Sometimes, it just takes a change of scenery to ignite that creative spark. And for British electronic act Swayzak, that meant skipping the country and chucking out all previous methods of music making. So Swayzak partners David Brown and James Taylor — along with longtime collaborator and now full-time member Kenny Paterson — scouted out a location in the mountains near Montpellier, France, and set about reinventing their production process. “I really didn't want to continue down the line of laptop-based productions,” Brown says. “I wanted to try something different, so we decided, ‘Well, we should rent a house, and we'll build a studio.’”
Armed with three mixing desks (an old Amek/TAC and two Mackies), various tape machines (including Roland Space Echoes and WEM Copycats), a couple of Akai MPC2000s and a number of mics and guitar effects, Brown and Paterson made the ambitious journey to The Bergerie, the home in which they recorded and lived for a solid month. Musically, Taylor, Brown and Paterson arrived with just a collection of loops — hence the album's title, Loops From the Bergerie (!K7, 2004) — so the entire record came together fairly spontaneously there in the French countryside. And this time, the laptop, loaded with Emagic Logic and Ableton Live software, acted as little more than a recorder. “It was a nice kind of journey,” Brown says. “We didn't really know where we were starting, and I was kind of nervous about how it was going to be, you know, having all of these people in the house — whether people would gel with each other.”
In addition to all of the transported analog gear, Swayzak also brought in live instrumentation and a revolving cast of collaborators, including drummer Francesco Brini and vocalists Richard Davis and Mathilde Mallen, among others. Each new face stayed at The Bergerie for a week, sometimes two, recorded their parts and left. Aside from that, the group was basically cut off from outside contact, and that meant no Internet access and little phone reception. “It was remote — it was isolation,” Paterson says. “That is a good thing, I think, just not having the distractions that you have when you're recording in the city or worrying about paying for an expensive studio. Then, if you sit about for 10 minutes and talk, it's cost you a lot of money. So we made the record quite cheaply.”
Just as the outboard equipment gave a new analog warmth to Swayzak's sound — which is at once poppy and moody, at times hinting at the likes of Underworld, New Order and Japan — the location provided its own recording quirks. Rather than set up a proper recording booth, the band recorded nearly everything, including live drums, in one stone room. “We had some good stone walls in The Bergerie, so the sound of the drums was also the sound of that room,” Paterson says. “We were just working with headphones on to find the best place in the room that the mic [a single Sennheiser MD 421] sounded good, so we didn't use a mic stand, just felt the best sound of the room, got the spot and set the compressor so it all sounded good in the headphones.”
“We would basically do the raw recordings directly into the laptop, into Logic, and then we'd record it out of Logic, sample it into the Akai MPC, tighten the sound up and then process it again through the Amek desk and through Neumann EQs and compressors,” Brown says.
Although the methods were a bit different with Loops From the Bergerie, Brown, Paterson and Taylor did incorporate some old studio friends, namely the Roland SH-09 and Casio CZ-1 synths that have been used for bass lines on each Swayzak album. And after wrapping up their month of recording at The Bergerie, Brown and Paterson headed back to Paterson's home studio in London for another six months to complete final mixdown.
“We were constantly tweaking the sounds; that's not the way we'd worked on any previous record,” Brown says. “And this is sort of the idea behind [the album] — the change in our ethos, the way we worked — and maybe a little bit to prove to ourselves that, yeah, we can make an album not just with good songs but that sounds good.”