios. All tracked live, no click (except for one song where we really needed it!), vocals and everything.
Even with the fairly good isolation in those studios it’s a rather bloody affair! – fitting its namesake I guess? Vocals in the drum rooms and piano in the overheads and of course I absolutely love that about it! I like to imagine Rudy Van Gelder would be into it ha ha.
I had Karl sing on either a vintage Neumann M49 or U48 in conjunction with an old Reslo. Compression was handled with either the old Fairchild 660 or the new UTA Unfairchild 670 - both incredible euphonic tone machines and it doesn’t get much better!
Both studios also have incredible vintage Neve 80 series consoles and so that’s the mic pre/EQ most commonly used across all the record (1066s and 1073s for those playing along at home). They were some of the most magical tracking sessions I’ve ever been a part of.
I’d say half of the beds are first or second takes. All sorts of weird and wonderful guitar parts were then added with Crick (who plays lead guitar with Karl live – Jared Franzen our bassist was overseas during 2019 when we tracked the album) so that was Crick’s moment to really shine on the record and elevate the emotion of the songs which I think he did brilliantly. I then did a bunch of Hammond, Karl did some electric organ and banjo and the three of us along with the epic talent of Shannon Busch and Tal Fitzpatrick sang backing vocals.
Finally we overdubbed a glorious live string quartet up in Brisbane’s Alchemix Studios conducted by the wonderful Mr Rafael Karlen. I even had the honour of writing one of the arrangements, for the tune God Is A Bomb, which was a bit of a dream come true for me (the track won the 2021 QMA for best Blues n Roots song).
Finally I mixed the whole record back in my private studio within the Aviary in Melbourne before sending it to Brian Lucey for mastering and that’s what you now hear on Spotify or your CD player or vinyl platter if you’re so inclined!
Looking back on Lifeblood now I’m reminded what a wonderful thing it is we get to do as record makers. It’s so nice when fans and industry people think it’s good too and you maybe pick up some awards but honestly I just love the level of presence and connection I have with my artists and their songs when we’re in the studio and Karl’s record was certainly one of those highwater marks that ticked all the boxes – it’s something I feel very fortunate to have been a part of.
You’ve recently built a new production and mixing suite at your home in the Gold Coast hinterland. Can you tell us a little about the setup and what you’re liking about the new space?
Yeah this is the new exciting thing that’s happening now for me. I knew coming back to the Coast after the experiences of working in the big commercial rooms down in Melbourne I would want my new space to serve several different needs for me and address the most important parts of my creative process.
A studio should be, and some will argue here, above even having the gear and all the tools for making records, just a big old vibe to hang out in.
Coming from the past five years in my window-less suite in the Aviary it’s a big deal for me now having windows and natural light and plants in the studio - Feng Shui is very important people! We're on 2.5 acres out here and while it's still a residential studio
It feels like you're pretty separated from the hustle of the GC Strip. There's usually between 2 and a dozen kangaroos just lounging around on the lawn out the front of the studio at any point - it always brightens my day saying hi to them.
Originally I was thinking it would be a place where I would start and finish a record – as in hang out and strum guitars and chat about the songs, do pre-pro, make guides etc and then in the later stages of the production, be able to come back and do overdubs and take time and care with things like the vocals and obviously the mix.
I still love taking bands out to any one of the amazing commercial studios between Byron Bay and Brisbane – places like Rocking Horse, The Music Farm and Love Street Studios where I have worked many times over the years.
Although now that I’m in here and working and while the boarder has been shut I’ve been figuring out I can actually do whole productions in this room and be really happy with the outcome. Albeit in a slightly different workflow to what I’m accustomed to in a commercial studio.
For starters it’s just one big room - roughly 6x5.5m with a 10-foot ceiling. Communication is simple therefore. Unimpeded by walls and glass. Cues and monitor control are all elegantly handled by an Apollo X8 and secondary external headphone amp.
I've got my dream hybrid mixing approach with the combination of Pro Tools and an Apollo X16 feeding the Burl B32 summing mixer and then into my Chandlers and captured back by the Burl B2 ADC. It's six transformers per side and pretty much as soon as you break out the channels it sounds absolutely massive!
Tracking isolation is a little trickier in here, but I have recently got hold of a UA Ox Box and have always had several tasty DI options -- along with the ubiquitous modern studio tool of a re-amp device I have been cutting live drums, bass and guitar with no fuss whatsoever and getting great results.
Acoustic keys and acoustic guitars are a little trickier but for many applications where my clients are concerned mic placement, gobos and my newly acquired Kawaii 308 electric grand piano is getting all the separation we ever seem to need. Plus the 308 is a sound many people my age and younger know (think Peter Gabriel, Bon Iver, Roxy Music etc) but have seldom had the opportunity to play in real life – they’re pretty rare and really it’s my favourite thing in the studio right now along with my monitors.
Speaking of which I’m so stoked to finally own my own set of Amphion One18s with their matching amp. From the time I first worked on a set of Amphions I knew they were for me.
You guys even hooked me up with an Adam Sub 10 MkII which extends the bottom all the way down and lets me turn up the Amphions when tracking with far less risk of blowing drivers up.
Tell us about your experience working on the One18s so far
What can I say about them that hasn’t already been said? There’s a reason so many people use them. They’re just instant and so incredibly clear and detailed and the amps are fast and uncoloured.
Thinking about it now, it makes sense it’s what I’m looking for in a speaker cos I’m very into saturation and compression – all my work kind of has that in common I think – I would admit some of my earlier recordings are loose with it to a fault. I just love the sound of cymbals getting sucked up in the release of the RS124 or the bite of a vocal getting spat out of an 1176.
Pushing my analog gear is a sound I can’t replicate in the box and it’s addictive and often times dangerous to audio so to do it confidently I need to be able to hear all that micro detail stuff.
The Amphions are high precision modern tools and I’m more of an old school, broad strokes kinda guy – they’re a good yin to my yang.
They’re incredibly revealing and I get that resolution without having to crank them. That’s the other astounding thing about them - they’re just not fatiguing like literally every other speaker I’ve had before.
I’m sure they’re saving my hearing to some extent cos I just don’t have to have them up loud to vibe with the mix. They’re honestly a joy to work on!
Tell us about some of the other gear you've got in there?
Well I'm trying to keep it fairly minimalistic in here.
Space is at a premium so with that in mind I did have a bunch of custom-made hard wood furniture built for space (thanks Luke Palmer!!!) which I just adore and keeps everything very neat.
I think having lots of real instruments and inspiring noise making / sound bending things within reach is the least most important bit of the studio but it’s also the thing we all obsess over and certainly worth mentioning for all the gear nerds out there – a lot of stuff I’ve had forever like my beloved Chandler Curve Bender and Zener Limiter, JLM Audio TG500 preamps, my Hammond XK5 and Leslie 147 and my 1967 Gibson J45 but then there are some awesome newer toys like the Case Bliss CXM 1978 reverb (on the patchbay and half normalled to Pro Tools!), AEA R88 MkII stereo ribbon mic and a Mellotron M4000d mini.
Any other cool projects you’re working on or have coming up?
Yeah since we’ve been opened up here in QLD I’ve been playing some concerts again with Karl and the band which has been incredibly fun and rewarding seeing those songs connecting with a live audience.
Earlier in the year I was down working on Paige Black’s debut LP at Le Cueva (Bernard Fanning and Nick DiDia’s private studio in the Byron Bay) with the help of my supremely talented friend Ian Peres (Xavier Rudd, Wolfmother) who has co-produced a lot of it – it’s shaping up to be another super special one.
Another great artist I’ve been writing with and producing in the new space is Eimhin Healy, his record is turning out to be very deep and sonically adventurous. In fact both Paige and Eimhin are finalists in the Listen Up national song contest right now for songs we’ve been working on!
I also just received the masters back for Drug Cult’s second full length which we tracked years ago now at the Music Farm – Covid and all manner of stop/starts have happened with that record so that’s a highly anticipated one for those guys who are some of my oldest dearest friends.
There’re also new releases coming up for artists like Ernest Hummingbird, Donny Love and Interstellar Tay that I’ve worked on that I’m very proud of.
Finally, I’ve somehow found myself doing a bunch of music editing and recording/mixing on a Netflix show that’s currently in production here in Australia with composers Simon Walbrook and Darren Middleton (of Powderfinger fame) – it’s a brand new world to me doing Film/TV music and has been a great challenge I’m excited to continue to explore.
George Carpenter is an award winning producer/songwriter, recording engineer and mixer currently based on the lands of the Yugambeh & Kombumerri peoples on the Gold Coast. An accomplished drummer and organist, he also performs live with Karl S. Williams, Little Georgia and Family Jordan. Working in the studio across a variety of genres, George has produced records for artist such as Karl S. Williams, Ash Grunwald, Paige Black, Drug Cult, Tully John & Liza Jane, Donny Love, Droid, Big Heart, Smoke Rings, Waxhead and Venus Court.