01 July 1995

The Guitar Magazine - Loco motives: in the studio with The Verve and Owen Morris

Verve's fifth member (sixth if you count Liam Gallagher - handclaps on ‘History’) for the making of ‘A Northern Soul’ was producer Owen Morris. Virtually unknown until he manned the desk for Oasis's ‘Definitely Maybe’, he helped The Verve achieve their biggest and most natural sound to date.

'The Verve thing started with me going to see them play in their little Wigan rehearsal room, and they just blew me head off,' he recalls. 'And originally the plan was to record the album there. So when we got them to Loco studios in Newport my task was to capture, basically, the sound of them just playing together and not to bland it out by trying to be too clever. Usually, the version you're hearing is the first playback, just the monitor mix on the DAT with no overdubs - not even vocals, which were 90 percent from the run-throughs.'

As with ‘Definitely Maybe’, the room ambience is strikingly real, though in the case of ‘A Northern Soul’ there's an even greater sense of depth. Splitting his guitar into a Marshall stack for a deep, unaffected growl and an old AC30 ('The best I've ever tried,' he says) to handle his flightier, FX-laden touches, McCabe creates a remarkable two-tier sound. Only the title track diverges from that amplification recipe, where the Eddie Hazel-esque wah-wah part was rendered on an unknown 30 quid head overloaded into the desk. 'I bought it in a pram shop in Wigan,' he laughs, 'I was a bit loath to use it at first - I mean, it's really vile, ain't it?!'

'Mike-wise,' reveals Owen Morris, 'We placed a Shure SM57 and a Neumann U47 very close, and then a pair of Geffels - really, bright, open sounding mikes - about six, seven feet away. And then we'd mush those all together with a load of compression... In things like ‘Drive You Home’, where you hear the guitar sound moving between the speakers that's purely the amps changing, and the compressed sound picking up different bits of the room.

One interesting thing is that The Verve didn't use headphones, so they were all using stage wedges with their different monitor mixes. So however much we tried to separate hem there's a certain amount of bleed from the wedges into the mikes.'

'It was just like doing a gig,' grins Simon Jones. 'We didn't have to worry about anything but getting off our heads and playing music.'

One victim of The Verve's recent success has been Nick McCabe's beloved Gibson ES335: only just repaired, the glued-together neck took exception to a hot night in Las Vegas and simply flopped off. The replacement is a Les Paul - again the first he's liked -though there's some Strat on the album and a Tokai Talbo delivering the storming ultrablues of ‘Let The Damage Begin’, the B-side of the album's first single, ‘This Is Music’. 'It's this early '80s guitar with a cast aluminium body. It's hideous. And when I wrote the riff it only had three strings on it. And it was totally out of tune!'

Acoustics used included Nick's Takamine 12-string and Richard's Gibson J-200, while Simon Jones put his Fender Jazz bass through an Ampeg SVT II, DI'd, compressed and filtered at mixdown via a Mini Moog to remove some of the higher frequencies.

'We made a big cock up about four weeks into the sessions,' admits Owen Morris. 'We changed the strings on Simon's bass and we were fucked for about a month! He hadn't changed his strings for about two years. We took the old strings off, put them somewhere, put the new ones on. They sounded shit. We gave them till the morning to settle in and they still sounded shit! And then we couldn't find the original set!! So we were literally buggered. We ended up wiping dirt in to his new strings.'
To be honest, this wasn't the only headache The Verve gave Morris. The band's monomaniacal quest for the perfect vibe, though admirable in itself, led to days of fannying about. Eventually, the producer lost his rag, smashing a studio window and a pair of perfectly good monitors at the suddenly rather aptly named Loco.

'They don't really need a producer,' he sighs, 'because they will do producer's heads in. They did my head in, completely and utterly. There you go. That's life. It's a fantastic album at the end of the day, but it's not a process that I'd ever want to go through again, ha ha!'

'If we don't reach that level of inspiration then we don't play,' intones Ashcroft gravely. 'We go down the pub instead. This record was a story of three days working up to that level and three days to come down from it. I know a lot of bands that can bash out an album in a few days, but that's cutting out, like, 90 per cent of human emotion. That's machine-like. If you take a photograph of four people, the chances that all four are going to look good at that single moment in time are a million to one. And it's the same when four people pick up instruments at the same time.'

'It looks like we're going to go through producers like God knows what,' a sheepish Jones concedes, 'because it's so intense. They're there with the music on this mad heavy trip. And it's... it's ‘macabre’.'
  • Source: The Guitar Magazine, July 1995