Dr. Emmett Brown would be proud of the time warp that is Adrian Younge’s studio. Stuntin’ on digital producers with an analog arsenal that mostly predates 1976, it’s no wonder that Adrian scored the comedic Black Dynamite, a modern day Blaxploitation spoof, and more recently was knighted by RZA to helm Ghostface’s Twelve Reasons To Die. The marriage of Tony Starks' penchant for soul beats and Adrian’s old musical soul couldn’t have been more precise as Starks exacted revenge on those who played a part in his demise.
Younge’s dexterity has landed him more deals to steer production for acts like Souls of Mischief—and some other high profile artists he can’t yet disclose. “Man,” says SoM’s A Plus, “when we heard what he was up to with the live instrumentation and that analog sound we asked him to produce [There Is Only Now]… it sounds timeless.”
We needed to know how he does it—how he creates this chamber your parents could groove to, and yet still remains fresh—so we traveled to his studio and had Younge break down exactly how he’s cultivated his sound.
Noisey: You keep your sound very analog and old soul sounding. What prompted that initially?
Adrian Younge: I began recording analog in '96; I tried the digital format in '97 and I immediately despised it, for the type of music I was creating. From that point on, I really began studying the nuance of sound. I realized that if digital recording sounded that much different than analog, what other pro audio/vintage instruments also are imperative to achieve my ultimate sound. It didn't take long to determine that the nucleus of my sound had to be analog. I started recording on 1/4-inch tape and now I record exclusively on 2 inch Ampex 456 tape.
What was the piece of equipment that made you commit to that sound?
The piece of equipment that made me commit to analog was, surprisinglyenough, an eight track Tascam Portastudio. These were popular in the 90s because it gave the home consumer an affordable format to record semi-pro demos. These machines weren't great, but they led me in the right direction by sharpening my ear to analog compression and color.
Did your parents listen to a lot of music from that Blaxploitation era?
My parents are from the Caribbean, Guyana, so we mostly listened to reggaeand modern soul music. My love for Blaxploitation music actually came from hip-hop because hip-hop producers sampled a lot of this great music. Also, I enjoyed watching these movies as a youngster, which further molded my taste for this type of cinematic soul.
How did you put the first studio together? Was it piece by piece or did you know what you wanted and run out and get it all?
In '96, my parents purchased an MPC 2000 and Tascam Portastudio as aChristmas gift; from that point on, I kept purchasing equipment. At first, my equipment was cheap. Then throughout the years, my gear became quite expensive and collectible. When I made the transition from sampling to live instruments, I had to really beef up my gear. I sought to become a recording engineer with a '60s recording mentality. That required a lot of research, coupled with trial and error. My first real equipment was purchased around '98 from Jack Waterson, a good friend and long-standing member of my band, "Venice Dawn." He owns a vintage instrument store called "Future Music," and he really showed me the ropes to vintage recording, amongst other things.
What pieces are you still trying to add to your studio?
I'm quite content with what I currently have. However, the search isnever over! Right now, I have been searching for duplicates of some of my rare gear such as the Sony C-500 condenser mic, RCA ribbons, and harpsichords. Also, I've been considering the purchase of a one-inch Ampex ATR for mixing down. It's a little over kill, but still! Most of the hip-hop in the 90s was mixed down to half-inch tape; imagine mixing modern hip-hop down to one-inch tape! The bottom end would be crazy.
Do you think you'll ever leave that soul music chamber?
Never! Oddly enough, I plan to commence work on more psychedelic rock
records; however, the psychedelic rock I'm inspired by has a lot of soul
like King Crimson, Iron Butterfly, Bo Hansson, etc.
What is some equipment you'd recommend to someone trying to emulate your sound?
The first step would be investing into a tape machine. Something that usesat least quarter-inch tape. These can be found on eBay and or craigslist. In addition, a quality preamp. I would purchase something vintage because they are generally more robust and sonically better than modern pres. If you are recording digitally, I would advocate getting a vintage mic pre to add some color to your mixes.
Did you ever just bang on MPC's and stuff and make regular rap beats?
Yes! This is how I started in '96. I learned how to play drums by using the MPC. When I purchased my first drum set, in '98, I was mentally ahead of my physical abilities as a drummer. I was so used to programming drums that I already understood drum composition; I just had to learn the mechanics of being an actual drummer.
What's the recording process like when you're using live instrumentation?
I play most of the instruments on the records I produce and incorporateVenice Dawn to add flavor to the compositions. Essentially, a song starts with me laying a click track down; thereafter, each instrument is played in succession. At the end, it's supposed to sound as though the track was recorded live or essentially, at the same time. It's a tedious process, but this process awards me the requisite control over the sonic landscape of my productions.
Is there modern equipment that you use to try and get that old, dusty sound?
Actually yes, but they are modern replicas of vintage equipment. I am abig fan of Universal Audio equipment because the company has a lot of goodwill and a long-standing heritage in making classic equipment. I use their 1176 and LA2A reissues for a lot of my recordings. Also, Pulse techniques make a great reissued version of their highly sought after equalizer, Pultec EQP-1
Do you manipulate newer equipment to get an old sound out of it? If so, which ones?
With the exception of modern reissues of vintage hardware, never. I don'tparticularly like plug-ins and/or modern hardware because they are generally made to appease modern producers. I don't consider myself a modern producer; I consider myself a '90s producer that is producing in the late '60s, if that even makes sense. Hence, modern equipment can't really do it for me. I don't like emulations. I like the real thing, with the exception of the high-end reissues produced by Universal Audio, Pulse Techniques, and commensurate companies.
J. Pablo loves to time travel. He's on Twitter — @AvenueP