The significance of Paul's Boutique is illustrated by a web site (www.moire.com/beastieboys/samples) on which fans have collaborated in spotting all the samples on the album. For the track 'Shake Your Rump' alone the web site lists samples taken from records by Sugarhill Gang, Funky 4+1, James Brown and Afrika Bambaataa, Bob Marley, Paul Humphrey, Led Zeppelin, Harvey Scales, Rose Royce, Ronnie Laws, Foxy and Alphonse Mouzon. ("I think they got all of them," says Simpson.) Yet most of the samples used on Paul's Boutique were cleared, easily and affordably, something that Simpson says would be "unthinkable" in today's litigious music industry. The album will, therefore, always be unique.
"It was tough. People asked us why our stuff from the late 1980s sounded so good, and we said that it simply was because the original recordings that we sampled sounded so good. After Paul's Boutique we signed a publishing deal that gave us some money to live, and we took the opportunity to buy a house and build a home studio. We spent three or four years there learning how to record and engineer stuff. Paul's Boutique and Odelay were sort of the crowning achievements, but there were a lot less great records in between."
The Boat, in Silverlake, Los Angeles, was built in 1941 for live radio broadcast. The Dust Brothers acquired it in 1997 and proceeded to completely renovate it. The building looks like a boat — hence its name — and its striking architecture makes it a Silverlake landmark. A quick look at the lengthy equipment list reveals the old-meets-new philosophy behind the place. On the new side there's the Pro Tools Accel system and Pro Control console, Ableton Live software, and a list of Pro Tools plug-ins so long you can't even begin to shake a stick at them. At the same time, pride of place goes to the 1969 56-input Neve 8028 desk, with 1073 and 1066 modules and four built-in Neve 2254A compressors. There's also a vintage analogue MCI JH114 16/24-track tape recorder, and an astonishing amount of vintage and/or valve outboard gear and microphones. The list is far too long to reproduce here, but is available on the studio web site at www.theboatstudio.com.
"The new Pro Tools HD system sounds a lot better than the old system," opines Simpson. "But there's still a huge gap between analogue and digital. HD digital still lacks a certain emotion. The late 1960s and early 1970s probably saw the pinnacle in sound reproduction. The imaging and dynamics are just so much better. Also, I'm sort of a bass junkie. I like it when you can really feel the low end, and with those late-'60s and early-'70s records was the last time you really felt that, at least in the rock and soul stuff. Now everything is so thin and brittle, it makes me cringe when I hear snare and kick drums. Obviously the centrepiece of the studio is the wonderful Neve console. It's such a nice-sounding board. Being able to record and pump channels back through the console really makes a huge difference."
The Boat also sports an impressive array of monitors: Urei 813C, plus Genelec 1031A, Yamaha NS10, Westlake Audio BBSM6 and 10, JBL 4408A, Tannoy AMS 10A and Auratone 2B monitors. All this combines to make it the ultimate mix environment, according to John King. "One thing is that the mixes we did here sounded fantastic everywhere else. I really trust the room and the monitoring, especially the Urei main monitors, which are great. The only thing we've mixed so far at The Boat is Beck's new album and I'm so happy with how that came out. We didn't really use much outboard during the mix, because it was already sounding so great. We used the SSL compressor pretty much on every mix. If nothing else it's a security blanket, and it lets you adjust the levels nicely as the mix is going back into Pro Tools."
"The major difference is that we're doing everything with Pro Tools now. For Odelay we used Studio Vision software and Digidesign hardware, with a two-channel interface, so we could only record or play back one or two tracks of live audio at the same time. I had to take everything that we did and convert it into samples that then could be played back with the Samplecell card, and make MIDI notes that corresponded with wherever I wanted the samples to happen. But for the new album we had many inputs and outputs and as many tracks as we wanted. We don't even use a sampler any more, because there are so many tracks. And so we got to layer more vocals and instruments, using multiple mics on instruments, which we couldn't do before.
Despite their avalanche of rare and vintage gear, the Dust Brothers wax most lyrically about Pro Tools and especially Ableton Live, repeatedly saying that they now finally have the equipment at their disposal that they have "always dreamed of". "Because of the way I produce things and create things with samples and loops," states King, "especially Ableton is what I dreamed of back in the mid-1980s, when I was using primitive software with numbers flashing across the screen. I had to program it all and it was just so complicated. I knew that the ability would be there to do what Ableton does, which is that you can work with loops and time-stretching in real time. If I have a beat going or even maybe just a tempo running, I can click on Files in my library and then on Samples, and audition beats or music or guitars or basses or whatever, and they will instantly play back to whatever I'm playing.
"In the past I had to pull the sample up, choose which one might work, trim it, tune it, sync it, and after a long process I could decide whether it really was cool or not. Now I just click and instantly hear things from my library playing in sync with the song. It's exactly what I need, and allows me to focus on the creative aspect and not get distracted by technical things."
"The very first sampler we had was a Roland F10," recalls Simpson, "and then we went with the Akai S900. Those were still mono samplers. Then we dabbled with the SP12, the predecessor of the SP1200, and then we had a Roland S770, which I think was the first stereo sampler. We did all of Paul's Boutique on an Emax HD, which was mono and 12-bit and had a 22kHz sampling rate. So we had plenty of experience of the primitive domain of early sampling: low bit rate and low sampling rate. But we've never been in love with the degraded sound of those early machines, we were always trying to make samples sound better. We had Pro Tools in our heads before it even existed. Since both John and I came from a computer background, we knew what computers were capable of, and we were kind of bombed that the samplers were still so lo-fi or hard to use.
"The sequencer we used on Paul's Boutique was very primitive software called Texture by a guy called Roger Powell. This was when computers still had no user interface, it basically was just a bunch of letters and numbers across a green screen. After that we used this very primitive sync box, the JL Cooper PPS1, that allowed us to sync the computer to tape. We also had an Allen & Heath console with very primitive automation with which you could create mute events. So we basically filled all tracks on a multitrack with loops, and arranged songs by using these automated mute things. It was such a painful process. I remember thinking 'God, why couldn't we just have a timeline across a screen and chunks for each sample and a visual representation for the waveforms across the time line? Why do I have to sit here and type all these numbers and MIDI times?'"