XTC - Andy Partridge

Volume 1, Number 2, Autumn 2000

“POD is a god-like device that saved years of messing around with kind of spastic configurations to get the sound I wanted in the studio. Literally, it's responsible for the sound of this album. Not only did the guitars go through it, which is a fantastic sound, but we put bass through it, which really gave an edge to a lot of the bass playing. And we put drums through it. We used a drum part, and a narrower, more driven sound on counter rhythm. You can hear that on things like ‘Wounded Horse,’ and ‘You and the Clouds Will Still Be Beautiful.’

“On quite a few tracks we used an electric guitar with a mic about half-an-inch away from the strings. That became one half of the stereo, and it contains all those super highs that just don't go down pickups. Then the D.I. from the guitar went to POD and became the other half of the stereo. We did that on ‘The Man Who Murdered Love,’ ‘We're All Light,’ ‘In Another Life’ - nearly everything. All those sort of 3D guitar sounds are that split stereo thing blended together, so you can put your head inside the sound.

“I first heard of POD from Nick Davis, our producer, who uses two of them for mixing. He turned up at the session and I said, ‘What's this red, kidney-shaped thing here?’ And he said, ‘Well, this is POD. Don't you know about POD?’ He said, ‘It's wonderful!’ I sat down for about a quarter-of-an-hour with headphones and POD and a guitar while he was setting up the tape machine and I said, ‘That's it. I gotta get one - quickly!’ I just flipped for this thing. At first, I thought it was just going to be another one of those detached fizz boxes. On a lot of those amp simulators, the distortion seems separate from the signal of the guitar in some way. It's a weird sensation. But with POD it was like, ‘My goodness, at last, I can find the sounds I'm describing to people.’

When we heard XTC used POD on their new album, Wasp Star,

we asked Andy Partridge for the story.

Now, Nick's got two, I've got one, and Colin's got one. So there were four in the studio. And anything we didn't record through POD, we ran it through in the mix. So, it's not an exaggeration to say 90% of the stuff on this album went through POD. It's a demo record for what you could do with POD.”

How do you go about getting your sounds?

“Whenever a certain tone is required, I have a sound in my head, and then I try and describe it. I say, ‘I want that sort of Hendrix rhythm tone with a slightly boomy bottom. It's breaking up a little, and it's not cranked up too much, and it's clean but it's clipping a little’ or ‘I want that kind of “My Generation” rhythm tone, which is distorting about 25%.’ On this album, I'd make these descriptions, and then we'd dial through POD and find the nearest sound to it and then we'd tweak for the every track until it was just right. When we finished the solo on ‘Church of Women,’ I thought I ended up doing a real Skunk Baxter of a solo.

“While we were doing this record we came to realize how important distortion is. Listen to any of your favorite records from Tamla-Motown. There's an electric piano, and they're driving through an amp, and the amp's breaking up. The drums are recorded very ambient and too hot and you can hear them distorting on tape. The vocals are really blasted into that valve microphone, which has got a smooth distrortion, and they're distorting onto tape because of levels. You put all these things together, and the tambourines are maybe recorded a little too close to the mic and the highs are broken up. Each instrument has its own distortion flavor, and that really helps the excitement level. Once we realized this, we looked for specific distortions for every instrument.

You gotta go and track with this, because once you try it, nothing will ever sound the same.

“On things like ‘Man Who Murdered Love’ there's a kind of Tamla-esque keyboard part that was a piano played through POD. It ended up having this very barking, fuzzy Clavinet tone, which just sat beautifully with the drums. Then we did the 3D thing with the rhythm guitar and tuned the bass distortion to fit perfectly under that guitar and between the keyboard and the bass drum. We were really tuning the distortions for every instrument. All your favorite records of the past, they're all distorted. That's the trick. All those Beatle records, there's distortion of some kind on everything.

“In the '80s, people didn't realize that, and they were going for cleaner and cleaner recordings. They probably thought that was good housekeeping or something. Even if it was well-intentioned, it inadvertently stepped away more and more from the life of the songs, and the instrument power and the instrument cut, and the blend of things. They ended up stepping away from what made records exciting.

Try this POD 2.0 setting to get the guitar tone from Wasp Star's “Stupidly Happy”

“When Dave Gregory was in the band, I could be lazy - just play rhythm and sing. On this album, I had to handle the fiddly bits as well. Dave used to write all of his solos out, then play it from sheet music when we recorded. I can't read or write music, so I put off all of the solos until the last few days. The main backbone parts were figured out, but none of the solos were. I just had to come up with a feeling and capture it. I'd fire a solo off, and if we didn't get it in take one or take two, then I'd get really off the boil, have a break, then start to really warm up again about a quarter-of-an-hour later. I just fired 'em off from the hip, or from the tragically unhip in my case, and they seem to be okay.”

What guitars do you use?

“I've got this Fano, nicknamed Plankenstein, but my main thing is an Ibanez Artist, a '75. And I've got a Fender Squier Telecaster from when they made those in Japan. I tried a shopful of Squiers, the cheap copy version, because it sounded better and played better than the other Fenders in the shop. I care about what you hear in your head, how it feels on the hands.”

Which guitar did you use on “Stupidly Happy?”

“I used the Fano. I thought, ‘Well, let me get a real Keith Richards '66 fuzz tone,’ and then I blundered over this riff, and put a quarter of an hour of it down on a cassette. I was just jumping around in my shed singing the first thing that came into my head. And the song was born instantaneously. I thought, ‘Well, I'm not going to knock this, it doesn't need to change,’ and it goes on through the whole song. The vocal arrangement and the other chiming guitar arrangement sit around it, and sort of layer. So that, what becomes one thing, then layers on top of another. I like that, I like parts that lay over, and nearer, and cause a bit of a moiré effect on top of one another kind of thing, you know.”

Does XTC have any preference for amps?

“Dave Gregory used to use a lot of different amps. He used to bring a lot into the studio, because he's a real collector - and I've heard of producers auditioning hundreds of amps for albums. They'll audition a hundred before they find one they like.

“It's sort of like when you go to buy a guitar, if you see six guitars that are supposedly all the same, they're not going to feel or sound or play the same. It was the same with amps. Now, with POD it doesn't matter. I have a solid-state amp but I never used it much on record. It has that solid-state, slightly detached unreal sound. Now, I find, putting POD through it, lets me use it to get that short, low punch. Then, all the rest of the frequencies POD takes care of perfectly.”

So, do you think you're making records exciting again?

“Well, hopefully POD is doing it for us. I can't rate this little device highly enough. I've done a lot of interviews in several dozen trade papers in America and Japan and Europe and I've been selling this to them saying, ‘You gotta go and track with this, because once you try it, nothing will ever sound the same.’

“I'm just so happy to speak to somebody that's been part of what I consider to be a miracle. Because, before finding POD - this sounds like an ad! - I was having a real dilemma finding the tones I had in my head, but now it's not a dilemma - it's a charm! POD is a real magic thng, so we can't thank you highly enough.


Go back to Chalkhills Articles.