With a career that began almost 20 years ago, sound engineer, mixer, producer and all-round audio professional Neak Menter has found many of his skills put to good use over the past couple of years. Having developed a relationship with The Joy Formidable, which has seen both Menter and the band embark on an increasingly rapid ascension since the release of their debut album The Big Roar earlier this year, things look considerably exciting for the future of both parties.
As the band’s live sound engineer and co-producer of The Big Roar Menter has played a vital role in their success, with the album receiving positive reviews and their live tour incorporating appearances at Glastonbury and the Millenium Stadium in support of Paul McCartney and Manic Street Preachers. Last week the band took a side step from its festival and arena dates to play an intimate performance at London’s Rough Trade East store, where Menter mixed to a packed audience of dedicated fans.
With a passion and interest in developing and optimising audio stemming back to his school days as an aspiring guitarist, Menter recalls his formative years: “I was a guitarist in a band at school and wanted a better guitar sound and just started reading lots. This was pre-internet so I would go to the library and I virtually ate the library, finding everything I could about sound and acoustics.”
This early appetite for all things audio led to his first foray into the industry, as an in-house engineer for a number of small venues in Chelmsford, including The White Club. Following a succession of impressive stints in this role, Menter drew the attention of many a touring band, eventually leading to his first outing as a touring engineer with Hertford-based band Bambino. This led to him taking on the role of producer for his own band, After Suburbia, in which he recorded all the band’s material.
Having procured the necessary equipment to record his own band, Menter then moved into the realm of the studio, with an ethos of yielding the best results with the most minimal of resources.
“I started branching out and doing recordings for other bands in Essex, as I had my own eight-track unit. Then from 2002 until a couple of years ago, I worked almost exclusively in the studio. This was always very independent, trying to get as much quality out of as little a budget as possible. Having been in a band myself I always try to keep things as cheap as possible,” he recalls.
However, his work during this period was not entirely confined to the studio, going on the road as a sound engineer for such artists as Pitchshifter and Funeral For a Friend in the late 90s and early 00s. In fact, it is through his work on tour with Funeral for a Friend that he caught the ear of The Joy Formidable’s manager Joel De’ath, which ultimately drew Menter and the band together. He says: “Joel knew me from my work with them [Funeral For a Friend] and about two or three years ago he asked if I would like to go on tour with this band he was managing called The Joy Formidable. I checked out some of their stuff and was blown away, so I jumped at the opportunity.”
With the band’s EP A Balloon Called Moaning already recorded and produced by the band, Menter’s initial role with them was in a touring capacity, with the task of co-producing the album coming later following the band’s signing in the US.
Since touring with the band, Menter has cited Digidesign’s consoles among his favourite to use in the field of live mixing, emphasising their configurability as one of their strongest assets. As an engineer with such a keen interest in experimenting with audio and providing a signature sound for the artists with whom he works, the necessity of such a configurable desk is hardly a surprise. One of the most remarked upon elements of The Joy Formidable’s sound is their sonic density, which is unusually powerful for a three-piece band.
With an emphasis on drums, Menter explains how he goes about creating such a distinct snare sound at live shows: “I do this thing with the snare drum using Digidesign desks, where I take a copy of the snare top channel and flip the phase so it’s a complete cancellation. I then compress it, so it has a very fast attack and release, and then high-pass filter it, creating an expansion that only affects the top end. So, when the snare’s struck, the top end is nice and clear, as is the bottom end, and the under-snare is still ungated. I’m really into taking live sound forward in this sense.”
Menter also noted the Soundcraft Vi6 as another personal favourite; the desk on which he mixed the band’s sound at this year’s Glastonbury festival. He added, “The Vi6’s have got a nice sound to them. The EQ sounds really good and the layout is pretty decent.”
When it comes to mixing and producing work in the studio, both the band and Menter are long-standing advocates of Cubase, paying tribute to its capacity to garner the best results on a relatively low budget. He comments: “The band are very much Cubase-based, and that’s where I come from; keeping things on as tight a budget as possible and getting the best results possible.”
It would certainly appear that this approach is paying off, with non-other than the Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl not only citing the band’s single ‘Whirring’ as his “song of the year”, but also inviting the band to go on tour with them. This accolade, alongside the continually growing critical and commercial success of the band, suggests that exciting times lie ahead for both Neak Menter and The Joy Formidable.