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XTC: Ideal Studio & Recording Apple Venus Vol. 1 & Wasp Star

Interview | Band By Sam Inglis
Published July 2000

XTC: Colin Moulding (left) and Andy Partridge.XTC: Colin Moulding (left) and Andy Partridge.

There aren't many bands who produce their best work over 20 years into their career, but XTC's 1999 album Apple Venus Volume 1 has been widely acknowledged as a masterpiece, and their latest, Wasp Star, is a joyous collection of noisy, catchy pop songs. Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding recorded it in their own Idea Studio, where they talked to Sam Inglis.

"A big studio's a big clock, and it goes one thousand, two thousand, three thousand... it's too bloody expensive. You change a set of strings in the studio and you've spent 50 quid in time. It's too much pressure," explains Andy Partridge. And he should know. The band he created a quarter of a century ago, XTC, have spent a fair amount of the intervening time in big studios. From their early days as sparky post‑punk power‑pop merchants they evolved into an innovative studio band, responsible for hits like 'Making Plans For Nigel', 'Senses Working Overtime' and the Todd Rundgren‑produced Skylarking album, and gained a considerable following for their intelligent, often quirky English pop music.

Like George Michael and Prince, they also took the rare step of taking industrial action against a major record company. Their deal with Virgin Records was, they believed, unfair, and the company had failed to properly promote their 1992 album Nonsuch, so they refused to deliver another — until finally, five years later, they were released from their contract. The big‑studio days were over. Their ambition remained undimmed, however, and they survived both a tortuous recording procedure and the departure of long‑term guitarist Dave Gregory to produce one of the most critically acclaimed albums of 1999. Aptly described by Partridge as an 'orchoustic' work, Apple Venus Volume 1 fused summery acoustic guitars, dense orchestral textures and brilliant songwriting with remarkable results. It's one of very few albums that realises a genuine fusion between popular and classical music — a big idea, if ever there was one — without lapsing into prog‑rock‑style pretension or self‑indulgence.

May 2000 saw the release of a new album from XTC's remaining members, guitarist/singer Andy Partridge and bassist/singer Colin Moulding. Wasp Star's gritty electric guitars and crashing drums make a deliberate contrast with its predecessor, but it shares the same expert songwriting and layered vocal harmonies. It's also the first album to be recorded in XTC's own Idea Studios.

A New Idea

The Otari RADAR at Idea Studios.The Otari RADAR at Idea Studios.Apple Venus Volume 1.Apple Venus Volume 1.

The usefulness of having a home studio was brought home to Andy and Colin during the recording of Apple Venus Volume 1, when money pressures forced them to do much of the tracking in rooms in Colin's house. "We did drums, piano and stuff at Chipping Norton and we did the strings all in one day at Abbey Road," explains Andy.

"By that time, though, we'd run out of money," continues Colin. "We'd spent all the money the Japanese record company gave us, we were basically going into our savings."

"So we finished off Apple Venus Volume 1 in his front room," Andy goes on. "More or less everything else was recorded in there. Bass, vocals, guitar — his hall made a fantastic acoustic guitar sound. 'I'd Like That' has the best acoustic guitar sound I've ever had, and it was his hallway with its Victorian tiles and stuff. And I think we realised when we were recording in his front room what we could do with a studio. We realised very quickly that if you bought the right sort of gear — a nice valvey mic, a nice compressor/limiter, that sort of thing, you could do it yourself."

Idea Studio occupies what was once a double garage and stable‑block adjacent to Colin's Wiltshire home. "The outer wall had an inner wall built inside it," explains Andy. "The gap was filled with various gunk and foamy stuff, and then we put in the sealed window units. The biggest problem was not the fact that the sound was getting out, because there's nobody to upset around here — it was that if the wind's in the wrong direction it's the sound of the motorway getting in, the rumble. But with a dozen drum mics on and cranked right up there's hardly any rumble; we seem to have cured it. We were kind of worried that it would have a horrible standing‑wave 'ping' or something once we'd finished it all, but no — the shape of the roof disseminates the sound a bit, plus the fact that there's a wooden floor and a wooden ceiling keeps it nicely warm and not too metallic.

"This is really just a tracking studio, so we've just got a few nice things. These Tubetech compressors are fantastic, everything sounds lovely going through them, so they tend to end up on everything — and the Focusrite Red is indispensable for doing vocals. But otherwise, we don't have enough toys for mixing, so we mixed the the albums down at Rockfield."

In their 'big studio' phase, XTC were pioneers of the '80s gated reverb drum sound used so successfully by the likes of Phil Collins, and their new album also has a distinctive 'big' drum sound. This time, however, it's down not to technical trickery but to the design of the live room, with its wooden walls and floor: "It's not that expensive big drum sound," laughs Andy. "Listening to the ambience in there, it just sounds like a drum kit. The drummer who played in here, Chuck Szabo, said it was the nicest‑sounding room he'd ever drummed in. We put ambience mics up and close mics, and I think we were using 50/50 of both. The room was really flattering to the kit, so there wasn't much to do."

The exquisite vocal harmonies on Apple Venus and Wasp Star were likewise simply recorded, using the Focusrite Red and an AKG C12 valve mic, nicknamed 'Steely Dan': "It's a nice big, valvey, warm‑sounding mic," enthuses Andy. "Even the spit, even the distortion sounds beautiful on that. It's nice distortion. That's the thing, there is distortion in most sounds, but people go for 'Let's get this as clean as we can.' They don't realise that all their favourite records have got different degrees of different flavours of distortion on things. Their favourite Tamla Motown records have got distorted drums, they've got distorted vocals, they've got distorted bass, fizzing speakers and rattling fronts on the cabs."

Production Duties

One of the two main gear racks in XTC's studio. From top: Lexicon MPX1 and Korg A1 multi‑effects, Focusrite Red 2, Tubetech PE1C, and Aphex 109 equalisers.One of the two main gear racks in XTC's studio. From top: Lexicon MPX1 and Korg A1 multi‑effects, Focusrite Red 2, Tubetech PE1C, and Aphex 109 equalisers.

Given the sometimes stormy relationships that developed between XTC and those who Virgin appointed to produce them, it might have been expected that on their release from major‑label bondage they would opt to do the job themselves. However, both Apple Venus Volume 1 and Wasp Star credit engineer Nick Davis as producer and mix engineer. On the need for an engineer, Andy is unequivocal: "You can't do the musician thing and the engineering thing. If somebody else is playing, I can put the engineer's hat on, but I can't do the two. I'm either in performance mode or technician mode."

In fact, in XTC's vision the role of the ideal producer seems to be bascially an engineer with critical faculties who can serve as a sounding‑board, rather than an artist who will impose his or her own big ideas on a project. XTC, after all, have more than enough ideas of their own... "I think the only time we've ever had a producer that has produced us in an old‑fashioned musical sense was Todd Rundgren on Skylarking," explains Andy. "He was the sort of complete producer — he was a musician himself, plus he did arrangements — he was head cook and bottlewasher."

"Todd Rundgren was the only old‑school producer we've ever worked with; the kind that wants to control records," agrees Colin

"On the other albums we've always gone for the kind of engineer character who gets the sound, and we pretty much, within 90 percent, know what we're going to be doing in any case," continues Andy. "I don't want to downplay Nick or anything, he was very good, he's very energetic. That's the good think about Nick, he's sort of up and anything's possible and let's give it a whirl, you know."

Most of the decisions that would be made by an 'interventionist' producer are, as Andy explains, taken by Colin and himself in pre‑production: "You sort it out as you're going along if there's any indecision, but mostly we know what we're going to do before we get into the studio. We've already thrashed it out in the demo process. It's a hangover from the expensive days. You don't want to be dicking around at £1000 a day, you want to know what you're doing!"

Tight Orchestration

The wood‑panelled live room even looks warm... Note Andy's Sessionette amplifier and, against the wall, the small melodeon‑ type instrument used on 'Boarded Up' from Wasp Star.The wood‑panelled live room even looks warm... Note Andy's Sessionette amplifier and, against the wall, the small melodeon‑ type instrument used on 'Boarded Up' from Wasp Star.

So completely 'thrashed out' were the demos for Apple Venus Volume 1 that they have since been released as an album in their own right, Homespun. "I think Apple Venus is the most ambitious thing we've ever done, and the fact is that orchestral arrangements have to be more finished — you can't just do the Oasis approach and ask the orchestra to jam, and hold up a piece of card with A minor written on it," laughs Andy. "You have to get everything worked out with an orchestra, you know, sit down and plot it all out before you can even call them up. I'd wanted to do an orchestral record for a long time, it had been something I'd been threatening for a long while. But you don't want to do the thing where there's a bit of heavy metal, then a bit of orchestra, then a bit of heavy metal, they jam for a bit, and there you are."

Having decided that the album would be orchestral, Andy and Colin called in co‑producer Haydn Bendall to help out with the orchestration. "Dave Gregory usually would step in and do these things," explains Andy, "but he was reluctant to do it on that record, because I think he wanted out of the group. So I'd ring people up and say 'We're planning to record an orchestra. Who should we do it with?' and they all came back 'You want to work with Haydn Bendall.'"

"Haydn said 'Why don't you come my place and work for free? It'd save you a lot of money if you came down.' He's got a little stable‑block down in Kent," says Colin.

Once installed in Bendall's diminutive demo studio, they set about scoring the songs they'd written: "We'd sit down with Haydn and play him the demos and say 'This is the kind of thing we want,'" explains Andy. "We'd then work it through a line at a time, you know, the violas are going to be doing this line, violins are going to be playing this line, cellos are going to do this, let's try that out on bassoon, no, not quite on bassoon, we'll try it with oboe, yeah that's good — we'd sit down with samplers and work everything out.

"We did most of the orchestral arrangements ourselves, but we were running out of time — we had the orchestra booked and the studio booked, and we still didn't have an arrangement for 'I Can't Own Her', and 'Green Man' needed a little bit of growth in it. So Mike Batt — he of the Wombles — came in and did it. He did a little bit of growthy stuff in 'Green Man', but that was still basically the demo arrangement. But for 'I Can't Own Her' he pretty much had a free hand, and he did a very good job. I spent the weekend on the phone with him at the other end on the piano, and he'd say 'Is this what you mean when you say 'swirling leaves' and stuff?' and I'd say 'No, that's a bit too melodramatic, can you make it so it's more like half the time of that?' And then, just before he had to catch a flight to Germany, he came and also quickly conducted the orchestra, so it was very good of him to do that."

"I think he really likes to do the conducting thing at Abbey Road," laughs Colin.

At least one of the tracks on Apple Venus Volume 1 was actually written through experimenting with orchestral sounds from Andy's Emu Proteus module: "'River Of Orchids' came out of the joy of pizzicato sound really. You think 'Whoa, that's beautiful!' and then suddenly 'Wow, I've got a song!' Delightful sounds can inspire."

Abbey Road

The control room at Idea Studio, with Cheetah master keyboard, Atari ST computer, Mackie 8‑bus console, Yamaha NS10 monitors and (right) monitor and remote for Otari RADAR.The control room at Idea Studio, with Cheetah master keyboard, Atari ST computer, Mackie 8‑bus console, Yamaha NS10 monitors and (right) monitor and remote for Otari RADAR.

With the orchestral arrangements complete, the next problem was how to organise the recording of 40‑plus classical musicians in the most efficient schedule possible. "It's bloody expensive," says Andy. "We had to do it all in one day — one very long day! You might have a click, live drums to your satisfaction, and you might have a piano, and then the rest is sketched in with samples. You take that down to the studio, in our case Abbey Road, and we had a 40‑piece orchestra that sort of diminished throughout the day. It was like 'OK, we've finished all the stuff that needs woodwinds now, all the woodwinds can go home, thanks luvvies.' We started with 40 or 50 people and then it whittled down throughout the day until we just ended up with one trumpeter. You don't want them all sat around waiting, you have to plan it out."

"We left all that diplomacy to Haydn," admits Colin.

The hurried nature of the orchestral recording left Andy, Colin and Nick with literally months of editing to do to get the album into shape. "That was the first time that we'd ever got into editing anything," explains Andy. "That was on Pro Tools. Our eyes started to open up, you know, because we'd heard that everyone edited — people would say 'Oh, we did the Madness singles, they're made out of 20 takes all chopped together,' but we'd think 'Cor, what a cheek.'"

Despite the newness of this approach to them, they were not afraid to mess with the orchestral recordings in order to achieve the rich, tight sound that eventually emerged: "Sometimes it felt better with two orchestras tracked up than one, you'd get a bit more beating, a bit more feeling going on," admits Andy. "Other times it felt better with a little sample added in under them. If they weren't quite digging in at one point, we'd add some sampled strings."

"Samples have got a lot more 'point'," agrees Colin.

"They're harder, but they don't do that fluidity that strings do, so you use your real things for fluidity and feel, and then if you want something to go 'Bang! Bang!', you put your samples in under that to flesh it out a bit," explains Andy.

Down To Earth

XTC's Wasp Star album.XTC's Wasp Star album.

As their willingness to edit and augment orchestral recordings testifies, XTC's approach to recording and production is best described as pragmatic rather than purist. They are insistent that there is no magic involved in getting the right 'feel' on tape, and the commonly held idea that recording live is somehow special is anaethema to them. "Quite a few people have said in the interviews I've done so far, they've said 'Well, this album sounds like you're just a three‑piece playing away and having great fun and banging it down live,'" says Andy with some surprise. "And I'll say 'Well, that's very interesting, but it's just put together, you know, you get the drum track and you edit that up, and then you're choosing guitar bits over the top — just the same as we always did it except that we're making choices from takes this time, as opposed to playing it all down and just dropping in over any mistakes. People seem to think that this is a kind of live‑sounding record, but it's all put together Airfix kit‑style. It's like film‑making. I'm sure that when people see a film they must think they started Day 1 with Scene 1, and then as it fades they're rushing around to get the next bunch of actors and swinging the camera round to do the next scene — but it's not like that."

As Andy explains, the feel of an XTC song is not created by jamming but by the work he and Colin do at the pre‑production stage: "We try to work out as much as we can beforehand. It just makes life easier and smoother, because if no‑one knows what they're doing, you get a mess. I might say 'I'm really happy with the bass line idea I came up with in the chorus, but I just don't know what to do in the verses,' or 'Can y ou come up with something that has more of a la‑la feel,' and Colin'll be the same with stuff for his songs. I'll say 'Shall we try this?' and he'll go 'No, play it more half‑time,' so we'll make little tweaks in discussion. There's nothing we do that's super‑magical. The actual recording process I'm sure is pretty bog‑standard for groups in the 21st century.

"Wasp Star is actually the first album we've ever done where we've edited, apart from the orchestra on Apple Venus. We always used to say if somebody didn't make a mistake, that was the take. But with this album we were actually deciding between drum takes, and bits and pieces, you know, like 'That roll on take one there is great! Let's edit that in!' or 'That break before the chorus on take four is wonderful, let's use that.' Stuff like that — we've never done that before."

"Editing takes away the nervousness when the red light goes on," enthuses Colin. "If you cock up, you can always do another couple of takes — just get the sound, and get the spirit down."

"You might get something going live, or put down some guide guitar on tape," explains Andy, "and then you can sort of conduct the drummer, and gesture when they're supposed to come in with the next bit. Colin would bang down a guide bass to a click, and I'd play a guide rhythm, and then I'd be standing here with the drummer drumming through the window. With Prairie Prince, who played on four of the cuts, we'd play along live, and then just keep the drum tracks.

"We haven't always used a click track in the past, but we did on Apple Venus and this one. I think some of the stuff on Nonsuch was to click and some wasn't. Some drummers like to play with a click, because it takes out the drag of having to keep time as well as having to invent and groove. But some drummers are still scared of clicks, they still think it challenges their manhood — 'I'm not playing wi' no bloody click. That's wrong that is. I'm a drummer. Are you saying I can't keep time?'"

Andy also challenges the perception that playing along to a predefined click makes tracks sterile and over‑regimented: "You can increase tempos of clicks, as well, people forget. You can make them faster in various places, if a section needs it.

"We're not a band for whom the live thing is absolutely essential. I think that's kind of rare. I think people are fooling themselves if they think that in pop music something magical happens if you all play live. I think that can happen in improvisational music, and I believe it can happen, rarely, in bands that really gel together, the sort of once‑in‑a‑blue‑moon Led Zeppelins of this world, but generally it's much better if you play it piece‑by‑piece and you know exactly what you're doing. You know the feel you're after. And also the thing is that if you all play live, you might over‑play. There are very few bands that under‑play — it's so easy just to fill up more air."

"I think you can get carried away with the volume, as well," agrees Colin. "If you're not able to hear the other parts that other people are playing, you don't know how much you've got to play."

"I still think there's that hangover of people wanting to think it's 'real' in some way, and it has to sound live to be real."

"It gets confused with vitality. You can still play with vitality, and have that sound, even if you're not playing live," concludes Colin.

Andy's Brown Guitar

XTC: Ideal Studio & Recording Apple Venus Vol. 1 & Wasp Star

The perceived 'liveness' of Wasp Star probably has a lot to do with its spiky, sometimes lo‑fi guitar sounds and arrangements, which stand out as quite different to the polished subtlety of other XTC albums. This, in turn, was due to the departure of Dave Gregory, which left Andy in sole charge of guitar duties. Partridge's pragmatic, down‑to‑earth attitude to playing and sounds contrasts sharply with Gregory's studied, highly technical approach. "Dave used to keep a log book of every guitar sound that he'd ever made on record," explains Andy. "He'd write down the amp he'd used, the settings, he'd draw a picture of what the settings were, what guitar he used, what the settings on the guitar were, what the settings on his pedals were, that sort of thing. That's Dave — he's a Virgo, he likes lists. We're not like that, we'd say 'Well, has anyone got an amp going? Oh, the bass amp's on. All right, I'll play through that then.' We're not in love with gear.

"On this album we discovered the Line 6 Pod, and it's taken amp misery out of my life. I found I was pushing it out through my crappy Sessionette 70 amplifier for a little bit more short punch — that was the cheapest amp in the shop when I bought it. I always used to have to beg Dave Gregory to borrow his little Fender, he's got a sort of little boxy Fender thing, because my Ibanez sounded great when the Fender was cranked up full and my cheap little Korg compression pedal went into the amp. That was a good sound — all the way through the Nonsuch album that was my guitar sound. No Dave, no Fender amp, so I thought 'F**k, what am I going to do?'

"In fact, Dave was like a walking Pod," says Colin. "He'd say 'What do you want here, what are you looking for? What era?'"

"'Do you want the late '50s model or the early '60s model? There's quite a difference, you know, the circuit board did change,'" laughs Andy. "And now we've got all those settings on the Pod."

"I like the setting called Black Panel, but I don't even know what one of those is. Is that a song by Deep Purple? 'Black Panel is a long way from home?' I kept gravitating towards that one. It's a very good box, the Pod. Literally, I'm not exaggerating, everything on this album went through the Pod. Drums, bass, guitars, vocals, percussion — and if not in recording, then in mixing."

"I mean, years ago that's how records were made," interjects Colin. "Everything went through an amp of some sort, even vocals."

Andy resumes: "So, yes, the guitar playing sounds different, because I'm playing the fiddly bits and Dave isn't. I mean, he was Mr. Arpeggios, and I can't do arpeggios to save my life. Dave's job was always that kind of third ear, you know, we'd bring a song up and he's your icing chef if you know what I mean, he's your ornamenter. So I suppose we have to do our own ornamentation now, so it will change — Dave's taste in ornamentation is probably not quite ours. The XTC of Nonsuch is not quite the same as the XTC of Apple Venus or Wasp Star. The material didn't need ornamenting so much. I always used to give the fancy stuff to Dave to do, which was a hangover from when we used to play live. You'd think 'Well, I can't play the fancy bits and sing, so I'll do the rhythm guitar and he can do the twiddly bit because he's not singing at that point.' So he always used to get to do the twiddly bits, and I used to have to get the bog‑standard rhythm guitar. Dave was extremely conscious of the chord underpinning, so his playing was really referential to what the chords were doing underneath, whereas I don't give a f**k about what the chords are doing underneath — I'll skate over the top, and if it sounds all right we'll leave it."

"You can do that in your own studio, you can mess about," adds Colin.

"You take the best stuff, the pressure is really off, you don't have people saying 'We can't do too many takes lads, the oxide's wearing off the tape!'"

And For Their Next Trick...?

The other main gear rack. From top: Drawmer DS201 gates, Drawmer LX20, Dbx 160 and Tubetech LCA 2B compressors, Emu Proteus 2000 sound module, XRI XR300 synchroniser, Roland S330 sampler, Emu Proteus 1 sound module.The other main gear rack. From top: Drawmer DS201 gates, Drawmer LX20, Dbx 160 and Tubetech LCA 2B compressors, Emu Proteus 2000 sound module, XRI XR300 synchroniser, Roland S330 sampler, Emu Proteus 1 sound module.

After seven long years away, Apple Venus Volume 1 and Wasp Star have proved that Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding are still among the most innovative talents in pop. Freed from major‑label slavery and writing perhaps the best music they ever have, they seem confident enough to tackle absolutely anything. So what can we expect from their next project — traditional folk music? Avant‑garde electronica?

"We haven't got a clue," insists Partridge. And that, it would seem, is how they like it. Perhaps there is no big idea after all...

Stratospheric Sounds

XTC: Ideal Studio & Recording Apple Venus Vol. 1 & Wasp Star

Since the mid‑'90s, 'vintage' and 'retro' recording techniques, equipment and sounds have been in such vogue that they have become almost an orthodoxy. And among XTC's other achievements, you could credit them with a large role in this revival of interest in '60s technology and production values, thanks to the two albums they recorded in the guise of pastiche psychedelic outfit The Dukes Of Stratosphear — the first of which, 25 O'clock, appeared on Virgin in 1985. Resuming their musical partnership with John Leckie, who had produced the first two 'proper' XTC albums, they deliberately set out to record using only the equipment and techniques available in the late '60s, producing scarily accurate pastiches of bands such as The Electric Prunes, Sergeant Pepper‑era Beatles and early Pink Floyd, along with the extraordinary Beach Boys tribute 'Pale And Precious'.

"John Leckie tried to borrow an archaic four‑track that was owned by Edgar Broughton, but something happened and he couldn't get it," relates Andy. "But he said 'Look, there's a Christian studio up near Hereford that's got lots of archaic old gear. Unfortunately they do have a 24‑channel desk, but we'll just pan everything like it's bounced in a four‑track system.' So we went up there, and the nice people running the nice Christian studio probably thought we were a nice Christian group, and let us have it extremely cheaply, and we tried to do it all in the spirit of the thing. It'd be three mics on the drum kit, stereo pair overhead and one on the bass drum, and pretty much first or second take — 'Come on, no time, we've got to get this one done this morning.' I think we did the first Dukes record in a week to record it and a week to mix it, and we had a few days left over. So it was all very much true to the spirit of it.

"Dave Gregory [ex‑XTC guitarist] was shockingly into it, because he's an old gear freak. We had to stop him from wearing the clothes! He'd supply all the guitars, and the amplifiers, and he'd say 'Well, of course you realise that so‑and‑so used a 1962 model on that song, and I have that very model here.' He had all that anal trainspotter music knowledge, which came in very handy actually, and contributed a lot to the sound of the thing. We'd want archaic fuzz sounds, so he'd have just the right pedal, or we'd want a certain tremolo, and he'd say 'Oh, you'd use a so‑and‑so amp, and I just happen to have one here.' It was great fun to do, and any mistakes we made were just left in. The tracks were cut pretty live‑ish, and it'd be like 'Oh, there's a few chords to learn of Colin's song, tell you what, why don't you play guitar and I'll sit with the bass then, just to get it done.'"

"John Leckie got a huge amount of work out of that album, he had so many offers," recalls Colin.

"While we were doing the second one, he was getting demos from the likes of the Shamen, saying 'We want to sound just like 25 O'Clock. We want to work with you just because of that disc.' It kept his career going for another 10 years!" laughs Andy. "I think time‑wise it was bang on, because it was something that I'd wanted to do since the late '70s, and just hadn't had the time or the finances to do it. We were touring constantly, and then when we weren't touring any more it was like 'Oh, wouldn't it be nice to do that...'"

Having fulfilled this long‑term ambition, however, Andy seems somewhat bemused at the continuing obsession with all things retro: "It was a nostalgia‑powered event. But people have got it wrong, they still think we're interested in '60s music, but that really got it out of our system. Really just completely exorcised it."

"I think a lot of bands since have done it in a much more serious fashion than we did, your Ocean Colour Scenes and your Oasis," Colin adds.

"They're f**king living it, that's the problem!" insists Andy. "It was a fond thank‑you to the bands that made my schooldays, and Dave Gregory's schooldays, slightly more technicoloured. You'd go to school youth club and be eyeing the girls up and there'd be stuff like John Fred and his Playboy Band, 'Judy In Disguise' or 'My White Bicycle' by Tomorrow — just prime English psychedelic singles. So it was a chance to understand how they did that music with their Mellotrons and their fuzzboxes and their flanging and stuff like that. It was a nice little fake architectural gig. It was like a fancy dress ball — we didn't have to be us."

Digital Delights

XTC: Ideal Studio & Recording Apple Venus Vol. 1 & Wasp Star

XTC's no‑nonsense approach also extends to their choice of recording medium, and they are scathing about those who insist on analogue for everything. "That's bollocks, actually. It really is," insists Andy. "It's like this German we were speaking to last week in an interview, he was really berating us for liking CDs. He was saying 'Oh, no, I never buy CDs, I don't have a CD player, I have all vinyl.' I thought 'Come on, wake up matey.' I mean ideally, if CDs were in vinyl‑sized sleeves, that'd be perfection for me. Everyone likes a big Imax of a vinyl sleeve, don't they — 'Wow, surround your head in big‑screen sleeve vision' — but everyone likes the sound of CDs."

Colin adds a qualifier: "Lower down the scale, if you're using a cheaper 8‑track, it can make a difference to the warmth of the recording."

"You really notice it then," agrees Andy. "But higher up the scale, there's no difference."

"RADAR, to me, sounds like tape," Andy avows. "There's no difference. It just sounds fine, you know. You're not sitting there going 'Oh, it's so cold and digital.' Plus we mix to tape in any case, so that flatters it at the last hurdle."

"I mean, if you listen to Apple Venus, it sounds warm. You wouldn't run out of the room screaming 'Aaaarrrggghh, they've used digital.' But you still get these purists who are like 'Oh, I have everything on wax cylinder. I had trouble getting Sandinista on cylinder, I can tell you,'" laughs Andy. "This album, we did it all to RADAR, but with Apple Venus, we recorded it to Sony 24‑track digital. We bought our own one of those second‑hand. It was pretty good at the time, but we quickly found out we were lumbered with a bit of a white elephant, so we got rid of it. Seeing Nick moving stuff around, and editing and playing around with the RADAR, you know, made us think 'Oooh, we should look at one of those.'"

XTC: Ideal Studio & Recording Apple Venus Vol. 1 & Wasp Star