|met her once and she is great. know her, so i feel i can write about her.|
Sunday, 5. October 2003
The Making of Complicated
Avril Lavigne's Let Go Engineer: Scott Spock
When the red-hot songwriting/production team The Matrix — that's Lauren Christy, Graham Edwards and Scott Spock — was first approached about contributing a song to the debut album of an unknown Canadian teenager named Avril Lavigne, “Initially, we were told she was going to be kind of like Faith Hill,” says Spock with a chuckle. “She came in and sat on the couch, and we played her this song we'd written that was along the lines of a Faith Hill track, and she was not happy. She said, ‘I don't want to do this; I want to rock!’ We didn't know that she was this skater, punky type of girl. So we said, ‘Okay, let's come up with a premise, then you come back tomorrow and we'll write a song. She came in the next day and we wrote ‘Complicated.’ Boom! L.A. [Antonio “L.A.” Reid, president of Arista Records] heard it and said, ‘Yeah, that's the direction,’ and he sent her back to work with us for a month.”
The fruit of their labor was six songs, five of which appear on Lavigne's multi-Platinum debut album Let Go, including the hits “Complicated” and “Sk8er Boi,” and the projected next single, the ballad “I'm With You.” For The Matrix, it's just the latest triumph in a career that's shooting into a higher orbit every day. Other top artists they've worked with include Christina Aguilera, the Backstreet Boys, Ricky Martin, Nick Carter and Liz Phair. All three Matrix members helped write and sing on the tunes they did with Lavigne, and Spock was the principal engineer. Tom Lord-Alge mixed their songs, though Spock's less-polished mix of “Complicated” has also received significant airplay.
Whenever possible, The Matrix like to eschew conventional recording studios in favor of working in rented houses, where they set up their Pro Tools rigs (they have four) and synths. Their work with Lavigne took place in a comfortable house — dubbed Decoy Studios — in an L.A. suburb known as Valley Village. “It works out great,” Spock says, “because vocalists come in and they're very relaxed. They don't even realize that when they get on the mic, it's probably going to be on the record. With Avril, I think she thought she was cutting the demo of a song. The comfort level is very high working this way, and she's not standing in a $2,500-a-day studio and thinking, ‘Oh, my God, there's the engineer and this million-dollar board, and I've gotta sing this right 'cause it's going on the record!’ She came in, she was really relaxed, and she nailed it. ‘Okay, Avril, that sounds good.’ ‘It does? Cool!’”
Though he generally likes to do as much work as he can within his Pro Tools system and using native plug-ins — including compression and EQ — Spock also admits to a fondness for some vintage gear. “I'm a big advocate of recording to Neve 1272s,” he says. “All of the guitars on ‘Complicated’ are through those. When I did the vocals, I was trying a Manley Voxbox at the time, and I really fell in love with it and wanted to use it on a few things. But I felt Avril sounded best through the 1272 and the Distressor. There was something in her voice that was malleable with the track going that way.” Spock adds, “I'm also heavily into Apogee AD8000 [A/D converters]. They add so much depth to a recording. To me, it's like night and day.”
Lavigne was set up in a wood-paneled room that had padding on three of the four walls and sang complete takes against the largely finished instrumental tracks through a Neumann U87. She generally sang five or six takes of each song, “and probably 90 percent of what was finally used came from the first or second takes,” Spock says. The Matrix contributed some backing vocals, though more often than not, the shimmering blend is dominated by Lavigne herself — or so it seems.
“She's such a talent,” Spock says. “Sometimes you need to really layer things to make someone sound good, but when you work with Avril, who has this amazing voice, if you want to thicken it out in the chorus, what I usually do is group the backgrounds together and EQ the hell out of them to exactly that one frequency that will add a little depth to the lead vocal without getting in the way, so you feel it but don't hear it. There's maybe three-part harmony on the chorus, but when you listen to it, it just sounds like her. I recorded Lauren [Christy] in the background in places, and there might be Graham [Edwards] and myself on a lower part, but heavily EQ'd. I took the group and used Filterbank — you dial in whatever frequency you want, so I EQ it really tight, so what I'm doing is pulling out specific frequencies that Avril has and just building in bits of low end and bits of high midrange to get the depth that I need in the vocals.”
Spock concludes, “The more talent somebody has, the easier they are to work with usually, especially singers. And the less talented they are, the more insecure they are. ‘The mics aren't right.’ ‘The headphones sound weird.’ You get a lot of that from insecure singers. That's something you have to deal with being a producer. And, fortunately, I didn't have to with Avril. She was really great, really enthusiastic.”