Interview: Troy Miller

Having begun his journey in music as an acclaimed drummer, Troy Miller has developed into an equally in-demand producer, recognised for his work with Laura Mvula and Rebecca Ferguson. Following Ferguson’s recent chart success, now seemed a good time for Adam Savage to seek more on Miller’s story.

Tell us a bit about your early career. You were a successful drummer before going into production, so why did you make the change?

I started out in a few bands really, and come from a jazz background. I spent years playing with Jean Toussaint, an American saxophone player, and also Soweto Kinch. I played on Soweto’s album Conversations with the Unseen, and it turned out to be one of Amy Winehouse’s favourite records, who I ended up playing with for the last five years of her career. 

When she passed, I thought I would invest in my studio and have a go at doing my own producing. I’d already started at that point, having done two albums for Sony in Poland.

When and why did you set up your London studio?

Around 2007, but since then I’ve extended it. I’ve spent a lot of time in other studios – I was a session musician before, and in those sessions you absorb a lot. When you look at many successful producers and composers they started out as musicians – guys like Trevor Horn and Hans Zimmer. It’s a good starting ground.

You must have learnt a lot from other producers from your time as a musician. I imagine working with Mark Ronson was pretty helpful?

Definitely. I spent a good two years in his band. A lot of this stuff you absorb through osmosis – just being there in the room for these sessions and it’s experiential. I found when doing as much recording as I have, on both sides of the glass, you do pick up tips. Mark is very open minded and he’s quite organic in the studio, letting musicians play and he leaves a lot down to being in the moment and seeing where it goes, which I think is a good ethic to have as
a producer. 

With Amy Winehouse, Laura Mvula and Rebecca Ferguson on your client list, you must see yourself as something of a soul specialist?

I’m very open minded and eclectic in my musical tastes, so style is not really something I think about. What I do think about is trying to create something real, and I like working with artists who are first and foremost honest with what they do and not afraid to do something a bit different. I think ultimately that’s what has longevity in music – when you’re true to yourself – and that’s not easy. If you can draw that out of people as a producer then that’s a bonus. 

I also spent years playing gospel music with the church, so the soul element is a big part of what I do, but I love classical music as well so I’m doing a project at the moment where I’m scoring the BBC Concert Orchestra and the Philharmonia this year, which is something different for me, but close to my heart. 

Let’s talk about Rebecca’s new album. I understand you teamed up with Peter Beckmann of Technology Works for that?

He was a key part of the mixing stage – initially I asked him to just master it, but I realised that we needed to bring out some more detail in the mixing stage and he was a key part of that. I’ve worked with Peter quite a few times before and I like his attention to detail. He’s very thorough – he should be as he’s a mastering engineer! – and he really cares as well. He doesn’t want to just to do the job to an acceptable level; he wants the music to sound as good as it could possibly be, even it means going the extra mile.

Was there any specific equipment that you relied on for this project?

The first for me on this project was doing all three stages of the recording on PMCs – the tracking was done at Capitol Studios in LA and they’ve got a pair of PMC QB1-A monitors, which I found to be very realistic. Moving on to the mixing and mastering stages, we used Peter’s PMCs, and that was good for the sake of consistency, and not having to adjust your ears from one session to another. I found it very comforting – you can sometimes lose the benchmark when you’re using different gear.

What about your own personal setup? 

My console is an Amek BC2 – two of them strung together. I’ve also got API and Neve outboard mic pres, as well as a Tube-Tech PE1C EQ and LCA2B compressor. I use the Apogee Symphony, which I’ve been really impressed with. Mic-wise I’ve got an RCA 77-DX, lots of Neumanns, but the main mic I use for tracking vocals is the AKG C12, and sometimes a [Neumann] U87 or U47, depending on the vocalist. With Rebecca we used a U47 because that’s what we used at Capitol as well. In fact we used the very mic that Frank Sinatra used. That’s one of the advantages of using a studio like that. And because the PMCs have won me over I’m looking to get a pair of twotwo.6 or twotwo.8 monitors. 

Going back to those other studios, where else do you like to record?

I did Laura Mvula’s album at Abbey Road and I also like working down at RAK because I love API. I produced a single for Gregory Porter and we did it at Gang Studio in Paris where they’ve got an old ‘70s API, and I just love the EQs. One of my big things is getting the sound how you want it going into the computer so the mixing stage is more than just balancing; I find it a more enjoyable process that way. 

Picture: Troy Miller and Rebecca Ferguson