Spectacular vocals, exploratory synth work, and a dark, alluring image define the British synth-pop duo Goldfrapp. The pair, Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory, recently released their third CD, Supernature (Mute, 2005), which further refines their sexy, catchy, electronic sound. The band's musical development has been aided by their growing confidence in what they can produce in their studio, which is located just outside the historic English town of Bath.
“Before Goldfrapp, I did soundtrack work for TV productions and films, so I had a setup in an old pottery studio downstairs in my house,” Gregory says. “It was just a mixing desk, some outboard synths — a computer-based thing. When Alison and I got a record deal, the philosophy was the same: some monitoring, a desk, some musical instruments, and Alison's voice.”
The heart of the studio is a Yamaha 02R digital mixer and an Apple Power Mac G5 running Apple Logic Pro. Vintage synth hardware abounds, including a Roland Jupiter 6, a Roland SH09, a Roland Paraphonic 505 string synth, a Korg MS20, a Polyvox, a Farfisa compact mono, an ARP 2600, and four Oberheim SEM modules.
The Oberheim provides the thick, oscillator-driven buzz of “Ooh La La,” Supernature's opener. “We don't find computers very musical,” explains Gregory. “You can't jam on a computer. You'd rather have knobs than a mouse and a computer keyboard. We take the expressions of the performance instruments — a synth or vocals — and see what we can create. The more we go on, the more I'm a fan of getting the sound you want, rather than throwing down a bunch of sounds and fixing it afterwards.”
The stripped-down beat programming on Supernature helps push their songs to energetic heights. “Often we put up a basic kick-snare, and then try to write from there,” Gregory says. “We like the robotic sound of old drum machines, and we're never trying to reproduce some type of performed drum playing. There are certain records I love, like Stevie Wonder's ‘Superstition,’ where the drums just go boom kaa, and it's absolutely perfect. Often you don't need hi-hat, which sometimes actually slows things down, overanalyzing time and breaking it up into smaller and smaller chunks. And I get annoyed by mixes where the drums are this huge monolithic thing, repeating over and over again.”
The coup de grâce on each song is Goldfrapp's distinctive and rich voice, which Gregory captures with a Percy Bear mic (with an AKG C 12 capsule) and an Audix preamp. “That mic is particularly suited to higher-register things — it has a lovely, natural, three-dimensional sound,” notes Gregory. “On Supernature, we started layering the vocals up more. I tend to put them through a chorus, although you've got to be careful, because what you get in thickness and lushness, you lose in character. We try all sorts of different things: a vocoder, pitch-shifting, a cheap effect. We love when the voice becomes slightly dehumanized, but sometimes you want a very plain, intimate sound.”
A listen to Supernature confirms that the duo's comfort in their studio is at an all-time high. “We're getting a bit more confident about what we're putting in there,” says Gregory. “The two philosophies about music are that it requires a certain amount of things and no more to get it across, or it requires a maximum amount of things and no less. We're on the former side, because all the time we're saying, ‘Isn't that enough? Does it need anything else? Maybe not.’”
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