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Producer · Engineer · FOH
Carl Bown
Carl Bown
Carl Bown

Carl Bown

Carl Bown
Carl Bown

One of the most exciting producers in the UK, Carl Bown talks everything from catching the producing bug to what it's like working with some of the biggest superstars in the rock world. 

Trivium, Machine Head, While She Sleeps, Bullet for my Valentine, As I Lay Dying, Gunship, Carcass, Fightstar
I got the bug...

My uncle was a musician and my grandad managed him, so there was music in my family when I was growing up. They recorded demos together on a reel to reel, which I’ve kept in my studio to this day. It has a sound on sound function and he showed me how that all worked. It just blew my mind, being able to put sounds on top of other sounds. I would have been around 7 when he taught me how to use it and I got hooked from then.

I went down the traditional route of learning to play the violin at school, played a bit of piano and the recorder earlier on like you do. At some point, a friend of mine got a guitar and that changed everything. In the early process of playing guitar in bands, I realised that all of the demos we were getting done just sounded terrible and I thought that I could probably do a better job of it, purely out of the frustration of not being happy with anything that we got back. That was my introduction into recording and producing really. I got the bug... It gets under your skin and that’s it, you’re knackered forever, you’ve got to do it!

I pulled out every stop to make it work

I started out by doing demos for bands and whilst I was studying at university. During the 3 year course, I took a gap year or what was supposed to be a year of working in the industry of the subject you were studying. I basically lied to my university and recorded bands for the whole year. During that year, I did a few recordings for bands who ended up getting some small deals and came to me to do some album projects.

I actually went back to uni and finished with a degree in Computer Science. I had to make a decision to either get a job or start recording. So I chose recording and on the side, doing some web design stuff to keep me going. It quickly just took over, I was needing 8 days in the week to get stuff done! I gradually expanded my gear and the space I was working in.

Then some of the bands I had recorded early on started getting some slightly bigger deals, but still really under the radar stuff profile wise. It allowed me to make some more money to put towards extra bits of gear and spend more creative time on the projects I was working on. I knew straight away that if I made these demos sound as good as album tracks, they would stay with me to do the albums. So that was what I did, I pulled out every stop to make it work.

Landmark moments

I did some demos for Fightstar’s second record, they went out to LA to record the album and weren’t entirely happy with the mixes. So they came back to me for the mixing and that eventually opened some doors to more projects. On the back of that I recorded, engineered and produced Fightstar’s third record which I received an MPG breakthrough producer of the year nomination for. I got a manager and started to get more work. By chance, my manager was also managing Colin Richardson. He had been my hero growing up as a record producer. We ended up working together, I was engineering for him. We went out to Florida to do a Trivium record together. I knew at that point, that I couldn’t do anything else. I was going out to America for a few months at a time to record and had time for nothing else! 

Working with Colin is one of the highlights of my career, he is the finest mentor you could ever have. He was so open with all of his knowledge and a great teacher, definitely a turning point for me.

My proudest moment was recently, seeing While She Sleeps on the back of the last record at a completely sold out show at the Roundhouse. I remember the first record I did with them, I’ve done four albums for them now! Before that first record, I remember seeing them play in Notting Hill Arts Centre and there was maybe 50-80 people there total. I had this moment at the Roundhouse, I was stood on the balcony and it felt like all those hours sat listening, producing and doing what we do all pays off. That was definitely a landmark moment.

My go to method...

Some people are quite impulsive and others are calculated in the way they write and want to record. Both have their merits. I suppose my go-to method though would be to get the demos in and do the right amount of pre-production because it really does pay dividends on the back end. To get tracks as solid as I can before the recording starts. I also like to get the band away from the studio and just get to know them beforehand, you’re going be stuck in a room together so it’s nice to just hang out before!

I start with drums and editing process of drums and I’ll always do rhythm guitars next, before the bass which is important for me for tuning purposes. A lot of the time I’ll be recording 5 and 6 string guitar chords plus quad tracking them and lead guitars on top of that. At that point, it’s much easier to record the one bass string over that and have it bang in tune with the other guitars.

I then like to get into the vocals as soon as possible, just to spend more time on them. I feel as though they’re always the last to go down and left until the last minute when ultimately, they’re arguably the most important things doing down on the track! It’s important to make sure that everyone has the amount of time they need to be comfortable and get down what they need to.

After that, as many overdubs and synth related things as needed. Often, I like to track too much stuff and then strip it back in the mixing process. I once read an interview with Quincy Jones and he said, “Record everything, and then decide”. I thought that was a great concept.

Blown away

I remember first encountering Aston Microphones when trying out the Origin very early on and it just sounded great. The Starlights after that quickly became my go-to acoustic guitar mic. I ended up getting the Spirit, which I love to use on bass cabs, although, recently we tracked the Stealth on the bass rig and it had this brilliant Bay area, 1k thing going on which just added so much to the bass sound.

I do love the Spirit, it sounds like the bass amp sounds in the room. The bass tone on the last two While She Sleeps albums is the Spirit! And I remember putting up the Sony C-800 up against the Spirit in some vocal tests with Bullet for my Valentine. We hired a load of mics in to test for the session. I was blown away with how the spirit stood up against.  I just love Aston’s punk rock attitude of “That’s how it’s always been done. How can we do it now?”

I’ve got tonnes going on at the moment but the irritating thing is that everything I have currently in process, I cannot talk about! Haha!

Out-takes

Q. Who are your favourite artists?
A. I would absolutely love to mix a Deftones record, they have always had a massive influence on the way I hear drums and the way I effect vocals. Ever since their first record, I grew up with them and bands like Korn. That whole scene was something that really stood out for me.

I did eventually get to work with them but, Machinehead’s first record! I realised later that Colin (Richardson) had mixed and produced that. It was the heaviest thing I’d ever heard so I just had to know how it was done!
I mixed two records for ‘Gunship’ and they are just a fantastic band that was a step away from what I’d normally do. They’re really pioneering a new synth wave thing. It just gets you right in the feels! To work with them is a privilege and a real contrast to the bands I have previously worked with.

Q. If you weren’t working in music what would you be doing?
A. I love cooking, so possibly something to do with food. A different kind of mixing I guess!
Sometimes my favourite part of the day is going home and cooking the evening meal for me and my wife!


Q. What would your fantasy mic be? (i.e. not one currently in existence!)
A. I like the idea of a modelling mic where you can tell the mic what to do profile-wise and it would output what you dialled in. The problem with the modelling mics at the moment is that they aren’t really committing to anything and you need the software after the recording etc etc….. almost like a DI that needs re-amping. But if you could dial something in and that’s what you got out straight to tape, now THAT would be great!


Q. What are the 4 words you’d chose to describe Aston or your experience with the brand?
A. Great Sounding (Kinda cheating but they do!), Robust & Sassy

Q. What was the first song that made you cry?
A. A recent one, which was actually really hard to mix, it choked me up a lot. I had to keep coming back to it.
Gunship’s ‘When you grow up, your heart dies’.

Aston Credits

Bullet for My Valentine
While She Sleeps

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