Talk about being in the right place at the right time.
No, we don’t mean the moment Mick Guzauski got invited to engineer and mix the new chart-topping album by Daft Punk, Random Access Memories. We mean the countless sessions that the Grammy-winning audio pro worked setting up mics and capturing sounds since beginning his career in 1970. His CV as an audio engineer is impressive enough — it includes Chuck Mangione, Prince, Barbra Streisand, The Motels, Johnny Mathis, Stanley Clarke, Deniece Williams, Patti Labelle, Commodores, Michael McDonald, The Pointer Sisters, Dionne Warwick, Kenny Rogers, and Gladys Knight & the Pips, among many more.
When Daft Punk started looking for an engineer/mixer to team up with on their fourth studio album – and first in eight years – the recommendation of mutual friend Chris Caswell, the album’s keyboardist and arranger, led them to Guzauski. The duo of Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo got excited when they hopped online and saw his huge, genre-spanning credit list of rock, funk, soul, R&B, pop, classical and more. What’s more, Guzauski’s credits in the dual role of engineer/mixer contains Michael Jackson, Prince, The Temptations, Earth Wind and Fire, Chuck Mangione, Natalie Cole, Kenny G, and Christina Aguilera.
But Daft Punk probably really had to come up for air when they added up mixing credits for the upstate NY-based Guzauski, which started in 1970 and then took off hugely in the late ‘90’s, with Guzauski serving as the go-to mix guy for Doc Sevrinsen, Michael Jackson, Julio Iglesias, Stevie Nicks, Sparks, Neil Diamond, Talking Heads, George Benson, Boz Scaggs, Kiss Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Vanessa Williams, Derek and the Dominoes (5.1 mix), Steve Perry, Luther Vandross, Michael Bolton, Jessica Simpson, Ricky Martin, Pavarotti, Eric Clapton, Jennifer Lopez, Backstreet Boys, Boyz II Men, Christina Aguilera, Toni Braxton, B.B. King, En Vogue, Brian McKnight, Gloria Estefan, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cream, *NSYNC, Cher, Bette Midler, Chick Corea, Alan Menken, Celine Dion, and Britney Spears.
The incredible depth of the gregarious engineer/mixer’s experience mattered a lot to Daft Punk, who were out to make a genre-hopping journey of their own with the enthusiastically-received Random Access Memories, projected by Billboard to hit #1 this week. Their Grammy-winning electronic music career began with the 1997 album Homework, and has since produced three more studio albums spawning smashes like “Harder Better Faster Stronger” and “Technologic,” in addition to their 2010 score for Tron: Legacy.
Based out of the Larry Swist-designed Barking Doctor Studio, where a Sony OXF-R3 Oxford console holds center court, Guzauski was actually only vaguely familiar with Daft Punk’s work when the band came calling in 2011. But he was thrilled with the opportunity to flex his full engineering chops again, tasked as he was with recording all the basic tracks and select overdubs, plus mixing – all at the legendary Conway Recording in Los Angeles. A 1972-born studio, Conway’s live room was the perfect tracking space for Daft Punk and their hand-picked live band, while the Neve 88R-equipped Studio C proved an ideal mix HQ for Guzauski.
The results that Daft Punk, their long list of all-star musical collaborators (Panda Bear, Julian Casablancas, Todd Edwards, DJ Falcon, Chilly Gonzales, Giorgio Moroder, Nile Rodgers, Paul Williams, and Pharrell Williams), Guzauski, and the elite engineering staff achieved with Random Access Memories speak for themselves.
A 13-track trip through music and time, the album is vibey, visual, far-reaching, and yet remarkably even-tempered throughout. The magical intro and groovy restraint of the opener “Give Life Back to Music” smoothly sets up the masterfully sublime “The Game of Love.” “Giorgio by Moroder” is an entrancing documentary in a song, while the funky restraint of “Lose Yourself to Dance” directly precedes the oceanic hugeness of “Touch,” Daft Punk’s collaboration with Paul Williams. The Pharrell Williams colab “Get Lucky” is already a huge #1 single, and a massive triumph for Nile Rodgers, whose smooth-voice-leading guitar line is an outstandingly satisfying disco dish.
“Beyond” is just cinematic in scope at the beginning, before it gives way to a 1 AM buzzed chillout, with a terrific live drum backdrop that’s just delicious for organic rhythm lovers. The song “Motherboard” is a classical surreal hybrid and a true refresher for the ears, despite having so much going on. “Doin’ It Right” digs deeper into other-wordly funk, and “Contact” is a grand, all enveloping closer, complete with interstellar static and a true drums-and-synth-machine jam.
With mixes currently on his plate for Michael Bolton and Paul Anka, Guzauski was able to take a few minutes away from the Oxford and discuss his extremely unique experience: engineering and mixing Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories.
How did you originally get involved with the making of “Random Access Memories”?
A good friend of mine, the keyboard player/arranger Chris Caswell, got involved with them working on the Tron soundtrack, and he was working with them again on Random Access Memories playing piano, Rhodes, arranging and being a music director.
They asked him for an engineer that was familiar with all types of music – basically an old fart like me that had worked with bands and studio players, as well as modern stuff. They Googled me and said, “Yeah let’s get this guy!” So that’s what happened.
What was your reaction when you got the call from Daft Punk?
I had heard what their other albums were like, and I thought, “This is really cool, but why are they calling me?” I didn’t have a lot of experience in electronica. Then we talked, and they said they wanted a retro album going back to ‘70’s disco, with all live players. The idea was electronica based on live performances. I thought, “This is going to be great,” and I got excited.
What impressions of Daft Punk did you form while you were preparing to do the engineering for the album – how did that inform your plan?
I really didn’t try to preconceive any ideas about it, because I knew this one was going to be different from anything they had done before.
How long did the recording take, and where was it done?
We had a meeting first, and they had what they wanted to do sketched out. The songs weren’t fully realized, but they had a lot of ideas down in Pro Tools, ideas for the band to play with.
Then we went into Conway Recording’s Studio C, and we were there for two weeks tracking drums, bass, percussion and keyboards. We had two rhythm sections: one with John “JR” Robinson on drums and Nathan East on bass for a lot of songs, and then Omar Hakim on drums and James Genus from the Saturday Night Live band. The percussion player, Quinn, was incredible, and Chris Caswell was on keyboards (see the complete list of players here). Then we went to Capitol Studios and recorded the orchestra for two days.
How was Conway Recording selected — what was right about tracking Random Access Memories there?
That’s where I did most of my work mixing and tracking in the ‘80’s and early ‘90’s when I lived in LA. Daft Punk had some specific things they wanted to do, include using a Neve console, which I love. They have a newer one, an 88R in Studio C, and we also went for C because it was a bigger room, with more space to spread out. The guys fell in love with Studio C, which is where we did all the basic tracks, and mixed too.