We're getting closer to this year's Pro Sound Awards, and AMI has been speaking to a range of up-and-comers in the pro-audio industry, all vying for a chance to take home the Rising Star prize on 24 September.
Stepping forward from the pack is Riley MacIntyre, who told us about his long journey from a makeshift studio in his bedroom in Canada to becoming production assistant engineer for Paul Epworth at The Church Studios, London...
So how did you start out?
I became interested in recording music about ten years ago. In high school I bought a cheap interface and condenser mic, and converted my bedroom into a little studio. After high school I decided to move to the nearby city of Kelowna, British Columbia, to study Audio Engineering at The Centre for Arts and Technology.
At the time I never imagined I’d pursue a career in audio engineering. Being from a small town in Canada, working in the music industry just didn’t seem like a realistic possibility. I always thought of it as more of an interest and hobby than a career path. Before moving to London, I spent five years playing in bands and recording albums for local acts, mostly in project studios. During this time I was working on fruit farms to support my music habit, and I was eventually given a small cabin to live in on a farm. By that time I’d collected enough gear that I was able to set it up as a pretty decent little recording and rehearsal space.
Where are you based?
I am currently based at The Church Studios in North London, where I work as an assistant engineer for producer Paul Epworth. The Church is also run commercially, so I occasionally work as an in-house assistant to visiting engineers as well.
What made you want to work in pro-audio?
My initial interest in audio and music technology was sparked by curiosity about the relationship between music and sound. Exploring that relationship further, through making music and studying audio engineering, led to a deeper and more comprehensive interest in the technology, and the recording process itself.
Who would you say are your biggest influences?
Matt Wiggins, who I’m lucky enough to work with every day, is my biggest influence in terms of a practical working style as an engineer. He’s really defined, and helped me to understand what an engineer can and should be. If I ever achieve anything, it will be thanks to his mentorship.
In a more creative sense, one of my most long-standing influences is Nigel Godrich. Radiohead records were among the first that really made me start to wonder exactly how all those sounds were being created and captured. Lately I’ve been really into Steve Albini. I find his philosophy of making the recording process itself as transparent as possible, and trying to make records that are a true and organic representation of what a particular band is, really inspiring. I’m also into a lot of heavy guitar music, and the work of engineers and producers like Joe Barresi, Matt Bayles, and Garth Richardson has really rubbed off on me in terms of how that music can sound on record.
Do you have any achievements you are particularly proud of? What are the big landmarks of your career?
The biggest landmark of my career was beginning work with Paul at The Church. That was the first time I ever thought I might actually be able to make a career in the music industry. I had somehow left my little cabin in the middle of nowhere, Canada, and been transported into this studio, where I was suddenly working with some of the biggest artists in the world.
Above: Studio 1 at The Church (Photo: Lucy Williams)
The highlight of my time since moving to London was working with The Thurston Moore Band. Not only are the band amazing, but Thurston himself is such an iconic figure in alternative and experimental rock music. His work helped to pave the way for many of my favourite bands, who might not have existed, and certainly wouldn’t have reached such a wide audience, if it weren’t for trailblazers like Sonic Youth. It was an honour to work with such an incredibly original and prolific artist.
Been involved in any interesting projects recently? What are you working on currently?
At the end of last year we recorded Unstoppableby Lianne La Havas at The Church. That was a really fun session, complete with horns and a 12-piece string section. This year I’ve had the chance to work with The Horrors, Peter Bjorn and John, The Thurston Moore Band, and we’ve just finished up a week of tracking with Usher and his crew. Currently, I am also working on producing a full-length album for my own band.
Can you tell us about some of your favourite gear? What do you find yourself relying on most?
At work I’m a bit spoit for choice when it comes to gear, but as I’m usually an assistant, I’m not often operating it myself, beyond setting it up. That said, I guess what many studios rely on the most is the desk, and we’ve got an amazing old 72-channel EMI Neve console at the Church that’s really fun to work on, and sounds beautiful.
Besides the cool old vintage gear at work, I’ve always been a bit obsessed with guitar pedals. They’re great on guitars, but I also like trying to put anything and everything else through them. Lately I’ve been all about the Mu-Tron Bi-phase, Mu-Tron Flanger, EHX Big Muff Deluxe, and my new favourite, an EMS Synthi Hi-Fly clone, by Digitana Electronics.
If you could work with one artist/group, who would it be and why?
Queens of the Stone Age. Those guys just tick all the boxes for me as a music lover and a sound nerd. Musically, they are endlessly creative, and they are always pushing to try and find new and unique sounds on their records. For me, a band like QOTSA really bridges the gap between the pop music I’m often exposed to at work, with it’s detailed and intricate production, and the heavy, live sounding rock music I’ve always loved.
Where do you want to be in ten years?
If it were up to me, I’d be carving out some kind of a living producing and recording weird alternative and experimental music. Failing that, I’d love to be engineering for a band or a producer that I really vibe with. I’m a band guy at heart, and I like being a part of a team. I hope I can fit into a situation where whatever talent I might possess can be used to compliment that of the team.
To get involved in our Rising Stars column, whether you are an engineer who is new to the industry and would like to be featured, or an experienced engineer who would like to nominate a particular student/apprentice, please contact Audio Media International staff writer Matt Fellows on firstname.lastname@example.org or +44 (0)20 7354 6001.