Dawter Podcast, ep8, Camilla Sullivan

This week is our final episode for series one! What a fantastic journey it’s been so far. This time I interview songwriter, vocalist, producer and good friend of mine, Camilla Sullivan. Camilla is 3 years into an Audio Production degree, and is currently in the process of recording a debut album for her alt/rock duo, A Rioting Mind. Camilla gives valuable insight into another side of music production; the process of recording physical instruments, as well as working with other musicians in a studio environment. She is also a bit of an 80’s synth fan, and talks about the Melbourne Electronic Sound Studio (MESS). All this and so much more, available now in episode 8!

Quick Links

A Rioting Mind: Facebook, iTunes, Spotify, Bandcamp, Youtube

Other useful links: MESS, Juno-6


Tell us the different roles that you and Libby each have in A Rioting Mind?

It will vary but generally I write a lot of the lyrics, and I’ll come up with a lot of the structures and stuff like that. But Libby, she’ll come up with songs too, and chord progressions and things like that.  It can be quite collaborative. Sometimes I’ll come in with something and I’ll be like “I don’t know how I want this so sound, I don’t know how I want it to end , can we maybe just jam it?” And then we’ll jam it, and some things will stick, or something will not stick, and it’s kind of like, once you’ve got a second person there, it’s not just you and your guitar.

It makes things more dynamic I guess. Like there are certain chord progressions I always go to, and I know it’s going to at least be a chorus or it will be the bridge of the song, but then when there is Libby… Libby has got a massive background in jazz, and so she will come up with chord progressions that are different sounding, or a little bit more edgy. My chord progressions are pretty standard, but Libby, she’ll have some kind of weird thing that she’ll do or some weird substitution that just makes it sound more interesting. It’s great great when you are producing an album when you don’t have everything sounding like singer-songwriter chord progressions. It helps you branch out of your shell, when you’ve got someone else to work with. 

That’s the control I like having as a producer. Being able to be like, “this is what I hear in this part” and being able to do that, and not have to explain it.

Previously on this podcast we have spoken more about working inside a computer, but what you do is another domain of production where you have a band that you’re recording and you need to direct musicians and use different microphone techniques to record different instruments. Is that something that comes easily or has it taken a lot of practice? 

It takes a lot of practice. The first thing I recorded for this project was piano’s and Rhodes, because we had those at uni. I was recording this upright piano and I used two ribbon mics on it and they were really noisy. It’s extreme lo-fi piano [laughs], like you can hear my foot pedal going and the clunk, and it was just really noisy. So I would not say that i’m a pro with all that stuff. But it’s working at the moment. 

That is definitely something you have to think of more than when you’re working with maybe drum samples and software instruments, or even hardware when you’re going direct in to your computer. And then there are times of day when you can’t… like I was trying to record vocals today and I couldn’t because there was a Galah [laughs]. And then there was a cockatoo and a kookaburra. So it’s like, do you want screeching cockatoo on your track? And if not you should probably just wait until it’s night time. 

Is there a way to clean up those recordings if you do get a little bit of bleed?

Yeah, most of it will be quite muffled. I mean with any bleed that we’ve had from rehearsal rooms at uni, usually a high-pass filter will be fine. If your track has got fairly dense instrumentation it’s gonna get lost anyway, it’s not going to come through. But If your recording like a solo guitar track. That’s the ones you have to be more careful of, when you know it’s gonna be a more spacious song, and that guitar is going to be the feature of it, and suddenly you’e got this band’s rehearsal coming through your condenser microphone, you’re like, no that’s not going to work. Because once you start compressing things you’re like, that wasn’t there before! So with that you’ve got to be careful, but with a more rock-band track you can get away with it. Galah’s not so much though [laughs]. 

Tell us about M.E.S.S (Melbourne Electronic Sound Studio)

It’s a massive collection of synthesisers put together by, I think it’s two guys, Robin Fox and Byron Scullin. So yeah, they put it together and it is just this massive collection of synthesisers, and some really vintage ones, some that are really rare. Which has meant that I have been able to work and play with some of these synths that I’ve heard on [records by] some of the artists that I really look up to. Like I am a massive fan on Jack Antonoff from Bleachers, I loved the stuff that he did with Taylor Swift, yeah I’m a Taylor Swift fan [laughs]. One of his favourite synths is I think Juno-6 and they had one of them there. It’s just really cool to be able to play something, and be able to create that sound that you heard from that album.

So is it like a studio set up?

It’s a big room and it’s just got synthesisers all around the walls. They have sound recording devices if you don’t have your own audio interface. They’ve got sound cards, headphones, cables, they’ve also got pedals. They have some delay-echo units as well. So it’s not just synths they have. They’ve got drum machines and, just a lot of really vintage gear that you hear about but you never think you’re going to see and you’re like, oh my god it’s that thing! It’s really cool. 

Camilla recording at Melbourne Electronic Sound Studio (MESS). Photo by MESS

Sound effects used in this episode sourced at soundbible.com