Wayne Bennett & Speech Debelle

Recording Speech Therapy

Published in SOS January 2010
Bookmark and Share

People + Opinion : Artists / Engineers / Producers / Programmers

Photo: Mark Appleton

It took rapper Speech Debelle years to find a producer who could bring to life the sounds in her head. The answer, as Wayne Bennett discovered, was to record her music as if it were a folk album.

Matt Frost

After tearing open the winner's envelope at September's Mercury Prize ceremony in London, compere Jools Holland paused and said "This is a surprise!” Doutless Holland wasn't the only person in the room to have been taken aback that a record shifting only 4000 copies to date had beaten bookies' favourites Florence And The Machine, La Roux and Kasabian. However, there was one young lady in the room who was not surprised in the least. During the days running up to the ceremony, 26‑year‑old South London hip‑hop artist Speech Debelle, aka Corynne Elliott, had been defiantly assuring journalists that British music's most prestigious music award was already in the bag. For those close to her, this strong self‑belief was certainly nothing new.

"Speech was like that when she was here two years ago!” laughs Wayne Bennett, who produced the majority of the album in and around his home in Melbourne, Australia. "She was like, 'Oh, I'm gonna win the Mercury Prize!' and I was like, 'Oh, all right, whatever'… bless her… but all credit to her, she did!”

"The only time I felt doubt was about 10 seconds before they said my name!” says Speech. "So many people I spoke to, like my friends and that, are saying, 'Yeah, we won!' These are people that I've been doing music with for years. And I think that's what the relief was as well that I didn't let all of those people down or their aspirations.”

The Lotek Approach

Wayne 'Lotek' Bennett produced most of Speech Therapy.

Speech Debelle actually signed to Big Dada Records around five years ago after impressing head honcho Will Ashton with a demo, but it wasn't until she met producer Wayne Bennett — also known as Wayne Lotek — in 2006 that she came across the right formula for her tunes. By that time, Bennett had become a key figure at the burgeoning British hip‑hop label, making up one third of versatile act Lotek Hi‑Fi as well as producing Roots Manuva.

"Before I met her, she was already on the label for a couple of years and what she was looking for was the right music,” explains Wayne. "She had all these stories that she wanted to tell and she was looking for the music and loads of different people had offered different ways, but it was all kind of straightforward and kind of obvious, and that's not really what Big Dada are about. They didn't really know what they could do with it, so they asked me if I had any ideas. I was like, 'Well, let's try and do it all acoustic. Let's do it like a folk record. She says she just wants to tell these stories. Let's go back to the oldest simplest forms of music where people just told stories, which is like country and folk and that sort of stuff.'”

This approach fitted perfectly with Speech's early vision of making a "hip‑hop Tracy Chapman record”. By the time they met, Wayne Bennett had been living in Melbourne for a couple of years, but he was over in London visiting family for a few weeks. With the help of his Dad's laptop, a copy of Cubase, a shuffled drum sample and his brother Tim playing bass and guitar, they soon had a basic arrangement for album opener, 'Searching'. The backdrop of the track's soothing, laid‑back acoustic guitar melody twinned with Speech's intimate and almost fragile rapping would form the blueprint for the rest of the recordings.

"After doing that song, once we both realised what we were doing, it was just easy,” says Speech, "So I just thought 'I wanna go out there and try and make an album with him in Australia.'”

The Instant Studio

Wayne Bennett has since moved from the house where the album was recorded, but retains much of the equipment, including the Tascam mixer and eight‑track reel‑to‑reel machine.

When Wayne Bennett returned Down Under, he had no idea that Big Dada were going to come up with the kind of budget required to send Speech Debelle halfway around the world to record with him. But when he did get the call, he had a little problem. Since relocating from England a short time before and selling off the gear from Plan B, his Birmingham studio, Bennett hadn't yet had a chance to re‑equip.

"I didn't really have any equipment because when I first came to Australia, I was kind of on a writing holiday,” says Bennett, "I had just enough stuff to sketch out some ideas but it wasn't designed to do someone's album properly, like a big project! I called in a lot of favours, borrowed a whole bunch of equipment, bought some stuff on eBay and managed to assemble a kind of a makeshift studio. I had about four weeks or something like that to prepare from when they told me they were coming and they booked the tickets to when she was actually arriving! I just turned up at people's studios and said 'Right, what aren't you using?'”

In the end, Wayne Bennett managed to assemble the following gear to lay down the majority of Speech Therapy across a six‑week period during November and December 2006: his PC laptop with Cubase and Native Instruments' Komplete 3, an M‑Audio Firewire interface, a Fostex 16‑track digital recorder, a Joemeek VC3Q preamp, AKG C414 and Jeanne Audio JA87F microphones, a Shure drum microphone set, and a pair of Genelec 8020A speakers. To mix the album, he later bought a Tascam 38 half‑inch eight‑track tape machine and a Tascam M50 mixing desk from eBay.

People Are The Sounds

Once Speech Debelle arrived in Melbourne, Wayne Bennett decided to phone around a selection of Melbourne session guys with the initial proviso of simply getting them down to meet Speech and jam along with her rhymes while he kept his finger on the Record button. Speech would let Wayne know when the feel and the melody matched what had musically been growing inside her head for so long.

"There was sounds [in my head],” explains Speech Debelle. "I realised that when I was with Wayne actually. He taught me a lot of things about myself when it comes to music. That's one of the things he pointed out — the way I see music as a physical thing. I'd be saying things like 'Make it like as if it's pushing you, like if someone's pushing you in your back!' which would be like a 'Wheels In Motion' song. That's how I would see that song, like someone's pushing you in the back and you're trying to get somewhere and the drums may be rolling over each other or the piano. 'Wheels In Motion' was influenced by a Coldplay song, I think it's called 'Speed Of Sound' — which I love — and the piano mix especially. It's like a rolling piano — when you hit a note it hits the note again, and I've always loved the way it kind of just rolls over. When Dustin, the piano player came in, I said, 'Can you do that?' and he did. It just sounded exactly like the Coldplay song, but then he and Wayne took this out and changed this and made something new.”

"Instead of playing sounds to her, which I think was a bit of a static process and she couldn't really get her head around, I brought people in and they were the sounds,” Wayne continues. "It was almost like I was taking her through what instruments there were. It was like, 'Right, day one is guitar. This is Liam, he plays the acoustic guitar. This is Mikey, he plays the electric guitar. Which one do you like the sound of for this particular song?' It was that kind of process where she'd be like 'I want that sound they put in movies when someone dies — violins!' so we'd get on the phone to a violin player, have that person come down, and they'd have a play. Or she'd go 'Do you remember in that movie, yeah, where the guy says to the dude 'Fuck you!'? I want the music that was playing then!' And I'd say 'I know what movie you're talking about!' and then I'd have to communicate that to the other musicians in a very non‑musical way. I just let her do it pretty naturally, the way we laid it down.”

Just Press Record

When it came to recording locations, improvisation was certainly key. Various rooms in Wayne's Melbourne house were hastily soundproofed to lay down the majority of the electric, acoustic and bass guitars, strings, keyboards and Speech's initial guide vocal tracks. Most instruments were recorded separately, although on a few tracks, cello and guitar were recorded together.

"She recorded the vocals in the spare room of my house. We had two two‑seater sofas, and I turned them on their ends and put them together to make a little cubicle and then covered that with duvets and pillows, had the microphone behind that and that was the vocal booth!” laughs Wayne. "It was pretty sketchy! The strings were recorded in the kitchen. We've moved from where we recorded it now, but the previous place we were in had this massive kitchen with polished wood floors, so I stuck the violin player in there. We didn't actually put any extra reverb on it. The reverb on the record is just the sound of my kitchen.

"The guitars were done in different rooms, depending on whether it was an acoustic or an electric. Some of the rooms had carpet in and some of the rooms had wooden floors. If I was doing an acoustic, I'd stick them in one of the rooms with the wooden floors, and I got loads of cardboard boxes, so I'd just open out a cardboard box and stick the guitarist on the cardboard box, so we wouldn't get any reflections off the floor. As with the violins, I'd stick a mic in the room as well just to get the sound of the room. With electrics, if we were doing a long session where we were recording tons of guitars, I couldn't be bothered to keep turning the amps up and down, so I put them underneath the table in the dining room. I put a cardboard box underneath the table, put the amp underneath the table, covered the table with a duvet and kind of made small amp spaces. It's quite fun! It kind of took it back to how I originally started doing music, where we couldn't really get our hands on tons of equipment so we had to find interesting ways of achieving something.”

In terms of mic placement, Bennett just went with what he felt sounded right and what would fit the atmospherics of the album.

"Someone's asked me a lot of questions on this before and it's quite embarrassing!”, laughs Wayne. "It's like 'What did you do to the guitar?' And it's like 'I just recorded the guitar.' This guy could play guitar, the guitar sounded good, he played it well, I sat him in the middle of the room, I told him to move away from the microphone and if it was a bit quiet, I'd say 'Move a bit closer!' That was kind of how I did it!”

The drums were recorded in situ by Wayne at the drummers' own studios or houses. The producer simply travelled across town with his Fostex recorder and the Shure drum mic set he'd borrowed from a friend and asked either Choi or Mike Ensor to play along to the backing tracks he had thus far assembled.

Speech Debelle headed back to London after six weeks. Bennett continued working on mixing the backing tracks, while Speech herself would go on to record three further tracks in the capital, two with Tuung's Mike Lindsay and one with multi‑instrumentalist band member Ciaran 'Dreadkey' Fahy. All the vocals — aside from the title track, a 'magic' emotional take which Speech refused to revisit — were re‑recorded at Alaska Studios by Bob Earland once Wayne Bennett had completed the final tracks. Roots Manuva wrote and sang the chorus to 'Wheels In Motion', which was also laid down at Alaska.

The Hip‑hop Ray Charles

Given Speech Debelle's self‑confidence, it comes as no surprise that her Mercury win with Speech Therapy represents only the start of her career ambitions. "The next one is called The Art of Speech,” Speech says, "The first one was a hip‑hop Tracy Chapman and the next one is a hip‑hop Ray Charles... I said for the first one 'I want the Mercury — I think I'm gonna get it, I see myself winning it' and I've always felt I'd get an Ivor Novello for the second one. If I do, then you lot are in trouble because, boy, I can tell the future!”  

Speechless: The Origins Of Speech Therapy

As was widely reported after Speech Debelle's Mercury win, the roots of Speech Therapy can be traced back to the difficult few years Speech spent living in hostels after falling out with her mother and leaving home. And it wasn't just the lyrics that were coming together at this time: the emotional feel that Debelle wanted to infuse into the music was also taking shape.

"I think the album that did it for me, and which I give all the credit, is Me'Shell NdegéOcello's album Bitter,” explains Speech. "I remember when I first heard that, I was in a hostel in Victoria. I got her album and I remember bringing it back to a room in the hostel, which was a shared room. I came in that evening and the other girl wasn't there and I was so happy. I put it on and I remember just lying down on the bed and being just completely transfixed for the duration. I was actually lying in a bed but it was like I was lying in a coma and I think that was the point I realised what I was supposed to do in terms of making an album. It's supposed to be escapism, it's supposed to affect you: you shouldn't be able to just play it and have a conversation with somebody.”

Similar articles

Peaceful Protest: The PAIX Project | Media

Audio files to accompany the article.

A project that was started to help unsigned bands show solidarity with victims of the Paris attacks has grown to unite musicians, artists and film-makers from around the world. And it’s not finished yet...

Mandy Parnell: Mastering Audio

Video Feature

Thumbnail for article: Mandy Parnell: Mastering Audio

We talk studio secret weapons and walk through a session with Björk and Tom Jones’ Grammy-winning mastering engineer.

Inside Track: Pentatonix

Secrets Of The Mix Engineers: Ed Boyer

Thumbnail for article: Inside Track: Pentatonix

In their conquest of the pop charts, Pentatonix’s only weapons were the human voice — and the skills of mix engineer Ed Boyer.

Rush: Recording & Mixing R40 Live

R Is For Rush

Thumbnail for article: Rush: Recording & Mixing R40 Live

The best engineers thrive on pressure. Which is handy when they’re recording the farewell tour of one of the world’s biggest rock bands, and timecode trouble is brewing...

Scott Jacoby: Producing Ronnie Spector

Video Feature

Thumbnail for article: Scott Jacoby: Producing Ronnie Spector

This month's in-depth video interview features Grammy-winning producer Scott Jacoby. He welcomes us into his own Eusonia studios in New York to show how he created a ‘60s-inspired track for the former Ronnettes lead singer.

Ben Folds

Recording So There

Thumbnail for article: Ben Folds

Fans of singer–songwriter Ben Folds expect piano music — but a full–on piano concerto is certainly a new development!

Inside Track: The Weeknd

Secrets Of The Mix Engineers: Carlo ‘Illangelo’ Montagnese

Thumbnail for article: Inside Track: The Weeknd

Engineer, mixer and producer Carlo Montagnese likens his work with the Weeknd to painting — and he’s not afraid to use plenty of colour!

Thank you to all our readers over the last 30 years...

You are in good company!

Thumbnail for article: Thank you to all our readers over the last 30 years...

“I admire Sound On Sound as the survivor amongst the professional media"...

Jean–Michel Jarre

Producing Electronica

Thumbnail for article: Jean–Michel Jarre

New album Electronica sees Jean–Michel Jarre making connections with a galaxy of other legendary figures from the world of electronic music.

Inside Track: Bring Me The Horizon

Secrets Of The Mix Engineers: Dan Lancaster

Thumbnail for article: Inside Track: Bring Me The Horizon

Where does a young mix engineer learn the techniques to deliver hit rock mixes? In Dan Lancaster’s case, right here!


Lauren Mayberry, Martin Doherty & Iain Cook: Producing Every Open Eye

Thumbnail for article: Chvrches

Like any good SOS readers, Scots electro-pop trio Chvrches used the success of their debut album to buy more synthesizers...

Inside Track: Muse's Drones

Secrets Of The Mix Engineers: Tommaso Colliva & Rich Costey

Thumbnail for article: Inside Track: Muse's Drones

Working on Muse’s hit album Drones gave Tommaso Colliva and Rich Costey unique insight into the extraordinary methods of hitmaking producer ‘Mutt’ Lange.

Rupert Neve: The SOS Interview (Video)

Video Feature

Thumbnail for article: Rupert Neve: The SOS Interview (Video)

In this month's video interview  we meet a living legend of the audio industry, Mr Rupert Neve himself. Over 25 minutes, we talk transformers, software modelling, and get the story of how he created the world's first high-Q equaliser.

75 Years Of The Shure Unidyne 55

One Direction

Thumbnail for article: 75 Years Of The Shure Unidyne 55

In 1939, Shure revolutionised the music industry with a microphone so successful that it is still in production today!

Inside Track: James Taylor's Before This World

Secrets Of The Mix Engineers: Dave O’Donnell

Thumbnail for article: Inside Track: James Taylor's Before This World

The art of music production lies in serving the song — and working with James Taylor, Dave O’Donnell felt that modern production trends would hinder his aim of capturing emotive performances.

John Chowning

Pioneer Of Electronic Music & Digital Synthesis

Thumbnail for article: John Chowning

A visionary in the field of electronic music, John Chowning invented FM synthesis and set up CCMRA, one of the world’s most influential research centres.

Richard King: How To Record Acoustic Ensembles

Recording Yo-Yo Ma

Thumbnail for article: Richard King: How To Record Acoustic Ensembles

Engineer Richard King has brought the art of ensemble recording to new heights in both classical and folk/pop spheres.

Throbbing Gristle ‘Hamburger Lady’

Classic Tracks

Thumbnail for article: Throbbing Gristle ‘Hamburger Lady’

Throbbing Gristle’s highly individualist approach to music extended as far as making their own instruments and, ultimately, their own genre.

Inside Track: Josh Groban’s album Stages

Secrets Of The Mix Engineers: Andy Selby & Bernie Herms

Thumbnail for article: Inside Track: Josh Groban’s album Stages

A combination of technical wizardry and old-school craft helped Bernie Herms and Andy Selby bring Josh Groban’s Broadway album to life.

Pete Keppler

Mixing Bowie, NIN & Katy Perry

Thumbnail for article: Pete Keppler

Pete Keppler’s career has seen him mix shows for some of the biggest artists in the world. We asked him how it all happened.

Slaves - Are You Satisfied?

Jolyon Thomas: Producing Are You Satisfied?

Thumbnail for article: Slaves - Are You Satisfied?

The success of Slaves’ debut album depended on producer Jolyon Thomas finding a way to bottle their raw live energy.

Vlado Meller

Mastering Engineer

Thumbnail for article: Vlado Meller

As one of the world’s leading mastering engineers, Vlado Meller has enjoyed great success — and his share of controversy.

‘Voodoo Ray’ by A Guy Called Gerald

Classic Tracks

Thumbnail for article: ‘Voodoo Ray’ by A Guy Called Gerald

Hailed as the first British acid house single, A Guy Called Gerald’s sublime ‘Voodoo Ray’ has since become a classic in its own right.

Faith No More

Bill Gould: Recording Sol Invictus

Thumbnail for article: Faith No More

Recording and producing your own music is always a challenge — especially if, like Faith No More, your previous albums have been done by the best in the business!


Home | Search | News | Current Issue | Tablet Mag | Articles | Forum | Blog | Subscribe | Shop | Readers Ads

Advertise | Information | Privacy Policy | Support | Login Help


Email: Contact SOS

Telephone: +44 (0)1954 789888

Fax: +44 (0)1954 789895

Registered Office: Media House, Trafalgar Way, Bar Hill, Cambridge, CB23 8SQ, United Kingdom.

Sound On Sound Ltd is registered in England and Wales.

Company number: 3015516 VAT number: GB 638 5307 26


We accept the following payment methods in our web Shop:

Pay by PayPal - fast and secure  VISA  MasterCard  Solo  Electron  Maestro (used to be Switch)  

All contents copyright © SOS Publications Group and/or its licensors, 1985-2016. All rights reserved.
The contents of this article are subject to worldwide copyright protection and reproduction in whole or part, whether mechanical or electronic, is expressly forbidden without the prior written consent of the Publishers. Great care has been taken to ensure accuracy in the preparation of this article but neither Sound On Sound Limited nor the publishers can be held responsible for its contents.
The views expressed are those of the contributors and not necessarily those of the publishers.

Web site designed & maintained by PB Associates | SOS | Relative Media