Catherine Marks is a London-based producer, mixer and engineer who’s worked with Foals, Wolf Alice, PJ Harvey and The Duke Spirit to name a few.
She cut her teeth at the dawn of the millennium with studio masters Flood (U2, Nick Cave, The Killers, Depeche Mode) and Alan Moulder (Arctic Monkeys, The Vaccines, Foo Fighters), working her way up from recording hand to the producer’s chair.
Catherine’s work with Wolf Alice have since earned her a Grammy Award nomination, while her next assignment is with Fiction Records’ latest signing, The Amazons.
We caught up with her following another high profile nomination (Breakthrough Producer of the Year, Music Producers Guild Awards) to learn more about her studio experiences…
How did you first get into music?
I studied piano from the age of four. I learned until I was 15, then toured Europe performing. I loved it. It was all classical, but I’d always make it up myself. I was a little precocious and my teacher would get a bit frustrated! She put me in touch with a composer in Melbourne and it started from there.
I discovered contemporary music after coming out of the classical world, and I joined bands. I knew I wanted to be involved in music for the rest of my life but I wasn’t sure how I could earn a living. I was never the best piano player or songwriter or any of those things.
You’ve been in the business for 10 years – when did you get your big studio break?
In 2001 I was studying architecture and had a year work placement in Dublin. I met loads of great musicians there, The Frames, a couple of members of U2 – it felt like a really amazing hub of musical activity. I met so many different people working in so many different areas of music. I found it really inspiring. Then I met Flood and told him I wanted to be like Britney Spears. He said, ‘Well, that’s never going to happen but if you want to do something in music, maybe you can come and work for me?’ He strongly encouraged me to join bands and write songs for other people, just to see what is was I was interested in. I didn’t know that I would love producing. I started out making tea and vacuuming. It’s how it all started.
What led you to production?
When you start out there’s engineering, mixing and production – and production is the dream. Initially when you don’t understand the dynamics of the studio, you think you want to sit in the producer’s chair. But as I got to understand everyone’s involvement and the team aspect of making a record, I enjoyed everything. I learned engineering from Flood and so many other things from other people. I started working with Alan Moulder and he said, ‘Just imagine for me that you’re going to be a mixer.’ So I learned how to finish stuff. With the production side, it was a natural progression, it just happened. I still have the ‘team effort’ approach to it all though.
How has the role of the producer evolved in that time, if at all?
I think the relationships and involvement are the same but obviously the budgets are much smaller. The amount of work is still there. There’s not the luxury of time anymore. Schedules are shorter so you have to be able to adapt quicker. You need to be able to make a record with a couple of microphones if the budget requires. In the past you’d have been able to dictate how you wanted to do it, but you can’t so much these days. There was a big transition just as I was coming in, so I don’t really remember the glory days.
It’s important to have an understanding of every aspect from songwriting to sonics. From dealing with managers and artists to record labels. There’s a lot to juggle.
What do you look for when working with an artist?
I always like to meet with artists before I agree to work with them. It’s about seeing if there’s any chemistry and assessing how we work together. There needs to be excitement and passion on both sides. Also, I need to see that they want to work with me because sometimes you get put with someone and it’s not their choice. Not everyone can work together, so personalities are really important. It doesn’t matter what kind of music you make, you’re all on the same page and the process becomes really creative.
What does it feel like to be shortlisted as Breakthrough Producer of the Year at the Music Producers Guild (MPG) Awards for your work on Sunset Sons?
It’s amazing to be nominated at the MPGs and it’s such a strong group. I’m honoured to be included in that. I feel very proud. It’s nice to be acknowledged by your peers. It’s nice to call mum and dad at home and tell them it’s all worked out!
Did it feel like a special project at the time?
Yes, it really did. I’d only been producing for a couple of years but I’m sure as many producers will tell you, we’re all just figuring it out as we go along. With Sunset Suns I really felt like I was way out of my depth on many fronts. I was learning how to deal with record labels and artists – and all the emotions that go with that. I’d just had a break and Sunset Sons got in contact and asked me if I wanted to work with them. I met the boys and it was a really fun and exciting connection. It got me into producing records in an edgier way.
You’ve worked with some brilliant people – what’s been your most memorable experience so far?
It was amazing to work with Foals. I also spent an amazing week with Wolf Alice in Belgium. I had butterflies when we finished tracking the songs [for their breakthrough EP Creature Songs]. We were dancing around. The energy in the studio was awesome. Every project has been really special.
What’s next for you?
There’s a new band called The Amazons who I’m working with. They’re very exciting because they’ve got that perfect combination of great songwriting and attitude. It makes me want to work with them.
Is there any advice you’ve been given that’s really stuck?
It’s not about you. That’s the best advice I’ve ever been given. It’s true. It’s never about me, it’s about the artist and their music. I’m there to facilitate.