GEAR TALK TUESDAY: A Giant Rant About Everything Production-Related with Reuben Hollebon
    • TUESDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2016

    • Posted by: Kirsten Spruch

    Reuben Hollebon is a UK musician, producer, and engineer who is currently on tour in support of his latest album Terminal Nostalgia. Hollebon picked up guitar later in his teen years at the age of eighteen and then studied music and audio systems at Huddersfield University. Upon graduation, he moved on to work as a studio engineer for composer Nitin Sawhney, where he learned about producing soundtracks and orchestral recordings and also worked for other artists like Basement Jaxx, Courtney Barnett and The London Symphony Orchestra. Then, he took those skill sets to make his own music. The music he now makes is dark, cinematic, and presents some beautiful Radiohead and Damien Rice moments, with frantic guitars and vocals drenched in turmoil.

    This is a really badass dude, and we were happy to find that he was enthusiastic about sharing some of his production secrets with us. When we got on the phone, he asked if he could share a few different pieces of gear, since there are certain pieces he uses on tour and other pieces that stay in the studio (spoiler alert: you're going to want to purchase a harmonium after reading about what he has to say). We got to pick his brain and ended up diving into an enlightening conversation about not only gear, but the creative process as a whole and how although it's great, our obsession with gear can actually hinder our ability to focus on what matters even more first: writing.



    REUBEN HOLLEBON: I don't want to sound like some kind of troubadour singer/songwriter, but my main thing is my Martin guitar that I got about seven years ago now. It's kind of broken in quite well. Acoustic guitars take a while before the wood sort of loosens and they really become the guitar that you want them to be. It's a tiny Martin, and it wasn't meant to be a tiny Martin. It was literally a tiny Martin because the big Martin cost more money and yet, it's proved to be a phenomenal guitar. Most acoustic guitars, when you plug them in, the sound man is like, "Oh god, we've got 100 to 300 hertz and it's going to be a real nightmare on this thing," so they get rid of it. But you don't need to get rid of it on this guitar. Also, it's got a couple of great advantages. Because it's small, you've either got a small bag, or you put it in a big bag and you can pack in loads of other equipment with it. Or all your clothes.

    KIRSTEN SPRUCH: That is so smart.

    RH: Yeah. I literally have two bags. I have one with Ableton Push and a couple of clothes, and then I have guitar case with some shoes and the rest of my clothes. And that's how I go on tour.

    KS: Convenience is so important. I bought a GS Mini just because of its size and it's so light. It makes such a huge difference, especially when you're playing shows. And it actually sounds like a big guitar.

    RH: Did you get the Taylor one?

    KS: Yeah. Sorry, not Martin.

    RH: Nah, it's alright. It's just slightly different woods on Taylors. I've always been a Martin fan rather than a Taylor fan. I think there's a bit more of a twang, country feel to a Taylor...

    KS: Yeah, I totally agree. I got the Mahogany one though, so it's a little bit warmer, I think. But as long as its size is convenient for tour, right? What else do you use?

    RH: One of the instruments that I can't take with me, and this is kind of a classical instrument but I adore it and I think it's one of the most important instruments in music and yet not used that much, is the harmonium. I've used a couple of different harmoniums on my album. And you can hear harmoniums all across the board, but you won't necessarily know. It's in The Beatles and obviously within Indian music. There's harmonium on Jeff Buckley's "Lover You Should've Come Over," the intro in that song.

    KS: That's one of my favorite songs ever.

    [What a harmonium sounds like]:



    RH: I think that's the same for a lot of people. Yeah, that little 'da da da da da da.' I'm absolutely sure, I mean, I'd have to check, but absolutely sure that's a harmonium from memory. And then, "Motion Picture Soundtrack" by Radiohead, I think that's all based on a harmonium, and Jon Hopkins uses it on that record, Diamond Mind, that he did with King Creosote.

    KS: Really?

    RH: I'm pretty sure. We spend so much time nowadays trying to get the best natural, interesting sounding synth with the best VCOs and it's analog, but it's still electrical. And the harmonium is essentially dropping that off and you've got the most gorgeous synth, but made out of wood and reeds. That's why it sounds so phenomenal. I try to use it all the time, but harmoniums are often quite big instruments as well, so it's a little bit difficult to get one. I'm gonna be getting one with some bass reeds when I get back, but I used it on three or four of my records already and I just adore the instrument. Actually, when it's used in Indian music, it's a bit more of a virtuosic thing where only people that play harmonium in that Indian style can really understand whether or not someone is playing it well. Which is what I never ever want of a musical performance. It's like when you see a guitarist doing something and you're like, "Yeah, that's a solo, whatever," and other guitarists go, "Wow, that's amazing," because they know how hard it is to do that. But that, to me, is not of interest in music. I think it makes music more exclusive rather than as shareable as possible.

    KS: I don't want to sound ignorant, but if it sounds good, that's the most important thing, right? Like if you see a really awesome guitarist who's holding his guitar funny, you're not going to tell him to change the way he's holding his guitar, you know?

    RH: Oh yeah.

    KS: It's actually more impressive if you use an instrument in a more creative way, maybe...

    RH: I think so. In the guitar world, in the past ten years, it has gotten a little bit gimmicky on the acoustic. I'd say actually it's probably about fifteen years ago when people started doing the, "I'm gonna slap this, and do loops," and everything like that and trying to build up sounds and it's like, that's really good the first time you see it, and then it's like, okay... alright.

    KS: Yes.

    RH: I just think all of this gear talk comes back to the same thing. I've been in studios now for twelve years or something and I used to be completely obsessed with gear, I used to be obsessed with preamps, consoles, plate reverbs and spring reverbs, and we'd have this kind of universal audio compressor and a Neumann mic... The more and more that I've made music, the less I've got a fetish for what the gear is, and the more concerned I've been with the performances going in. Not to say I wasn't concerned with the performances before, but it took longer than it should and I think it does with most people. Much of the gear that we use nowadays to make records is superior to the gear used to make a lot of our favorite records that were coming from the 60's and the 70's. We do this strange thing where we go and we ask for things to sound vintage, but what we're asking for is for things to have discrepancies and to have characteristic problems that we think will make our records sound like a classic Rolling Stones track, or a Fleetwood Mac track, or a Beatles record, when the truth is their phenomenal practice and composition and performance is what made those records sound good, rather than necessarily the fact that they were using an old EMI console. Not to say that consoles don't have their merits, but I think it just took a long time to learn that the performance is entirely significant and the gear is there hopefully to enhance that, not to make it.

    KS: You just brought up a lot of good points. People are always trying to sound like someone else. Also, sometimes gear allows people to procrastinate more, because they think, "Oh, I can't make this until I get this, this, and this," and they end up spending all their money, and then it still doesn't necessarily give you the song.

    RH: Yeah, and the reality is some people get their advance, they buy the guitar and the amp that they wanted, they buy something to record with, they spend a little bit on having some fun, and then they realize they got no money to live on, so their career can't last that long unless they suddenly become successful very quickly. That's unfortunately a familiar passing.

    KS: What program do you use?

    RH: At the moment, I've switched to Ableton. I was on Logic, and before that on the first little EP I made, I used ProTools. Before that, I was on Cubase, and my first engineering job was on Digital Performer.

    KS: So you're familiar with everything.

    RH: Well, there's actually a few new things right now which I've been told I should really be checking out. I know a few people that switched to Presonus Studio One, which is apparently a really good, sort of relatively new, player in the market, but it's doing a lot of really good things. Someone else was using Reaper, which is a brand new program made by the same team of people that used to make ProTools. But yeah, I'm familiar with most programs. I actually found that ProTools is quite good for mixing if you want to mix in a certain style. Logic is great for initial composition. For some reason, all the drum and bass guys still seem to be wanting to use Cubase, and I was kind of scared because I thought it was just used for EDM, but now I've actually realized it's a phenomenally stable and very versatile program that teaches you to make music in a way that I've forgotten.

    KS: I always use Logic, it was just a really easy program to teach myself. Just a few months ago, I opened up Ableton and I got so overwhelmed. I need to watch more tutorials. It's weird going from one to another.

    RH: I've done quite a lot of switching now, so it's just kind of like quickly trying to find all of the buttons in the next program so that I can get up to speed in a hurry. But I would say Ableton... If you go through the tutorials in Ableton, you can be up to speed on that program almost fully within six hours.

    KS: Yeah, I need to put more time into it.

    RH: Yeah, and now they've got a Push, which is like their interfacing unit. So I run it with that. Good luck with Ableton. I would definitely say switch if you're trying to make stuff because it's quick. Just don't fall into the same, down the middle, EDM trap. Trap trap. It's very easy on that to go and make something that sounds good right now, but within two days you listen back and you go, "What the hell was that?"

    KS: Oh, I do that all the time. I actually read this thing on the internet one time about the creative process that said: "This is okay. This is actually really great. I'm a genius. This sucks. I hate this so much. Wait, this is okay again..."

    RH: I would kind of say the caveat is don't worry about making a bad piece of music as well, because we all have to make a lot of bad pieces of music to make good pieces of music. I work on music by opening up something and working on it for about 40 minutes or an hour, and then I'll open up another piece of music and I just keep switching around, and by that I think my ear keeps challenging myself in going "that was good" or "that wasn't good yet" and just, you know, keep working at it again and again and again.

    Also check out some photos of Reuben Hollebon's gear below:

    reubenkeys


    reubenmartin


    reubengear
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