New Zealand producers and engineers can more than hold their own on the international stage, says award-winning studio wizard Greg Haver. And he would like to see more of them spreading their wings to gain that vital overseas experience.
The Welsh-born, New Zealand-based producer – best known for his work with Manic Street Preachers and NZ acts such as The Feelers and Opshop, will this month host the third edition of the New Zealand (NZMPS), which is part of the newly inaugurated series of events leading up to the Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards.
The programme runs from October 30 to November 10 and will see local producers and engineers working with three leading international experts at Auckland’s Roundhead Studios. This year’s overseas guests are British producer Gil Norton, whose credits include Pixies, Foo Fighters and Counting Crows, US veteran Sylvia Massy (Tool, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, System Of A Down) and expat Kiwi engineer Clint Murphy (Devilskin, Thunder, Youth Club).
Haver believes the participants will learn a lot from this year’s guest line-up, but stresses there is no shortage of top quality producers and engineers in New Zealand.
“There are some brilliant producers working in NZ at the moment and there has always been a really high standard of engineering here,” he says. “There’s also a lot of really good self-producing artists and songwriter-producers, and I am trying to encourage more and more of female producers and engineers, too, because it is an area of the industry which is a bit male-dominated.”
Only 50 percent of it is technical, the other side of it is about getting the best out of everybody
Nevertheless, Haver would like to see more NZ studio people gaining international experience. “I think it’s good for producers and engineers to go overseas to work,” he says. “The biggest sea change for any NZ artist or producer or engineer going overseas – particularly the UK – is that the competition is so much higher. You are working in a bigger market and it can be quite cutthroat, so you really have to learn to pitch for jobs. But purely on a musical and artistic level, so many producers and engineers working in NZ could easily handle the work at that level because they are already really good.”
Haver is full of praise, too, for the studios in NZ, although he admits that it would be good if there weremore. “The small boutique studios like The Lab are great, but competition is always beneficial,” he says. “If I am doing an album in Europe, I will have the choice of 20 to 30 studios; here I may have the choice of two or three. So it would be nice to have more choice – but the choice we have now is really good.”
Haver first came to NZ as a guest for Resonate music seminar series and it was there he first met one of this year’s NZMPS guests Clint Murphy. The pair have gone on to work regularly together over the past 15 years, along with a number of engineers who learnt their trade at York Street Studios.
“I loved it here and kept coming back to make records,” he continues. “I met my wife here when I was producing an OpShop album and then moved here permanently. I have just been accepted for citizenship, so I am going to be a fully fledged passport holding Kiwi in the next few months!”
Haver’s most recent projects include Snow Bound, the latest album from The Chills, and he will soon start work on the third studio LP from Devilskin. While he continues to work overseas, he is also keen to put something back into the business, hence the creation of NZMPS.
“Coming to New Zealand, I wanted to spend a bit of time away from the recording studio – after 30 years in darkened rooms, it’s nice to get some sun! I wanted to do some programmes like this because I know a lot of producers and it’s quite easy to pick up a phone and speak to them. I thought it was important if I was going to be a resident here that I do something like this.”
For each of the MZMPS workshops, the guests will work with a New Zealand band to record one of their songs: the first three days will be devoted to the recording of the track, with the final session devoted to mixing. Norton and Murphy will be hosting the first four-day production workshop from October 31 to November 3, with Massy taking the reins for second, which will run November 7-10.
“One of the New Zealand producers previously described it as ‘production as a spectator sport’,” laughs Haver. “But it’s really a practical, hands on programme. Basically you talk them through every aspect of the process and have discussions about all aspects of recording. It’s basically a slowed down version of the normal recording process.”
Haver admits he is self-taught producer. He learnt the recording tools of trade when playing in bands and then “fell into engineering because I needed a job”. These days he leaves the engineering side of studio work to engineers but says the technical side is only one aspect of a producer’s job.
“A big part of production of is artist motivation,” he says. “Only 50 percent of it is technical, the other side of it is about interacting with people and getting the best out of everybody. A big part of doing the Producer Series is to get a lot of producers and engineers in the room together so they can exchange ideas themselves.”
As noted earlier, once the NZMPS series is finished, Haver will get to work on the new Devilskin album and a reunion with The Feelers is also on the horizon. However, he is also wants to put aside some time for a very personal project: the ‘debut’ album of his first ever band Retreat From Moscow.
“This was a band I was in when I was 17 years old, so this was the late 70s,” he recalls. “When I decided to move to New Zealand, I said let’s get together for a curry. We had a couple of wines and I said when I am back again we should do some recording – 35 years after our first ones. After that the emails started arriving asking ‘when are we going to do this recording?’
“So we have been re-recording some of the songs that we wrote as teenagers plus some new songs. We’ve got another two or three songs to record, then next year we will release the album, which will be 40 years since our single!
“It’s full prog rock – lots of 12 string guitars and mellotrons and really ridiculously over-long songs, with lots of different time signatures in it. It’s a lot of fun and it’s nice to sit around with old friends and reminisce. One of the beauties of music is that it marks a moment of time, even more so when you are playing and recording.”