Artists Profile: Portishead, Orange Amps and Vintage SynthsJanuary 28, 2009
The members of Portishead — Beth Gibbons, Adrian Utley and Barrow — hadn’t made a proper studio record since 1997’s Portishead (Go! Discs/London), the follow-up to their own gi-normous debut, Dummy (Go! Discs/London, 1994), but they have been listening. Barrow didn’t like what he heard.
Portiheads Geoff barrow speaks his mind and appears to have held his tongue for the last few years…till now.
“[America’s music] is s**t, isn’t it?” he continues. “The hip-hop artists are just rubbish. Jay-Z’s records always sound good, but he got the sack from Universal. If you end up with a country Britney, it doesn’t matter ’cause they’re all twats anyway. Timbaland came to England trying to find a Coldplay to produce. Everyone told him to f**k off. He went to America and got his own band and they are gi-normous, the most revolting people you have ever seen in your life. They are called Timbaland. We all like it underground but no one is buying it. Even Moby is struggling.”
Working in a Radar 24 digital system, Portishead generally avoided direct sampling, instead creating its new nightmare scenarios with a combination of live and programmed drums (played by Barrow and Clive Deamer), guitar and a massive battery of modular-synth systems effected by a collection of ’60s and ’70s compressors and EQs, further warped by a Roland Space Echo. But it began with the group’s wholesale rejection of Pro Tools.
“When we began recording Third in 2005,” Barrow recalls, “Pro Tools sounded s**t. I would go into recording sessions where no one was listening — they would just be staring at a screen talking about a fu***g plug-in that sounded s**t. People were really excited when Pro Tools could reproduce the sound of a turntable stopping on a beat. That made me want to puke. They sorted it a year or so ago; now, Pro Tools sounds great, but it doesn’t create soul, it just creates nerds. Jay-Z’s albums always sounded good, but there was generally a lack of soul.
“But Radar is amazing,” he adds, offering a solution. “It makes you make decisions. When you record a bad saxophone solo on 138 channels, you can to listen to it forever in the [Pro Tools] mix. With Radar, you have 24 channels, like tape. So you have to make a decision. Also, Radar sounds not dissimilar from tape.”
“We used to have a tape machine, an Atari 1040 computer and a couple samplers,” Utley (guitars, synths, production) recalls. “We’d record live through nice equipment or terrible equipment. The difference with Radar is now we can capture audio on a hard-disk recorder and cut up things and have multitrack loops. We used to play a track and overdub or get people in to record, mix that, then cut it to vinyl, then sample that. Now we’re just playing straight to Radar, which sounds so good. Pro Tools|HD is up there now, but Radar sounds like tape. There is no sense of urgency — obviously, we took 10 years to make this record — but it really works for us.”
Writing and recording as far back as 2000 (“Nylon Smile”), Portishead met at Barrow’s SOA studio (called State of Art because it is anything but). Moving beyond their former roles, Gibbons brought in guitar riffs; Utley created noise and ideas from his ARP, Analogue Systems, Doepfer, EMS, Plan B and Moog modular synths; and Barrow recorded guitar and bass lines, as well as drum loops (created one drum and cymbal at a time). Barrow is not impressed with the general state of the plug-in, so Portishead avoided them.
“When you listen to people who make interesting production records,” he says as he ascends the soapbox again, “they all sound like they’ve been made in a box. They’ve taken a plug-in, and when they get really crazy they stick it through an amp. For f**k’s sake, look at the people you really respect, and that just sounds boring. Music is so easy to distort or alter now. That is why the drums on this album are quite normal. I just want them to sound real and interesting rather than ‘plug-in interesting.’”
“Even from the early days, we wanted to achieve the same sound as now; it’s only 15 years on,” Utley adds. “It’s usually slightly disruptive and experimental and pushing a few boundaries. We use a mixture of extremely broken equipment and extremely rare equipment, like my valve [Neumann] U 47 and RCA ribbon mic; they have this warmth but also a fidelity that we would then completely deconstruct. It’s not all that stuff that you can hear on modern recordings. That’s not interesting to us.”
Orange Amps and Portishead
Orange Guitar Amp News: Portishead’s Adrian Utley (Orange Ade) talks Orange Guitar Amps:
“I’ve always been a huge fan of vintage amps,” Adrian explains, “but I haven’t been so happy with an amp as I have with my AD30 which I’ve used for everything ever since I first got it about four years ago. There’s something about that amp… I can mess with it and really change the sound and the gain structure of it – but I can do so really simply. In my extensive collection of about fifteen amps I’ve got a 1950s and a 1960s Fender Twin; an Ampeg Reverb; a 1950s Fender Tweed and some old AC30s. But the AD30 can produce all of those vintage sounds partly because I can drive it without going incredibly loud.”
Orange Guitar Amps have been used on Portishead’s recent album, Third. The track ‘The Rip’ neatly illustrates Adrian’s open-minded approach and attitude to recording the guitar:
“I have lots of acoustics and electrics. One of my main stage electrics is a 1964 Fender Jazzmaster and for acoustic I use a Brook homemade guitar (see photo) by a company from Dartmoor in England. But when we recorded ‘The Rip’ I used a beautiful little kid’s guitar that I bought in a junk shop for four quid. It had just the kind of different tone I’d been after for a quite a while. It cost another thirty pounds to have the frets sorted out and then I used it in the studio…recorded with a three-and-a-half grand mic!”
“My first perception of acoustic guitars was from records – and on records they never sound like they do when you’re in the room… they sound more spacious and have much more frequency. So for me to play a kid’s guitar means it’s got limited frequency range already when recording; so it gives space for loads of other stuff.”
At a recent festival, Adrian hired an Orange rig and for the first time ever used a 4×12 speaker cab:
“I’ve never used a 4×12 before in my life and what I found was that I could make it feed back in a more controlled way which was really good.” How did you first hear about Orange Guitar amps?
“I remember Orange from the 1970s when I was beginning – quite a few friends had them. But those old 120-watt ones were way too loud for me. Then a few years ago I was doing a session for Marianne Faithfull which Polly Harvey was producing and she had an AD30 with a 2×12 cab and I used hers in the studio. It was so totally brilliant – and not just for guitar… we played bass through it for certain things and that also sounded great.”
Another thing that’s quite extreme and unmissable about Portishead’s backline is Adrian’s customised Orange 2×12 Cab:
“I wanted to have a loud speaker cab – that’s two separate words [laughs] – and so I asked Jim Barr who plays bass with us, to spray-paint a design on the speaker grille. I really like what he came up with and in a weird kind of way it fits in with the pictures you get on old Orange amps – the mountains for the echo and stuff.”. Jim Barr explains more about his artwork: “I did it with masking tape and a can of spray paint and I used my imagination a little bit and wanted something to look like a picture of loudness. I could waffle on about all kinds of arty stuff like German expressionism – bit I won’t [laughs] ! We sprayed the whole grille black, then put on the masking tape and sprayed over with matt white car primer. It took about twenty minutes all in all.”
Watch this amazing live set from 2008 or Portishead in Portishead
Source :Orange Amps