Tony Dupe loves making records. The producer, musician and studio owner behind the instrumental acoustic/electronic hybrid Saddleback, who has just released his second album Night Maps, believes recording is the best thing about being a musician.
“Making a record is probably one of the times in your life that you feel good about being a musician, you feel excited about it, you know what you’re doing,” Tony says.
“Gigs are so transient and there’s so much other stuff involved. But actually just focusing on the music and trying to understand the music and the person. It’s a pretty beautiful and interesting process.”
When Tony says he is trying to ‘understand the person,’ he is talking not only about the many and varied guests who appear on Saddleback records, but also his work as a producer for other recording artists such as Holly Throsby, Jack Ladder and the Woods Themselves. “I guess because people come out of their environment and into my environment, that probably helps them focus on what they’re doing. Working somewhere you feel good and focused is probably going to bring about the best result, regardless of where it is.”
In his role as a producer, Tony subsumes his own ego to the creative vision of the artist he is recording. “When I’m making records for other people I’m trying to cast a light through them in terms of how I deal with the music. It’s about them, basically.”
Apart from making records for himself and others, Tony’s other love is living in the country. It has been quite an achievement for him to marry those two loves, but with his studio in Kangaroo Valley, south of Sydney, he has managed to create a reality most of us can only dream of. “It’s just a house in the middle of nowhere with cows all around it. I’ve heard them eating. If one sneezes you really know about it!” Tony says of his bucolic surrounds.
Saddleback has recorded two full length albums since 2005, on Preservation Records. 2005′ Everything’ a Love Letter and this year’ Night Maps were both recorded in rural locations in southern NSW.
“The environment is so beautiful and so relaxing. It informs the recordings, because you’re in a position to focus to the exclusion of everything else,” Tony says. “I think the things that affect the music most are the instrument choices and how I’m feeling, and also where I’m living – the environment seems to have an effect on it all.”
For Tony, it’s not so much the perceived quality of the studio gear that’s important, it’s more about the process – and that is all about setting the scene.
“When I make records I don’ think too consciously about what I’m trying to do. It’s more a situation of improvising, it’s more about playing and then pulling it together, making it work together. I try to make it as natural as I can.” Saddleback is a pleasantly simple and functional project. Tony is the driving force; his improvised audio sculpting combines with the performances of various guests, who nearly always contribute acoustic instruments. “I buy instruments I find interesting, and they just get played, poorly, but I pull it together. I got a bass clarinet after the last record. That’s been a lot of fun.”
Both Saddleback albums were recorded using a combination of digital and analogue gear, but Tony’ preference certainly lays in the tape and microphone realm. “I’m in a house with nice rooms; I like acoustic instruments. I try to process as much as I can with the tape machine rather than the computer, especially when I am doing different reversing and pitching of things.”
For the Saddleback recordings and for the other artists who approach Tony to work with them on their albums, Tony takes a measured, methodical, almost forensic approach. Like a detective piecing together the answers to a mystery, Tony gets inside an artist’s head, works out what makes them tick, and how best to translate this to the final mix. “I usually get to hear what people are doing, then I talk to them about how they hear what they’re doing. I quite often get a mix tape, too, to see how they hear things, so I can get it from their point of view,” Tony says.
“Sometimes there’s already players involved, sometimes not, and I am the player, or we pull people in. So it’s really just collaboration and trying to be on the same page. I don’t really plan things too much in terms of arrangements and things.”
By doing the research and understanding the motives of the artist, Tony is able to switch off any overly-analytical tendencies that might emerge, and let the music speak for itself. “It’s more about just playing instruments against the track and seeing what falls out. I like the idea of it coming from somewhere other than your head.”
About a track – Saddleback ‘Dance Card’ – Night Maps.
“This one I used a fair amount of playing along at half speed on the tape machine then speeding it up. It took on a baroque sound because the instruments’ sustain was stymied (and) they had very short sustain, so a piano sounded like a harpsichord and a guitar sounded like a lute. And it just came about just from playing and seeing what worked.â€
On the album process:
Recording an album can be an open-ended process, depending on the skills and working practices of the artist/s involved. There are so many options available to an artist who is ready to record, even on a tight budget, that unless some focus, deadlines and discipline are applied, the journey from ideas to a completed album can literally take years. Tony Dupe’ experience of working with other artists to create recordings has been dependent on the artist’s preferred method of working.
“It depends on how much is live, and how much is created and goes down in that way, and how much is made by me, which probably takes a little bit longer than the live thing,” Tony says. Working consistently full-time, Tony estimates an album could take around one month to complete.