Can't Stop The Rock

Francis Jones meets Oppenheimer's production whizz Rocky O'Reilly

Rocky O’Reilly is best known as one half of NI poptronica pioneers Oppenheimer. However when not spinning out Oppenheimer’s sweet electro-rock candyfloss, O’Reilly is a much sought after music producer. He’s produced records for the likes of Six Star Hotel, Tom McShane, The Dudley Corporation and In Case of Fire. He gives us the low-down on getting geared up to work in music production.

When did you first become interested in the technical aspects of creating music?

‘I was about 14, and started doing live shows at my school. I got more and more into it, doing assemblies, then plays, then concerts. Then I started doing bands and when I left school I began to pursue that even further. I started working with a PA company, doing shows for them and touring with bands.’

As with any vocation there’s usually a period of apprenticeship. Did you have a particular 'paying your dues' experience?

‘I spent a couple of years with Olympic Lifts gallivanting around Europe. I learnt a lot from that, many nights were about trying to get the best out of a bad situation. I got to go to Berlin with them when they recorded their debut album. They worked with a guy called George Redbone Brash. He had previously worked with the Wu-Tang Clan and remixed TLC. So I got to spend ten days in his studio, seeing how things worked, and just asking him a lot of questions. When I got home I decided I wanted to be capable of more than just making bands louder. I got work experience at One Zero Zero studios. I started learning things for myself, finding my own way of working and often disagreeing with the people who were teaching me.’

How important is it to maintain that sense of inquisitiveness about the process of creating and producing music?

‘Every day you should try and learn something new. After all, each time that you go in to record something it’s a unique experience. It depends who you’re working with, what room you’re in, the equipment you’re using. It’s too easy to get stuck in your ways, to simply recreate the same thing time and again. If you’re not looking to create new sounds then I don’t see the point in doing this.’

This is very much music’s digital age. How is that reflected in the type of equipment you use?

‘I’ve been recording for almost seven years and in that time computer music has really shot forward. The evolution of ProTools, Logic and similar programs has really facilitated the creation of music. The machines are a lot easier to manipulate and as a consequence making complicated music has never been simpler.’

Is the possibility of producing your own music a lot more realistic now than it was maybe five to ten years ago?

‘People can buy equipment now for a few thousand pounds and make incredible records. Years ago that wasn’t possible, you’d have to pay a studio hundreds of pounds per day to lay down tracks. In that sense production is more accessible. I think, where possible, every artist should be recording themselves.’

Would you describe yourself as a hands-on producer?

‘No, actually I much prefer to work with bands that have a strong sense of their own identity. In those instances, you don’t need to be too hands-on. I’ll intervene when I feel I have to. Part of the joy of working as a producer is that, for however long the project lasts, you almost become a member of that band. You get to share that band’s mindset, I’d rather do that than try to impose my own vision. It’s about seeing where they’re coming from whilst maintaining that sense of objectivity.’

What have been your favourite projects to work on?

‘The project I’ve found most satisfying has been the In Case Of Fire record. By the time we finish, it will have taken us almost five months to complete. We’re onto the last three songs at the minute. Every day working with those guys I’ve learnt something that’s changed my view on how I should do things. From pointing of microphones, amplifying of microphones and vocal deliveries and arrangements, every aspect of the work. I couldn’t be more proud of what we’ve done. And in terms of relationship, the level of trust and exchange of ideas couldn’t be better. I think this is going to be a benchmark recording.’

How does your production work influence your thinking with regards to Oppenheimer?

‘Working with music every day has a definite impact - you can’t help but be influenced by the things that surround you. With the ICOF record I’ve had the opportunity to work with guys who are bringing influences to the table which are often far removed from what I had previously been into. Some of their favourite bands are now amongst my favourites. Bands like The Bronx would never be mistaken for Oppenheimer, but there’s something in their songs and in the production values that I can really appreciate and that I try and learn from.’

What, if anything, do you feel distinguishes your production work?

‘I hope there’s not any one thing that people could identify as being specifically me. Producers who apply the same techniques to whatever project they’re working on are kind of lazy. However, when suitable I do try and incorporate synthesizers and encourage bands to explore that particular avenue. I also like to assist with arrangements to a certain extent and to bring a little objectivity to that task. My favourite producers are those who allow the band to shine through. My aim is to take songs that are fantastic and ensure they fulfil their potential.’