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Rich Costey: "Muse's Absolution is one of the most fun albums I ever helped make"

Rich Costey is a producer and audio engineer who has such a stunning CV of incredible artists that you only wish you had three hours to interview him and talk about them all: Biffy Clyro, Muse, Foo Fighters, Fiona Apple and so many more. Headliner talks about Costey’s amazing career, how his time working at Philip Glass’ studio shaped him professionally, and how Waves plugins fit into the whole picture.

One of the most fascinating times in Costey’s career is undoubtedly his time working at Philip Glass’ The Looking Glass studio in New York.

“I still remember the first day I was sitting at the console and Philip Glass walked in,” he recalls. “He just sat on the couch and opened up a notebook and started working on something. I was terrified sitting there, as I’m a huge fan. Working there was a crucible for all kinds of learning.

“I learned a lot about orchestral sessions and about synth programming. While the music often just sounded like a series of arpeggios flowing over you every day, the specific output was often quite different. So you'd be working on a commercial that he was writing music for one day, and then the next month, you'd be mixing quadraphonic sound for an opera to be installed in La Scala in Italy.”

Out of Costey’s very illustrious career so far, two projects that really stick out for him are working with Muse and Fiona Apple.

“Working with Muse on Absolution is one of the most fun albums I ever helped make. It was like we were kids and there were no grownups around to tell us you shouldn't do drum overdubs in the swimming pool. We just did whatever we wanted. The feedback coming out of speakers was so gratifying, and the gratification was the work itself. 

"The Fiona Apple album [When The Pawn, 1999] was fantastic in a different way, although kind of similar in that we took as long as we wanted. It took 11 months and nobody heard anything until it was being mixed: her manager, her label – nobody heard a fucking note.”

Muse's Absolution: it was like we were kids and there were no grownups around to tell us you shouldn't do drum overdubs in the swimming pool.

Not only is Costey a big user of Waves, but he has a pretty legitimate claim to being one of the longest-term users they have.

“I've been using ProTools longer than almost anybody I've met,” he says. “Waves were one of the earliest third-party plugin manufacturers that I remember hearing about. I know for a fact we used Waves on the Fiona Apple record back in ‘99. 

"On every track, I was using the Waves DeEsser. And that was kind of game-changing because I was using so much compression on her vocal.

“Every single track I work on is using two instances of a Waves DeEsser; I still use that all the time. I use their L2 plugin all the time, too. I still think the H-Delay is a great delay that does what you want and it's easy to handle. The C6 gets used a lot. I try to be careful with multiband compression, but that one sounds less processed than some of the other ones. 

"It's very easy to sort the presets that will apply and then you can adjust depending on the singer. That gets a good workout. I still use some of the Chris Lord-Alge compressors — those to me are kind of cartoonish versions of the real thing, but sometimes that's good. If you put on the CLA 1176, there's automatically top end being added in that plugin. So I use that, even though my actual 1176 is sat there behind me.

“Waves came out with a new SSL plugin which I did some presets for,” he adds. “I feel like those plugins are probably the closest I've heard to something that sounds like the actual console. There’s certainly a lot of pros to using the SSL plugin over the actual old consoles!”

And with all that said, things certainly aren’t calming down for Costey. “I produced the Frank Turner album that just came out, and it was Frank's first number one album in the UK. I was really happy to see that happen for him. And I’m in the middle of four albums right now.”

1997