Romesh Dodangoda

By Andy

He’s produced almost every decent UK record in the last few years, he’s Welsh and he’s never complained when we spell his name wrong. Here’s what legendary knob-twiddler of The Valleys ROMESH DODANGODA had to say when PT caught up with him…

Romesh! How are things with you right now?

Pretty good thank you! Very busy with a lot of records at the moment but good!

Let’s take it all right back to before it all began. How did you become interested in music? What was the first single you bought and the first gig you went to?

I’ve been into music since a really early age. I think I picked up my first instrument when I was about 4. I’ve always loved music as far as I can remember, it’s been a massive part of my life. My first single was probably something pretty embarrassing, I genuinely can’t remember! I did however get into Oasis when they brought out the singles from their first record and that was probably the life changer for me. That band got me into The Beatles, The Stone Roses, The Jam and lots of guitar-based music. I started to really focus on the songs and how they were put together and learning how to play them. I started going to a load of shows then and really got into guitar bands and rock music. My first gig was probably something like Manic St Preachers or Supergrass I think! Well, the first gig I’d like to admit to anyway…

Where did you grow up? What was the local music scene like? Did you play in any bands? Were they any good?

I grew up in a place called Radyr, in Cardiff. It’s a pretty quiet place, so there was never anything to do really! As I started getting really into music, I got in a band with some friends from school. They were older than me but it was a really good laugh for a while. We thought we were good at the time, but looking back on it, it was pretty crap. It did alright, we played some cool shows, my favourite being with Noel Gallagher’s ‘other band’ Tailgunner, although Noel didn’t play that night! Gutted! We had some industry people get in touch and all that stuff but it was about that point that I realised that it wasn’t what I really wanted to do. I wanted to be working in music but from a different angle.

At what point did you think about going into music production and recording? Was there anything specific that interested you about it?

I guess it was pretty much when I decided I didn’t want to be in a band. I always loved going into the studio and recording but that was the only bit that interested me. It was at that point that I really got into production and engineering. I would sit in my room for hours just reading about things like the physics side of sound and all the technical aspects of engineering. I then put whatever money I had into getting some basic gear together so I could work out how to get certain guitar sounds and stuff like that. My first mixer had about 4 channels! The more I was sat in my room doing all this the more fascinated I got with sound and music. One thing led to another and here I am today!

Do you have any technical qualifications in music production or are you self-taught?

Totally self-taught. I did go to University and got a sound engineering degree but I only did it to get the degree really. I was already producing records way before I went there and I didn’t really turn up much because I was working with bands at my studio pretty much every day! I taught myself by sitting down and trying things and working out how to get the sounds in my head coming through the speakers. I just did that over and over for years! It’s weird, I don’t think you can be taught how to do this. Sure, you can be taught the technical stuff to a certain degree but not how a kick drum or a guitar should sound. That is what you think really. Everyone hears music differently.

What was the first record that you worked on and how did it come about?

I worked on this band, I think they were called Infused, and I blagged my way into it. They aren’t together any more. I had a listen to it not long ago, it didn’t actually sound too bad! The first main records though that started to build my name as a producer I guess were Dopamine‘s two albums, Kids In Glass Houses‘s EP and The Blackout‘s EP. They were all done in a tiny studio in my house which was hotter than the sun. The live room would just about fit a drum kit. We had a lot of great times in there though!

Who is your favourite producer and why?

I don’t have a favourite, but there are definitely a lot of people I admire.

I’m a big Mutt Lange fan. I really like to stack up harmonies and make textures. Not cheesy 3 part harmonies, but things you don’t hear that build a feel with the vocal and make things sound thicker. When I was tracking Matt from Funeral For A Friend for the new album, he totally noticed the Mutt influence ! He’s a great producer, I love his work. The textures he makes with instruments are amazing.

I absolutely love what Dave Sardy had done with the last few Oasis records. He’s really captured what that band has been trying to do. I’m also a bit fan of what Owen Morris brought to records like ‘What’s The Story Morning Glory’ and ‘Be Here Now’. Everything is super compressed and kind of trashy but it really makes you listen to the song. I think that’s a great approach sometimes and I couldn’t imagine those records sounding any different.

Brendan O’Brian is another person I admire, along with Rob Cavallo, Butch Vig, Don Gilmore, too many to mention really!

What is your favourite record that you have worked on and why? Similarly, is there anything you’ve worked on that with hindsight you wish you could go back and re-do? If so, why?

There are way too many to choose from. I loved working on Smart Casual with Kids In Glass Houses. That was some of the most fun I’ve ever had in a studio ever. We joked around so much and made a record with so many big songs on it. Working on the new Funeral For A Friend record was also loads of fun. I get along with those guys so well, it’s always a blast working with them. Making ‘The Latest Fashion’ with Attack Attack (UK!) was also such a wicked experience. It’s really hard to pin a favourite, every record is always challenging but a lot of fun. In regards to going back and re-doing anything, I’m sure there are things on older records that I would have done differently now, but every album is kind of a snapshot of where you and the band were at that particular moment in time. All bands develop over time, find their sound and get better at writing songs and playing, as do producers! That is the great thing about music, there’s no real end to what you can learn. I never make a record and straight away think that could have been better. I’ll work hard until it is as best as I can make it.

Which bands are the most fun to work with in the studios? Do you have any good in-studio tales to tell?

Every band has their quirks, jokes or just general fun times really! For instance, I know that whenever Save Your Breath are in the studio, it is guaranteed free pizza and Strongbow every day. Kids In Glass Houses means there’s a lot of Strongbow, with the FFAF boys it’s Strongbow again, the Motorhead sessions were powered by Strongbow…I think you can get the idea…everything revolves around Strongbow! Jokes aside, I always have a fun time with bands. I think you have to. If you’re enjoying yourself when recording, it will come out on the record. There’s nothing worse than being in a studio and there being a bad vibe going on. I have a lot of hilarious stories but the bands would probably kill me!

If you could work with any band – alive or ‘dead’ – who would it be and why?

Oasis. Because they are class! Noel Gallagher is one of the best songwriters about. If you like them or not, you know the lyrics to a bunch of their songs. Kelly Clarkson would be rad (guilty pleasure!) I would love to work with the Stereophonics. They are another band who really got me into music. I would love to work with Maroon 5 too. They write amazing pop hooks and are a super talented band. I wish!

On a similar note, are there any bands you have worked with that you wouldn’t work with again?

Not at all…ok, there is one but they know not to call me again!

What makes for a good ‘sound’?

That is a tough question. Everyone’s definition of a good sound is different, which is obviously a good thing otherwise all albums would sound the same. For me, if I’m making a rock record, I like it to have a lot of punch, big guitars, big real drums, I love hearing a band sounding like they mean it. It has to sonically sound exciting. If it’s more pop stuff, I love clever harmonies and a clean sounding production. You have to change it up a lot, every record is different. I like to try different approaches to things sometimes and by doing that you end up with cool sounds. For instance, on the new Attack Attack record, there’s a track on there where all the vocals are done through a Marshall guitar amp driven on full. It sounds trashy and nasty but it sounds right for the song. With the new FFAF record, some of Matt’s vocals, we tracked with a normal 58 handheld mic to get some ‘vibe’ and feel on the tracks. When I was doing ‘Hunt The Haunted’ with Kids In Glass Houses, some of the vocals you hear on that is the rough guide vocal Aled did on a Shure mic. At some parts of the song, the feel and performance he gave on the guide had so much personality – we had to keep it. They are moments you can’t recreate. Sounds changes every time really. Sometimes the best sound for something isn’t always what you imagine it to be. You have to think of the bigger picture and what the song needs.

I interviewed Ryan from Funeral For A Friend recently and he said the band loved working with you because you’re such a big fan and can understand what fans want to hear. Have you worked with any other bands you’ve been huge fans of and thought ‘wow, is this really happening?’

Working on the new Motorhead record was pretty surreal. I think every day until I finished it I was pinching myself asking if it was real. It was a huge honour to be involved with that. They are one of the biggest rock bands in the world! Phil also has the BEST stories! Having the Manic St Preachers in my studio for a week was also a completely insane situation. I have loved that band since I was growing up! Going into the studio every day and trying hard not to be a fan boy was pretty tough! I’m also a big Lostprophets fan (who isn’t?!) so working on some of their stuff was an honour too.

What tips would you give anyone interested in following you into a career in the industry and why?

You have to be prepared to work really hard. I have been doing it for close to 10 years now and I haven’t really stopped working. There are always ridiculous deadlines, or situations that mean you don’t leave the studio till 4am to get a track done on time. You have to be able to deal with it. If you want it bad enough you can achieve it. Try and get in a studio or with a producer and learn what they do. Courses will teach you basic engineering but not the things you need to know in the real world. So many people come out of University absolutely clueless. I once let someone come and watch how I worked, and as a result, he now works assisting or engineering every single session I do. It is tough finding a way in but its possible. Have faith!

For a comprehensive list of the bands Romesh has worked with, be sure to head over to the Longwave Recording Studios website.

Try these three interviews

Interview: Greywind [Reading 2016]

Interview: Arcane Roots [Reading 2016]

Interview: Trash Boat [Reading 2016]