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Catherine Marks: Five Albums That Changed My Life

Over the past decade, producer Catherine Marks has become one of the most in-demand talents in the business. Here, she takes us on a guide of five records she has worked on that hold a special place in her heart and have been pivotal in shaping her into the award-winning producer she is today…

Manchester Orchestra – A Black Mile To The Surface
There are so many reasons this has been an important record for me. I love it so much not just because it’s beautiful and brilliant, but because of the relationships I made with the band. We are now collaborators for life.

This was the first time I’d worked with a band that wasn't at the start of their career, they’d had lots of experience making records. But they talk about this as a new beginning and it certainly was for me. I’d been working with much younger artists at the development stage, whereas they were well versed in what it was to make a record. I expected it would be a different experience but wasn’t expecting how difficult it would be. I have high expectations in the studio, but I was used to being the only one, then I was confronted with their next level expectations and demands. It was a real challenge and made me work harder and draw on all my knowledge. Before it had been about the psychology of working with younger artists, but here it was also about the next level sonic quality of an album.

The Amazons – Future Dust
I worked with The Amazons on their previous record and on an EP. We recorded it at Monnow Valley and spent a lot of time on pre-production. We’d grown separately in the time between records and both our abilities had improved. Their vision was clearer.

We wanted to make a record that sounded like it took two years to make in the space of about three weeks! The band wanted big riffs, big melodies, and we definitely achieved that. The funny thing was, on the first album I did a lot of guitar layering to make these impossible guitar sounds, whereas this time they gave me a rule that only four guitars could be playing at once – that could be two parts doubled and that’s it.

It was a challenging record – the drummer’s wife was about to give birth, so we had to get all the drums done in the first group of sessions; the guitarist chopped off the tip of his finger in a kitchen accident before the solos were finished, so he had to complete his solos with three fingers! It was one thing after another and a real lesson in working to a tight deadline.

The Big Moon – Love In The 4th Dimension
This was so much fun to make. Prior to the record, we worked on four songs that were going to be singles and they really wanted me to make the record, but I didn’t know if I would be able to do it. I was working in the US and was supposed to be going on holiday afterwards. So, I said that I would cut my holiday short, but we’d only have eight days to make the record. I said I think we can do this, but we have to be really well prepared, which they were.

We recorded it at Eastcote Studios and we turned it into a holiday; we brought in blow-up palm trees and flamingos and we took our shoes off and had a party for eight days, but we worked really hard every minute of every day. We recorded it live, which allowed us to overdub fun stuff and random instruments that were lying around. The point was that we were going to have a good time making it, and that album is a great example of what can be done when everyone is on the same page, and you have a really clear brief. It was easily the most fun I’ve had making an album.

The Wombats – Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life
I wanted to work with them for so long. I knew a lot of their songs and I thought the previous album was amazing. I was surprised that they were looking at me to make the album. Mark Crew produced the previous album and it sounded amazing, so I thought, ‘why not work with him again’? But we ended up working on the album together as co-producers.

He’s a genius and I learned so much from him. There was a lot of sonic exploration on this album but also restraint. I enjoyed sharing the responsibility with another producer I really admire. I enjoyed the tussle of co-production - there were never any arguments and if anything, we had each other’s backs. I felt very supported by him. There were things I wanted to achieve that he was able to help me with. We all had the same goal but we were coming at it from different angles, which was really fun and interesting.

Wolf Alice – Creature Songs
This was very early in my career. I’d only been producing for a couple of years, and I had this opportunity to work with the band. We went to Belgium to record for seven days at ICP and the song Moaning Lisa Smile had been earmarked as a single. That first day it did not come out right. It wasn’t sounding how any of us wanted. I was like, ‘shit, what have I gotten myself into’. We were all inexperienced and there’s an element of unintentional mistrust. You don’t know what they are thinking; I’m worrying about how to make this good, they are doing the same.

I remember the drummer playing with a lot of cymbals and I had to teach myself how to embrace recording cymbals, which I then applied to the first Amazons record. We recorded a song the next day called Storms and the day after that we had another crack at Moaning Lisa Smile and it came out brilliantly. The feeling of achievement from all of us… we were dancing to the songs together in the studio. We knew we had created something special. I had this sense that I’d be lucky to work with them again because they were going to be huge.

You can hear an extended version of this interview below.