Andrew Scheps talks Fellow Robot, working with Michael Jackson, and Atmos mixing

Grammy-winning producer and mixer Andrew Scheps has spoken to Headliner about his incredible career to date, from the lessons he learned working on Michael Jackson’s HIStory album as a budding studio talent, his work on new Fellow Robot album Misanthropoid, and his ongoing relationship with plugin specialist Waves.

For almost three decades, Scheps has been working with some of the biggest and most iconic names in music. To date he has received three Grammy Awards for his work with Adele, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and Ziggy Marley, notched up over 20 further nominations, and worked with the likes of Green Day, Metallica, Hozier, Johnny Cash, Michael Jackson, and many others.

Among his most recent projects was a collaboration with California’s Fellow Robot, co-producing and mixing the band’s latest record Misanthropoid. Completed over a two-year period, the album is a concept record of sorts. Indeed, the band itself could be described as a concept project, having formed as an extension of singer Anthony Pedroza’s The Robot’s Guide To Music sci-fi novel, with that source material providing the basis for much of the band’s lyrics. As such, Misanthropoid is a record that seeks to explore what it means to be a human being.

To find out more about the record, Headliner sat down with Scheps to discuss his working process with the band, as well as some of the most pivotal moments in his career and how he arrived at where he is today…

How did you first get to know Fellow Robot? Were you aware of the origins of the band before you started working with them?

It's a pretty typical story. They sent a song to my manager in LA who then forwarded it to me. They sent him a song from their previous release, and I really liked it. We exchanged emails, I mixed the song, we finished it up and it was all great. I think it was all done by email at that point, and I wasn’t aware of the history of the band. So when they started working on the next record they got in touch and said they’d like to work with me more. This was pre-Covid, so we were talking about possibly recording in Monnow Valley in Wales. That’s where I would record and produce most of the time. But of course that all went south and they just kept working on their record. They would send me demos and rough mixes. We went back and forth on the songs six or seven times and then it was time for me to mix. But it was a very organic process.

How collaborative was your relationship with the band?

They are really talented and have a great vision of the finished product. There were a couple of songs where we went back and forth on the groove and the rhythmic way the song would be presented, but for the most part that stuff was pretty solid by the time I heard it. And then it was about arrangement and how to highlight certain things. When you are the band and you are writing and demoing, you know how everything goes and maybe you don’t step back far enough to notice some of the rough edges that occur as you go between things. So it was a lot of details and overarching stuff, and they were open to absolutely everything, which was fantastic.

If you're ever worried about whether everything matches, just listen to 'Revolver'. Andrew Scheps

How much focus was there on creating a consistent sonic identity throughout the record, given the conceptual nature of the band?

There wasn’t really on this record. With this album there wasn’t anything in particular we went looking for with regards to themes. We wanted the guitars and drum sounds to be consistent, but they are the kind of band that understand how to make that work anyway. The band is the band, so there is going to be consistency. A lot of people ask about how when you’re mixing a record that has had different producers that you make it all come together, and my answer is you don’t. If it’s a body of work, it will gel together. And if you ever are wondering about whether or not everything matches, just go check out the Beatles’ Revolver. You have four lead singers, and every song is completely different to every other song. I really don’t worry about that. If you get it right, then it just fits together.

Did you immerse yourself in Anthony’s writing or of the defining concepts of the band in order to gain a greater understanding of them as artists?

I didn’t at all. I know that if they felt that was important they would have made sure I did. But I feel strongly that with music it’s only about what you hear when you hit play. Nobody is going to go over to the houses of people playing the record to say, ‘hey, did you know this was about this novel’? That’s for fans to discover and is an added bonus, but the record can’t be influenced by that, as you might make an excuse for something because it fits into the preconceived notion of the world it exists in, rather than thinking about what’s best for the song or the record. I tend to stay out of that stuff. I‘m fascinated by that stuff as a fan, but when you’re making a record it’s fine to know it or not, but if you let it influence your decision making that’s a dangerous thing to do.

Have you worked on many immersive projects to date?

Yeah, it comes and goes. Everybody has a different take on it. I’ve done catalogue stuff for other producers; I’ve gone back and done Atmos versions of records I mixed for labels a while ago. It’s starting to become more and more a case of doing stereo and Atmos versions of the stuff I’m mixing from scratch now.

Do you approach the two formats differently?

It’s very different. One reason is the process right now. Everybody finishes their stereo mix first then does an Atmos version, so the Atmos version is very much based on the stereo version. So, you’re taking all of the sonic decisions you made for the stereo version and making it fill up the room. Sometimes it’s not terribly involved, but if you separate things too much it starts to fall apart. And sometimes you go nuts. I did three out of the four 1975 records, and there are some songs on those records where I didn’t do a whole lot and others where it’s going crazy. In the future people will start to have it in mind when they are making records in the first place, and eventually we’ll get to the point where it’s just two versions of the same mix rather than one being a version of the other. But at the moment it’s very much based on stereo. I don’t mind that because the stereo is all about the sonic decisions and arrangements, and the Atmos is about making that a 3D world that is really compelling in a way that stereo can’t be.

One of the first records I did was Michael Jackson’s 'HIStory'. There's a lot going on at a very high level. Andrew Scheps

Tell us about your relationship with Waves plugins, as a user and as someone who has their own branded plugin range?

I’ve been using their stuff pretty much since it came out. I had the Q1 and Q10 and some of their first plugins. I beta test a lot of stuff, and so I met people at the company that way and the relationship grew. They were starting to do their Artist Series and I don’t think I was really at a point where anyone was going to buy something just because it had my name on it, but I’ve always had ideas for things. I’m constantly thinking about how to do things better and what kind of tool you might need to do that. The first couple of plugins I did with them were more collaborations. The first one was a model of a 1073, the Neve mic pre and EQ.

Then, after doing more mixing and doing more interviews, my parallel compression techniques were things people talked about, so it was a matter of how can we do parallel stuff in a plugin? That’s what Parallel Particles ended up being. The next thing I really wanted was a channel strip. As you mix more and more you end up with a small tool set that is your go-to, and a gigantic tool set for experimenting. But if you just want to get the snare drum to sound the way you want it, there will typically be three or four things you’ll use, and they are pretty much the same but set differently each time. And I was just sick of having lots of plugin windows open, so I sent Waves a big PDF flow chart of what I wanted my channel strip to be. The timing was really good, they wanted to do a channel strip, and it took about two years to finish it but that’s what became the Omni Channel. I use it constantly. It’s got everything I want, right in front of me, exactly how I want it. And they are fantastic to work with. They are so smart. A really great company.

How collaborative are they? And how receptive are they to ideas from outside?

They’re really open. What’s good about them is that they are really into the collaboration. They are never just trying to get me to put my name on something. The Omni Channel took two years because I spent about six or eight weeks each on four or five of those parameters, going back and forth. They are absolutely fine with that. And we got it just right with the Omni Channel. Hopefully there are more in the works.

What have been some of the most pivotal moments in your career so far?

One of the first records I got to do was Michael Jackson’s History. It’s 18 months, you’re working with some of the best engineers on the planet, with one of the best artists on the planet, who is bringing in some of the best musicians on the planet, and that encompasses everything. I did a bit of everything on that record. I worked with just about every person who worked on it. I would be overdubbing keyboards on songs; I would set up rooms. It was a pretty great place to learn. There is a lot going on at a very high level. But I was good enough to deserve to be there and as soon as people know that you deserve to be there then they become really open and really generous. So that solidified a lot of stuff right away about how to make records, how to keep track of stuff, how to deal with a project that big, how to deal with personalities.

Then over the years making records with Rick Rubin, Don Was, and Rob Carvalho as producers, all completely different styles but you learn from every session you’re in. I’ve been super lucky.