“From 4AD to Nine Inch Nails”
- By Tom Doyle
- Sound on Sound
- Jan 2006
Among Fryer’s first clients were the Cocteau Twins. The fledgling producer helped give birth to a sound that was utterly unique, built around Robin Guthrie’s cavernous, echoing guitar work and Liz Fraser’s otherworldly, if often indecipherable, vocals. He worked on their first two albums, Garlands in 1982 and Head Over Heels in 1983.
“The first one we did at Blackwing and the second we did at Palladium in Edinburgh. On the first album they were very shy—I don’t know if they’d even been out of Scotland before. But, yeah, it was a unique sound and obviously Robin developed it the more they went on. A lot of it back then was done with Boss pedals—particularly the delay and the chorus. And we used the old AMS for chorus and delays and, of course, Lexicon reverbs. All the good stuff that’s still in studios today, like the MXR Harmoniser and the Roland Space Echo.
“The second album we experimented with putting the guitar through anything and everything. At one stage we fed a guitar through a Yamaha electric grand piano and miked it up. That’s the way I’ve always been with the bands I’ve worked with—you put anything through anything and see what sound you get.”
Working with 4AD’s Ivo Watts-Russell as part of the label boss’s This Mortal Coil offshoot, Fryer helped create a classic with Guthrie and Fraser’s atmospheric take on Tim Buckley’s ‘Song To The Siren,’ originally the ‘B’ side to 1983 single ‘Sixteen Days (Gathering Dust).’
“It still stands up today,” the producer rightly points out. “But it wasn’t something that we consciously put a lot of effort into. As you can hear it’s very simple and it was done, like a lot of classic tracks, as a throwaway ‘B’ side, so there was no pressure. It wasn’t overproduced or over-mixed. We always used Neumanns on Liz’s voice and we didn’t normally have to do much—add a bit of top, take some bottom out and the vocal usually sounded brilliant.
“It’s funny when you record things—a lot of the time you think everything’s special and when you stand back from it some time later, you realise that sometimes it wasn’t as good as you thought it was or sometimes it’s better than you thought it was. But that one just always sounded beautiful.”
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