RECORDING TECHNIQUES WITH CRAIG HARNATH
HOW HOTHOUSE STUDIOS HARNESSED A HARD TO FIND NEVE CONSOLE, AND USED IT TO MAKE MUSIC ROAR.
Tracking down Australian studios with a legendary Neve console has become a bit of a thing in this little column of ours.
They’re extremely rare nowadays, and they’re always filled with amazing stories. Of course, Craig Harnath’s 8024 – which currently calls home to Hothouse Studios in St Kilda – is no exception.
Rock‘n’roll royalty has pumped through its veins since 1974, and that continues to this day with the likes of You Am I, The Living End and even Franz Ferdinand laying down tracks with the Neve at Hothouse.
But as Harnath is keen to explains there’s much more to these consoles than mere history.
The big drawcard of your studio is the 1974 Neve 8024 console. How did you get your hands on that?
It’s had a colourful life. It started out at Albert’s in 1974 with [Harry] Vanda and [George] Young in the big chair. Air Supply, The Angels, Bon Scott and The Divinyls are among those that used it. Then it landed at Fairlight CMI, where it went hand‑in‑hand with the ARR1 that arguably gave birth to electro and made BladeRunner cool.
At some point, Billy Fields took possession of it at Paradise Studios, and he left it to languish for years in a warehouse like the Ark of the Covenant. Then one day, I saw a tiny ad for it in an audio rag, and was tossing up between it and a 48‑track Tascam in Melbourne. In the end, someone much wiser than myself said, “Would you rather a new Commodore, or an old Mercedes?” So I bought the Neve – the Red Violin of desks.
And what unique characteristics do the board – and its 1073 mic preamps – bring to a recording?
The Neve has been used on so many great albums that you kind of know the sound. There’s a tonal weight that it does so well – drums get bigger, guitars get fatter, and vocals get more texture without taking up any extra room. They’re full, fat, and rich without having to do anything.
Also, any acoustic stringed instrument tends to sound less glassy and more textured when it’s played through the Neve preamps. You keep the warmth without losing any of the definition. You were lucky enough to record a track with Franz Ferdinand a while back – “L. Wells”. There’s a lot going on in that track, including some very well defined, jangly acoustic guitar. How did
you keep everything so crisp amongst all the action?
That was a fun couple of days. Franz came in to do a fan club song and ended up doing two others as well. The acoustic was recorded though a Neumann KM84 and U47 mics. We used a Urei 1176 compressor, Universal Audio LA2A and Empirical Labs Distressor as well. Microphone placement is still the key to good acoustic tones, but a good room doesn’t hurt.
Yeah, that U47 is a bit of a Holy Grail among studios, isn’t it?
It’s my go‑to vocal mic, and it sits beautifully with the Neve. All genres benefit from the range and warmth. It loves a good screamer, the clarity works great for hip hop, and it brings the best out of softer vocalists like Penny Ikinger or Rodrigeuz. It’s just in your face – no effects needed. A vocal client once asked me if I could make him sound like Morgan Freeman with bigger balls, and I’m pretty sure I did.
Speaking of screamers, you’ve got a few loud bands in your clientele. Are there any tricks that can make the music seem louder and much more intense without turning up the volume?
Just jumping over to a different amp or cabinet can open up or close down a guitar tone. It only depends on what you’re looking for.
There are a bunch of vintage ‘70s amps at Hothouse, including a 1974 Orange, a JMP Marshall and a Sound City 102R, alongside over thirty ‘70s and ‘60s guitars to choose from. The tone palette is almost endless.
Plus, the Neve doesn’t mind being hammered with loud things. You can rattle the hinges at Hothouse and you’ll still get a sound that doesn’t suck. You just have to be careful not to do it to everything in your mix, or clarity goes out the window.
Are there any EQ tricks that help to retain clarity at higher volumes?
I like to high‑pass the things that don’t need any bottom end on the way in, just to improve clarity. EQ is job‑ and instrument‑specific, but that top end knob on the Neve EQ is very enticing.
The Neve may take centre stage at Hothouse, but are there any other bits of gear you can’t live without?
My box of crazy pedals, which includes a few special ones made by my in‑house tech, Richie Blackam, and my Logitech Trackman Marble. RSI is a bitch when you’re working 12‑hour days [ laughs].