Interview: Studio engineer Drew Bang

With an MPG nomination for Breakthrough Engineer firmly under his belt, 2015 was a landmark year for London-based Drew Bang. Colby Ramsey quizzes the pro-audio up-and-comer about his work with garage punk duo Slaves and life at Strongroom Studios…

You initially started out in music as a singer – to what extent did that set you up for a career in audio engineering and recording?

Haha! Yeah that was such a long time ago now. I guess with hindsight (which is a beautiful thing I might add) I’d say that being able to remember how it felt to be a performer and attempting to translate something from within into a tangible musical entity. That creative drive for me was always what dictated my personality on and off stage, my ego and my aspirations. Being able to directly empathise with those traits in others makes working with artists – from an engineer’s perspective – so much more manageable.

You worked with punk duo Slaves on their debut album last year. How did that come about?

Just another day, another client booking at the studio! All credit for that hook-up goes to the producer Jolyon Thomas; he’d worked with Isaac (Holman, drums/vocals) and Laurie (Vincent, guitar/vocals) on a couple of singles already, and brought the band to Strongroom, whom I freelance for, to work on the album. I guess I was the studio’s best-fit “in-house” guy for the job, and the rest is history. Since the album, we’ve stayed in touch but are all seeing other people.

How did you approach the recording and was there anything you feel you did particularly differently

From day one we all seemed to click, it might have had something to do with us starting and ending each day with bro-hugs – massively important! From that point it was four guys in a room for three weeks – let’s put it down and try and make something great. That’s like the dream in the studio – everyone doing their job. In that sense it was different, as I wasn’t having to do someone else’s job for them, just my own – mics, acoustics, outboard, desk, a cheeky half and home to bed.

What was your reaction to being shortlisted for an MPG Award?

I was sat with my girlfriend in a tap room in Bermondsey, on an all-day session – we’d had a few double IPAs by this point – and when the email came in, I was half listening to her, and half taking in the news. I was completely dumbfounded, burst into a happy cry and spent the next 15 minutes with my head in my hands, trying to style my reaction to the room full of people staring my way! As you can imagine, I wasn’t expecting to get through to the final three. I’m so very humbled by that.

Could you tell us a little about your method of working in general? Do you have any particularly unique or unusual methods/habits?

I’m pretty methodical I guess. I’ll have prepped my session ahead of time usually, and given enough information had some time to work on pre-production etc. All that stuff is just for me though – I have a pretty short attention span, so if I’m not organised, I’ll get myself all confused. There’s a clear signal flow in engineering. I try to take the shortest route, but I think good engineering is knowing the long ways round, just in case. Once I’m in the zone, it’s just about letting things happen in a way that brings out performances. All of this is subject to a client that allows you to work freely of course; otherwise I do as I’m told!

You’ve also had some experience working with the BBC. Do you feel your wider knowledge of audio has helped you become more accomplished in the field of recording?

Yeah, I think this is great. Perspective is a fantastic tool to have and complacency can be a huge detriment to productivity; knowing how others work can really aid you in making the right decision for you. That being said, none of that really matters does it? Introspection also breeds self-doubt and that’s the real killer when it comes to just getting on with it.

Could you tell us a little about Strongroom, your base of operations at present?

Sure. I’ve been freelancing at Strongroom for just over three years now. It’s like no other studio I’ve been to. It’s a 30-year-old institution, has Jamie Reid (Sex Pistols) artwork in every room, its own craft beer bar and a beautiful congregation of resident producers working out of its studios – a real creative hub. Phil and Emma who manage the studio have been great in supporting my career, sending work my way which they know I’ll love, which is fantastic as I’m unmanaged. Of the three commercial rooms, I’ll always opt for Studio 1: the Neve VR room where we tracked Slaves. If I could take that console home, I would.

What’s next for you? Have you got any big projects lined up that you could tell us about?

I’m working on an EP for a band called Three Girl Rhumba on [record label] I’m Not From London, which I’m having to do in my spare time – a labour of love really. And yeah, I have a few potentially massive sessions coming up in the New Year but I’m on NDA so I couldn’t possibly hint at what, or who. I’m super excited about 2016, really wanting to get that diary filled out with good energy sessions. Still working on that bucket list though – don’t suppose you know the guys from DFA1979?

We interviewed Drew last month for our January issue. You can view all of the 2016 MPG Award winners here.