The Master of Sound (Danton Supple)

The Master of Sound (Danton Supple)

Danton Supple - record producer extraordinaire

Whisky & Culture | 21 Oct 2016 | Issue 139 | By Neil Ridley

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Amongst the most trusted sherpas on the treacherous pathway within the music business is the record producer; the man or woman tasked by the record company to perfect the sound, performance and ultimately the commerciality of a record. Get it right and everyone is happy. Get it wrong and usually the first person to get the blame, is the producer.

Step forward Mr Danton Supple, a man I have known for over ten years and someone who I would consider to be one of the finest sherpas in the business. I can genuinely say that he has not only great ears and a wizardry behind the mixing desk, but also an unflappable cool and calming influence on even the most tense of recording sessions. He also likes the odd single malt or two after recording. These qualities have helped him build a solid career over the last 25 years, which makes for fascinating reading - and listening.

Danton began his career working as a studio engineer alongside the likes of legendary producers Trevor Horn, Steve Lillywhite and Paul Oakenfold, where he helped shape the sound of enormo-artists such as U2, The Cure, Dusty Springfield, The Pet Shop Boys and the late, great David Bowie. His excellence as a mixer was recognised by the likes of The Stone Roses' Ian Brown and Morrissey, which led to his big break - mixing Coldplay's worldwide smash, A Rush Of Blood To The Head. This successful partnership saw Danton take full production reigns on the band's follow up album, X&Y, which has, to date, sold more than 13 million copies.

"Retrospectively, I think I was really into what I do now, without actually realising quite what it was," he explains, when I ask him how he got into record production. "I studied all the sciences, but I was really into hi-fi, rather than performing music. I really liked the way records sounded. Back in 1985, I had a girlfriend whose uncle was part of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, which inspired me to try and get a job in a studio." That first job, was working as a teaboy/runner for a small London studio, run by an eccentric chap who wore fishing waders around the studio!

It was a stint at London's legendary SARM Studios that began a progression into the world of making records properly. "Back then, you had to do every job in the studio to truly understand quite how everything worked," he explains. "From manning the reception to working behind the mixing desk or editing tape, it gave everyone in the studio a real sense of 'how it's done'".

It's this hands-on approach that very much reminds me of how the legendary whisky makers of today gained their reputations, learning every discipline in the production process: from sweeping the malting floor, to mashing, distilling and then selecting which matured whiskies are ready to be, blended or bottled.

"There's definitely a technical side to both crafts," agrees Danton, "but without that 'watching and learning' element, it's nothing. You see a lot of people coming in from music tech colleges - very highly qualified, but their learning curve really starts from day one on the job.

"When I left working as Trevor Horn's assistant engineer, he joked and said 'you can survive anything now' - and he was right. You just had to attain such a high standard, often working 10am-3am shifts in the studio and if you screwed up once, you were out. There was always a permanent look of fear in the eyes of the assistants."

I liken the 'fear factor' of making a mistake to that of the classic whisky story/urban myth of the guy who accidentally vats together two priceless whiskies in the bottling hall by pressing the wrong button. "It's hilarious these days in digital recording, you have the 'undo' button, which is effectively a get-out-of-jail--free card," he smiles. "When we were using tape, there was a genuine fear that if you weren't concentrating 100 per cent, you could totally ruin a song by accidentally erasing the wrong bit, which would result in a lot of explaining. It was quite a destructive way of working."

Our talk turns to arguably Danton's biggest project - Coldplay. Was working with such a hugely successful band a liberating experience? "Yes and no," he explains. "You feel incredibly under the spotlight as a producer, as there's a lot riding on the record's success. They were a fantastic band to work with though, and of course a record of that magnitude opens a lot of doors in the music industry, so I got offered lots of other quite similar sounding projects as a result."

It's clear that there's a lot of common ground between making records and making whisky; that the centre ground, no matter how desirable from a commercial perspective is never going to really light up the world in the personality stakes.

Whisky and making records… who'd have thought it, eh? The most perfect of bedfellows indeed.

Danton's Perfect Music & Whisky Pairings

Aberlour 16 Years Old Double Cask paired with Norma Jean Martine, No Gold

A rich soul to this pairing, with subtle spices and layers of harmony. Norma Jean Martine is a singer songwriter, originally from New York, now residing in London. Danton produced her latest album, entitled Only In My Mind.

808 Grain Whisky paired with Perfecto's remix of Mansun, Wide Open Space

This new grain whisky was created by producer and DJ Tommy D, with the euphoric clubber in mind, with sweeter notes and a fruity backbone. Danton engineered this (now classic) dance remix of a 90s indie anthem. watch?v=C8Qo7uvUlzw

Talisker Storm paired with Dave Gahan & Soulsavers, Tempted

Like one would expect, Talisker Storm is undeniably smoky, with a dark heart and dry woody bonfire embers, which give it a dense, complex character. Danton mixed Dave Gahan & Soulsavers latest album, Angels and Ghosts in 2015, which is packed full of dark, contemplative lyrics and Gahan's unmistakable vocal delivery. watch?v=vXsZRkAexyg

Johnnie Walker Black Label paired with Coldplay, Fix You

Black Label's subtle, well-rounded smokiness sits perfectly over ice. With its uplifting choruses, dense harmonies and Chris Martin's simple-yet-wonderfully effective soaring song structure, Fix You helped define Coldplay as the biggest band in the world, making them a truly household name.
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