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Nicolas Launay is an English record producer, composer and recording engineer. He is one of the most sought after record producers in the world due to his success with recent albums by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Arcade Fire, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. He is among the most successful producers of the post-punk era, helming records from pivotal acts including: Public Image Ltd, Gang of Four, Killing Joke, The Birthday Party, and The Slits.
Launay is known primarily for his passionate approach to recording with emphasis on raw sounds and capturing mood. Other artists he has worked with include: Kate Bush, Talking Heads, David Byrne, INXS, Midnight Oil, Grinderman, Lou Reed, The Cribs, Supergrass, The Living End, and Silverchair. He lives in Hollywood, USA and travels to London frequently. His latest work includes producing Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Mosquito, It's Blitz!, mixing Arcade Fire's The Suburbs, and producing and recording Nick Cave's Push the Sky Away, and Grinderman 2. Launay is father of two Australian children Lee Launay & Lana Launay.
The son of French author André Launay and fashion model Eve Launay, he was born in London, England on March 5 and moved with his family to a village in Spain at age eight, where his parents adopted a bohemian lifestyle. The family returned to England in 1976, where Launay developed a love of punk rock.
In 1978 he began working at Tape One studios on Tottenham Court Road, where he was trained to edit hit songs for K-tel Top 20 compilation albums, reducing their length to 2½ minutes in order to fit 20 songs on one album. He recalled: "The trick was to keep all the good bits that people would recognise."
According to his website, Launay was late at work one night "frantically editing and reconstructing an experimental version of "Pop Muzik" by UK pop band M, for his own amusement, when he was visited by respected mastering engineer Denis Blackham". Blackham was so impressed with the new extended version, he played it the next day to M’s Robin Scott. Launay says his version was released as a 12-inch single and became a Top 10 hit in the UK and other countries.
In 1980 Launay moved to Virgin Records’ Townhouse studios, where he worked as an assistant engineer on albums including The Jam’s Sound Affects and XTC’s Black Sea, assisting producers John Leckie, Tony Visconti, Steve Lillywhite and Hugh Padgham.
In 1981, as the most junior member assistant engineer, he was conscripted to work on a Public Image Ltd recording session for a single, "Home is Where the Heart is". In a PiL fansite interview Launay recalled:
|“||None of the other assistant engineers at the Townhouse wanted to work with PiL because of John's reputation for throwing up, walking all over the mixing console, and being verbally abusive.
The session started very slow because the engineer/producer they had chosen wasn't very familiar with the then very new, and experimental SSL mixing console. This meant I had to keep showing him which button did what. Back then an assistant engineer's place was to stay very quiet, at the back of the room, operating the analogue tape machines. John sat in a big arm chair with two crates of Red Stripe, the Jamaican Beer, one on each side, and watched with amusement at me going back and forth trying my best to help the engineer out. John wanted a triplet delay on a particular vocal line, and the engineer didn't seem to understand what he meant. I was really into Dub Reggae at the time, so I set it up and it worked well. Later the engineer got up and left the room to have a piss. John got up and locked the door behind him. When he came back he started thumping on the door shouting, "Let me in..." John told him to fuck off.
Days later Launay was told PiL wanted him to mix a new song they had worked on. He was asked by the Townhouse manager whether he had done a mix before. "I remember lying and saying, 'Yes of course I have'," he said. "She told me I would have to work alone, as no other assistant would do it. Once again I couldn't believe my luck."
Launay co-produced the band’s The Flowers of Romance album (1981), which brought praise for its sonic oddities and prompted other bands including Killing Joke, The Slits, The Birthday Party and Gang of Four to collaborate with him in the studio.
|“||She had all these wild ideas. She would come in in the morning and go, in her very high voice, "Nick, can we make the drums sound like cannons?" So we would go in and try to make this drum kit sound like it was cannons going off – every kick drum, every snare. We made up these corrugated iron tunnels coming out of the drum kit, and we would mike up the tunnel.||”|
He worked with producer Colin Newman of Wire on the Virgin Prunes’ If I Die I Die (1982) before securing his first major production role on the fifth album by Midnight Oil, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 (1982).
Asked in the Mix interview for his formula for making a record, he said he usually went into rehearsals for about two weeks, experimenting with songs and arranging them in different ways, but with "strong, solid ideas" about how the songs should be arranged. After about two weeks' work, he enters the studio with the band.
|“||I always work in studios where the whole band can be in the same room looking at each other ... The main point is to have fun and to basically capture that band at that point in their life doing the absolute best performance of that song. And if it takes 20 takes, then we'll do 20 takes. If they do two takes and the first one is just killer, then I might push them to do five just to see. And we might go back to that first take and use that.
I record on analog because it sounds the best. There's nothing in the digital area yet that sounds as good as analog. Anybody who says there is hasn't listened to analog or hasn't lined their tape machine up properly.
- Plush (2013)