For the past two decades, Nigel Godrich has remained one of alternative music’s most influential and sought-out producers, working with high-profile acts Radiohead, Beck, Paul McCartney and R.E.M. But in 2012, Godrich stepped out from behind the boards, so to speak: he formed the space-funk side-project Ultraista, who released a self-titled album earlier this year, and he also collaborated with the quasi-supergroup Atoms for Peace (featuring Thom Yorke, bass extraordinaire Flea and percussionists Joey Waronker and Mauro Refosco) on the forthcoming AMOK, the band’s glitchy, loop-driven debut.
Last month, Godrich gave Rolling Stone a glimpse into that album’s frenetic recording process, noting that the songs were assembled after the fact from a pile of aggressive grooves, all recorded during a three-day marathon studio session. In a follow-up conversation, Godrich likens the process to fusion-era Miles Davis.
“I think of In a Silent Way,” Godrich tells Rolling Stone, also referencing Davis’ follow-up landmark, 1970’s Bitches Brew. “It’s that thing of creating interaction between people and then editing that whole thing to create dynamics, you know? It’s weird – it ended up being sort of [a process of] interacting as much as we could do that, and we were thinking about things in very much a jazz way in terms of using edits and big blocks of music to create arrangements. It’s interesting – I can’t tell now because I’m too close to it – but just how well the process worked.”
Despite the album’s focus on loops and extended grooves, Godrich still emphasizes the presence of legitimate songs on AMOK. One goal behind the project was to achieve ambiguity between live instrumentation and electronics.
“It’s supposed to blur the line between what’s generated electronically and what’s generated by a human being,” Godrich says, “no matter if it sounds organic or electronic or whatever. In an ideal world, I think it’s true to say there are things on the record that sound like machines that are actually people and there are things that sound like real sounds that are actually machines. But the real thing is just to get the combination that works. It’s not a lot of effort – we’re not trying to confuse anyone. You just end up with a lot of stuff, and you choose the things that go together.”
The band’s debut single, “Default,” is a more straightforward electronic track reminiscent of Yorke’s 2006 solo album, The Eraser. “There’s a lot of real percussion and stuff on ‘Default’ that works really well with the electronics,” Godrich says, while emphasizing that the track is “ironically one of the least representative of that process.”
Godrich has clearly stayed busy this year, but he still managed to produce another album in 2012: Here We Go Magic’s excellent second full-length, A Different Ship.
“I’m really proud of that album,” Godrich says. “It’s actually quite rare for me to work with a band I don’t know and kind of get into that situation. Those guys – I literally came to it as a fan. It’s a funny thing: just because you like something, it doesn’t mean you should get involved. I’m a listener, too, and I’m a big fan of that band. And I just felt maybe I could help them do something maybe they didn’t have the resources to do. They’re a small band, and their next record could be made on a tiny budget and sort of squeezed through. But I’m lucky to have a great studio and a place I could work, and I thought it would be a great thing to help somebody who could do something great. And they’re great people – I really believe in that band. They’re fantastic.”
Between all these recording projects, Godrich has pushed forward with his in-the-studio concert series, From the Basement, a project which – unlike many traditional late night and variety shows – emphasizes sonic clarity over live energy and visual theatrics.
“I really try very hard because I feel that it’s a shame – sometimes music on television is not a priority necessarily,” Godrich says, noting that the show was originally inspired by a classic Bill Withers performance on the BBC concert series The Old Grey Whistle Test.
“I think there’s a lot of pressure to do music quickly [on television] these days,” he says. “It’s usually part of another show or between special guests – whatever you have in the amount of time you need to get those things right. And it’s kind of a shame, because what you’re making is a document of somebody, and you should be trying to make it as good as it can be. Not that it takes that much time to make it good, but obviously that’s kind of my thing. It’s kind of my hobby, doing sound. I enjoy it so much. I hope it makes a difference for people. I hope it registers.”