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Guest column - How to get the world's best vocalists to sing to your tune by Soulsavers

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There are few people who know better how to get the best out of a vocalist than SoulsaversRich Machin. The likes of Will Oldham, Doves, Richard Hawley, Spiritualized‘s Jason Pierce and Mike Patton are among the alumni of the group’s three album’s so far, while Mark Lanegan sung virtually the whole of their second album, It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s the Way You Land, as the primary singer. With Depeche Mode‘s Dave Gahan not only recruited for their forthcoming fourth album – The Light The Dead See out 21 May – but on lyric-writing duties, we spoke to Machin to find out how they get the best out of their guests.

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Go on tour with your targets

“I knew Dave Gahan was a fan because we’d once met briefly through a mutual friend who had played with both of us, but it was fleeting. But because we had records out around the same time he, asked if we wanted to go out on tour with Depeche Mode, so we thought, Why not? Were any of us planning a collaboration at that stage? There was certainly nothing on my part. Even when we we’d finished it to be honest, though we’d discussed doing stuff, there’s a long list of people who one way or another we’ve gone, Hey let’s do something, and then never got around to it. I was actually surprised when I heard from him some months later. Will we support anyone else? [laughs] That’s the next scheme we’ve got to put in place, now I know it works. Let’s see if we can get on the next David Bowie tour, if there is one.”

Technical ability is just for starters

“Dave is a great singer but it’s not just a technical ability with him. It’s a very rare thing of being able to get his vocals to emotionally suit a piece of music. A lot of great singers can’t get that. It’s technically great, but it doesn’t feel right. He can just change the feel of what he’s doing so easily. I instantly thought it would be great to work with, and he’s such a sweet guy to spend time with, so it was a no brainer.”

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Being a little bit cursed isn’t always a bad thing

“Dave was ill before we started this album, so we didn’t get going till he got better and then I git an horrendous problem in my ear which was not fun. I’ve got the hearing back in the ear but it’s left me with pretty bad tinnitus. Did I ever think this record was cursed? I’ve been thinking that for years about anything I do to be honest, but this time more so than others. We’d gone through phases when I couldn’t work, particularly when it was first taking hold. I was in a lot of pain, so I’d grab bits of time as I was feeling better then have to stop again. When it finally started getting better I thought, This will be interesting, let’s see what the record actually sounds like with two ears! I was expecting it to be awful but I was pleasantly surprised. I wouldn’t advise going deaf for nine months as part of the creative process for everybody, but I was pleased everything didn’t need to be trashed.”

Be open to ideas

“With Dave we had the benefit of a bit more time, there was no rush, but it was fundamentally the same as when we did the tracks with Mark Lanegan, in that I would work on some demos, get some loose skeleton maps of tracks together leave them with them for a little while, see if they could sketch some things together themselves and hopefully that would lead us on to the big picture.”

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Don’t do what’s expected of you

“If you look at my background of starting out and doing electronic things and Dave’s as well, we really wanted to focus on this being an organic record and not pro-tools-ing the life out of it. We started at the beginning and played the whole track! The way people like Ray Charles made records.”

Don’t get too many singers in at once

“On the previous albums when we’ve worked with more singers. People will look at the list and say, There’s all these people are on it, but most of the other people have done backing vocals. I’m not a big fan of those albums that have a different vocalist on each track, they don’t work as albums for me so I’ve always consciously avoided doing that kind of thing.”

Don’t force it

“There’s been other people I’ve thought of doing it with and it’s not worked out. Even people I really like. I’ve got no problem walking away from something if it’s not going the way I want it to go. You’ve both got to be aligned, shooting for the same thing. There are enough other people out there not to force it. We’ve been incredibly fortunate with the people we wanted to work with on all of our records though. We’ve never had anyone say, No, but we do tend to stick to people who we know anyway. It’s not a case of cold calling someone randomly. Everything has just lined-up and we’ve been able to do it.”

Rich Machinwas speaking to Paul Stokes

For more on the band and their new album head to Facebook.com/soulsavers.


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