My Life In Vinyl: Christian Wright

Since starting work at Abbey Road as a teenager, mastering engineer Christian Wright has already added the likes of Radiohead, Ed Sheeran, Coldplay and Blur to his musical CV. Here, he tells Gary Walker about the 10 records he’s most enjoyed working on…

ChristianAbbey Road mastering engineer Christian Wright has left his sonic fingerprints on releases by an astonishing list of bands and artists. Since joining the legendary London studios at the age of 19, he’s worked on records by Ed Sheeran, Franz Ferdinand, Blur, Kate Tempest, Radiohead, Black Midi and LCD Soundsystem, to name but a few. You can add soundtracks for Hollywood blockbusters such as the Harry Potter movies and Gravity to that list, too.    

Then there’s his live work to celebrate Record Store Day, cutting bands direct to vinyl in the high-pressure environment of a studio performance, plus back catalogue releases by Elvis Presley, Ella Fitzgerald and Björk. And he still finds time to manage electronic duo Model Man, play in his own band and maintain a collection of analogue synths.    Despite such a well-rounded and enviable CV at a relatively young age, Christian modestly describes his work at Abbey Road as “just tweaking other people’s music, everyone else does the hard work”. Long Live Vinyl suspects it might be slightly more complex than that…

Kate Tempest Let Them Eat Chaos

Kate Tempest
Let Them Eat Chaos (2016)
Caroline International
“Kate Tempest is an amazing writer and novelist. You can remove the music and she’s still an amazing writer. I’ve also mastered her new album, The Book Of Traps And Lessons. Her long-time collaborator Dan Carey, I’ve worked with a lot. He’s a true producer, any artist who works with him seems to get him up on stage at some point. This album was completely modular synths and Dan leaves space for what is integral to Kate’s music, which is the story and narrative. It’s a concept album, which is always a scary word, but it’s just so beautiful – all these different lives in a tower block coming together. Dan always rings whenever I’ve got an album booked in with him and then says: ‘I’ve done something a bit different’. It’s become a bit of a running joke between us. He delivered this album as one continuous piece, and in the age of streaming and individual tracks it’s wonderful that the album format can still stand up so perfectly. It covers everything – politically, socially, gentrification and all of the people and stories within it. I was blessed to work on that album, it’s something very special.”

Fontaines D.C. DogrelFontaines D.C.
Dogrel (2019)
Partisan Records
“This is another Dan Carey record. If you’re going to be a guitar band these days, sonically how are you going to sound unique? As a band, Fontaines D.C. have so much from the past, but lyrically and vocally it’s so good. They’re a real unit as people and that’s a challenge as well. Dan could see that the vocals were so integral to the band, and finding that right balance of how they sit with the music was a big part of that record. It’s certainly connected. To see a guitar band getting so much exposure on Radio One and getting to No. 9 in the charts is great. Their label, Partisan, have also got IDLES, so hats off to them. There are some amazing lyrics on this album: “Dublin in the rain is mine, a Catholic city with a pregnant mind…”

Soft Hair

Soft Hair
Soft Hair (2016)
Weird World    
“It’s a wonderfully unique album with wonky synths, and again they delivered it as one continuous piece. They’d taken years, doing it when they could, as they’ve got their own careers as LA Priest and Connan Mockasin. It’s a wonderful piece of wonky, psychedelic songwriting. There wasn’t really any guidance from them, and then right at the end they were worried about a fade at the end of one of the sides, but they said I should go for it. Their trippy visuals and aesthetic is how they live their lives and I think the album reflects that. You want to make sure you’re not reining in the extremities and sonics they’ve created, while also realising there are amazing songs on that album. Sometimes the wonkiness can disarm you to how good they are as songwriters.”

Jonny Greenwood Phantom Thread OSTJonny Greenwood 
Phantom Thread OST (2018)
“Radiohead were probably my favourite band as a teenager. I got a job here aged 19, and quite early on, the band were here mastering Kid A. I had to run up and pick up the CD and run the band’s first copies of it. That was massively exciting. They reissued it and spread it across four 10-inches and I cut that to vinyl. I’ve mastered the last few of Jonny Greenwood’s scores and Phantom Thread is an amazing, very romantic score. When cutting to vinyl, you’re dealing with the noise floor that you start with, and if you cut the audio too quietly, you’ve got an issue. With a film score, that’s quite a challenge, because there are extreme dynamics within the music. You want to maintain all these beautiful varying dynamics but make sure it translates well to vinyl. It was quite a surreal experience, but Jonny’s a really nice person. 17-year-old me, learning his guitar parts, would have been very shocked, but you’re just in the room getting on with it. It’s only afterwards when you’re outside of the moment looking back that you reflect on how amazing it was. At Abbey Road, nobody gets too ahead of themselves, that’s a wonderful thing.”

Alexandre Desplat Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Pts 2 OST

Alexandre Desplat
Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Part  2 OST (2011)
“This is one of the gold discs on my wall. I’ve got Ed Sheeran on the back wall, but everyone gets far more excited about Harry Potter! Mastering that last film, it was going right up until the middle of the night, there were a lot of time pressures on it and a lot of editing going on on the film right to the final hour. It was more of an endurance test of mastering right into the night. I had to be ready for when the music was ready. With films, the edit is often changing right up until, or even after, the first screening. In turn, as editors and directors continue to edit, only once the film is ready does the composer get to have their music mastered. I just remember starting at 2am, which was strange, but it got out on time. When you’ve recorded some of the best players in the world inside Studio 1 at Abbey Road and it’s been mixed by amazing engineers, when it comes in and I’ve got to master it, it’s one of the moments that it reflects well on me because it already sounds so good.”

Back catalogue (2015)
One Little Indian
“I had to cut all of Björk’s catalogue to copper on the DMM [Direct Metal Mastering] lathe. She’s an artist I’ve grown up with, informed by my sister. I remember listening to Hyperballad over and over as a teenager. I didn’t master this one, I just cut it to vinyl and it was an amazing moment, getting to stop and realise just how amazing a catalogue Björk has. She’s so special, a true sonic pioneer. Cutting to vinyl is all about returning to the archive and getting the best possible resolution. In some cases, if you’re going back to analogue tapes, you load in from analogue and go in at a higher sample rate, but if you’re going back to an era where the only safety copies that exist are CD-quality, then you have to go with that. In this case, the DMM certainly made a difference in making it sonically better than the original pressings, but a lot of the importance is with the pressing plant.”

Ed-Sheeran-Vinyl-Record-Music-Zone-Cork-IrelandEd Sheeran
+ (2011)
Asylum Records
“We worked on this with the A&R team and Ed came in at the end of the process. When I first worked with him, he was just about to play three nights at the old Barfly in Camden; fast forward a decade and it was three nights at Wembley. That’s pretty crazy. I always say this is the one my mum actually knows from all of the records I’ve worked on. For the A&R team, it was just about trying to maintain what he’s about. They did a great job. Jake Gosling did the production and from my side of things it was a case of making sure it would hold up on commercial radio while maintaining all that sparseness and the vibe that he and Jake had created – when he plays Wembley, it’s still him and a loop pedal. He’d been listening as the process went on, and he dropped in at the end before dashing off to play Glastonbury. Nobody could ever have had an inkling how many copies it would go on to sell, and it’s a very dangerous thought for any artist to think, ‘I want to play Wembley’. I take my hat off to Ed, though, he stuck to his guns and he’s just an amazing songwriter.”

Black Midi Schlagenheim

Black Midi
Schlagenheim (2019)
Rough Trade

“I’ve never seen a band generate so much excitement before their album is out. It’s amazing to see. It’s a unique record and in turn it’s not a simple record. You’re trying to maintain excitement. It’s a very vague word, but that’s what people are experiencing with Black Midi. They’re full of surprises and I can see them being 10 albums in and every album being unique in itself. The potential is massive and I can see them doing whatever the hell they want, which is exciting. It’s a Dan Carey album again, and he described the mixing as like a punk experience. It was a real vibe, they were all up at the desk mixing in an excited manner. He said to me, ‘If we’ve gone too far, let me know’. You become like a safety net, but that’s what’s so wonderful about Black Midi – they’ve recorded that album without any fear and without over-considering it and shaving away all of the excitement and nuances.”

Future Islands The ChaseFuture Islands 
The Chase (2015)
“To celebrate Record Store Day, we did a performance direct to vinyl. Future Islands performed in Studio 3 and we cut direct, live – one performance, one moment, one take direct to the cutting lathe up in Room 5 where I work. It was special on so many levels. It was in a window when things were blowing up for them. They had a brand new song that no one had heard and they were kind enough to do it direct to vinyl and let that be what was first heard by the world. That was very cool of them, a lot of people would protect that and want the world exclusive release of their new song to be a controlled version, but they just got in and did it direct to vinyl. It’s all about communication. I’m upstairs in a room with the lathe and everyone else is down in the control room where the action is at. It’s scary, as if they nail it in the studio, I’ve got to make sure that I’ve captured it to vinyl correctly.”

Model Man City Songs Pt 1

Model Man   
City Songs Pt 1 (2016)
Mahogany Records    
“I manage this act, they’re two brothers. Their EP has had 1.5 million streams and plays from Pete Tong. It’s all self-produced by the brothers themselves, they’re amazing. It’s dance music with a beating heart and piano. One of the brothers is a director and they shot a different video for each track in a different city – one in Taiwan, one in a colony in New Delhi, one in the desert in UAE, another in London… They’re absolutely amazing producers and sonically it’s very beautiful. With the prepared piano, it’s a case of maintaining the acoustic elements, coupled with all the forward-thinking electronic elements. I never anticipated being here with them, but they’re signed to a great label, Mahogany Records. You feel a lot closer and more emotionally involved when mastering it. Maybe as we know each other, they get allowed a few too many tweaks, and I’m a little bit less hard on their decision making, but they’re so exceptionally talented that I give them the extra indulgence.” 

Gary Walker