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BILLY LUNN: A Producer by Necessity (Part Four)

Laura  Barnes
BILLY LUNN: A Producer by Necessity (Part Four)

The Subways frontman and MI Pro columnist Billy Lunn concludes the story of how he became a ‘producer by necessity’ with this fourth and final instalment of the series, where he talks about what he learnt from The Smiths and Blur producer Stephen Street…

So, after touring our second album All or Nothing for a solid couple of years, we settled into our rehearsing studio in Hertford, and I realised I had nothing to offer Charlotte and Josh in the way of new ideas. Absolutely nothing. And it was soul-destroying.

Contrary to this, in preparation for our second album All or Nothing, I’d spent so much of my time whilst touring Young for Eternity writing and piecing together new ideas – so that when we hit the studio we already had a ton of ideas at our disposal. As well as all this material being inspired by the prospect of touring the world a couple of times over, this was also after seeing so many of our contemporaries falling short on their second albums (constantly referred to as “the sophomore slump”), and I’d promised myself that I was going to give Charlotte and Josh something bigger and bolder to work with for that supposedly “difficult second album”.

Unfortunately I’d exhausted myself in the process, as touring YFE rolled into recording AON, (albeit following a few months recovering from throat surgery), which then rolled right into touring the world with AON without stopping for a breath or even the idlest of looks around me.
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So we all just sat there in the rehearsal studio to write the third album and we stared vacantly at each other. With nothing new to offer, I began to feel like I’d let everyone down. We’d also parted ways with Warner Bros Records after a new head of A&R had come in and cleaned up shop, tightening the creative straitjackets and turning a lot of the label’s really interesting acts into radio fodder.

I’d had one meeting with this new superstar head of A&R and I immediately realised how good we’d had it up until that point. I didn’t want to be strangled, and, luckily, he wasn’t particularly bothered about strangling us. I’d met him a few times before he took over at Warner, and he’d claimed that girls should be in the audience and not on the stage. And then, during our one-and-only meeting at Warner HQ, he decided that he was going to play me some songs that he thought I should reproduce in my own music – and it wasn’t really my thing. I just wanted to play rock’n’roll with my two best friends, and believe in the noises we were making. Bye bye, Warner Bros.

It was at this point that I realised that I needed to take charge and surge forward and remain positive. The world we knew was changing around us: Tories were back in power (thanks to a campaign of lies and a complacent public); fans were coming up to us at festivals telling us how much they loved us, all the while revealing that they’d actually illegally downloaded all our albums (I know, right); my drinking was getting worse, and, as a consequence, so was my depression; and, on top of all that, for the first time in years, I had nothing up my sleeves in the way of new song ideas.

That was when I decided to sort my act out. I rustled up the money from somewhere (most probably by doing some DJ and acoustic sets here and there across the UK) and bought the latest budget Pro Tools hardware, a 003+ rack, which had eight mic preamp inputs, and I started to mess around.

Wow. I could record so much on this thing! I could even do a proper recording of a full drum performance with that many inputs! I rustled up some more cash for microphones, got Josh and Charlotte in the studio, and for months we just ground away at ideas, recording them as soon as we were capable of sewing them together. It was a time in my life when I swear I went to sleep in my tiny apartment in Ware with my acoustic guitar still strapped across my chest. And, eventually, we had about eighteen songs that we believed could go on any album – some of it being the best stuff we’d ever written.

By some miracle, our managers had managed (ha!) to get me a meeting with Stephen Street (who has produced the likes of The Smiths and Blur), and I found myself in his studio near Elephant and Castle station with a CD full of songs. Stephen sat me down and just flat-out told me that he thought the album was 50% done already, with some ready-made singles to go with that.

I was so relieved at how impressed he was. “Let’s find some dates that work for all of us, let’s get in the studio, and let’s finish this album of yours.” So we did. In the studio, we pulled up the demos and we re-recorded the parts where I clearly needed to improve my recording skills: those mainly being the drums and the bass guitars (go figure). Most of the vocals were re-recorded too. I knew now exactly where I needed to improve in all aspects of recording, and exactly how I would do that. Stephen was incredibly patient and considerate when talking me through his whole process, right up to the mixing stage, which is when he described how he wanted the Left and Right channels to be. “You need to give whoever is mastering the tracks enough room so that they can do their job”.

During the mastering process, with Stephen Street sat right there beside me, I said aloud “I reckon I can do this all now. I can make an album from beginning to end. Not just write it. I could MAKE an album in its entirety.” But the learning had only really just begun. And that’s how I became a producer by necessity.

Read the previous chapters of Billy Lunn’s Producer By Necessity series below:

A Producer by Necessity (Part One)

A Producer by Necessity (Part Two)

A Producer by Necessity (Part Three)


Tags: the subways , Opinion , billy lunn , column , producer by necessity , Stephen Street

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