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In The Studio With Philippe Zdar
Check out the video above to see another classic Future Music In The studio video. Take a look at when FM visited the Paris studio of Philippe Zdar and got a glimpse into the production and mixing of Phoenix's album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Below you can read the original FM interview from 2009.
As an artist he's known for being one half of the legendary French House group Cassius. But it's easy to forget that prior to their seminal album 1999, the Parisian producer also worked with Etienne de Crécy in the project Motorbass as well as producing Hip Hop as La Funk Mob with Cassius cohort, Boom Bass. With production credits for huge names like MC Solaar already in the bag over 10 years ago and with over twenty years of success behind him. Zdar's production, mixing and engineering credits include acts such as Cut Copy, Chromeo, Sebastien Tellier and Tiga, we thought it was high time the FM crew piled into his recently ﬁnished Paris studio for a chat.
Located in Montmartre, Zdar's studio is a jaw dropping facility with analogue outboard racked and stacked from ﬂoor to ceiling. High-end dynamics, EQs and AMS reverbs almost cover the wall opposite the desk, while behind the SSL console sits a synth that even the FM team very rarely ever get to see, a Yamaha CS80. Moving into the live room, you are met with more classic items like the PPG Wave, Yamaha CS60 and a portion of Zdar's huge vinyl collection. Vintage instruments amps, and gear are dotted everywhere, but there's absolutely no clutter, with the whole studio glistening with laconic French chic. With studio introductions complete, we grab a seat by the grand piano and set up to talk to Zdar about his most recent production masterpiece, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.
Tell us how you ended up working on the Phoenix album.
"I worked on the ﬁrst album, United with Phoenix. I did the mixing with the band and had such a good time doing it. It changed my life in fact, because then I started getting all these phone calls with people wanting the same sound. Then I bumped into the boys again and we spoke about working together again. So, they came to me and asked if they could go inside my studio, which was still going through renovations, but I said OK and they were there writing songs for about eight months.
"At the time I had all of my vinyl here for DJing and I would be coming over every weekend to grab some records before I was playing a gig. But I cannot keep my mouth closed so I would be commenting on the tracks that they were making and such. They said that every time I came, it was really helpful so they asked me to come more and more. Eventually I was being the producer, although the boys are very good producers by themselves. When Phoenix were here, nothing was patched in the studio really and we had to make a big push to get the studios electronics and everything ready so we could mix the album."
So you didn't do any of the Cassius albums here?
"Actually,we mixed the ﬁrst Cassius album in this room, but it wasn't my studio then. Later the owner contacted me and told me he was thinking about selling the property. I loved the place and couldn't believe that he wanted to sell it because it was designed by Tom Hindley,who designed the room at Eastlake studios and he shipped all the wood and stone over from America.I really felt that this was a really special place and I loved the fact that it was just one room.I hate studios with ten rooms where you keep running into people all the time."
"I think we obtained the sound of now, by mixing the '80s sound of the desk with the Massenburg '90s sound and the Neve '60s sound."
When did you buy it?
"I got together every kind of money that I had and I bought it in 2000. But, because I bought it I was completely broke for ﬁve years so I couldn't ﬁx it up or refurbish it or set up all the gear that I wanted to put in it. We bought it with the SSL and actually bought another SSL and between the two we made one good mixing desk. It's good because we have the other SSL desk upstairs in the back room for spares and repairs."
What was your approach in producing the new Phoenix album?
"If you are a Pop band with guitars, drums, bass and singing, it can be very difﬁcult to make a record sound different because this arrangement has been like this since the sixties or something. So when I was working with Phoenix I took the ﬁrst three albums and listened really hard to try and ﬁnd what were the positives and negatives with the previous albums.
"What I loved about the ﬁrst album was the diversity of styles and sounds. So, I told the boys to please stop only writing music with the guitar and try and use synths, piano, samplers and other instruments to write with. I think you can feel this diversity of writing on the new album. You can feel it in the bones of the tracks, even if at ﬁrst it just sounds like a Phoenix album."
Do you have anything you would change about the new album now?
"I have a good feeling about the whole album, which is rare to be honest as I'm usually very critical afterwards. But, we took our time and we made the album this way and made sure that all ﬁve of us completely loved each track.We didn't want any ﬁllers and that's why the album took so long. I think the track Love Like A Sunset is perfect for me as an example of this no rules style of writing and producing."
"Pro Tools is fantastic for doing edits with the band and working up ideas by cutting verses and chorus' together."
And how did you ﬁnd mixing the album?
"The mixing was very hard because Phoenix are also very good in the studio and attend all the mix sessions. They're not one of those bands where only one person is interested while the rest go off and play PlayStation. They're always attending and listening for the intricate details. They really push me to my limits and it's very rewarding in the end when you hear the ﬁnished products."
What about using tape, was that ever considered?
"We didn't have the 24-track tape machine then and so we only used the two track on the ﬁnal mix. There is only one good company doing tape right now and that's RMG. I was very lucky as the new batch of tape that I bought was much better. But of course Pro Tools is fantastic for doing edits with the band and working up ideas by cutting verses and chorus' together from different tracks and so on."
And do you feel like you need this kind of setup to produce now?
"I'm cool with the plug-ins but I always like to mix with an analogue desk. From now it will always be with this desk. I think with Phoenix we obtained the sound of now, by mixing the '80s sound of the desk with the Massenburg '90s sound and the Neve '60s sound and so on.
"It's the mixing of all these ages and styles that really give you something new.I think it's a simpler process to make the music of the future when you are a Minimal Techno guy from Berlin making music for the danceﬂoor and the clubs, but if you are a Pop band like Phoenix with drums, bass and guitar, you have to work a lot harder to push things forward with your sound and trying to create something new with older techniques and instruments can be really challenging."