Producer Profile: Alex Newport (At The Drive-In, Death Cab For Cutie, City and Colour)

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A similar approach was taken with the rest of the band. Newport tells of guitar players facing cranked amps to milk out every last bit of sustain and feedback from their speakers, and an animated singer blazing through final takes back-to-back.

Throughout the history of rock records it’s rare to find tight performances delivered with the degree of live intensity and unself-conscious abandon heard on these records. We were curious to find out how Newport helped facilitate those kinds of moments.

“The vocals were recorded through a handheld SM58. I wanted to remove everything that suggested a studio.  The only reason we didn’t record [vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala] live with the band was because we didn’t have another room to put him in.

“We did the songs in chunks of four or five because that’s how many would fit on a reel of tape. When it came time to do vocals I’d roll tape and have Cedric sing through the whole reel without stopping. So, a lot like a live show, he’d sing through four songs live in one go. We’d have him do that maybe twice, to give us the option to comp, and there was probably a punch or two, but if I remember, a lot of what we used was first take, live.”


From Screamo Slamming to Mixing for Grammys

“Energy doesn’t necessarily come from loud guitars or screaming,” says Newport, whose more recent work features albums both from jittery bands like the synth-heavy Polysics and Does It Offend You, Yeah as well as more elegant, open and sophisticated releases from Death Cab For Cutie and City and Colour.

Newport can trace his work with Death Cab For Cutie (pictured) all the way back to Knapsack.

“It’s not really intentional on my part,” says Newport. “I’ve always listened to a huge variety of music. With Fudge Tunnel we took as much from REM and XTC as we did from Godflesh and Black Flag. My taste changes a little bit as I get older, and music styles change all the time. I find myself sometimes deliberately moving away from the more aggressive stuff, and sometimes not. Different projects always come along I’ve enjoyed the variety.”

But what kind of chain of events leads a producer from post-hardcore screamers to indie rock crooners?

“I had mixed an album for a band called So Many Dynamos that was produced by Chris Walla, the guitarist and mixer for Death Cab. For whatever reason Chris didn’t mix that particular album, but he heard my mixes on it and said he loved them. So when [Death Cab] were working on [their own album] Narrow Stairs, they had mixed pretty much the whole thing but were having trouble with one track, and called me.

“My relationship with Chris came together because of So Many Dynamos. I’m sure So Many Dynamos called me because of At The Drive in, and I know those guys reached out to me because of Knapsack. So there’s always this interesting lineage that takes you to new territories.”


Dynamic Duplicates at Future Shock

“I really like parallel compression on a lot of things. I’ll do a lot of mults [a patchbay point that allows an analog signal to be duplicated across multiple channels –Ed.]

I might mult out the kick drums 2 or 3 times. Same goes with the vocal, snare and bass. On that Death Cab mix [for the song “Long Division”] I had 2 or 3 kicks, and I’d slip between those channels on different parts of the song. I’m trying to create a dynamic change in tone throughout the song.

Newport explains that his parallel approach is less about finding a blend between two sounds, and more about creating a distinct tone for each section:

Newport at Aobadai Studio in Tokyo while working with Polysics

“The obvious example is the vocal where someone’s singing in the verse – you set your EQ, compression and effects, and everything sounds great. Then, the chorus hits and they start belting on the chorus and all of a sudden you’ve got a nasty 2k[Hz] buildup. You could find an EQ setting somewhere in between that’s a kind of compromise, but that’s not really acceptable. So, the better choice is to mult it to two channels and develop a sound for each section.

“At some point I figured, there’s no reason you couldn’t do that with a kick drum or an effects return. Those moves help create these subtle dynamics that really make the song come alive.”

Most of Newport’s mixes are completed in Future Shock, his own personal room on the East Williamsburg/Bushwick border. Although he’s been based in the States for years, transplanting from California to New York in recent years, many of Newport’s sessions keep him traveling.

“Many of my clients are out of the country,” he says. “I have ton in Canada and several in Japan and a lot of British bands I work with.  If I’m producing it often makes sense to go wherever the band is, but typically, if I’m asked to mix, I’ll do it at my studio. Having my own space is helpful because I’m able to manipulate budgets and make them work, and since I know where everything is it tends to go more quickly.”

Future Shock is built around an Amek Einstien console that at first glance appears to be an “in-line” console with individual on monitor and send on each channel. Closer examination reveals that this is actually a unique design that crams 80 individual automated channels into a modest 7’ frame. Channels 1-40 line the bottom of his board, with faders for channels 41-80 stacked directly above them.

Although he’s never used all 80 on a mix, Newport says this incredible flexibility allows him to warp individual sounds in parallel without thinking about the board’s limits. He mixes these individual tracks down to 1/2″ tape through a single SSL G384 stereo bus compressor.

Aside from his penchant for avoiding the excesses of digital recording, Newport doesn’t have too many necessities when it comes to gear. “I don’t really need physical or tangible touchstones,” he says. “Just musicians with real honesty and passion.”

“My main goal is to make the bands sound like bands. I don’t really use plug-ins or Auto-Tune and I’m a little wary of doing too much writing in the studio. Better, I think, to do some pre-production with the band in advance so the session becomes more about capturing than constructing. With all of our advances in technology, a lot of peoples’ favorite records still seem to be the ones created with the methods from the 60s and 70s because they sound honest and dynamic.

“I really prefer working on tape, and when I do use the computer, I still mix on the analog desk with automation and analog hardware. Automation in the computer feels fiddly and unmusical to me when compared with working on real faders.”


In homage under stained glass

Singer/Songwriter Dallas Green was reluctant to perform under his own name, and so took the moniker City and Colour. We’ll let you make the connection.

“I first heard Dallas a few years ago and was just really blown away. He exhibits some of the same things I heard in Death Cab and At The Drive In. He’s just a real, individual musician. His voice, especially, is just unique and fantastic. He hadn’t done a lot of work with a producer yet, so I was really excited to see what I could bring out of him.”

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