Graham Reid | | 4 min read
For three decades now producer/engineer Steve Garden has been the guiding force behind Auckland's Rattle label and presenting a catalogue of music unequalled by any other label in this country, and ahead of most internationals.
Rattle has brought contemporary classical music, taonga puoro, jazz and idiosyncratic sounds to attention in beautifully packaged CD booklets.
The hallmark of the label has been clean and empathetic production and striking album art. And just how many classical and jazz awards it has won.
Garden was not always a producer of course: his career began as a drummer (Sharon O'Neill's touring band) and in the Eighties he was in the left-field pop-funk outfit Low Profile and part of the Unsung crew around Ivan Zagni.
He played on the 3 Voices album, engineered Avant Garage's Music and recorded and produced A Selection of Trouble Spots with Zagni, Peter Scholes, Don McGlashan and Amanda Hollins, which he has remastered and reconfigured for Rattle's Echo imprint.
And, of course, much more.
But these days he is mostly a producer/engineer for Rattle which – against considerable odds given its minority audience – he has kept afloat for 30 years.
And you can view the label's extensive catalogue at its impressive website here.
Time then for Steve Garden -- whose home stiudio is, of course, The Garden Shed -- to answer some questions about his life and interests as a producer . . .
The song where you really first heard the production was . .. .
All of Abbey Road, especially Sun King, and Led Zeppelin’s conjoined You Shook Me and Dazed and Confused. A little later, Brian Eno and/or Daniel Lanois turned the lights on for me, especially Apollo, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts and Jon Hassell’s Power Spot.
But the big one was discovering ECM Records – that had a huge impact. Rattle Records exists because of ECM.
Ever bought an album for the producer rather than the artist? If so which?
Every album I’ve ever bought! Well, except for albums bought very early on, such as a John Kongos album with the single, He's Gonna Step On You Again. I couldn’t get enough of that at 14.
But after Eno and ECM it was all about sound.
The one producer you will always listen to, even if they disappointed you previously, is?
As producers: George Martin or Joe Meek; Phil Spector or Rick Rubin; Quincy Jones or Dr Dre; Brian Eno or Nigel Godrich?
It must be obvious by now: Martin, Rubin, Jones, Eno.
The three songs (yours, or by others) you would love everyone to hear because they are so well produced are . . .
All of Tabula Rasa (Arvo Part, produced by Manfred Eicher – invisible essence-focused production)
The next Rattle album
The recording studio you'd most like to visit just to get the vibe would be . . .?
Real World, I guess, but frankly, any studio or any room for that matter with a good producer in it is a vibe-heavy space.
The best book on music or musicians you have read is . . .
I don’t tend to read those sorts of books, to be honest. I’d rather listen to what they do than read about them doing it.
If you could co-produce with anyone it would be . . .
No one. I’m not sure if it works. Being a fly on the wall during the recording of some of the great albums is a lovely time-travel fantasy, but I’m sure that all recording sessions – from the lowliest to the most extraordinary – share similar highs and lows, similar intimacies, similar break-throughs, and lots and lots of the same tensions and turmoil.
The last CD or vinyl album you bought was . . . (And your most recent downloads include . . .)
Well, it has been a while, I must confess, but the last album I bought was Caras Mere by Giya Kancheli (on ECM Records)
One song, royalties for life, never have to work again. The song by anyone, yourself included, which wouldn't embarrass you would be . . .
Well, if we’re talking royalties, we’re talking money, which means we’re way beyond embarrassment, so who cares what the song is – how about White Christmas? But if I was asked to pick a piece of music that I would be proud to have written (regardless of royalties and income for life), frankly, I wouldn’t know where to begin.
But we could start with Bach. Erbarme Dich from St Matthew’s Passion isn’t a bad wee ditty.
Analogue or digital; vinyl, CD or streaming?
24bit 96k WAV files. Hands down, it beats everything.
Production on a daily basis: What's the ratio of inspiration/perspiration?
It’s tempting to say perspiration (work is work, after all), but it seems to me moments of inspiration (instinct, intuition, everyday ideas) happen at every step of the creative process.
One might, on a whim, choose to NOT do something one has always done, something that no one else notices but that changes your creative process forever, or maybe something everyone notices and it has far-reaching effect.
Ever woken up hearing the sound of a song fully-formed in your head? If so which one?
Never. Except that I frequently wake up hearing AM radio from the 70s in my head. I blame the school dentist.
And finally, what do you as a producer bring to an artist which you believe can be your unique contribution?
These days, patience and (on a good day) empathy. I usually fail on both counts.