“I mainly make music at my space in Dundrum where all of my equipment and instruments are. It’s a good-sized room in a house away from the main road, so it’s pretty quiet. It’s not a traditional studio space. There’s no real sound-proofing and only limited acoustic treatment and most importantly of all, it has windows, so it’s nice and bright in the daytime and full of street light at night. In the summer I sometimes work with them open, even when I’m mic-ing things.
I have the room split, so half of it is pretty dead sounding for close mic-ing and mixing/monitoring/mastering and the other half is roomy and live for ambience and natural reverberation.
I use the room for making my own music, but also for working on other people’s records too. So, depending on the day, I’m either alone or surrounded by a band or other musicians. I really enjoy both situations. There’s such an important and rewarding social element to making music with other people. It’s something I really love. It’s also a real privilege to have someone ask me to be a part of their creative process. I think because I work out of a non-traditional studio space there is a nice relaxed atmosphere and people that I work with feel it too; what you lose in sound design etc, you gain in homeliness. does that make sense?
With my own music, I mainly work alone. The isolation and solitude is important. I spend hours working on sounds and figuring out ways to use the equipment I’ve got for as many different things as I can. I try to spend as much time as I can in a given week working on things. With Northstation, I don’t go into the studio with a song written; it’s a more improvised sort of thing. Usually I programme a beat. I have a few nice drum machines and I sit in the headphones making sounds, sampling noises and working on the structure of the beat. When I’m happy with that I record it, through amps, pre-amps, guitar pedals, compressors or whatever makes it sound interesting to me.
The next step is to find an instrument to try play something over the beat with. This used to always be a guitar, but with ‘Wagtail’ and the album I’m working on at the moment I’m opting for other instruments that I don’t play particularly well. I hope this helps me to not repeat things I’ve done before. When I find a part I like, I record it and then try come up with the next bit. When I started playing music it was in a band and we used to spend hours in a rehearsal space trying to come up with ideas out of just playing on two or three chords or a rhythm someone brought to the table and making songs grow out of that. My approach now is still kind of the same, except that I’m working alone. Usually the start point is the beat or sound or feel of whatever record I am obsessing over at the time, trying to take what I can from it and run.
This space is where I rehearse and put gigs together, so it’s a live experience too; I keep my Northstation live set up together, so at any time I can add sounds to what I’m working on without having to spend time setting up. The room is really important for this. I have all of my instruments, effects units, guitars in different tunings, mics, etc set up and within reach for when I want to try something. I try spend at least one full day a week working on my own music. This usually starts at 9 or 10am and would go through until 5 or 6pm, sometimes later, if I have nothing else on. The longer I can spend in one sitting, the better. I find it really important to be able to get lost in what I’m doing. With teaching full-time and working on other people’s music and paying bills etc, I sometimes only have a few hours in an evening a week. But the fact that the space is always set up and I can just sit down and run with whatever ideas fall out is really important. Even one spare hour can be put to good use. Coffee, water and eating well are all also really important to the experience, too. There is a kitchen downstairs and I keep it stocked.
My routine in the space changes, depending on the other work. In the summer, when I am not teaching, I try to spend five or six days a week working and keep really regular hours. The earlier in the day I can start the better. I like to take breaks and walk around the neighbourhood with rough mixes in the headphones or head out to the sea to swim to clear my head. I find that working on my own can have its drawbacks in terms of getting perspective, so it’s important at times to get out and remember that there is a functioning world around me. It’s also nice to sometimes get so lost in what I’m doing that nothing else matters. It’s very relaxing and rewarding.
For me music is all about enjoying the process of making it; once a record is finished, my work is done and it becomes someone else’s if they choose to listen to it. Every minute – until it leaves the studio – is all about refining and shaping and trying to make something I enjoy putting all of my energy and ideas into. That or helping someone realise theirs. Working on my own or on other people’s music, the main goal is to make the sound in our heads become a record and to enjoy everything about the process of it. Each record brings something new and helps me develop as an engineer and musician, it’s a really rewarding thing; this is something I plan to be doing until I’m cold in the ground.”
Steve Fanagan is in the final stages of work on a new Northstation album. As Wrecking Ball, he has just released a collaboration with his friend Papercut – a two-track album of improvised electronics, voice and effects released on Deserted Village. He describes it as “a pretty noisy, droney affair” which he hopes they will try to do live at some stage. Steve has also just finished work on a Moose Eats Leaf album called Adrift, a guitar loop-based instrumental work, which should be later this year. As Northstation, he has just completed a remix for Swedish band The LK , who he met while gigging last summer. Another recent project was a remix for The Declining Winter (which got a limited release via Misplaced Music last October), which is a new project featuring Richard Adam from HOOD. Northstation open for Hooray For Humans in Whelan’s March 15th.