British guitar band The Lathums achieved the rare feat of topping the charts with their debut album. Mix engineer Caesar Edmunds was at the controls.
The chart‑topping position of the Lathums’ debut album How Beautiful Life Can Be last month was remarkable for several reasons. It was the band’s first number one, an achievement that was all the more impressive because the teenage band from Wigan formed as recently as 2019. They landed a deal with Island Records in less than a year, and in 2020 a compilation of their first two EP’s called The Memories We Make reached number 14 in the UK album charts. But with the pandemic making touring and other in‑person promotion impossible, the band’s upwards momentum might well have stalled.
The opposite clearly was the case. Perhaps the Lathums’ were also riding a popular wave, because there’s the not insignificant matter of the band’s UK number one marking another milestone in what appears to be a renaissance of British guitar‑based bands. So far this year, 28 percent of UK album number ones consisted of British bands, compared to 17 percent in 2020 and 15 percent in 2019. Other guitar bands with chart‑topping albums this year include Wolf Alice, the Snuts, Manic Street Preachers, Bring Me The Horizon, London Grammar, Royal Blood and You Me At Six.
How Beautiful Life Can Be was also a first number one for Caesar Edmunds, the album’s mixer. Edmunds has been around a long time in the London studio scene, and has impressive mixing engineer credits like Foals, Editors, the Killers, Queens Of The Stone Age, and many more. However, Edmunds obtained most of these credits while working for, and with, legendary mixer Alan Moulder.
“I started working with Alan in 2012,” recalls Edmunds. “I began as a runner here at Assault & Battery Studios, going between Alan and Flood, who when I arrived were working on a Foals album. As I had joined the recording process towards the tail end, it was quite intense. So I stuck around more in Alan’s room as he had just started mixing the album. I gradually gravitated more and more towards mixing, and became Alan’s full‑time assistant.”
Alan Moulder and Flood are the owners of Assault & Battery Studios in North London, and barely need an introduction, as they have between them been involved in the making of classic albums by the Smashing Pumpkins, U2, Depeche Mode, Foo Fighters, Arctic Monkeys, and others. Edmunds was Moulder’s right‑hand man for nine years, and enjoyed the experience so much that he was in no hurry to go independent. He only made the jump early this year, physically moving only a few yards, as he set up his own mix room down the corridor from Moulder’s studio.
When asked what he learned from working with Moulder and Flood, Edmunds doesn’t hesitate for a moment: “That it is about how music feels. So trust your gut! Going to LIPA [Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts] was great, but it made me too clinical as a mixer. When you learn from people like Alan and Flood, who really are the cream of the cream of the studio industry, you learn that the most important thing is how it feels. That you need to ask yourself what it is you’re trying to convey with your mix. It’s not about the effects or the EQ. I learned all the tools and techniques at LIPA. In the real world it’s about very different things.”
Caesar Edmunds: The most important thing is how it feels. You need to ask yourself what it is you’re trying to convey with your mix. It’s not about the effects or the EQ. I learned all the tools and techniques at LIPA. In the real world it’s about very different things.
Working with Flood and Moulder was a culmination of a journey that began in Edmunds’ native Singapore, where he was heavily into music, mostly playing guitar. He then spent his national service being a police officer for two years on the streets of Singapore.
“That was crazy! Before I was a police officer I had tried to do some music courses in Singapore, but did not manage to get into any course. But I was admitted to LIPA, which was great. I moved to the UK in 2009, and spent three years in Liverpool. The first year was like a foundation course, with the first half dedicated to music, and the second half to sound technology. I had never stepped into a studio until then. I loved it. I realised quickly that there were many people around me who were better at playing the guitar and songwriting, but I still wanted to be involved with music, so decided to concentrate on working in studios.
“At some point I managed to get Alan’s email address, and asked him whether I could be a teaboy or whatever, and he wrote back, saying ‘come over.’ So I started literally making tea and so on. Of course, over time I took on more responsibilities, and eventually ended up with mix engineer credits, with Alan supervising these mixes. Alan would sit in front of the desk and speakers, while I’d be manning Pro Tools. We got to a point where it was almost telepathic. Alan would just look at me, and I would know exactly what to do.”
Moulder and Edmunds’ telepathic connection played a part in the making of the Grammy‑nominated album Villains by Queens Of The Stone Age, and Edmunds also acted as mix engineer on Grammy‑nominated albums by PJ Harvey (The Hope Six Demolition, 2016, mixed by Flood) and St Vincent (three tracks on Masseduction, 2019, with Catherine Marks directing the mix). The title song on the latter won a Grammy Award for Best Rock Song, also earning Edmunds a Grammy.
Even before formally going independent, Edmunds already had been mixing projects on his own, including by Blossoms, EOB (Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien), Nada Surf, Circa Waves, Frank Carter & the Rattlesnake, Suede, HMLTD, White Lies, Ride, Palace and the Amazons. This work earned him the Breakthrough Engineer Of The Year award at the 2020 MPG Awards. Like the Lathums, Edmunds is over the moon with a first number one purely under his own steam. “My girlfriend and I did get the champagne out!” he says.
Edmunds conducts his mixes from his own room at Assault & Battery, which has extensive monitoring as well as some choice pieces of outboard. Before diving into the mix of How Beautiful Life Can Be he elaborates on his tools.
“I have a 7.1.4 Atmos system consisting of all Genelecs 8320A’s, plus five more speakers, so I have quite a few! My main stereo monitors are the Genelec The Ones and PMC Twotwo8. I use the Dangerous Monitor ST to control all those monitors. My interface is the Avid HD I/O, though I hope to soon get the MTRX Studio. I work almost entirely in the box, and I have the UAD‑2 Satellite to help with that, but I do have a collection of outboard units that do things that I can’t replicate in the box.
“For example, I have the SSL Fusion, Overstayer Modular Channel, Overstayer Saturator NT‑02A, Inward Connections Vac Rac 4000, Chandler TG1 Limiter, two Standard Audio Level‑Or limiters, and two Kramer Pye compressors, that used to belong to Spike [Stent], then to Cenzo [Townshend] and then to Alan. They have a very good pedigree! I also have a few reverbs and delays from Oto.”
According to Edmunds, work on the Lathums’ album began in March 2020. Apparently he got the job because of connections he still had from his Liverpool days: How Beautiful Life Can Be was engineered by LIPA graduate Chris Taylor, and produced by James Skelly, also known as the driving force behind the Coral, a band from the Wirral Peninsula, next to Liverpool. “So it was a word‑of‑mouth thing. They sent me the first song to mix in the middle of the first lockdown, and when they heard what I had done, said, ‘Right, you can do the entire album.’
“I worked on the album for the rest of the year, but not all the time, of course. I mixed in phases. Sometimes they could come over to London with a handful of songs, and then they’d go back north to record more songs. Sometimes I had to mix by myself. I have to say that for me it was great, because the band members are young, and they are full of hope and optimism, and their music is quite cheerful and happy. That sometimes really helped me not to go into a dark hole during the pandemic!
“The album was recorded at Parr Street Studios in Liverpool by Chris Taylor, who did rough mixes on the Neve VR60 desk there. For each song he then bounced the rough mix, and sent that to me with a Pro Tools session that had the plug‑ins removed. So I got the raw audio tracks, apart from in some rare occasions where they considered an effect essential, in which case he printed it. I think the idea of not giving me any plug‑ins was that they wanted my take on the music, rather than me just continuing where they had left off. They wanted a new perspective. It was good, because it made me work harder to be able to beat his rough mixes!”
When receiving a Pro Tools session to mix, Edmunds first goes through the usual routines of finding out what’s there, and prepping the mix. “I don’t work with a mix template, other than that I am used to having my session tracks in a certain order, and with the different sections always in the same colours. Rough mix and master tracks are at the top, then drums in blue, bass in brown‑red, guitars in green, keys in yellow, vocals in violet, backing vocals in pink, and aux tracks in default green. I like to have my aux tracks with the tracks they effect, rather than all at the bottom.
“I know that Pro Tools now allows you to have preset tracks and stuff like that, but I still prefer to take the time to load each plug‑in individually, as and when needed. Yes, that does mean that I go through all my thousands of plug‑ins each time, although I of course have my go‑tos, like for example the DMG Audio EQuilibrium for EQ. I also like the FabFilter Pro‑Q 2, but I struggle with the interface. When I try to adjust settings with my mouse, the settings often jump around like crazy.
“The way I approach the actual mix is fairly standard, the same as everyone else. I start with the drums, and then the bass, and I get them rocking together, and then I bring in the guitars, and the synths, and once the drums and music are all rocking, I finally add the vocals. I get a big result very quickly, and at that point it is a matter of doing a vibe check. From there I go into the details, like vocals, doing small rides and so on.
“I know there are people who never listen in solo, but I’m fine with doing that. You have to hear what’s happening. I’ll solo things and work on them quickly, and will then listen to them in the track again. I also often mix in sections, like, I’ll work on a verse and then a chorus, and then it’s like a jigsaw fitting it all together again and to get everything to flow. Sometimes the jigsaw pieces don’t match, and then it’s like, ‘arghh,’ and you need to spend time fixing that.
“With the Lathums, Chris’ sessions were extremely well‑organised and recorded, so I did not need to address any technical issues. I rarely do vocal production or tuning, and in this case I don’t think Alex Moore’s lead vocals had any tuning. He’s a really good singer. After I put the tracks in my preferred order with my preferred colours, I did then try to get the mix to sound like his monitor mix, using my own plug‑ins, and then I added my own flavours to that.
“I did not add any drum samples. Normally I may add kick or snare samples to a session, but everything sounded really good, and sort of worked. I wanted to make sure that the music sounded genuine, and not make it sound slick or generic. This was my mix approach in general for this album.
“One challenge was that in the song ‘I’ll Get By’ they had only recorded the kick and hat together, and each of the other drum parts separately. I think it’s because there’s a marching band snare. Things being recorded separately meant that there was very little bleed, which is good, but the drawback is that it makes it more difficult to get the drums to gel together. Each drum part was a different performance, and this needed some attention.”
Edmunds picked some of the ‘I’ll Get By’ session’s highlights, often emphasising vibe and feel. “With the drums I tend to EQ directly on the audio tracks, using the EQuilibrium. With the kick, for example, it’s a matter of taking out some of the classic honk, between 2‑400 Hz, and also taking out some room. They had recorded the drums in a big room at Parr Street, and there was already enough natural ambience, so I did not need to add any reverb.
“The kick sub has the XLN Audio DS‑10 Drum Shaper, with which I took out some sustain. It’s quite an upbeat song, and if the kick is too long, you take some of the danciness out and with that the vibe. There’s also a Brainworx bx_console SSL 4000E plug‑in, with which I took out some low end and top end.
“The hats subgroup has the Waves TG12345 for some limiting, and has a send to the Hats Delay aux, with the EchoBoy, which is set to a 16th‑note delay for a shuffle feel. It works in the track, and enhances the feel. The snare sub goes to the same 16th‑note delay, and I also sent it to my outboard Valley People Dynamite Stereo Compressor/Limiter, super‑squashing it.
“The tambourine tracks have a send to a verb aux, with the Waves RVerb set to a preset. If you load something up and it sounds good, stop yourself from touching it! Everything goes to the drum sub, on which I have the UAD ATR 102, for some tape saturation that helps to gel all the drums together, so it feels more like one performance. There’s a Fatso on the Drum Parallel that only works in the choruses, and that does the same thing. It makes the choruses jump a bit more. The Drums.cm track is my drums print, for safety, because I used some outboard.”
Edmunds moves on to the bass, with the only treatments, four plug‑ins, appearing on the two bass sub tracks. “The heavy lifting on these bass subs is done with the Waves L1 Limiter and the Waves Renaissance AXX Guitar Compressor. Sometimes you have to just trust the classics! I’m trying to really squash the bass with the AXX in the verses, and also added the UAD 1176 A. The chorus bass did not need that much compression.”
The two acoustic guitar tracks, again split for verse and the rest, is the only exception to Edmunds’ tendency to have most of his treatments on the group sub track. Instead the audio tracks are awash with plug‑ins, and there’s no acoustic guitar sub.
Edmunds: The inserts on the acoustic guitar tracks start with Oeksound Soothe 2 to take out string noises, then EQuilibrium, a send to my Pye compressor, and the bx_console SSL channel.
“The inserts on the acoustic guitar tracks start with Oeksound Soothe 2 to take out string noises, then EQuilibrium, a send to my Pye compressor, and the bx_console SSL channel. I added a Waves C4 multiband to the chorus guitar, and both acoustic guitar tracks go to the Gen Verb aux, with the Relab LX 480 reverb, which adds some colour and a different feel. This is about getting the right energy in the track. The verse acoustic guitar also has sends to the Arp Guitar Spring aux and the UAD Ocean Way aux. All this makes the verse guitar a bit more dreamy while the sound gets tightened up in the choruses.”
Normal service is resumed on the electric guitar tracks, with very few plug‑ins on the audio track inserts, in many cases none at all. “As you can see in the track names, the sound sources were a DI, a Shure SM57, and a Sennheiser MD421, recorded each on a different track. They all get sent to the Arp Guitar sub, arp standing for arpeggio. The Arp Guitar track has another EQuilibrium, and a UAD LA‑2A G and Waves L1 limiter, and four sends, three of them going to the same aux tracks as the acoustic guitar tracks: Gen Verb, Ocean Way and Arp Spring.
“The Arp Spring aux has the AudioThing Springs reverb, which has a nice analogue vibe. The Arp Chorus aux has the UAD Roland CE‑1 Chorus Ensemble, to give the guitars a bit more space and shimmer. The guitars were well‑recorded, but you want to add something to make them sound more special. I also have the CE‑1 on the Morricone guitar riff in the outro. Similarly, I added some more life to the Juno synth using the Soundtoys Decapitor, and the Overloud Gem Dopamine, which basically is an aural exciter, with which I add some distortion in the high end.”
The lead vocal tracks are again split between verses and the rest, with a separate track for the middle eight. They have the Soothe 2 and Softube Tube‑tech CL‑1B compressor plug‑ins on the audio tracks, and many plug‑ins and sends on the corresponding sub aux tracks. Edmunds: “This sub signal chain became the vocal sound for the entire album. I tried to create a vocal sound that was uniform, so I settled on this particular chain, which I adjusted for each song, or even each song section.
“The CL‑1B on the inserts does some gentle compression, and after that I like to ride the vocals into the compressor, so on the sub tracks I have the UAD 1176 A, set very aggressively. It sounds different when you ride into a compressor. I also have a Waves C4, TG12345 and in the verses the Waves L1 limiter on the sub tracks. There’s a lot of compression on the vocals!
“The sends on the verse lead vocals go to the LV Verb aux with my hardware Oto BAM reverb, the LV Slap aux with the Line 6 EchoFarm, and the Reverb 10 aux goes to an Eventide reverb pedal. The ST Slap and Gentle DDL auxes each have the EchoBoy, and the Bloom aux has Avid ReVibe II. There’s also a lot going on with the vocals! I like slightly overdriven reverb, which is why I use the Oto. You can grit that up very easily!
“The chorus and middle eight lead vocal subs don’t have the Gentle DDL, but instead sends to the M8DDL, with the EchoBoy and Focusrite d3 EQ, and the MicroPitch aux with the Eventide H3000 Factory, and the LV Key. The H3000 gives a weird effect with different pitches going up and down, which adds a chorus‑like effect that makes the vocals pop out. The LV Key is keyed to the Juno synth track. Whenever the vocals sound, the Juno is ducked down a little.”
Ending his session exposé at the beginning, Edmunds returns to his Master track at the top. “The Master track has the Cytomic The Glue compressor, which is based on the famous SSL bus compressor. I really like it. Then I have my outboard SSL Fusion for some analogue colouring, drive and stereo width. The iZotope Ozone 9 that comes next adds some top end, and finally, there’s a FabFilter Pro‑L 2, for level. The album was mastered by John Davis at Metropolis. Before sending the files to him I took the Ozone and L2 off, to give him a fighting chance to do his work!”
Edmunds indicated earlier that organisation is very important to him, and his Pro Tools mix session of ‘I’ll Get By’ is nothing if not very tidy. The session’s track count of 89 tracks is in line with modern mix sessions, though arguably quite extensive given that it’s a recording of a four‑piece guitar band, without added samples. At the top is the rough mix, called Monitor Mix, followed by Edmunds’ mix print, the Master track, and two VCA tracks, one to be able to quickly solo all vocals and one offering the same option for the music.
Download the ZIP file for a larger, detailed view of the session.
Underneath this top section are the drums, starting with five kick tracks: inside mic, outside mic, overheads, room and stone. The room ambience was recorded with the kick. This is followed by a Kick Sub aux track. Next are four hi‑hat audio tracks, followed by a hi‑hat sub and hi‑hat delay track (with Soundtoys EchoBoy), six snare tracks and a snare sub, tambourine and shaker tracks, a drum sub and a Drums Parallel group with the UAD Fatso Jr tape simulator plug‑in, and a drums print track.
The pattern of several audio tracks being sent to an aux sub or group track repeats itself further down, with three bass tracks and a bass sub for the verses, and the same for the rest of the song. The structure of the guitar section of the session below is more complicated, but still roughly the same, and at the bottom is a Roland Juno and a Juno SPX track.
The structure of the vocal session is reversed, with a small number of audio tracks but several aux tracks each. The lead vocal is split into verse, chorus, and middle‑eight tracks, and there are backing vocals by guitarist Scott Concepcion. One crucial detail is that throughout the session there are very few plug‑ins on the aux tracks, with the vast majority of plug‑ins on the aux sub and aux effect tracks.