The sound engineer is not the guy to put on the spotlight, but this time we manage to get Chris Edrich there. It was a funny, precious and mind-blowing interview, an interview that I really enjoyed taking. I hope Chris did too! Nothing conventional here!
ProgNotes: We had a good time at ARTmania festival in Sibiu. And I would like to start with Alcest’s performance. I was quite impressed by their sound and I want to congratulate you for this. Moreover, I have a general question. It may be silly, but it’s just a thing I have in my mind for a long time now. What are the main differences between the sound that we hear as a part of the regular audience and the sound that an engineer will hear during the show?
Chris Edrich : First of all, thanks a lot, happy you liked the show and the sound, I also had a lot of fun mixing it! As a FOH engineer, I’m most of the time in the middle of the audience so what I hear is, in the best case scenarios, the same as what you hear. Then of course there are differences depending on the venues, the acoustics of the room, the PA setup, even the weather when it’s an open air show! So the job is mainly to make it sound as good as possible for as many people as possible with the tools and technical constraints we’re given each day.
Not so much time left at the end of the day for any “glamorous” activities!
PN: What was your feeling regarding Sibiu? Is it your first visit to ARTmania Festival?
CE : It was actually my second time at ARTmania Festival, as I was also there last year with Leprous. Loved the city and the vibe of the festival, and both years were really good experiences for me and the bands I was working with, can’t wait to be back!
PN: We know that rock stars have (or had, rather in the 80’s) a glamorous life. How would you describe your life as a sound engineer?
CE : (laughs) I guess I was born a bit too late to experience that kind of life on tour, plus most of the bands I work with play music that’s too complicated to perform when you’re drunk or hangover… Of course it doesn’t mean we never have fun or party (it definitely happens here and there!), but we usually all stay focused on the main reason why we’re on tour, and that’s the music and the shows. And anyway, as the bands I work with get bigger and they step up their production, the amount of work also expands to the point there’s not so much time left at the end of the day for any “glamorous” activities! (laughs)
PN: We know that there is a Leprous sound or Alcest sound or even an Agent Fresco sound that you have to adjust. What do you find most challenging about switching from one type of sound to another type of sound?
CE : Absolutely, and each of the bands you mentioned actually have a very strong personality and sound that I have to respect of course. There’s always room for my tricks and whatever I can bring in to improve the live sound of the band, but I always have to keep in mind that they need to sound like themselves first! So the main challenge is to understand what the band’s music is all about, and what their crowd is gonna want to hear, then I deliver my vision of it all and if I get it right everybody has a good time!
Working with a band and not only for the band
PN: Have you seen it evolve ever since you’ve started working with each of the bands and how much from the final mix is your unique contribution that each band acknowledges to have contributed / improved their music?
CE : Hard to tell, I guess that’s a question to ask the bands I work with! (laughs)
But a few words about how, as a soundguy, I can help with the evolution of a band’s live sound : the best and most precious thing to me is the band’s trust. If they trust that I understand their music and where they’re headed artistically and sound-wise, they’re open to suggestions and usually ask me if something can be improved. That’s when you start working with a band and not only for the band, and that’s probably one of the things I love the most in my job.
PN: Now we have a question, a special request, I could say, from our common friend Menno. We were told you have a specific song with which you do a final run for overall sound in the respective venue where your band is playing that night. Can you confirm this, and if so: which song are we talking about, and why are you using this particular one? Do you use different songs for different bands? Alcest, Leprous, Agent Fresco, others.
CE : Greetings to Menno, that’s a good question! (laughs) So yes, usually before soundcheck, the first thing I do is tuning the PA according to the room. For this I play one or several songs that I know well enough to be able to point out ringing frequencies or potential harsh sounding ones, so when I start soundcheck I already kinda got rid of some of the issues I’m gonna have to deal with during the show. I pretty much use the same songs for all bands, which are :
– Audioslave – “Show Me How To Live”, because it helps me spot harshness in the high-mids especially
– Sohn – “Signal”, more for the low mids and low end / subs. The mix on this song is amazing, so if it doesn’t sound great through the PA it means I have some work to do!
PN: What was the biggest sound issue that you have dealt with in your career so far? Are we talking about a happy-end or are we talking about a huge fiasco?
CE : There’s been TONS of issues over so many shows! (laughs) But most of the time it’s not a big deal and the show can still go on, wether it’s some buzz noise on a keyboard or a partly broken PA, I usually don’t have time to get depressed about it and just have to fix it or adapt and make the best out of it.
Actually the worst thing that happened to me was not 100% sound-related : I was mixing The Ocean and their support The Atlas Moth in Los Angeles, in a venue where the mixing desk was a bit off center in an odd position, and the first moment I got out of the sound-booth to check how it sounds in the crowd, the house “engineer” (who already arrived an hour late in the afternoon and displayed a pretty serious lack of professionalism throughout the whole day) wouldn’t let me get back behind the desk to keep on mixing, pretending he knew the venue’s sound better. I don’t get pissed off easily and can deal with a lot of troubles, but try to be in the way between me and the job I love and I’m hired to do, and you’ll get a taste of “Angry Chris”! (laughs)
In the end I managed to not punch him in the face (I was really close…), and got him removed by the promoter/venue manager instead, telling him that some other people might not be as patient as I am and that day he will be losing teeth. All fun to tell the story now but at the moment I was on fire!
Changing Jimi’s sound? Are you crazy??? (laughs)
PN: Let’s imagine something. Let’s get back to Woodstock in 1969. You are still a sound engineer and you have the tools from 2019. What would you change in Jimi’s sound?
CE: Changing Jimi’s sound? Are you crazy??? (laughs) I wouldn’t change a thing! It’s actually Jimi’s sound that changed the guitar world and I’d hate to interfere or modify anything, his legacy is perfect as it is! (yeah, even when his guitar was out of tune…)
PN: How would you define progressive rock & metal in 2019?
CE: That’s another hard question, for different reasons… It’s probably gonna piss off some of your readers, but I’m not really a prog fan…! (laughs) Or at least not of the “show off prog”, when it’s complicated for the sake of being complicated, I just find myself bored to death in no time because to me it’s more sports than music… I’m way more impressed by good songwriting than I am with odd time signatures and crazy shredding. That being said, when technicality is combined with great songwriting I can only appreciate, and thankfully there are bands like this for me, and I’m fortunate enough to work with some of them! Leprous to me is the perfect example of a good balance, their music is catchy but never dumb, smart but never snob!
Aqua vs. Justin Timberlake
PN: Do you have a musical guilty pleasure to share with us? I’ll start. I like AQUA, the pop Danish band. ☺
CE : I don’t really have a guilty pleasure because I don’t feel guilty at all! (laughs)
But, some would consider Justin Timberlake as one…? I don’t feel like “I know it’s stupid music but I like it!”, but more like he’s actually a very talented dude who managed to surround himself with very talented people and the result is a big slap in my face on so many levels!
PN: Is sound engineering a form of art? If so, what does inspire you as an artist? Other sound engineers?
CE: To me it definitely can be a form of art, yes, and I’d be sad to be limited to technical duties only. I’d say for my touring life I’m inspired by other sound engineers for sure, so many of them are amazing and it’s always super refreshing to listen to their mixes and try to figure out how they do this or that, or simply talk about it together… Also, there’s an important psychological part in that job, so pretty much everything I watch, listen to or experience inevitably has an impact in how I feel and therefore how I’m gonna feel and experience the music I’m mixing.
PN: Last question: Are you sleeping well during long tours? How do you handle the fatigue and the pressure?
CE: I’m thankfully part of the people who don’t have troubles sleeping, maybe because at times I sleep so little that I can sleep whenever I decide to…! (laughs) Long tours are usually in nightliners (those busses with bunk-beds) so if you don’t have trouble sleeping in a moving bed it’s pretty easy to get a decent night of sleep, you go to bed after the show and wake up next day in another country/city, that’s the best way to travel in my opinion. And about the pressure, I’d say it takes a lot to stress me out so I usually stay calm until shit really hits the fan! (laughs)