From his Sheffield recording studio Yellow Arch, producer, musician, arranger and programmer Colin Elliot has worked with an illustrious list of musical artists. These include Kylie Minogue, Jarvis Cocker, Duane Eddy, Paul Weller, Slow Club, Hoggboy, My Darling Clementine and Richard Hawley. Asked to recall a favourite sound from the innumerable projects he’s recorded, he settles on Izo FitzRoy’s ‘When The Wires Are Down’.
“We started off Izo’s album by tracking the drums in my booth. It is a really small, tightly padded room, and it sounds great, if you want that kind of hip‑hop sound, that really tight chunky drum sound. So, we had already done the first nine songs for the album in the booth. Izo’s drummer, Sam Walker, is a fantastic player, really musical. He plays really lightly, and generally doesn’t hit hard at all, he just makes everything work by tapping. But when it came to tracking this song, ‘When The Wires Are Down’, it needed a big dramatic sound. So after having tracked drums for four or five days in the booth, we brought the kit out into the live room.
“I used a pair of [Neumann] KM184s over the top of the kit, and then I placed a pair of Royer R121s in the room about 10 feet away. Then it was a question of just balancing those two things up. So, I took the overheads and the room and rammed them together into my UREI 1176‑2 compressor. All the transients from the hits get squashed down, and the ambience of the room pings out.
“It really shows off the acoustics of the live room at Yellow Arch; there’s virtually no reverb added. On the final mix, I sent some of the snare channel and the overheads to a [Logic] Space Designer reverb, but the return fader is only just off the bottom. It is the sound of the room that comes out, and the room sounds fantastic.”
“What I like about the drum performance on this track is Sam’s musical response to having that sound fed back to his mix while he’s playing. You can hear that he is tapping, and then when he needs to, he’ll hit a really dynamic flourish. There is one bit in the second verse where he’s doing virtually nothing — he’s hitting a back beat on a rim shot, just tapping. And then at one point he just whacks the floor tom. It’s one hit, but there’s something about it that made us all go ‘Yes!’
Colin Elliot: I think if I had just given him a dry sound, he wouldn’t have played the way he did.
“And when he needs to, he really swells, doing fills or hits on the snare and on the toms, and you can hear the room responding. The sound fed his performance. I think if I had just given him a dry sound, he wouldn’t have played the way he did. So, the room inspired the miking technique, and the compressed sound fed back to him inspired his performance, which then set the tone for the rest of the song and arrangement and led to the atmospheric and — I hope — dramatic final result.”