The Stone Roses: John Leckie Interview

The Producer

In April 2009 and to celebrate 20 Years of ‘The Stone Roses’ debut album. Clash spoke to the people involved and why that album is important for a whole generation. Below Clash talks to the producer of the band’s classic debut album, John Leckie.

In addition to his role as producer for The Verve, Radiohead, Muse and, er, Kula Shaker, John Leckie also served behind the control desk for the recording of ‘The Stone Roses’. Sessions took place at Rockfield Studios in Monmouth, Wales, and in Battery and Konk studios in London. Clash caught up with the esteemed knob-twiddler to fondly reminisce.

When did you first hear about the band?

I first became aware of them when they were called Angry Young Teddy Bears. Someone, I can’t remember who, mentioned this band from Manchester and said they were fantastic. And then, much later, I got a tape from Geoff Travis at Rough Trade, which had a few songs on: ‘Elephant Stone’, ‘Waterfall’ and ‘She Bangs The Drums’. Then Roddy McKenna, who was the A&R guy at Silvertone, sent me up to Manchester to meet the band.

How long did the recording take?

The whole thing – the album and mixing and everything – took fifty-five days, off and on between late summer ’88 through to January ’89.

Were they receptive to new ideas, or did they have a fixed idea of how they wanted to work?

They were open to any ideas. They weren’t sure – they were confident, but they weren’t sure. They were always open to new ways of doing things, and getting the best sounds – the drums and guitar sound, and the vocals as well; a lot of work on the vocal sound. I know in later years everyone criticised Ian’s vocals for being out of tune or badly sung, and it’s funny, because when I did that record there was never any problem with that. Ian sang great.

Were they interested in the production process?

They weren’t technically aware, no. They never touched the equipment, or sat at the desk and twiddled the knobs, or said, ‘Why don’t you try this?’ If they didn’t like something they’d say, definitely, and probably the most critical one would have been Reni. He’d be the first to tell you if he didn’t like the vocal, or if he didn’t like the drum sound, or if something was out of tune.

Was anything recorded that wasn’t used on the album?

No, there isn’t. The only one was ‘Where Angels Play’, which was abandoned. And then the record company found it and released it. It’s just a guide vocal and a rough mix – it was never finished.

What was the atmosphere like during recording?

Really, the whole record was a team effort. I wouldn’t say it was democratic – things weren’t put to the vote or anything like that – we were just kind of having fun with it. There was a good vibe. I always think whatever the vibe is comes across in the record, particularly if you record the way we did then, with the band playing together.

Were all the songs arranged prior to entering the studio?

Not all of them. When we were at Rockfield finishing the record, we ended up rehearsing and arranging the end of ‘I Am The Resurrection’. We spent two or three days in the studio, not recording, just working out that arrangement, where all the parts go and things. And then we recorded it all in one go. When John first started recording he didn’t like doing lots of takes, he somehow wanted to go in and nail it first time. He just wanted to play it and that was it. All the time John would have his little portastudio set up at the back, and he’d just work on his part. We’d be saying, ‘Come on John, we need to record the guitar’, and he’d say, ‘I’m not ready yet, we’ll have to do it tomorrow’. He would really work out every note he was going to play and practice, practice, and then when he said, ‘Okay, I’m ready’… ‘Bye Bye Badman’, for instance – the guitar that winds its way all through that, he more or less did that in the first take, but it took him three days to practice it. So the arrangements were tightly rehearsed, either before we went in the studio or in the studio. By the arrangements I mean what was put down – what the bassline was, how Reni was going to change the drums and this kind of thing – and also tempos. It was all about the vibe and the feel and whether we got off on it. If we didn’t get off on it and shuffle around, we’d abandon it and do it again.

Were you aware straightaway how good the album is?

Yeah, I was. They were always really positive and jumping up and down, but I thought it was really good because it all held together, there wasn’t a weak track on it. We went to Abbey Road on the very last day, Abbey Road Studio Two, and we only had one day there, and we mixed ‘Shoot You Down’. And then we played it back at Abbey Road, which was great, and everyone was buzzing.

Do you still listen to it?

Yeah, I do actually. Wondering how it’s done, because a lot of the time you can’t remember exactly what you did.

Do you look back on that period with fondness?
Yeah, definitely. It was great. It’s rare to be in the studio and have good vibes all the time. It was hard work, it wasn’t easy, but I do look back on it fondly. I saw Reni about five years ago – I went up to his house – and whenever I see Ian and Mani it’s always big hugs, and there’s great vibes and everything. I’m really fond of it – it’s great.

Words by Will Kinsman

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