Backstage at a major festival in France, we caught up with the man who has been mixing one of the biggest names in punk for the last 14 years.
Even as a seasoned engineer, who has seen far too many bands at far too many festivals, it was with great pleasure that I recently saw Green Day's set at Main Square Festival in Arras, France. The band played a great, tight, on-the-ball rock & roll set with what was, for me, a flawless sound.
I had bumped into the band the previous year in Paris, and that's where their front-of-house mixing and effects setup first caught my eye. Having seen hundreds of FOH setups it was interesting to note such an obviously considered and interesting selection of equipment. I had the feeling that whoever mixed this band not only had excellent taste in technology, but was also not afraid to steer his own course. Fast-forward a year and I was back in France and sitting down with the man who has mixed Green Day for the last 14 years: Kevin Lemoine.
But how did Kevin first get involved with live sound, and how did he end up working with Green Day? "I started out in high school helping friends' bands to set up at little club gigs and the like,” he explains. "We were all in symphonic and concert and marching bands together, and my friends started playing in a garage band. I was just hanging out and helping tote the equipment around. An older guy showed me what the sound board was, how it worked and what the different sections of the channel strip did. One day he didn't show up at this little club, and since I was already there I did everything — I must have been 16 or 17. I moved to Austin when I was 21 and three days later started working at the Continental Club, as both the door guy and sound guy. I did both at the same time because the console was right by the front door. I would ask bands if they needed a guy to go do out-of-town work with them, and from then on I was pretty much on the road full time before I turned 22.
"In the mid-1990s I was working for a band out of Dallas called Reverend Horton Heat. They played a lot in Southern California so I got to know all of the sound vendors in the region pretty well. One of those vendors was Industrial Sound out of El Segundo. When the Reverend work finished, I called up Greg Dean [Green Day's current Production Manager], one of the owners at Industrial Sound, looking for a job. He sent me out as one of the System Engineers on the Van's Warped tour. I worked for Greg on and off for a few years doing different bands between Warped tours, and in 2000 Green Day showed up on my Warped stage. Kent Jameson from NOFX was doing FOH for them but couldn't carry on after the tour ended in August, so he gave them the nod to hire me, and I've been with them ever since. Great bunch of guys and some of the best rock shows you'll ever see.”
I asked Kevin if he had managed to fit in many other acts between touring with Green Day. "I've mixed everyone from Filter to Sugar Ray, Buck Owens, Jimmy Smith, the Luna Chicks, Iggy Pop, Ice-T, Body Count, Big Sandy and the Fly Right Boys. I've recorded a bunch of bands as well. I'm happiest about Ronnie Dawson's Live At The Continental Club — that is a scorcher of a record!”
I quickly moved on to what had caught my eye the previous year: the interesting (especially these days) collection of audio equipment at front of house. I asked first about his analogue mixing desk, a Midas XL200. It's not many people's first choice of console, so how had that come about? "Green Day are definitely an analogue band. All of their recordings have been done as such and that's what the fans are used to hearing. I, of course, love analogue, and Midas was my first choice of console. However, I didn't want to have a big 48-channel XL4 to ship around the world doing festivals and fly dates; I wanted to find a smaller-footprint 24- or 32-channel frame desk to carry around. I found this 32-channel XL200 in France and had it built back up to almost new by Jim Sawyer at Sawyer Audio. He used to work at Midas and went off on his own fixing up all of that great older gear and keeping it on the road. This particular console sounds fantastic and fellow engineers love seeing it show up at these festivals, where every other guy has a digital desk. It's a pretty big difference, the sound coming out of this guy.”
Kevin has some very desirable gear in his racks, and I wanted to know how he made his choices — was it fidelity or practicality? "The choice of rack gear definitely fidelity based, and for the console, it's both. I wanted to get the best-sounding stuff out there with this build, and I am very happy with the results.” Listening to the show I was interested to hear how straightforward the sound was, with very clear, well-articulated sounds and sparse use of effects — although he does use a Lexicon plate reverb (PCM92) for the drums. "Vocals get a delay every once in a while, and sometimes a very unassuming reverb in outdoor situations. Backing vocals get a micro pitch-shift from the Eventide H3000 SE, as well as a nice big Lexicon reverb (PCM 92 again) for the songs from American Idiot.
I noticed that Kevin seemed to constrict his channel count and wondered if this was a conscious decision or simply based on the size of his desk. "I had this sweet, newly rebuilt XL200 sitting in front of me and I'd be damned if I wasn't going to make it work,” he says. "I walked away from putting three mics on the kick and three mics on the snare... I still have seven guitar mics between two players, but those signals hit a rack-mounted BAE 8CM [an eight-channel summing mixer] before returning into two console strips. I do the same with the individually miked cymbals. They all see a mini mixer before running into a left/right pair of channel strips. It works very well.”
The next obvious question: Why not go digital? "I don't think that digital consoles sound very good. They are a lot of fun to work on but I have A/B'ed so many with my analogue rig and it really doesn't compare. The best sound out of a digital console I ever heard was when a friend of mine mixed Devo at a venue in Austin. It sounded amazing. But that's one show out of a hundred I've seen that sounded terrible. I am excited about the new SSL Live console, though — I really hope it sounds good for rock bands.”
Having had the chance earlier in the day to wander around the backstage area, where Green Day's equipment was waiting on risers ready to be rolled on to the stage for their slot later that night, I had been intrigued and again impressed by the simple drum-mic setup and the esoteric collection of guitar mics. Kevin pointed out that the drum miking was very straightforward. The kick was double-miked with a Shure SM91 and an old AKG D12. The snare had a Telefunken M80 just above the rim with a Neumann KSM184 underneath, and the hi-hat had another KSM184. The single rack tom was covered with a clamp-mounted Shure SM98, with a Josephson E22S on each of the floor toms. Interestingly, all the cymbals were individually miked with little DPA mics, which, as Kevin said, were then sub-mixed via a BAE 8CM to produce a stereo pair.
The guitar mics I will leave Kevin to explain: "Well that's the good stuff! Neumann TLM103s [large-diaphragm cardioid condensers], Shure KSM313s [ribbon microphones] and old RCA ribbon mics running through the BAE Neve clones out front. It really doesn't get much better for rock music than that!”
The band have traditionally played as a trio, but are augmented by various extra musicians during this tour. I wondered if that had made things harder this time around? "Since I have worked with them they have always had at least one extra musician playing with them. It started out with Billie's old guitar tech, who was replaced by Jason White, a very good guitar player and singer. He's a full-time Green Day member now. The other musicians are so good at what they do and it adds so much, so I really like having the extra depth and volume these fellows bring along. I love it.”
As I waited for what became a longer time than I originally envisaged for the Green Day show to finish, I wondered how Kevin managed to maintain such obvious levels of concentration over such a long period of time, and over so many weeks touring. He pointed out that the show I had just witnessed was the cut-down festival set, which had been trimmed to two and a half hours from a set that can sometimes run to almost four hours on a headline slot! "The whole show is so interesting to me; the song choices and the way it all flows. But it does keep me on my toes,” he admits. The fact that lead-singer Billie Joe Armstrong occasionally ran with his microphone right in front of the PA speakers certainly kept Kevin alert.
The clarity of the vocals was particularly good and feedback free, despite Mr Armstrong doing his best to stand in some inappropriate stage positions. I had previously read that the band used Telefunken mic capsules on wireless mics. "That's exactly right. Telefunken M80 capsules on Shure handhelds. Backing vocals are all on hardwire M80s. They're great-sounding mics, with lots of background rejection.”
Kevin has three racks at front of house. Two live under the desk and contain the small number of effects units he uses, as well as the various mic pres, compressors and gates. I had to ask what his favourite bit of kit was. Without any hesitation he turned round and lovingly pointed out his two pieces of Maselec gear: an MPL2 peak and high-frequency limiter, and an MLA3 stereo three-band compressor. "That stuff is incredible. And I laugh almost daily about how buttery and awesome the Chandler LTD2s [hand-wired compressors] are on my backing vocals. It's just insane how good those things sound.”
Kevin's enthusiasm for sound is evident not just in his choice of equipment, but in his attention to detail. During the show his hand rarely left the faders, constantly making slight adjustments as one instrument favoured another in the mix. It was, for me, a perfect rock mix, with solid drums and guitars, and the vocals always audible and clear; powerful without being harsh. It was a pleasure to watch such a confident and assured engineer working at the top of his game — and, most importantly, the audience loved every minute!
Formed in 1970 by Jeff Byers and Charles Brooke, Midas started out building musical instrument amplifiers, but they soon began building integrated audio systems in conjunction with Dave Martin, of Martin Audio. The Midas/Martin combination of consoles, crossovers, amplifiers and speakers were probably the first integrated modular audio systems. The launch of the Pro 4 modular console in 1974 saw their first major success, and the desk went on the road that year with Supertramp on the hugely successful Crime Of The Century tour with engineer Russell Pope.
By the end of the ' 70s Midas had become established as the console of choice for many big acts, including Yes, the Beach Boys and Pink Floyd on their 1977 and 1979 world tours. The later XL range desks are still seen as some of the best live desks around. The ground-breaking XL3, with its 16 auxiliary sends and use of VCA control, was followed by the flagship XL4, which even had moving faders. Both are still in use today by headline acts such as Muse. The XL200, however, was released some time after the acquisition of fellow desk manufacturers DDA, by the company that by then owned Midas. The XL200 had the sound of the Midas but with a lot of the features of the DDA Q2 series. It had the dedicated sub groups that were lacking on the XL3 and also had the VCA control and matrix outputs. A monitor console version was released as well, the XL250, a still much-favoured desk. The XL200, Kevin's weapon of choice, was something of a hybrid. It was built on the DDA chassis and much of the electronics came from there, but the EQ section was pure Midas. Although it has fallen out of favour in recent years, many can still be found in clubs and theatres, and they are still well respected by those who have used one.