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Talkback: Eduardo De La Paz

TalkbackPhoto: Tommy Pullen

Growing up in the western Mexican city of Guadalajara, Eduardo De La Paz didn’t have many opportunities to learn the craft of recording and production. Playing in bands growing up, he says, “We would scrape our pocket money together for one day in a studio in Guadalajara. I’d be the one pestering the engineer, asking, ‘How do you do that?’ Mexico has moved on a lot, but at the time there were like, two studios in my hometown. In Mexico City there were way more. So my options were either to go to Mexico City and knock on doors, or go somewhere else.”

That choice eventually led De La Paz to London, working under vaunted mixing engineer Craig Silvey on records by the National, Arcade Fire, New Order and more at West London’s Toast Studios. He has since made his own name as a formidable mixer, in the process founding offshoot studio Tostada.

At the moment I can’t stop listening to

I mean, the honest answer is probably kids’ music, because I have a child now! But for pleasure, it’s Nadine Shah. Her new record, Filthy Underneath, I think is amazing. I was a big fan of her anyways, but this new record is just a step up. Ben Hillier in production. He’s amazing. I’m a superfan. And the songwriting, with all she’s been going through... It’s super raw. Super honest. Especially this last month, I’ve just had it on repeat. So yeah, when I’m not listening to ‘Baby Shark’, that’s my answer.

I’m currently working with an artist called Attawalpa, who is doing a TV show with his wife, And one of the scenes is just someone playing at a bar. They asked Nadine Shah if she would do it, thinking, “She’s just gonna say no.” And she was like, “Yeah, I’ll do it!” She seems very up for just helping musicians, anyone who needs help.

The project I’m most proud of

I guess there are loads, for different reasons, but sonically, maybe Matt Corby’s Telluric. When I think of that my first thought is always, “That was a great record to work on.” It was fun, everyone was so nice and happy. I feel like I learned a lot as a mixer, because it was quite near the beginning of my career as an independent mixer. I was a bit nervous, thinking, “Am I doing the right thing? Am I making the right choices?” I really wanted to make it good, to make an impact. So I wasn’t playing it safe. I was like, “No, I want them to like, be blown away by this.” I just remember really spending the time getting everything right in that record. I think it paid off because people said that record sounded amazing. I’m not saying I don’t do that now, but when you get busy it can become more like a conveyor belt, where you just want to make it sound good and make them happy. I find it harder to get a project that I can really get into and spend a lot of time on every every element to make it sound amazing. It does happen, but having a decent budget and that creative freedom is a luxury.

So Telluric was a very good record to work on, personally. And it is also one that people keep coming back to me about, asking, “How did you do the drums on this one? How did you do the guitar?” People seem to like it. Sometimes you get stuff that is already, like, 80 percent there, and you’ve just got to massage it a little bit. This was one where they were like, “Have fun with it! Do your thing!” They gave me a lot of creative freedom, Matt and the producer [Dann Hume]. It was super fun to work on, and I’m proud of the way it sounds. 

Eduardo De La Paz: Doubt creeps in really quickly. If it takes time to set up, it’s easy to say, ‘Oh, actually, maybe we don’t need that extra guitar.’

The first thing I look for in a studio

If I’m gonna be recording, then — more than the gear — the instruments. And the space itself, how it’s set up. Because I think that’s going to make the session flow better. You know, if they have eight 1176s and super‑posh speakers, that will certainly help, and that will make it fun for me, playing around with compressors when we’re recording drums; but if they have a Rhodes or Wurlitzer, some synths, a bunch of snares that we can try out... I think that’s gonna have a more important impact on the sound of the record that we’re working on. More than a bunch of compressors and reverbs.

And they need to already be set up for easy access, where it’s not like; “Yeah, we have a piano but we’ll have to move it and set it up.” Because doubt creeps in really quickly. If it takes time to set up, it’s easy to say, “Oh, actually, maybe we don’t need that extra guitar.” You want to be able to just put a couple of mics on and get on it, because that could completely change the direction of the song and it could be something beautiful. It could be something horrible as well, but at least we tried it! I find sometimes that musicians work like that, where they have an idea and say, “Why don’t we try something in this verse? That synth or something like that?” And if you already have like four synths set up there, that they can jump on, I think that keeps the session flowing very organically. No one gets bored and starts just scrolling on Instagram.

The person I would consider my mentor

Craig Silvey. I’d worked with a lot of other producers and mixers before him, but with Craig it was such a relationship — it was four years. We used to joke that we saw each other more than our significant others! But it was so cool. I have so much respect for him. Craig’s very open to collaboration and to suggestions. I was learning from him, but I was trying to bring my own contribution, and he was open to that. He was so open to sharing knowledge, all the time. If he was working on a record, and I’d ask him, like, “Dude, what did you do to that snare?” or something, he’d say, “Just have a look at the session!” He was not shy or protective over any ‘secrets’. He was always open to sharing. And he was always very encouraging. At weekends, if he wasn’t in the studio and he hadn’t left a mix in progress, he’d say I was more than welcome to try my own stuff. And that’s how I learned most of the stuff that I guess makes me, me. Using the downtime to try my own mixes, to try different effects on the vocals and see which one works for me. To make mistakes. So I really thank him for that. And he’s still a friend.

My go‑to reference track or album

If I’m mixing, I wouldn’t call it a reference track, because a reference track would change depending on what I’m working on. But a track that still sounds amazing — on every system — is ‘Witchita Lineman’ by Glen Campbell. I mean, it’s an amazing song, but I’m not going to reference the songwriting because I’m not a songwriter! But sonics‑wise, it has so many layers, and everything’s crystal clear. The strings sound so crispy. His vocal sounds amazing. The drums, the bass line: to me, everything in that song is perfectly balanced. And it was done ages ago! It’s not like it’s a modern record! If I’m in a new studio, or starting a new project or if I’m going to a new room and just I need to hear something, I know that song inside out.

‘Witchita Lineman’ by Glen Campbell... sonics‑wise, it has so many layers, and everything’s crystal clear.

My top tip for a successful session

Comfort. As in, making people feel comfortable and that they’re in a safe environment. If they’re not having a good time, it’s going to be harder to convince them to try new ideas. If people become uninterested and start scrolling on their phone, they become less likely to participate and bring ideas to the table. It’s not a good idea to start the session with full‑on hard work. It’s more about just having casual conversation and making sure everyone’s comfortable. And then we can start with the hard work; you know, go in and do six takes of solid drums. Sometimes band dynamics can be tricky; maybe there’s a band member who is more outspoken than other members, but make everyone comfortable and I think that makes the session super easy and makes everything better. It makes my job easier and their job easier.

The studio session I wish I’d witnessed

Michael Jackson, the Bad sessions. It would have been great to be there, just a fly on the wall. From the writing session to the mastering, it went through so many stages. The recording would have been amazing, but also the mixing. There are so many stories, so many rumours about those sessions. And I want to believe that all of them are true, because they sound super cool!

The producer I’d most like to work with

Shawn Everett. He’s a really quirky character, which I love. One of my most loved records from the last, 10‑15 years is Sound And Colour by Alabama Shakes. It was like, “Jesus Christ, how did they do this?” So yeah, I’d love to work with him on a record, just to know how he does things. I’ve heard that he has a very unconventional way of mixing. Like, he puts a low‑pass filter at something like 250Hz and just mixes the low end of the whole mix, and then he opens up the track then mixes the top end. I don’t know if I could do that. That sounds insane. But I would love to work with him just to see how he does it.

The part of music creation I enjoy the most

Mixing! No question. I love recording, I love producing. But mixing... you can just go in with fresh ears and be like, “Right, I can hear what they the artist and the producer were trying to do. Now let me take it to that next level.” So to me, mixing is the most rewarding stage.

I used to think that I wanted to do mixing for a bit and then slowly transition to production. But the more I do mixing, the more I just want to be the best mixer I can be, and be known as a mixer. I know that people are better producers than me. But I’m really comfortable with mixing, and I know what I can bring to the table. It’s super fun to do it as well!

The advice I’d give myself of 10 years ago

Trust your gut. And make as many friends as you can, make as many connections as you can. Speak to people. Don’t be shy to speak up and show your worth. At the beginning of my career, sometimes I was a bit more reserved than I should have been. Not trusting what I could do. Obviously, with time that goes away, but yeah: trust your gut. If you have an idea, go for it without fear.