In music, the hope of finding the diamond in the rough holds a power all its own. As satisfying as it is to cultivate great talent, discovering it takes that charge to a whole new level.
For the legendary producer/engineer Eddy Offord, the recent revelation that he had stumbled on a hidden rock & roll gem of a band called THE MIDNIGHT MOAN has been all the more electrifying – because he was most decidedly not on the hunt when it happened.
Yet somehow, after Offord was laying low for decades, something about this group’s music lured him back into the game at Pyramid Recording Studios here in NYC, where he’s been back in action, tracking and mixing for the last few weeks.
Offord was on hand for the recording of some of the 20th Century’s most influential albums, with an artistic inventory that includes producing and/or engineering for John Lennon, Yes, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Levon Helm, Procul Harum, and Yoko Ono. And yes, he was there in the studio when such culturally gigantic songs such as “Imagine,” “Long Distance Runaround,” “Lucky Man”, and many more were recorded.
But even after being instrumental to so many important albums, Offord more or less retired early — his last original studio album project was 311’s Grassroots, recorded in 1994. From there, he’s led an enviable existence of cruising the world with his wife in their sailboat, with occasional breaks to see family and friends.
In May, Offord parked his watercraft in Panama, then hopped a flight up to New York City to visit his kids. When his stepson Sam took Offord to check out his friend’s band, THE MIDNIGHT MOAN, the iconic audio man was stopped in his tracks: In a flash their classic rock energy, Alice Cooper-attitude, Strokes-style instincts, Jack White swamp confidence, and Rolling Stones-level blues commitment converged to draw Eddy Offord straight out of retirement.
THE MIDNIGHT MOAN is led on vocals, guitar, and harmonica by its principal songwriter Andrew Paine Bradbury (a.k.a. APB), who with just of a few years experience on his instrument is emerging as a precocious talent. And his band believes: it’s staffed by accomplished players like drummer Ricky Gordon (Wynton Marsalis, Public Enemy), bassist Joe Sweeney, and guitarists Brian Baker, Steve Cuiffo, and Doug Anson.
After observing a night’s worth of mixing for the no-apologies rocker “Room 1009”, SonicScoop got the chance to interview Eddy Offord and APB – a re-energized producer and the man who unintentionally drew him back into the studio.
Andrew, you told me that Eddy shows “a deep sensitivity to the artist and their art” – what do you mean by that?
APB: I feel like he’s got an incredible ear, not just for the sounds that are happening, but also for the ideas that are being expressed. He listens to the words and sees how the words relate to the music.
A lot of people that I’ve encountered — in my short time with music people — they don’t seem to really listen to the words and ideas so much. But Eddy gives all that the proper weight, to understand what the song is going to sound like.
Eddy, what are you hearing in Andrew’s songs that held such strong appeal to you?
Eddy:He’s in touch with a higher spirit — his lyrics come down to him. He’s in the groove. He’s beautiful.
What Andrew’s talking about is that when an artist is making an album, they’re all nervous. They’re all tense. They all feel like they’re under the microscope. So part of my job is to look at everything from their point of view, make them feel good about what their doing, and hopefully good music will be made.
And when it comes to Andrew’s music, if we’re recording a piano or a horn or anything else, the most important thing is the song and the lyrics – everything’s got to be augmenting that, and not detract from it. So if you’re doing a piano overdub, for instance, you work it so it fits with the vocal, it fits with the guitar, and nothing steps on anything.
You’re coming off a week of tracking and heading right into the mix phase. How would you characterize your workflow for mixing?
Eddy: We’ve done this album fairly quickly, so I have to remind myself what guitars we put down and when! (laughs) From there, it’s just a matter of sorting out the bass, drums, guitars, and making sure that they don’t conflict.
But the nice thing is that since we’ve got the first song (“Mulberry”) mixed now, we’ve got the drums and bass sounds together. Now that’s running through the second track (“Room 1009”) which we just mixed, and next we’re going to our third. There’s songs on the album that are straight-up rock & roll with driving drums, and then others that are totally different. So we’re knocking out the rock songs at the moment.
Andrew, what did you expect from the mix phase?
APB: It just feels like I’m working with people who are working on such a higher level than I’ve ever witnessed before. The first song, “Mulberry”, was the hardest one that we had to tackle – it was the most complex with so many different things going on — and within two hours of them finding bass sounds they’ve got this track in a nice realm.
Getting the horns right was a huge thing for me because I love hearing horns on a rock & roll song, but it’s difficult to pull off. But Eddy knew where to put them in a way that they had the force that they needed, and they’re not overshadowing everything else. You want them to come in not so much like a punch in the face – more like a forceful kiss.
Eddy: When I make a record, my philosophy is: “It’s Andrew’s name on the record, and these guys are the ones performing.” The producer and the engineer are kind of secondary, you know? So I’m encouraging Andrew to be involved in the mixing, and feel like he’s making his own record — with a little help from me.
APB: Even if I can’t express it in literal terms, it’s easy for me to give the idea that I’m looking for.
So how do you translate the artist’s desire for a particular vibe into the actual sound that’s achieved?
Eddy: Let me say this: I’ve worked with artists that write good songs, but when Andrew’s writing a song, he hears the whole thing in his head. Obviously, the rest of the band contributed a lot to it, but the man has vision. He knows. That’s the sign of a good artist — someone who knows what they want to hear.
When I was watching you work on “Room 1009”, I didn’t hear much mention of effects – almost all of the attention was being paid to the levels…
Eddy: Before you arrived, we had put quite a lot of compression on quite a few things: the vocal, the background vocal, the guitar, the kick drum. It just makes it easier to mix that way.