EQ: When approaching a remix, do you prefer to collaborate with the artists directly, or are you of the “just send me the prepared tracks and let me work my magic” mindset?
Jack D. Elliot: Most of the time, I’m not dealing with the artist at all. I work hand in hand with the artist’s A&R to get the sound of mix that they’re looking for. The label sends me the vocal tracks, and sometimes I will ask for the guitar lines as well; but I usually re-create all of the accompanying music in the remix from scratch, so it is a completely brand new track.
My first step is to load up the vocals and lock in the tempo. I usually DJ records over the vocals to see what vibe might work with the song, or I play around with beats in Ableton Live until something really hits me, building the drums and bass first so that I have the basic groove.
EQ: If you will, pick two of the remixes you are most proud of and walk us through the process, step-by-step, from the original track to an Elliot remix.
JE: One of my latest remixes that I’m really proud of is Nick Lachey’s “What’s Left of Me,” which went to Number One on Billboard Dance Radio. I started with the drums first, using Reason and Ableton Live, and scrolled through some banked loops until I found a handful that worked well together, and then separated parts out of some of the loops so that they wouldn’t clash rhythmically. Afterwards, I added a bass line from the Studio Electronics SE-1X, which has this fat bass sound that I just love, chopping it up so that everything synced nicely. Next, I started working on a hook — the keyboard melody that’s under the chorus, which was composed from the Microwave XT and Waldorf Q. I layered three tracks to get the bouncy synth riff, and then spread them wider using a Waves stereo imager. Finally, I added in some lighter key touches, mostly with arpeggiators and various sound effects, to provide some extra ear candy for the mix.
Another remix that was a lot of fun was Christina Milian’s “Whatever You Want.” It was originally a mid-tempo song, and I sped it up to a funky breakbeat groove. I layered three different kicks — a sub-style kick, a midrange punch kick, and a brighter kick — to get a really fat sound that gave the kick low-end depth while also cutting through the mix. Next, I took a vocal section and chopped it up in Recycle software, imported it into Reason, and triggered it on a keyboard. I then scooped all the highs and lows out, and fed that through a Virus Indigo to utilize its vocoder effect.
EQ: What tools do you find yourself utilizing most often in the remixing process, and in what context do you apply them? You obviously compose a lot of your beats in Reason and Ableton. . . .
JE: I do all my drums in Reason and Ableton Live. I have a lot of outboard synths and some soft synths that I use for coloring as well. My “go-to” synth is the Virus Indigo. I love it, plus it is TDM, so I can take advantage of more soft synths using the TDM cards in Pro Tools. I feed my mixes D/A to an Alan Smart C2 compressor, which adds a lot of punch and allows me to be in the analog world for a second, but I always go right back into Pro Tools for the final mix. I use the Eventide H3000 Factory plugs to set up a pitch shift with the left side set at –7 cents, and the right side at +13 cents which, when sent over many channels, really beefs up the mix. This works great for lead vocals, as it can give a slight or extreme stereo image as you choose. Another great technique I use is to parallel compress my drums and bass. I usually use an aux send to send the drums and bass together to a stereo channel, then heavily compress and add a lot of lows and highs in the EQ. Sneak this into the mix, and blend it with the original drum tracks, and you will always leave with a bigger, thicker sound.