While all is currently quiet on the Radio Free Universe front, the band enjoyed a very productive 2020 and 2021. Their 2020 full-length LOVE was a breakthrough for the Hamilton, Ontario outfit, embodying the full-fledged approach to their music.
LOVE combined all the best parts of rock, alternative, funk, and pop to create a very entertaining listening experience, unconcerned with classification. Music has become increasingly restrictive in the last several years when it comes to genres and sounds. Beyond music, people are naturally inclined to itemize everything, which is exactly what Radio Free Universe is out to rage against with their genre-inclusive approach to songwriting.
For our latest Geared Up interview, with speak with Radio Free Universe’s George Panagopoulos about the Rupert Neve 5088 console and preamps, responsible for a lot of the flavour evident within the band’s sound.
What one piece of gear do you use to obtain your signature sound?
George Panagopoulos: “Hmm. I would have to say the Rupert Neve 5088 console and preamps. For sure, the number one thing that adds the depth and colour to our music overall.”
How did you come to possess this console? Vintage shop, regular shop, borrowed money, gifted. Give us the details…
“We knew we had to have one. It wasn’t even a question. It just all worked out. Some really nice guy in the States got cancer and needed money for treatment. My friend Dave at Sonic Circus set up the deal for us. It would have cost close to three times what we paid.”
What made you choose this particular console, and were there any close seconds or alternates?
“Nothing even close. It processes audio in a class A format at 90v per channel. A fundamental difference between analogue and digital is that peak and RMS are so vastly separated in the digital domain. When running a line signal from something like ProTools into this console, the huge amount of voltage takes away those high peaks and makes them closer to the RMS signal, which sounds a million times warmer, so now we are able to use digital recording with an analogue desk to create a very deep dynamic and three dimensional sound.”
What about this console makes it so important to you?
“Pretty much the way it processes audio. And the microphone preamps or so vastly advanced. It’s old-school technology with all the knowledge that Rupert Neve has accumulated over his entire career and there’s really nothing that sounds this good.”
Did you use this gear during the recording of LOVE?
“Yes, every stage of the album, from microphone preamps, the equalization stages, and mixing, all happened through this console.”
Do you have a special way that you recreate your album (guitar/vocal/bass) tones in a live setting, or is it more just plug-and-play?
“No, I think I’ve defined that a live performance and a recording are very different things. It’s ok if this song is not exactly the same as long as its performance live suits the song. A live performance has a lot more leeway than a recording. Can’t really turn down a live performance. So everyone’s experiencing it at the same sound pressure level. A recording can be turned down to almost nothing and still be valuable to somebody listening to it, so there have to be moments in that recording that make you want to turn it up.”
We know you love this console, but are there any major cons? (Ok, now you can also list the pros.)
“There is no con other than the fact that it is a serious piece of equipment and it needs to be serviced and loved on a regular basis. It’s expensive to own.”
If you could, or wanted to (maybe you don’t at all, and that’s cool), what would you tweak or mod on this console?
How easy is it for you to tweak the device and get the tone/sounds you need?
“Extremely easy; it’s all about the gain staging. With mic preamps and the line input while mixing.”
How does this console hold up with regular touring and gigging?
“It doesn’t because I don’t tour with it.”
Do you have a backup for this console?
“Well, I mean, we have 32 channels of everything, so oftentimes, we might be servicing a couple of modules while we use the rest of the console we have a swap channel out that we use when servicing it.”
Time for some fun. Give us your best “gear goes wrong” story.
“One of the channels on this console had a very strange low-level harmonic distortion occurring. It was on the one channel we use for vocals all the time. To this day, no one has ever found out what caused it on this one channel. However, in retrospect, it did make a mix, and when I listen back to that mix, that slight harmonic overtone can’t be heard, but the vocal sounds amazing. It’s ‘Star Child’ on the album LOVE we released in 2020.”
Any final thoughts or comments on the console?
“No matter what I do, the second I go to multi-track on this console, the sound improves tenfold. We are very fortunate to own it. The creator of the consul, Rupert Neve, died a couple of years ago, so this is the last console he ever designed. I feel very privileged to own it.”