RTH: How did you come about producing The Undertones‘ first 3 records? What were their strengths when you first met them? What did they know best about themselves? What areas did feel you would most need to help them develop?
RB: Seymour Stein called me and asked if I would meet with them. I did, and liked them straight away. Their manager wanted them to be a bit more accessible and radio friendly, which is kind of the road I took them down. They were terribly naive, and had never worked at that level before. I think they were a bit overwhelmed at first. I basically pointed the way for them.
RTH: Do you have a favorite experience recording The Undertones?
RB: They were great fun to work with. I think the first two albums were the most fun. The last was a bit of a struggle, for various reasons.
RTH: One of the things I loved about The Undertones is how fast they developed over the course of those first three albums. Did they express new directions and developments they wanted to take before making each album, or did you make it up with them as you went along?
RB: I liked trying new things, seeing which way it could go, and John and Damian as writers always explored new ideas. They were a great team.
RTH: As a producer, how did you manage their rapid development. On a practical level, was there a concern that they’d too quickly outgrow their initial audience? By the time of Positive Touch, they’ve got little of the visceral appeal that must have been their calling card on their first two albums.
RB: They wanted the third album to be quite a departure from the first two. The dynamic within the band was changing and there was a measure of distrust and paranoia…..Working in Holland was perhaps not a help.
RTH: What was the connection to the studio in Holland, where you also recorded Costello’s Get Happy!!? Was it all about the tulips?
RB: I first went there at the suggestion of Dave Robinson, the owner of Stiff. He was getting a discount because of his deal with Polygram, so I set off with Lene Lovich to record her second album. I just liked it there so brought about three more projects to the studios.
He suggested an approach that might work, he stepped up to the mic, and the rest is history!
RTH: Costello and the band have told the story of them reshaping songs for Get Happy!! following old soul records. They said they wanted to consciously move away from repeating their work on Armed Forces. Despite all the obvious ’60s soul influences, there’s also an underlying psychedelic vibe to that album – the unusual placement of reverb and echo, the dubby bass and hi-hats… Was this something you consciously added to the mix, or was it just the drugs I was taking when I first bought the album?
RB: No it wasn’t the drugs!! I deliberately used that approach. The album was recorded in a format I had not used before, which had a bearing on the overall sound. I also mixed most of that album at The Who‘s old London studio, and they had a totally different set of reverb options which helped push me further in that direction.
RTH: Are there distinctive elements of your production that you could point to as The Roger Bechirian Sound? I’ve always liked your compressed drums and the bass sound on your records. Are there any tricks you’re most proud of on your recordings?
RB: I actually used very little compression on drums when recording to tape. It was all in the mic placement and tape compression. I did compress the overall mix, and would play around further at the mastering session. I use more compression on drums now, than I ever did then! Bass I did compress very heavily. My “sound” is pretty well defined, but quite homogenized; sometimes I like to take things to the point of blurring the picture. The only trick is getting it right – ha, ha!