For the last 16 years, Rob Harris has been strumming and stomping his wah pedal for British funk and acid jazz band, Jamiroquai. Furthermore, he’s found time to forge working relationships with a number of major players in the industry, from Gary Numan, to Deep Purple, to Beverley Knight; and he’s a dab hand at production, too. Although he works mainly in the box, Harris is all about live performance, and ‘finding that groove’. As he rightly says, ‘if you can play, you should play’...
How do you separate your musician hat with your producer’s one... Or do you?
Producing records is something I do out of necessity really; these days you have to do more than one thing. If you’re writing with artists, you end up producing the tracks, and that can lead to the label saying, ‘well, we want you to produce this artist’s album then’. Often, you can be doing a demo, and it can become a finished article. With record labels today, time is of the essence, so they’ll often want you to polish something off so it can be released.
I have a nice studio at home, and I’ve learned over the years how to make records, because you need to in today’s industry. Also, technology allows you to do it, now; I’ve made tracks that have been released on major labels, in hotel rooms! It’s not ideal, but it’s possible, and when you see how quick they demand these things nowadays, you don’t have an option. There isn’t always the budget to go into Metropolis to spend two weeks on a track.
In the early Jamiroquai days, the studios you recorded in must have been great...
It’s funny... I’ve done records these days where I’ve needed permission to use a studio: ‘can we actually record real drums; is that OK?’ [laughs] I must say though, I have been to some studios like Olympic and was never really that pleased with the results. I know the sound I want, and the studio wasn’t always the best place to get it. For ex- ample, I love ‘70s sounding drums, and for that, you need a dead room, which I have at my house. If I need a bigger sound, I can go to a bigger space and get that, or create it artificially with reverbs or reamping stuff. I like the idea of setting up and finding places to record, and doing it in unusual spots, and I do think the large-scale studio environment is a little bit stifling at times. What I love is having people playing in a room together; it always sounds best.
What’s your core studio setup?
I have the new Pro Tools HDX rig - that’s 10and11;and I have a drum room with a kit miked up constantly, and amps all over the place. I’m a bit of a hardware freak. I have an API summing mixer that I use, so I do break out of the box, though most of my mixing and level rides are in the the box. I have Distressors, an 1176, the Slate Dragon compressors, and loads of different flavours of preamps, as I like to chop and change. I recently got the Altec 1567 valve mixer, and often, after something’s been recorded, I’ll send it through that, and then print it back into my session. I find when I record at a higher sample rate, I do less to the tracks inside the box; they sound as I want them to sound, so there’s less tone-shaping to do.
For years now, I’ve also used sE Electronics’ RF Pro [reflection filter] on a lot of stuff; we used one in the studio with Jay on the last album. I use it when I’m working with an artist that wants to throw things down quicker, where I prefer to be in the room with the singer, so we can communicate.
You’ve recently been testing out sE’s new RF Space reflection filter, too...
Yeah, and that’s a great bit of kit. They’ve made some major alterations, and all for the better. For a start, it’s a lot more sturdy, and it feels a little lighter, too; the latches and locking mechanisms are far easier to manage for me, so that’s a good thing. Also, it’s thicker, so it absorbs more. As soon as I got the RF Space, I began using it to track acoustic guitar parts for a new project of mine, Trioniq, which is myself, Paul Turner [of Jamiroquai], and Ivan van Hetten, who is a phenomenal trumpeter and keyboard extraordinaire. We’ve been recording some new tracks at my place, and the idea is, we play live takes, keep the warts and all, and put them out there as and when we’re feeling it. Ash Soan is involved, plus a few singers; and it’s mostly one-takers!
It’s more about the spirit of playing together in the room, so it’s cool to keep those little mistakes. If you can play, you can play - records don’t have to be perfect, they just have to sound good. I’m now using RF Space on all of my vocal and percussion tracking duties, both at my place, and at other locations. I find myself having to travel to people’s houses sometimes to record them, and the RF Space ensures I’m capturing a good performance in less than ideal acoustic spaces. It’s a great tool.
What advice can you give any upcoming artists on how best to make a living in this industry today?
There is so much diverse music coming out, as people have the ability to record whatever they want, and put their music out there, which is a good thing. The reason Jamiroquai has been going 20 years is because it’s a good band; I grew up with good music, and am lucky enough to have been playing good music.