Michael Badger, Audiomovers, and the challenges and joys of recording in lockdown

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Michael Badger, Audiomovers, and the challenges and joys of recording in lockdown

Words by Lewis Noke Edwards

A chat with Melbourne producer/engineer and Badgers frontman Michael Badger about his remote collaboration with Belgium psych-rockers SONS on their latest record.

Lockdowns and restrictions took their toll on a lot of things, most of all the activities that benefit from face to face communication, emotion and encouragement like making an album does. While the processes were restricted, Audiomovers meant that creativity didn’t slow down, especially for Belgian rock band SONS. Their debut record Family Dinner rocketed them into the limelight, Melbourne’s Michael Badger co-producing the record in 2018 in a studio in Ghent, coaxing the gritty, garage-y sounds that can be heard across his recordings and mixes for bands like King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, You Am I and Amyl & The Sniffers. 

Read up on all the latest interviews here.

Michael Badger is responsible for a solid chunk of the last few years of Australian music. As a player, engineer and mixer, his talents have not gone unnoticed, and have become an essential part of SONS’ record making process. The follow up to Family Dinner is Sweet Boy, out now everywhere. Sweet Boy is no less exciting, punchy, dramatic and loud than the first record, but the process of making it was vastly different, Badger being hired to co-produce again while stuck in Melbourne, and the recordings began in Belgium.

“I’m a little more in the know of making garage-psych music sound good and be like… a little bit more accessible.”

Co-producing the first record with a producer named Rennhutt, Rennhutt became more focused on the engineering side of this project while Badger focused on keeping the sessions moving and the songs being completed.

Audiomovers plugin

“I made more of the creative decisions on that first record, so then on the second record, obviously I couldn’t engineer at all… and we were streaming things via the Audiomovers plugin.”

The sessions happened across this app, where everyone could see each other, and Audiomovers is a plugin that streams whatever channel it’s placed on with little latency.

“We had cameras on each player, and they could all see me from their tracking (room)… cause it’s important that they can look up and see the producer’s face or energy.”

“Even if like, going into a chorus and they go ‘bang’, they could see me two seconds later getting into it,” Badger explains, laughing about the latency on his video stream.

“It was quite important, we spoke about that before we got started. With both of those records, I did try to do a fair bit of pre-production with them… but it was really hard not being there with them during pre-production.”

“I work best this way, just spontaneously, like ‘okay this needs this’, so I think that’s where I came in and worked really well with both co-producers on the first and second records. They (the other co-producers, Rennhut and Damien) knew the songs inside out really early on, helped them… it’s nice to all of a sudden get someone in, fresh with new ideas. In fact, on the second record I told them to stop sending me their demos, ‘cause you just want to come in and sometimes your first decision is the best decision you make.”

The lines between engineering and producing are blurred, but the teams putting the records together for SONS seem to understand what they need to do to get the recordings across the line. There’s an inherent trust that Badger has built up with SONS, having spent so much time together making their first record, partying together, and becoming really close friends.

“Not  being able to be with them… it was sort of hard knowing that they were just on the other side of the screen and they couldn’t feel my anger if they weren’t listening to me,” he says with a chuckle. But it’s not for lack of trying, “they did everything they could, they wrote to the embassy and governments and everything, asking if I could get special consideration to come over and, y’know, on their end they thought that I’d be able to.”

“A big part of producing is managing the relationship between the members of the band. It helped that I already know them, but I still felt that I could do that remotely. I could still tell when the drummer was getting tired, I could tell when they needed a coffee break, I could tell when they needed to go get a beer and not a coffee.”

It’s the trust and relationships that Badger built with SONS that allowed this record to be made the way it did, for him to continue to produce and inspire, albeit through a delayed window on his MacBook. “Whatever I brought to the first [record], they liked it, and wanted it for the second one.” 

Describing his involvement in the lyrics, he helped the native Dutch speakers convey what they meant into English, as the direct translations may not always have had the intended meaning behind them. 

“We could have the whole band in the studio while I’m sitting here in my room alone, and the singer in the vocal booth and we can all suggest things and, at that point, all have a bit of a discussion about whether they like the changes that I’m offering… it is a good diplomatic way to do things.”

“I was starting at 8pm and finishing at around 6am our time.” says Badger regarding the time difference. 

“So you’re getting to 5:30 in the morning and we’re discussing whether we can use a certain word in the chorus or not, it was like ‘maybe we just have to fuckin’ use that word’ and go with it, we’ll deal with it later. Deal with it tomorrow when I’m a little bit more fresh.”

“I really helped them on the first record with that side of things, and I definitely helped them a lot again on the second record too. So, I’m no Bob Dylan, but I can definitely help someone get their point across.”

“Obviously my energy wasn’t there in the room… but the thing that seemed to work on both records with Damien and Renhutt was that there didn’t seem to be any ego issues. When there’s two producers in one room, you need to put your heads together and talk to each other to get the best outcome,” says Badger, again speaking to his focus on getting the record across the line, at almost any cost. 

To make up for lost physical presence, Badger had to go above and beyond to inspire the band, recalling having a dumbbell handy to be pumping iron on screen when the band did a good take to howling laughter via zoom, or disappearing from video before reappearing in his bathtub to continue producing.

“We just did what was required. I mean, there’s a lot of definitions for the word ‘producer’ these days, but to me, y’know, being brought up by old school musicians… they always taught me that being a producer is making whatever needs to be done, happen.”

Read more about Michael Badger here. Sweet Boy by SONS is available on all good streaming platforms.