Nigel Godrich: your questions answered on Radiohead, Macca and Marmite

Last modified: 03: 26 PM GMT+0

The Ultraísta member and producer answered questions about his favourite artist of all time, being a night owl and what he learned from Trevor Horn

That's all for today …

User avatar for NigelGodrich Guardian contributor

Thanks so much everybody, lots of great questions and they weren't all about Radiohead, so well done! I feel very lucky to do what I do in my life, and it wouldn't be possible without people taking any notice, so please remember I appreciate all of you. Much love, Nigel


ArthurSternom asks:

I saw Atoms for Peace at the Roundhouse [in London]. The lot of you seemed exceptionally into it. How much of a thrill was it to play with Flea? He seemed totally lost in the gig at points.

User avatar for NigelGodrich Guardian contributor

I think Flea is one of the greatest human beings I've ever had the good fortune to spend time with, let alone make music with. He's such a generous player and probably my most rock'n'roll moment is standing on stage staring at his face 6 inches from mine, or when he jumps up on my riser. Massive respect to that guy, and you should read his book.

DavidJones asks:

Nowadays, I’m asked to master tracks for Instagram and Spotify as opposed to vinyl and CD. What’s your view about how streaming has affected everything? – John Davis, Metropolis Mastering

User avatar for NigelGodrich Guardian contributor

That's what my book's going to be about...

profbozo asks:

How do you use intuition as a tool in your productions and how do you know when something you are working on is finished? You mentioned Talk Talk and Mark Hollis – he stopped when he thought he could not add anything new. Can you imagine yourself doing something entirely different?

User avatar for NigelGodrich Guardian contributor

Definitely. And it has crossed my mind many times - working more in visuals, videos, even film. But these days the hard thing is finding the time, when you keep getting sucked into exciting things you want to do, and can do. I could definitely write a book and I've enjoyed doing stuff on radio.

LeonardoE asks:

Is there any track from any artist you’ve worked with that you are particularly proud of? Something that brings back great memories when you listen to it?

User avatar for NigelGodrich Guardian contributor

Sure! How about Diamond Bollocks from Beck's Mutations? Which was just the studio equivalent of sitting in a hot tub drinking champagne with a bunch of your best mates, and two days very well spent I would say. I'll always enjoy listening back to that sonic postcard.

Stevaldo asks:

Pavement’s Terror Twilight is one of my favourite albums and sounds incredible. But the band broke up soon after it was released and I understand that relationships were strained. Did you enjoy producing that album, and how do you think it holds up to the rest of your work?

User avatar for NigelGodrich Guardian contributor

Yes I love that record actually, it's one of my favourites and I enjoyed making it immensely. It was such an adventure to fly off to America to make a record with people I hadn't met. Maybe there were some internal politics, as there are in any band, but I made friend forever in Stephen and I think I performed my role well: my idea was to make something that stood up straighter and felt like it might reach people who were turned off by the beautiful sloppiness of other Pavement records. I just thought they were such a good band and wanted them to reach a bigger audience. The writing may have been on the wall even before I got there, but I don't think I had any part of that, and I heard they're getting back to play shows, so there's always a happy ending, right?

eckers99 asks:

Any chance of another Basement session?

User avatar for NigelGodrich Guardian contributor

I would love to and plan to do more from the basement. Watch some space somewhere, but it was such an enjoyable thing to do and I look back on it as a great archive of those times. For sure it will happen.

annelouise asks:

Where did the artwork for the new Ultraísta album come from?

User avatar for NigelGodrich Guardian contributor

Part of the fun of doing this album with Laura and Joey is the creative elements of all the stuff that isn't music. So for example we do all our own artwork and videos, and the cover is a photo I took of Laura inspired by one of my favourite photographers, Gjon Mili, a Hungarian-American photographer. We also made a lot of video content which is bleeding out into the universe slowly and relates to the album and its theme of colours, and also includes a lot of footage from the London Underground which is a particular obsession of mine. I'm great at dinner parties!

myloveisobel asks:

How hard is it making an album?

User avatar for NigelGodrich Guardian contributor

How hard is a piece of string? It totally depends on a million factors. The imperative nature of your delivery date, or maybe just whimsical noodlings that can continue for some time. Or it can be really very hard, and you have to coax people who are struggling through a very difficult process. I feel like I've had every version of this. And it can be quite leisurely, eg the Ultraista record, which was what I would call a country club style social bonanza. We could take our time and work on it when we had time, and even though the challenges were there, it was actually quite natural and easy.

jsomm_ asks:

What do you listen to as you’re trying to fall asleep?

User avatar for NigelGodrich Guardian contributor

I cannot fall asleep with any music playing, at all. I cannot have sex with any music playing at all. I cannot do any other activity, as my brain just tunes into it involuntarily and I'm rendered incapacitated.


M_elich asks:

How much Marmite do you consume?

User avatar for NigelGodrich Guardian contributor

The most important part of making records is …

Clockcatcher asks:

You seem to shy away from technical-oriented discussions. Any reasons for doing so? A lot of bands have noted how quickly you work and that you’re not too precious about the recording process, yet the final result comes off as meticulous. Do you have any insight into how to move fast and capture the energy of the moment? Do you organise the studio and control room in a way that is responsive to any creative situation?

User avatar for NigelGodrich Guardian contributor

The reason is because I think people attach too much weight to equipment and studio trickery when the reality is I consider the most important part of making records is about musical sensibility and communication with those involved, and the notes, and the words. I get very annoyed with people asking me what my favourite microphone is. It doesn't matter. These days I don't even use the expensive ones. One of the reasons why music has become generally worse, and I'm sorry to say that, is that people think about technology more than the actual music they're making. So sue me.

To your second question, see the above answer! The recording process is best when fast, because it's then the smallest obstacle to the actual music. That doesn't mean the end result shouldn't be absolutely meticulous and pored over for hours and reconsidered and reframed and sat in different places, whatever, but how far you keep you kick drum from the mic really doesn't matter.

McScootikins asks:

Those of us who shelled out for the deluxe edition of A Moon Shaped Pool also received a small length of half-inch tape alleged to have been retrieved from actual Radiohead sessions dating back to Kid A. Were any lost and unreleased gems included as part of this Willy Wonka-like scavenger hunt, or is my piece of tape likely to contain something disappointing, like Colin Greenwood practising a bass run?

User avatar for NigelGodrich Guardian contributor

This is absolutely true. I was staring at mountains of half inch tape reels from the Kid A sessions and felt sad because they were all very soon going to be unplayable useless bits of plastic that would just contaminate the environment. And thought it would maybe be better to send them off to some people who would appreciate them, so as part of the packaging with Stanley Donwood, we realised we have enough tape to wrap each special edition with a small length of it. On each tape is part of an outtake, alternative mix, instrumental, something that would have been thrown away when it became unplayable. It just felt poetic to send it out into the universe. Unfortunately I don't think people truly understand what they have...


SydParrot asks:

What was it like working with Roger Waters? Did you consciously avoid “big guitar solos” to negate it sounding like David Gilmour/Pink Floyd.

User avatar for NigelGodrich Guardian contributor

Roger is a fascinating character, really a genius. The whole experience was incredible, being able to watch this guy thinking his way around things, particularly with words and motifs and conceptual ideas. Again one of my rules in that case was there would be no big guitar solos - in the same way as the McCartney thing, I was interested in another musician, and wanted to hear him speak, and hear his musicality. As the usual formula with his solo work seems to be to find some soundalike, and use that Guitar Hero equation, which I feel is lame. So the decision was to use orchestration as a musical foil to the beauty of his simplicity and songwriting which would keep the light and focus on the words he was writing. And keep the focus of the whole work simpler.

Watch a recording session with Waters on YouTube


Andymachouse asks:

I would imagine that very few people question Paul McCartney’s methods in the studio. How difficult (or not) was it to say to him, “How about doing it this way?” during the making of Chaos and Creation in the Backyard?

User avatar for NigelGodrich Guardian contributor

Well, that was the entire point! Like I mentioned before, he called me, so I was able to dictate my terms, so to speak. My general appraisal was that I was more interested in him rather than the people around him, so persuading him to play everything was part of the "method" that allowed us to move forward with this work. That worked very well. His charm as a musician is astronomic and undeniable, he's a very intelligent musical person. He was very brave and put up with a lot of crap from me - he could have told me to fuck off at any point, but he really met in the middle to see this experiment through, and I left with even more respect for him than when I went in.


tarotbookmaker asks:

Really curious if you like classical music, and if so which pieces? Would you consider doing Big Ears festival [in Tennessee]?

User avatar for NigelGodrich Guardian contributor

Yes, I would not claim to be an aficionado in any respect, but I'm a big fan of Debussy's Preludes, and one of my favourite pieces of music is his Arabesque No 1. I also love Prokofiev in general, and Erik Satie's Gymnopedies really get me going on a Sunday.

listentosilence asks:

Is it true that much of The King of Limbs was recorded with the software Max/MSP? If it is true, how much of a hand did you have in programming and using Max/MSP? Jonny Greenwood seems to have taken all the credit …

User avatar for NigelGodrich Guardian contributor

This is basically bollocks. I went to a dinner party 15 years ago and sat next to a Stanford grad who told me about this software, Max/MSP, and took it back to Johnny. He's used it on and off on lots of things, as have I. King of Limbs is made up of everyone throwing pieces of audio together - Johnny used Max/MSP in that case to link up a turnable via a piece of software called Miss Pinky. The result was a huge and gigantic mess that took me about a year and a half to unravel, and then Thom wrote over the top. So there you have it!

Favourite human artist

kmsound asks:

Thank you for your inspiring work! Do you have a favourite Joni Mitchell album?

User avatar for NigelGodrich Guardian contributor

Joni Mitchell is my favourite human artist of all time, she is incredible. I have to give you a top three.

1. Hejira
2. The Hissing of Summer Lawns
3. For the Roses

But would say all of her output between Blue and Mingus is untouchable. She is a unique combination of musical and lyrical talent. She's pretty much the only person I find can write a narrative lyrically that can remain poetic but articulating, communicating, beyond the abstract; it's very specific and very beautiful. And as a musician she dug deep into so many vats of folk and jazz, still managing to spin her incredible voice into the mix.

Chrissomeguy asks:

Created an account just for this. I’m a human person who enjoys audio production and engineering a lot. I’m quite shy when it comes to working with other interesting music folk, mainly down to the fact I have no idea how to write a melody. I love sounds and atmospheres, making things sound full and all that great stuff. The question I’m really getting at is: when was the first time you knew you could do this? Did that moment happen at all? And how has your relationship to music evolved? Bit of a belter of a question, but you asked for this so I don’t feel bad.

User avatar for NigelGodrich Guardian contributor

I think I realised, retrospectively, that from an early age I had a fascination for recording. My dad worked at the BBC as a sound man and as a child I was surrounded by the tools of his trade so I always watched enviously and wanted to play with things. When I was very young I asked for a machine to make records, like really young, and he told me in his calm wise way: no I couldn't. But he bought me a cassette machine, so I could go around and record things: the TV, the train set, running water, things that sounded interesting when they were played back. I always aspired when I started recording music in studios, I tried to emulate my heroes, like the Trevor Horns, but found what worked best was going with the things I could do well which were an organic-ness to sound, rather than a clinical shinyness, which I loved to listen to. Making a dark brown soup was more my skill, that making a big fairy cake. I was wise to go with the things I was good at - isn't that the art of life?

TashaJ82 asks:

What compels you to commit to a project? Is it a different circumstance each time? Can you please produce Keane’s next album? Tom Chaplin is a fan, I’m sure you know!

User avatar for NigelGodrich Guardian contributor

Yes definitely, every project is different, but I would say I'm very wary of people's preconceptions and expectations, and generally my first question to them is: what do you think I'm going to do? Just so they don't have some idea that I'm going to repeat something I've done before or make them sound like someone else I've worked with. Generally I can make a fair appraisal of whether I have something valuable to contribute and will generally like what we can do together. I'm not under any illusion that I can improve someone I'm already a fan of so I never approach anyone  – they have to ask me.

Campanita asks:

Are you a night owl? If so, how do you deal with society’s preference for early birds? Do you suffer from insomnia?

User avatar for NigelGodrich Guardian contributor

Hell yes. Nothing great happens before dinner. I have always been like this, I have always leapt out of my bunk bed as a child at 3am to run across and start building something out of a piece of wood, or do a drawing- all creativity happens in my brain at night. I deal with the unfair preference of early birds in society by having chosen a career whereby I get to dictate my hours. I wouldn't dream of starting a working day before lunchtime. Producers start flowing over coffees at dinnertime. I like the isolation at night - there's no background noise, and you can really focus. And also night, it's has a dark cloak of melancholy which makes you connect to something inside, in a way you can't do when the sun is shining. Daytimes are for nice walks in the park - nighttimes are for sitting alone at a laptop.


matszn asks:

What state are the songs in when you start working with an artist? What is the variant that most changes in the production process? Structure, aesthetics, sound? Love from Argentina!

User avatar for NigelGodrich Guardian contributor

Every single version of the process is different. Sometimes you have everything completely written; siometimes it's a case of building a song from a fragment of audio that's created abstractly, which is the case with Thom's solo work and a lot of Radiohead work. Even if a song is finished you can still improve it with editing and working out what it's strengths and weaknesses are. And also how to present it as an orchestration, or sonically if there's a trick you can use to make it pull you in. I like all versions of this, because they use different parts of your brain, but sometimes it's great to be given amazing songs and a blank slate to make them happen - that hasn't happened for a while! :-)


AstroJose asks:

You’ve worked with countless musicians. Do you adapt to their work process, do you propose a process, or is it an exchange? And with Ultraísta, specifically, did you have the same process with the second album [Sister, out in March] as with the first? Did all the time in between the two influence the way you produced an album together? Can’t wait to listen to Sister!

User avatar for NigelGodrich Guardian contributor

There are no rules to methodology, in fact the skill is creating a new method each time that will generate work which will generate output, which then becomes the work. Every time you start with a band that's two guitars, bass and drums you hit the same brick wall, and it's my job to think of a quick fun way to kick the ball out of the pitch, and remain focused enough to catch it when it gets thrown back in again. With Ultraista, what started as an exercise in wordplay and groove construction on the first record this time has become a more refined process and in an effort to make more song like structures. We are all indeed different people from when we made the first things and we're amused by different things, so thus the goalposts move - to keep the metaphor going - and the method changes.


Jayalapan asks:

Which producers and which records inspired you as a young would-be producer?

User avatar for NigelGodrich Guardian contributor

As a kid, I was obsessed with Regatta de Blanc by the Police, and saw it was produced by Nigel Gray. A lightbulb went off that there was someone called Nigel doing this stuff. In terms of influences, there are ones with mythological status, like George Martin, or Trevor Horn, both of whose work I absolutely love for different reasons. Martin for his inventiveness and creative approach to the technology of the day, ie the new possibilities of multitrack tape, and the use of visual devices like sound effects. Trevor Horn for his obtuseness and skill as making artful pop music using, again, the tech of the day. Which could make bend and shape things to become bigger than real life and make the brain do somersaults.

And then more direct practical influences on me such as the people who actually taught me, including Phil Thornalley, John Leckie, Steve Lillywhite, and others. These are people I watched directly and emulated.

nnagewad asks:

What is your feeling/relationship with failure? Don’t mean to be a downer, just curious to learn about your journey when overcoming failure.

User avatar for NigelGodrich Guardian contributor

This is a very good question. It also depends on where you're standing. A lot of things could have been better or were small failures, small battles in a larger war. You regard as part of the process moving forward what the end goal is you're trying to succeed. I wouldn't regard any of my work as massive successes as they're all attempts to achieve the unachievable. However, if you're referring to something like the Strokes episode, it wasn't a failure, neither of us walked away hurt from that experience. It was just fascinating. And everything else has been successful, hasn't it??


Anhaga asks:

It’s been a year since the great Mark Hollis passed away. How much of an influence were/are Talk Talk on the Radiohead sound and your work with the band as producer?

User avatar for NigelGodrich Guardian contributor

For me, personally, I was a massive Talk Talk fan and I used to listen to those records endlessly, certainly Laughing Stock and Spirit of Eden. I think they were again things that really plugged into your feelings - our version of a classical symphony that you would start and listen through to the end.

GramGram asks:

Which album has the best atmosphere in its production? I can never get over how rich and ghostly Time Out of Mind by Bob Dylan and Daniel Lanois is.

User avatar for NigelGodrich Guardian contributor

Every record is different and you feel different about every record as time passes, but I think In Rainbows is very evocative due to hte space we recorded it in. All the ambience on that record is real, it comes from the house we recorded it in, so that conjures up a very visual image for me when I think of that record. Also Beck's Sea Change is a very emotional record, evocative, which somehow crystallised perfectly sonically to me, and if I hear any part of it it takes me back to that time. Which I regard as a job well done. It's a conduit to your feelings, which is a goal, it's what you're trying to do.

MarkUsborne asks:

When you’re making a record, do you try to listen to as much other music as possible to spark ideas? Or do you do the opposite – try and isolate any external music to not get thrown off what you set out to make?

User avatar for NigelGodrich Guardian contributor

When I'm working on a project I don't listen to anything else, it's not out of choice, I'm just compelled to be focused on what I'm thinking about, and it stays with me when I leave the studio. I literally don't want to hear anyone else's music!

And we're live!

Nigel is in the office …
Nigel is in the office … Photograph: Ben Beaumont-Thomas
User avatar for NigelGodrich Guardian contributor

Hi, thanks for sending in all your questions! The buried treasure is...

Post your questions for Nigel Godrich

It’s been eight years since Nigel Godrich’s band Ultraísta released their debut album (we called it “a producer’s album, but not without the benefits that come from stepping out from behind the desk”), and now the trio are back with Sister, out on 13 March. Multi-instrumentalist Godrich joins frontwoman Laura Bettinson and drummer/producer Joey Waronker for what they’ve described as a “cinematic sci-fi soundscape that’s both exhilarating and laser-focused” and a “celebration of our friendship”, which is a strong Venn diagram if ever there was one.

Godrich is heading to the Guardian offices at 2pm on 25 February to answer your questions about Ultraísta – and of course his most famous gig as Radiohead’s long-term producer (not to mention a fixture of their various side projects, including Atoms for Peace, and Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood’s respective solo endeavours). On top of that, you can also ask him about his lauded work with U2, REM and Roger Waters, or who was the biggest diva on the 20th anniversary recording on Do They Know It’s Christmas? – not forgetting getting fired by the Strokes, and in turn firing Paul McCartney’s band before they got to work on Chaos and Creation in the Backyard.

That’s a lot to fit into an hour, but we’ll squeeze in as many of your questions for Nige as possible. Post them in the comments and we’ll see you on Tuesday.

Ultraísta: Tin King – video


Laura Snapes

The GuardianTramp

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