Two of the best albums of the last two years (Ghost’s Opus Eponymous and Gates of Slumber’s The Wretch) have one thing in common: the production work of Jaime Gomez Arellano. The Colombian-born and London-based musician and producer is an emerging figure in the underground metal scene and while he was hard at work in the new Angel Witch recording at his Orgone Studios we decided to interrupt him. Read on and spread the word...
DS - You are from Colombia. What were your musical roots there?
When I was a kid, my main influence was South American folk music, since my mother is a folk singer, but when I was a teenager is when I started to choose what I wanted to listen to (happens this way to most people I guess). I think my first contact with Rock music was when I was about 9 years old. My oldest sister’s boyfriend gave me Love Gun by Kiss, Somewhere in Time and Powerslave by Iron Maiden on vinyl, I went home and I played ‘Aces High’ and I totally loved it. I remember asking my parents to buy me Kill ‘Em All and Persistence of Time at the record shop not long after that. A few years later an older friend of mine introduced me to Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and other great 70s bands, so then I was stuck between metal and 70s rock/prog. Then I got into Death Metal, Black Metal and more 70s stuff. I wouldn't say South American music has really influenced me as a musician/producer with the exception of Argentinian Tango – I'm obsessed with Astor Piazzola and Carlos Gardel. I never really got into the more African or Cuban-influenced Latin-American music (i.e. Cumbia), although these days I really enjoy listening to 70s salsa stuff. Some of it's just mind-blowing. My mum's side of the family are all musicians; they all can play instruments and sing, although only 3 of them (out of 9!) took it professional. So yeah, I grew up surrounded by music.
DS - Were you ever part of the Colombian metal scene?
I was part of the Metal scene back home, I formed my first band when I was about 13; you know, a school-kid kind of band. Then in 1996/97 I joined my first proper band as a singer and played drums for a couple more bands, where I had the opportunity to be the support band for Colombian Death Metal legends Masacre. Then I moved to London when I was 17.
DS - You are a drummer. Do you think that being a musician yourself helps you to be a better producer?
I think it helps in many ways... from suggesting a drummer play a beat/fill differently so that it works better with a specific part, to rewriting a guitar riff so it works better with the next one. I also really enjoy writing parts for keyboards, percussion, guitars and general layers of whatever I can find, being it a zither or an out-of-tune piano scraped with a screwdriver; sometimes this can really transform a song into something else. I suck at playing most things that aren't percussion-based, but I get away with it by showing musicians (badly) what I'm trying to achieve. Or I just sing it to them. You don't necessarily need to be a musician yourself to do this, but it helps if you can play a bit.
DS - So how did you become a producer? Was it something that you had set out to do or you were involved in music and then it grew from there?
We had a really basic mixing desk, some microphones and some musical instruments at home. When I was about 13, I had this kind of joke band with my two best friends and we wrote a ‘song’ called ‘Necromaricon’ (meaning ‘Necro Faggot’). Ahhh... it was great to be a kid, wasn't it? Anyway, despite the guitarist not knowing how to play the guitar – he just played one really basic riff and a horrible guitar lead… I mean, it was meant to be funny anyway – one day I decided I wanted to record the song, so I put some microphones around the room and went for it. I recorded it straight into a cassette deck and we actually re-recorded it a few times as I wasn't happy with the result. I then recorded a couple of friends’ bands in the same kind of way in my bedroom and it was then that I started to get into it. Some time later I started doing bits of live sound and it was then that I started dreaming about the idea of being a producer, as well as playing in a successful band. I originally wanted to do a degree in drums at Berkley in Boston, but my parents refused to sponsor that, as they were concerned on how I was going to earn a living as a drummer. Then I decided to go for a sound engineering degree in London, which taught me a lot of the basics, but you only really learn to do this stuff when you're in the studio doing it. I pretty much learned by myself this way, just through trial and error. I was always fascinated by mastering and that's how Orgone Studios began. It used to be Orgone Mastering. I still do a fair bit of mastering, but these days I'm more into producing/engineering records from start to end.
DS - When did you become aware that there was a producer behind all the albums that you loved?
It was probably Andy Wallace. He just kept on popping up on records I've bought that I thought sounded amazing. I still think Jeff Buckley's Grace is still one of the best sounding records ever made. At the time I also really liked the sound on Metallica's ‘Black Album’ and ...and Justice for All. These days I think they sound really dated… no longer my thing. The record that really blew me away at the time was Heartwork by Carcass. I particularly loved the guitar tone on that record. Everything was really heavy and clear. Later on I really got into Steve Albini. I'm a huge fan of his work.
DS - I do not think that music fans have a clear idea of what a producer does. Or actually, I think there may be several interpretations regarding the role of the producer. Sometimes, it seems like the producer actually becomes a band member, other it simply helps the band achieve a specific sound. From your perspective, what is it that a producer does?
II definitely like to take the approach of becoming a ‘band member’. I think the role of a producer varies from project to project. There have been records where all I have had to do is get the sound I want out of the instruments, get good takes and then mix and master it. Some other times I get involved in the arrangements, song structures… Occasionally, I’ve actually ended up playing different instruments on records. It really varies from project to project. I don't really have a set of rules or set ideas when I begin working with a band… I just get going and see how things develop.
DS - How important is it that you and the band you are working on ‘click’?
I think ‘click’ is crucial. I can't imagine waking up every morning to work with people that I really dislike. If someone in the band happened to be an absolute idiot, I'd probably pull out and send them somewhere else. This is why I get in touch with, or meet, the band before I commit to a project. I like to run my sessions very stress free, with no time constrains or strict schedules, but I ensure I get what I need in the time we have. I find that when people stress up in the studio, things just take longer and the parts sound worse. Everyone has a bad time. No-one needs that. These days I'm lucky enough to work with experienced musicians that know what they're doing, and that makes things easier. I personally like getting really involved and almost become a band member, but at the same time I like being the one making the ‘executive’ decisions – I'm happy to take the responsibility. I generally get on very well with the bands I work with and I somehow manage to gain their trust, which makes the whole process a lot easier.
DS - Has this ever happened to you; you are producing a record and you think; ‘this song sucks’. Do you ever confront bands because you consider some of their material to be subpar? Do you make suggestions? I mean it’s gotta be hard to be totally sincere.
Off the top of my head, I don't remember having to record an entire song that I thought was terrible. Some songs are always better than others, or just different. If there's part I don't like, I'll say it and ask the player to try something else and see if we can make an improvement. Sometimes the player may be really strongly attached to a part I don't like, in which case I may compromise if I see the point. Again, I guess it’s about gaining the band’s trust and finding the right approach to solving the issue at hand. What’s been more problematic for me is musicians who can't play the parts they've written. A few times I have had session musicians brought into the studio to play their parts. If it isn't happening, it isn't happening and no-one is going to be happy with the end result. That includes me, the band, the label and the fans. It's not easy to sit in front of someone and tell them that they can't play their parts and that we need to move on with a session player, but it's all for the best and in the end people have thanked me for this.
DS - Technology has revolutionized the music industry in more ways than one. Nowadays, it is said that bands can get a good recording in their own bedrooms. How does this affect the role of the producer?
Really good results can be achieved in bedroom studios, I agree. But when it comes to making a great sounding record, I think you'll need more than a computer and an audio interface. Good equipment genuinely sounds good and it's usually not cheap. I mean, you can spend thousands of pounds on a single microphone pre-amplifier or an equalizer for example. Their price tag is high for a reason. The other disadvantage of doing stuff at home is not having access to a nice sounding, acoustically-treated space to record. This makes a big difference if you want to capture a natural-sounding recording. In my opinion, budget technology is responsible for the degradation in quality of many records we see in the market today. What I do like about this, is the fact that new bands can actually put a demo together and get themselves out there. Sure, many of the big studios have actually shut down because people cannot afford them. People may think that spending £2000 per day for a studio can't be justified when they can spend that money on some cheap audio gear and do a whole record at home. Another problem I think bands face, is that even if you to go the ‘best’ studio in the world and the engineer doesn't know what he/she is doing, it's probably going to sound bad anyway. There are lot of people out there that can do great stuff with very little. I'd dare to put myself as an example, since my setup is really humble compared to a lot of producers out there. I mean, equipment and rent prices in London are pretty scandalous. I'm not particularly worried about this. Some engineers/producers are good, others are not so good. There will always be demand for individuals who know how to do a good job.
DS - Analog or digital or analog and digital? Why? It is often said that analog gives a warmer more organic feel? Is that the case?
Both, although I'm much more inclined towards analogue equipment. I really like the flexibility of digital, but I love the ‘vibe’ of analog. It's kind of hard to describe, as I have heard great records that sound amazing done in both formats. I don't really think that analog sounds more ‘organic’, it just has a different vibe. In the past few years I have definitely noticed an improvement in digital processors, and I think that they are getting closer to their analog counterparts, but a lot of the time I feel they still lack ‘something’.
DS - What is the best attribute that a producer has? Why?
In order to make a good record, a producer sometimes needs to make some big decisions which sometimes clash with the artist’s view. Because of this, a producer has to play many roles, from the fun friend making the artist wear a stupid outfit, to the guy that makes someone in the band cry. I think one of the most important factors is to gain the artist's trust and be the captain of the ship, making sure everyone is happy and ensuring you're heading in the right direction.
DS - You have worked with a wide range of metal artists. Have you worked with any artists outside the hard music realm? If so, please elaborate.
Yes, definitely, I'd say it's almost a 50/50 split. I have worked with bands like Ulver, Guapo, Miasma and the Carousel of Headless Horses, Hexvessel, as well as quite a few other smaller experimental projects/ bands. I have also done some electronic music, which I find fun to work with. I really enjoy working on these records as they are very open to experimentation in terms of performance and production.
DS - Which non ‘hard music’ artist would you like to produce and why?
I'd love to produce an entire record for Secret Chiefs 3 or Mr. Bungle, merely because it sounds to me like there are no boundaries; anything goes, despite it being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.
DS - Within the metal real you have worked on quite the range of heavy bands. Is there a specific subgenre that you prefer?
Not really, I like anything that has a cool vibe going on and/or it's interesting. It's probably easier to tell you what I don't like: over-produced ‘computer music’ with no life left in it. I see myself as being very versatile, even in the metal realm. If you listen to The Wretch by The Gates of Slumber, it sounds nothing like say, The Waspkeeper by the U.K. band Talanas. I don't really work from presets, or have a specific routine at the studio; I just take things as they come and point the production/sound towards the vibe I'm getting from the band.
DS - Talking about specific album you have worked on, Ghost’s Opus Eponymous. Pretty big album. It is great. It is catchy and it features a stellar sound. How do you come to this album?
Thanks. Ghost were cool to work with. I landed on the project through Will at Rise Above Records. One day he called me and said he had a job and that he thought I'd be the right person to do it. He put me in touch with them and then they sent me the files for one of the songs from their demo for me to mix and see what I could do with it. I did my mix and sent it to them. They loved it and it all began there.Sometime later I met one of the ‘Ghouls With No Name’ here in London to discuss the production of the album, and it worked out that we both wanted the same things out of it in terms of sound, so we went ahead. The album was recorded in Sweden in a couple of small studios. I sent detailed information on what instruments and equipment to use and how to record it. I also asked them to record a clean signal of all the guitars and bass so that I could re-amp in my studio in case I didn't like something, which I did for some of the parts. It took a few goes at the mix before we could get something we were all 100% happy with, but we got there eventually. It was hard as we were working to a tight deadline. The vibe between me and The Ghoul with No Name was really cool. My phone bill at the end of the month wasn't pretty though.
DS - Still in the topic of Ghost, how much would I have to pay you for you to reveal who the people are behind the band?
I believe this has leaked somewhere on the internet, so maybe if you looked hard enough you could find out... However, if you have some money going spare, I can send you my bank details!
DS - From what I understand it was because of your work on Opus Eponymous that The Gates of Slumber chose you as a producer of The Wretch. Please talk a little bit about this recording?
Yes it had something to do with the Ghost record. Again, the guys at Rise Above had something to do with this too as both bands are on the same label. This record was a joy to produce. I had the guys living in my attic for 3 weeks under a tight leash as the boys do like to party and have many friends here in London. Due to this they started calling me "The General". I used to wake them up early blasting marching songs through my laptop. We had a lot of fun…miss those guys. Production wise, I just wanted to capture the live element of the band and make the whole thing sound pretty dense and heavy. There was very little editing in the process. We used a lot of vintage gear for the recording. I hired a very big old Gretsch drum kit for the session and we used some of my 70s amps and cabs for the bass and guitars. I had my old trusty JCM 800 with every single pot on full whack through a 70s VOX cab for the main guitar sound. I thought it was kind of mad at the time, but it worked out great. I'm really happy with that record.
DS - Ulver, for instance is a band that has a sound that is so far apart from what everyone else is doing. Please talk a little bit about your work with them. Recording, what was achieved, your relationship with the artists, etc..
The connection came from my business partner in the studio, who does live sound from them. I have also worked with Daniel O'Sullivan on several projects, not only as an engineer, but also as musician. I setup the new studio in autumn last year. Dan came to master the most recent Aethenor album and liked the new place. Since we have worked together before, it kind of made sense. During that session we recorded a lot of stuff... piano, vocals, strings, bass, drums, percussion, woodwind, keyboards... all sorts of stuff. A lot of the parts were being just thrown in on the spot, which was really cool as everyone was really open to trying things out. I really enjoy working this way, just coming up with ideas, jumping into the live room and executing them. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Then they took the files back to Tore's studio in Oslo where they did some more recording and arranging. Finally, it was mixed by
John Fryer. It was a great experience and I had a really good time working with them.
DS - Angel Witch. What was it like working with such legends? Any anecdotes?
Well, I first mixed a live album for them, and we didn't have much interaction during that process as I was left to do it on my own for the most part. However, we are currently working on their full-length album at the moment and it has been great. They are all amazing players in the current line-up and the songs are excellent. Very excited about this at the moment! As for anecdotes, well, drummer Andy wanted to hire a massive gong for one of the songs. Since it's not cheap to hire the thing for a day, bass player Will, who co-owns the label that's putting the record out, said that it was a bit much money for something we're only going to hit once. Then he had a think about it and said to Andy that if he stripped to his waist, got a fake tan and wore some Manowar-type outfit while he was recording the gong, we'd hire the thing. Andy said "no". Then I offered £50 on top if he did it that way, followed by Will offering another £50. I think we gathered about £150 altogether. He still said "no". Whether you'll hear a gong or not on the record is yet undecided…
DS - What would you recommend to someone who aspires to be a producer?
Practice, practice, practice! Don't be afraid to push that fader or pot to 11 if you need to, just be yourself and do what sounds right to you. Bring your own ideas to the table, use your intuition and, if you want to stand out, don't play it safe, take risks. That's how you create your own sound. Although soun engineering courses can be useful in learning the basics, I’d advise everyone who aspires to be a producer to just get your hands on the equipment and get some recordings done: this how you really learn. I was lucky enough to be thrown at the deep end when I first started working in a recording studio. I went for an interview, the owner liked me, showed me around and booked me to engineer a demo a few days later. It was stressful as hell, but I pulled through and the result was ok in the end. I made a few mistakes this way, but that's how I really got to learn how to do things. Be prepared to work for little or nothing at the beginning. No-one is going to know your work if you haven't got any releases. Go out to gigs and if you see a band you like, approach them and see if they'd be willing to work with you. If they do, put 100% into the job and get a good record/demo out there. Word of mouth is king.
DS - In a fantasy world, let’s say you can pick any album in history and you could produce it. Which album would it be and why?
I would have loved to be involved with Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother and/or Meddle (which came out one after the other). What they were doing at the time was incredible, not only musically, but also revolutionary in terms of technology and engineering.
DS - What’s the best album you can think of with the worst production you can think of? Please elaborate.
Transylvanian Hunger by Darkthrone. I think it perfectly suits the vibe and I wouldn't change one thing about it. If this album sounded any ‘better’ it really wouldn't be the same – wouldn't be as good.
DS - What album to this day has a production that still blows your mind?
That's a tough question. First thing to come to my head right now is Laughing Stock by Talk Talk. I love the atmosphere in this record, the sense of space, the amazing dynamics, the beautiful sounds... I think
DS - What’s next for Jaime Gomez Arellano?
Finishing up the new Blutvial album (where I'm also playing drums) and finishing up a very special live album which I'm not allowed to talk about yet. There are also some very interesting projects being negotiated at the moment, but until things are set in stone, I won't say who the bands are. Looking like a busy year ahead!
Visit the Site for Orgone Studios
Images by Ester Segarra
By Ignacio Brown