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Q&A: Theo Crous On Producing Van Coke Kartel’s Latest Album

Q&A: Theo Crous On Producing Van Coke Kartel’s Latest Album

We also chat about kak drum sounds, sounding like yourself & rugby rock stars. While visiting the members of Van Coke Kartel at Bellville Studios recently to chat about their latest album, Bloed, Sweet & Trane, I also snuck in a quick chat with producer and Springbok Nude Girls/K.O.B.U.S guitarist Theo Crous. The conversation started with

We also chat about kak drum sounds, sounding like yourself & rugby rock stars.

While visiting the members of Van Coke Kartel at Bellville Studios recently to chat about their latest album, Bloed, Sweet & Trane, I also snuck in a quick chat with producer and Springbok Nude Girls/K.O.B.U.S guitarist Theo Crous.

The conversation started with the production of of VCK’s latest album and progressed to multi-bus compression, inferiority complexes, kak drum sounds and rugby rock stars.

You’ve worked with Van Coke Kartel on a few occasions, don’t you get gatvol

Yes and yes… [Laughs]

So you’ve produced this album…

They make me feel like I’m producing the album, I’m not really producing it – they’re producing it. Actually I’m producing it, but I make them think that they are also producing the album. You have to make them think that they’re the boss, but actually you’re the boss. As long as they feel that they’re the boss, they’ll perform. That’s the key… I’m revealing all my fucking producing secrets now.

Technical-wise… how did these sessions differ from previous VCK recordings? Did you use any new tools or studio toys?

Yes. I didn’t use multi-bus compression on the previous album [Wie’s Bang]; I did use it on this album though.

And for people who don’t know what this technical lingo means?
Multi-bus compression is when you … well, usually you would send a left and right stereo mix to one bus … so that the 40 tracks you recorded for instance… that all of them can fit into two tracks so that you can listen to it on an MP3. Now this you would usually send to a bus. That bus gets compressed, normally. Usually it’s one bus that gets compressed. Some people don’t like to compress it, some people do. So I started doing multi-band compression, which means you send different instruments to other buses, you compress them in different ways.
So when Francois sings for instance, then the guitars pull back automatically… if you set up the compressor correctly.

So what you are actually saying is that you are busy pumping a bit more life into an MP3?
Yes you can. And you can also push your apparent loudness with a few decibels. It’s like a magic trick – you think it’s there but it’s not really there, you know what I’m saying?

I think so.

To parallel compress something and to multi-bus compress something are two different things. You give the feeling that something is bigger than it actually is. But it’s not really. It’s all smoke and mirrors – for your ears. It’s not a new technique or anything; a lot of guys use it. If you do it and you apply it the wrong way, it can become a fuck-up. It’s really easy to fuck up multi-bus compression.

Obviously, I used different gear. The overall sound of the album … this is the third album I’m doing with VCK.

Wie’s Bang was very slick … the snare drum was perfectly in its place. Everything was done nicely … the solos had a little bit of verb on them. This album I made much drier, totally. In the microphone setups there’s not a lot of room sounds. Everything is close-mic’ed … there’s no reverb on the guitars, no reverb on the snare drum, there’s no reverb on fokkol. It’s very dry.

It almost sounds like the production on Queens of the Stone Age’s Songs For The Deaf …

Yes, in a way.

If you have to give a few references, production-wise, what would it be?

I would say Songs For The Deaf is a good example. But, you know, the main thing about all this is that – and this is something a lot of people don’t get: You don’t want to sound like someone else. And you don’t want to use someone else as reference. You want to sound like yourself.
So many bands come in here, big fucking bands, who tell me: “Let’s listen to this.” And yeah, it’s cool listening to something, off course you want to. But, you want to fucking sound like yourself. A lot of times we set up a kick and a snare drum and they say [whiney voice]: “Yeah, but it doesn’t sound like…” – but do you actually want to sound like that? What are you then, just another fucking copy? Don’t you want to sound like yourself? It will be so much better if this gets played in another country and people go: “Wow, this sounds awesome, I haven’t heard this before,” as apposed to going: “Wow! This sounds like fucking any other band in America.” I mean that’s the point, right? People miss that.

And the other thing they also miss is when they listen to certain albums where the production isn’t necessarily that good. And now, because it’s a US release, it’s musically regarded as being good.

And once again, it’s a preference thing. It’s not like I’m saying it’s shit. I’m just saying, it doesn’t sound good to my ears. And bands want to sound like that band but it’s not a great album. It’s a great album in terms of songs, but not in terms of sonics.

There’re only a handful of those albums currently on Billboard that are really well produced and well mixed. The rest are crap.
I hear you …
But we as South Africans is mos altyd fokken minderwaardig – “We are third world” – and then we are sommer fucking third place as well … that attitude of “We’re not good enough”, and when you speak to a dude from overseas, it’s like you’re speaking to God, you know. It’s fucking stupid, you know?

I hear you. We have this inferiority complex.

It’s exactly like you say. This inferiority thing must fucking pass. People must realise that any artist is more than good enough to do anything you want. You don’t have to look at anybody else but the people in your own country.

And this is my point: They [VCK] are a very good, world-class band. World-class drummer, world-class guitarist, world-class singer, world-class bassist. It’s some of the best musicians I ever worked with in my life. And I’ve worked with a lot of American artists before. These guys are fucking much better. The only thing it means is that because we are here, our sales are lower than over there. That’s all. There’s no standard thing. Yes, there is some crap on radio. Yes, South African bands are sometimes known for having a kak drum sound.

Go and listen to the middle-of-the-road radio station in America and you tell me if everything you hear there is fucking fantastic. The drum sound is just as kak on those stations than on any other fucking station … if you listen to a college station. I you listen to K-Rock, obviously no, you’re not going to hear a kak drum sound.

Do you think South Africa’s kids realise all the effort and expertise that goes into something like a Van Coke Kartel album?
No. I can tell you that the average… We as South Africans are brought up to think: “Oh, so you’re a musician – what’s your real job? Oh, so you’re a writer for a magazine – what do you do during the week?” Journalism, music … any fucking artistic thing in our country is [regarded as] a fucking hobby.

If you play rugby, you’re a fucking rock star. That’s probably the only rock stars in our country.

Every Saturday, there’s this huge gig on a rugby field.

Exactly. Our country’s rock stars aren’t musicians. And that “hobby-perception” is huge in our industry. You get a lot of that: “My daughter is very talented, I think. If I give you a 100K, would you produce her CD?” You get that. Fuck no. It doesn’t work like that.

In other words, you choose what you work on?

Yes. I don’t think she is talented, she must go and play a fucking gig and see how it is. And fucking pay her dues.

Does that happen often?

Yes! A lot of fucking times. And it doesn’t work like that. If you don’t feel it, you don’t feel it. Not all the money in the world is going to make you feel it. The thing is you have to play live, that’s where the income for musicians is in our country.

This, what we are doing in the studio, is probably your business card, if you want to put it like that. And the revenue that you make from this album is going to pay for the next album. But it’s not going to go in your back pocket. If you put it in perspective – if you sell a couple of million iTunes downloads or albums, that’s still not going to go into your back pocket. Ask Seether. Or any other big fucking band.


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