Queens of the Underground
Part Three: Catherine Marks
I will feature other producers in this feature…
IN THIS PHOTO: Marks wins the Breakthrough Producer of the Year at the Music Producer's Guild Awards in 2016/PHOTO CREDIT: Music Producer's Guild
but, so far, I have featured two fantastic D.J.s/presenters: Carly Wilford and Georgie Rogers. Both are remarkable and I believe they are going to be big names of the future. In a way, I am making a connection from Georgie Rogers to Catherine Marks. I have been a fan of Marks’ production work for years now and she is responsible for some of the best and more memorable albums of the last few years. Before I come to that, I want to talk about Marks and why she is such an extraordinary producer. She produced allusionlove’s single, It’s Okay to Talk – one of my favourite bands – and The Amazons’ latest album, Future Dust. There is something about each of these works that gets into the bones like nothing else. Maybe it is Marks’ feel and personality that helps shape potentially-great music into something essential and hugely memorable. Look at the work Marks has been involved with thus far and you can see the sheer range and quality on her C.V. She has mixed tracks for St. Vincent but, to me, her finest hour was producing and mixing The Big Moon’s album, Love in the 4th Dimension. Released in 2017, the album was recorded over twelve days and you can feel this very natural and pure album – the band did not give themselves enough time to second-guess and went with their guts.
It is an incredible record and, although the band’s music stands out, you can feel Marks’ hand guiding and getting the best from them. I want to talk about Marks’ chat with Georgie Rogers but, before I do, let me let Marks introduce herself (information is taken from official website):
“Catherine is a Producer, Engineer and Mixer.
- Winner of UK Producer of the Year 2018 MPG Awards
- Breakthrough Producer of the Year 2016 MPG Awards
- Mercury Shortlisted Album 2017 for The Big Moon "Love In The 4th Dimension" (Producer)
- Grammy nominated for Wolf Alice "Moaning Lisa Smile" - Producer and Mixer
- Grammy Winner 2019 for St. Vincent - "Masseduction" - Best Rock Song - Mixer
- Grammy nominated 2019 for St. Vincent - "Massseduction" - Alternative Album - Mixer
Having long worked closely with legendary producers Alan Moulder and Flood, Catherine now has over 10 years of experience working in studios worldwide. Her production, mixing and engineering credits include Wolf Alice, The Amazons, Manchester Orchestra, Blaenavon,
The Big Moon, St. Vincent, Sunset Sons, Foals, Alex Winston, PJ Harvey, Roman Lewis, Champs, Kanye West, Ian Brown, MIA, Placebo, Ride, Killers, Mr Hudson and Frank Carter and The Rattlesnakes.
Catherine collaborates with both new and established artists and always seeks to get the best out of those she works with. Completely in tune with the mechanics of the studio environment, Catherine is calm, devoted to and passionate about each project she works on. As such, artists will feel the environment is right to develop and experiment with their sound”.
I was aware of Marks before she sat down with Georgie Rogers but, in the Super Women series (where Rogers highlights amazing women across various fields), Marks sat down and discussed her career. Listening to Marks talk and she has this deep passion for what she does - and helping artists get the most from their music. Catherine Marks talked to Georgie Rogers about her path and, as Marks explains, she is not a gifted performer but has this love of music. She met the producer Flood at a Nick Cave concert 2001 and was given some valuable advice. Flood gave Marks the keys to his studio when he went off to work on a Killers album and, by learning that way and playing around with the studio/ProTools, she got a feel for production. That makes it sound quite simple: Marks’ progress and rise to success was difficult but she has grown through the years and is always learning. Rogers asked Marks about gender and the fact that, when she came onto the scene, there were not many female producers. Marks sort of kept her head down but also said that, yeah, she is a woman but she is also very good – Marks has helped shine a light on female producers and inspired many to come into music. I suggest you watch the rest of the documentary and it shows just how incredible Catherine Marks is.
I love listening to her talk about her career and process – maybe it is the Australian accent that gets me – and her body of work is staggering. From Eliza Shaddad to Sunset Sons, Marks has produced across a range of genres – she was engineer/mixer on PJ Harvey’s phenomenal album, Let England Shake. Not only is Marks an accomplished producer but she is also an award-winner. Last year, she was crowned UK Producer of the Year at the MPG Awards and was interviewed following her win. Here, she talks about her job and how she blends producing, mixing and engineering:
“I love [engineering, mixing and producing] equally for different reasons,” she enthuses. “I haven’t done as much engineering for a while now, but a few years ago I engineered for John Parish and it was so awesome to be let free to do some interesting sonic stuff without the responsibility of the producer role. But I love production and being at the beginning stage of a record when you can’t wait to hear how it’s going to sound at the end. With mixing I just get totally absorbed. It’s like this awesome exploration of someone else’s vision.”
According to Marks, this blending of roles makes not only for a more varied working pattern, but can also bring numerous benefits to the project in hand.
“All the roles are really fluid,” she explains. “For example, I’ve just been working with Sunset Suns and the engineer we were going to use unfortunately had to go to hospital, so I ended up doing that. How things sound is very much part of production for me and I love creating interesting sonic textures.”
IN THIS PHOTO: Catherine Marks gives a speech at the Music Producer's Guild Awards in 2017/PHOTO CREDIT: Catherine Marks
Marks discussed the variety of artists she works with and how her process changes from album to album:
“It varies from project to project,” she says. “With Manchester Orchestra the songs and the idea of the record had already been established, there was a real story thread that ran through the songs. What they were interested in was experimenting sonically and how far we could take it sonically. Whereas with The Amazons we loved going into the rehearsal room and ripping the songs to shreds and rebuilding them. Sometimes they had songs that were already written or they had an acoustic idea that we would transform into something else. It’s usually just me sitting on the floor saying to the drummer, OK play a Billie Jean beat, or let’s try this beat from Deus, and everyone just trying out different things with me basically directing a jam.”
With the clock winding down, conversation turns to the producers and engineers of tomorrow. In the space of just a few years, Marks’s reputation has transformed from up and coming star to contemporary studio icon. Though unable to reveal details as of yet, she currently has requests and projects piling up as her star continues to rise. Her advice to the next generation is simple: be yourself.
“I remember thinking, Why would someone want to work with me over someone else?” she concludes. “If you are unique you could provide something that someone else doesn’t have. Knowing how to set up mics and use software isn’t what people are interested in. They are interested in what you are as a person has to offer and what your personality will bring. I can’t be anyone else, I’m just me. It seems to work”.
I will end this feature by providing more of my thoughts regarding Marks but I have included her in this feature because she is such a pioneer; leading the way for women in the studio and breaking down barriers. I love her energy and attitude and the fact she is a definite leader. So many producers I know struggle to strike a balance between letting the artist get on with it and chipping in now and then and being too controlling. Marks’ talent is reading the room and knowing when to interject and how to perfectly work alongside a huge range of different artists. I think she is one of the best producers around and she is responsible for some of the best Rock and Alternative music of the moment. I actually interviewed her in December of last year and, among the questions asked, I talked about gender inequality and what was the most rewarding part of her job:
“There are more female producers coming through, but the industry still is filled with male producers. Do you think it is harder for women to be accepted - and does more need to be done to turn the tide?!
I think we are in the process of the tide changing. There is, of course, always more that can be done. Having these kinds of conversations helps. The Music Producers Guild have also done a lot to give recognition to the women who are doing well in their field and hopefully that will inspire more women to be involved. I’m looking forward to the day when this isn’t a question that needs to be asked and it’s not about being male or female - just about being awesome at your job.
But, it’s important that we keep having these conversations to raise awareness but also to highlight those who are kicking ass and doing well to encourage and inspire. It’s a tough job irrespective of gender but can be incredibly rewarding.
Your job involves a lot of different aspects and roles. What is the most rewarding part of working on an album and seeing it come to life?
The most rewarding aspect is the relationships you build in this really unique context and usually in a really concentrated period of time. Watching an artist grow confidence or seeing what they had in their head all along fully realised.
It’s usually when the plan that I’ve had in my head comes together. Just making music that everyone involved loves!
Would you have any advice to anyone looking to become a producer? How does one get started?
There are many ways, but one suggestion is getting in touch with producers who you like and ask them if they’ll let you come and make them tea...learning on the job is how I started.
Also, don’t be discouraged if your first experience working for a studio or producer is a disaster. It’s all part of the learning process. It’s a very unusual working environment. People working in close proximity where emotions are much more magnified and heightened. Be prepared for your first situation to be horrible and trust me when I say the next person you work for will be infinitely better”.
Coming back to Catherine Marks’ talk with Georgie Rogers; she was asked about women in the studio and parental duties. Marks name-checked some great female producers when I chatted with her – “Olga FitzRoy, Marta Salogni; Heba Kadry, Steph Marziano; Anna Laverty, Laura Marling; Sylvia Massy, Linda Perry; Rhiannon Mair, Lauren Deakin Davies and Alex Hope just to name a few...” – but she highlighted Olga FitzRoy as an inspiration; someone who is fighting for change so that women can have families and do not need to compromise their careers.
PHOTO CREDIT: Zoë Jordan
There is this impression, still, that women are less reliable in the studio because of things like maternity leave and whether they can be relied upon. It is Stone Age thinking but there are still these attitudes that pervade. The likes of Olga FitzRoy are striking to make changes and ensuring great women like Catherine Marks are not discriminated against. I want to bring in one last interview, where Marks was asked about retaining big acts and how she works with high-profile artists; she was asked what advice she would give to people entering the studio for the first time – adding slightly new angles when I posed the same question:
“How do you get the high-profile acts to back to you?
I like to think I bring something different to the studio. Whenever I work with someone, it’s quite all-encompassing and absorbed. There are a lot of phone conversations, meeting up, and getting to know the person, getting to know what they want. Once I’m in the studio, they’ve got me, whether it’s for three weeks or six weeks. But that is my main focus. They’re getting 100 percent of me.
Have you got any advice for aspiring producers entering the studio for the first time?
I’d suggest the same approach as artists and don’t be afraid to use stuff. It’s also okay to ask questions about how something works, whether it be the best mic for drums or best amp for guitar on a particular sounding track. You don’t have to pretend to know how everything works. That’s basically how I learned. You’re not expected to know everything about every single bit of gear.
Just be well prepared, have an idea in your mind about what you want to achieve in the time that you’ve got the studio for. This means you can be efficient because studios are expensive”.
Catherine Marks is an amazing talent and someone who has so many fantastic years ahead! Even though she has worked with the likes of St. Vincent and The Amazons, I know there are numerous acts out there who will have Marks on their mind – that sounds like a great game show or documentary, perhaps! I digress because, as you might be aware of from reading what I have included here, there is a lot of love for Marks. She is a respected producer, engineer and mixer and is helping encourage more women into the studio. I wonder whether we will get true equality in that sense but, with the likes of Marks influencing others, I think the day will come. Maybe there is still this perception regarding women in studios and some ridiculous stereotype. We need to highlight brilliant women like Catherine Marks. I shall end things soon but, three installments into this feature, and I am having my eyes opened to some music queens; incredible pioneers and professionals who are opening the door for their peers and are primed to become huge names. When it comes to inspiring figures, Catherine Marks definitely comes to mind. Her work is tremendous and she is part of this wave of wonderful female producers who are changing the game and opening up the discussion. Make sure you follow Marks on social media, check out her work and show her some serious love. There are some great producers out there in the world but none have the same qualities and talents as…
THE sensational Catherine Marks.
Follow Catherine Marks