Stefan Boman is a Swedish producer and studio owner best known for his work with local favorites like Kent and Salem Al Fakir. Having risen to fame in the 2000s as not only a producer but a studio owner at Park Studios, aka Psykbunkern, he and his colleagues have recently taken over Atlantis Studios, the last remaining large-room studio in Stockholm. I reached out to Stefan via social media and was invited over for a talk about everything from his years at Polar Studios to his favorite Kent records and current work as a Dolby Atmos mixer.
– Hi Stefan. Thanks for inviting me over to Atlantis to chat. Let’s start by talking about your background. I believe you studied audio in both the US and Sweden, correct?
Yes, that’s right. I saw an ad in Mix Magazine for something called “The Los Angeles Recording Workshop”, which was a four-month course at the time. It’s now become an accredited institution called “Los Angeles Recording School“. After returning to Sweden, I enrolled in a new audio school that offered a one-year engineering course. It wasn’t a great program, but I stuck it through and started looking for internships once I graduated. Polar Studios was the second or third place I visited, and they hired me immediately because a freelance slot was available in their mastering room. I had luck on my side – the studio owner, Lennart Östlund, happened to be standing in the reception when I walked in and I later found out that he was only there for ten minutes each day. So even though Polar had tons of intern applicants, I got hired because I bumped into Lennart by chance.
The workload over the next few months was so big that I was called in every night and ended up making more money than Lennart. They couldn’t have that, so I was hired as an employee instead. It meant less money, but at least I had a full-time job. I was 21 at the time.
– What was your job as a freelancer once you got hired?
CD manufacturers in the late 90s required that mastering studios send in digital video tapes of their music to be printed to disc, and those tapes had to be manually transferred from reel-to-reels – that was my job. I would first copy the albums from reel to digital tape, then listen to the entire record to check for errors. After that I’d rewind to the beginning and mark it as ready to be sent out.
– I see. And how did you climb the ranks at Polar?
Polar’s “Studio A” wasn’t booked that often because Lennart preferred working in the smaller “Studio B”, so I would hang out in the main room and eventually started recording my friends there. That led to me getting hired for the less important bookings, and after a year I became the main engineer in “Studio A”. This was in the early 2000s when home studios were becoming popular, so places like Polar started losing business as a result. Some of our previous clients were suddenly able to record vocals and keyboards on their own, so the ones most likely to book “Studio A” were rock bands who still needed big rooms and consoles. As a result, I got to work with artists like The Helicopters and Entombed, and the success of those bands created a revival for Polar, leading to increased bookings for a few more years.
– And you eventually went from being the in-house engineer to a freelancer?
Correct. I worked as a employee for six or seven years before becoming a freelancer. Polar would still hire me, but I had the flexibility to travel with bands who wanted to record elsewhere. That lasted for about five or six years, and it was during this time that I recorded my first songs with Kent at Polar in 2001. One of them was “Vinternoll2“.
– As someone with direct experience of Polar, can you share anything about its origins and facilities?
Sure. Back in the 70s, some studios were great for recording and others were great for mixing, but it was hard to find studios that were great for both. Once ABBA earned a ton of money from their early albums, they decided to build Polar for both recording and mixing. The live rooms were very well constructed – some sounded dry because of the carpets and bass traps whilst others were more reflective because of the marble or wooden boards. The ceiling height was great, acoustics were amazing, and it was considered a top-tier for Sweden to have.
– Was Polar able to produce notable records aside from ABBA’s albums?
Yes it was. It especially stood out in the 70s and 80s, and a lot of big bands like Genesis and Led Zeppelin came to Sweden just for that studio. I think AC/DC wanted to record there for a month, but since ABBA always had first dibs they cancelled the booking to record their own stuff (laughs). The same happened with Depeche Mode a few years later.
– Fast forward to the 90s, were big acts still making albums there?
From what I remember, a lot of the bigger Swedish artists still recorded there like Lisa Nilsson. Once the early 2000s came, I started working with the Backstreet Boys and other names from Max Martin’s camp. They normally recorded at their own studio, Cheiron, but since it wasn’t a large place they’d bring the bigger artists like Def Leppard and Westlife to Polar.
– Did Cheiron’s commercial success boost your profile as an engineer or producer?
Maybe it helped my visibility in today’s Google results, but I wouldn’t say it changed a lot for me back then. It might have been different if I mixed one of their records, but I was just the recording engineer. Nonetheless, it was a fun experience to work with Backstreet Boys, even though it was chaotic at times. Each group member had their own personal assistant, so we’d end up with 20+ people in the studio and 400 fans on the street that required security and fencing around the building (laughs).
Backstreet Boys were at Polar for a week or two, mainly to track vocals in “Studio A”. Max Martin would sometimes take over the recording duties for particular singers, so the rest of the group would get bored and asked to record demos in “Studio B” with me. They weren’t really instrumentalists but thought it would be fun to try. I remember one of them trying to tune a guitar and it actually stopped working, so I had to tune it and that led to them recording me instead.
I also worked with Max Martin a few times. Believe or not, he actually sang backing vocals on a Kent song.
– It’s well-known that Cheiron were having a lot of success, yet they never expanded their operation and eventually split apart. Do you know why?
Cheiron made a lot of money but their workspace was just a small studio complex with 20-30 square meter rooms filled with keyboards, samplers and small vocal booths. But they were happy with that and preferred renting other studios for bigger projects. Owning a big studio is more work than people realize, so I think they appreciated not having to manage those kinds of logistics.
After Cheiron split apart, Max Martin continued recording at bigger studios. I worked on a Kent record at Conway Studios in LA, and Max used to book their big room for six months out of a year.
– Did you ever work with Denniz Pop, the founder of Cheiron?
Polar mastered a lot of his music so I met him a number of times, though we never worked together.
– Polar ended up closing down in 2004. Do you know the story behind that?
Stig Anderson was ABBA’s producer who put up the money to build Polar so the studio was later sold to his daughter. She’s married to one of Sweden’s biggest artists, Tomas Ledin, and the two of them became majority owners with Lennart owning a minority share. They and other tenants would later join up to buy the building that Polar was in, but instead of taking full ownership of the studio, Tomas Ledin preferred to rent it from one of the other tenants. So when they tripled the rent a few years later, it became financially impossible for Polar to continue. Funnily enough, the rent was actually the same in 2004 as it’d been in 1978 when the studio opened, so inflation was the real killer. With the music business going downhill, they couldn’t charge higher prices for bookings and profits dropped until it became unfeasible to keep the studio open.
Actually, Benny had already left Polar by the time it closed. I think he was running a new studio for 5-10 years before setting up Riksmixningsverket in the same area.
– I’m guessing Park Studios was the next chapter for you after Polar. How did you end up there?
In 2002, I was asked to produce an album called EP for The Mobile Homes, so I approached Sami Sirviö about co-producing it with me. We rented small studios around town to work on different songs, but I eventually found a place called Park Studios. They sold second-hand audio gear but also had a recording studio from the mid-70s that was being used as a warehouse for their inventory. I felt we could take it over if me and all the Kent members pitched in for the rent, and that’s what happened. The store moved out their stuff and we used Kent’s album budget for “Du & jag döden” to buy studio equipment. We had about $100,000, which isn’t a lot when you’re building a studio, but Sami and I didn’t think a cheap Mackie console would work in such a big space, so we ended up buying a Neve VR-60 for about $40,000.
– My understanding is that you weren’t the biggest fan of the Neve VR-60.
I hadn’t yet developed my taste in consoles, so we just bought what we could afford. We almost got an API, which would’ve been much cooler, but it didn’t work out. But yeah, I never really loved the VR-60; it’s an okay-sounding console that needed constant maintenance, consumed tons of electricity, and became far too warm when recording. We were forced to buy an AC because the control room got ten degrees hotter during our sessions. So it wasn’t exactly a love story (laughs). I recently heard that someone sold a similar Neve V3 but only got $5000 – $7,000 for it, which is telling. With most big studios having disappeared, people won’t pay top-dollar for a console if it isn’t the best.
– Regarding the “sound” of a desk, do you attribute that mainly to the preamps or something else?
I think it’s a combination of the preamps and the EQ. The VR-60 has compressors on each channel but I never liked them, whereas I really liked the ones on the SSL 4000s.
– But wasn’t the Neve V-series considered an equivalent to the SSL 4000?
They’re similar on paper but the vibe is completely different. The VR’s compressor might even out your signal, but it doesn’t have a sound at all – I hear the gain reduction but I don’t feel anything. In contrast, I really liked the sound of the SSL 4000 since it has an edge to it that works great for rock music. The Neve VR was pretty much a copy, but without the edge. Even guys who didn’t like SSL 4000 thought the Neve V-series was worse. For example, George Massenburg once said, “I always thought that SSL 4000 was the worst-sounding console ever until I heard the Neve V3 “. Anyway, we had the VR-60 for about ten years before finally deciding to sell it. Unfortunately for us, the VR never achieved cult status, so selling it was quite hard. We eventually found a guy who was interested, but he didn’t have the money, so we settled for swapping the VR for his SSL 4000. Our rationale was that the SSL would be easier to sell, but we ended up keeping it for three years until it got replaced by a Neve 8058. We also bought a TG12345 and later added an Avid S3 because analog desks weren’t suitable for doing recalls. I upgraded to the Avid S6 as my mixing work increased, and at one point had the S6, the TG and the Neve all at Park Studios, which made the room look like a storage space for consoles.
– In spite of not liking the Neve VR-60, didn’t you use it to make good-sounding Kent albums?
You can still make fantastic albums with crappy gear – it’s just harder work (laughs). I used a lot of external preamps and other gear to compensate for the desk.
– The TG12345 is quite a rare console. How did you get a hold of it?
EMI only built those for their own studios, so they were never for sale with retailers. Ours was originally in Holland but got divided into sidecars and sold to different Americans. We bought ours from a guy in Florida who’d restored it.
(Below: The TG12345 at Atlantis Studios)
– Given that the Avid S6 is more of a controller than a desk, does it work for you?
Sure it does. My mix setup is more of a hybrid one now, so the S6 is just for controlling Pro Tools as part of my workflow. I still use a lot of analog compressors and reverbs, though I’m not afraid to use plugins either.
– Park Studios was also known as “Psykbunkern” (The Psyche Bunker). Where did that name come from?
It came from a newspaper clipping during the recording of “Du & jag Döden”. We used to cut out the interesting bits from papers and magazines to stick on the walls, and Mijailo Mijailović had recently been arrested for the stabbing of politician Anna Lindh. The newspaper read that he’d been placed in isolation for psychiatric reasons, aka The Psyche Bunker, so someone cut that out and put it above the door to the main studio as a joke. We even wrote “Recorded at Park Studios/Psykbunkern” in the liner notes of the album just to rub it in, but it caught on inadvertently and people wouldn’t let it go.
– Let’s talk about your work with Kent. Your first full album with them was “Du & jag döden”?
Yes it was, and it performed quite well. Fans occasionally vote on their favorite Kent album and that one is commonly at the top. The prior album, “Vapen & Ammunition“, was a big success but required a lot of work since Kent was aiming for a more commercial sound. “Du & jag döden” was a return to them playing together in the room like an indie band.
– Kent had a lot of success in Scandinavia but not so much internationally. Are there any stories behind why their careers didn’t find more success abroad?
Their two English albums didn’t really take off, although surprisingly many people knew of them in the US. They built up some buzz over there by scoring a minor hit that got airplay on college radio, but their A&R either quit or got fired and they lost momentum. Aside from that, I’m not sure what happened. Their lyrics are great in Swedish, but maybe something got lost when reworked into English.
– Another notable Swedish artist you’ve worked with is Salem Al Fakir. How did you meet him?
Someone from his label called to book studio time at Park. He’d already recorded “This is Who I Am” on his own, so this was for his next album, “Astronaut“. I recorded about half the album and mixed everything afterwards.
– Do you have any interesting stories from working on “Astronaut”?
First of all, Salem is a fantastic musician who’s very hands-on with his production. The way he plays his instruments is very simple and unassuming, but somehow the end result sounds really good. Kent was a band that required a lot of attention on the production side but their recordings sounded great once you had the mics and faders in the right position. With Salem, the production margins were a lot bigger and things sounded good without much effort because of his playing style.
Our tracks were all recorded on the Neve and some external preamps. We had session players on bass and drums at first but they didn’t work out. I can’t remember why, but Salem didn’t feel it sounded right and decided to play all the drums himself. On some tracks he’d record the kick and snare one hit at a time and we’d edit everything in Pro Tools, but you couldn’t tell it was stitched together because of how good Salem’s playing was.
– Did you also work on the follow-up album, “Ignore This“?
Yes, but that record was mostly made on a computer with programmed sounds, so he did most of it himself before bringing it to me. We spent a week or two recording a few extra things before mixing everything at Park Studios.
– How was the overall reception to those albums?
“Astronaut” had a few hits and the title track got used in a movie, but I don’t think it got the recognition or commercial success it deserved. It did get nominated for a Swedish Grammy, but we were surprised it didn’t win because the industry saw Salem as a musical wonder-child and many people loved the album. It was a humbling moment given how high our expectations were.
“Ignored This” did better commercially, but mainly due to “Keep On Walking” becoming a hit after it was used at Melodifestivalen.
– So after working at Park Studios for over a decade, you’ve moved on to Atlantis Studios. What led to that transition?
We thought about running both studios in parallel, but Atlantis already had nine rooms and it would’ve been too much work, so we decided to sell Park. Kent had broken up by then, which left Sami, Jörgen Ringstrand and I to sell the place and partner with some friends and investors to buy Atlantis from Janne Hansson. It also felt time to move on after being at Park Studios for seventeen years.
– I believe Park Studios is now a Genelec showroom or something similar?
That’s right. Genelec reached out to me about taking over the place, so we sold it to them. It felt good that they didn’t tear it down or make a warehouse out of it. Of course the interior looks different, but the building and overall structure are still there.
– Was it the income from selling Park that allowed you to buy Atlantis?
Some of the money went to that, but running a big studio requires a fair amount of money, ideas and planning, so we preferred involving more people and ended up with six co-owners.
– Out of all the parties in line to buy the studio, how come your group emerged successful?
It’s possible that the other buyers didn’t lay out a vision that aligned with Janne’s. He wanted to avoid selling to people who’d set up iso-booths and production rooms to attract clients with the studio’s reputation. So it helped that we shared his vision, plus I’d been around the music industry for 25 years and already worked at Atlantis as a freelancer. So I knew Janne and he probably felt I’d bring credibility to the new ownership.
(Below: Tape machine at Atlantis Studios)
– Big recording studios are known to struggle with turning a profit, so how do you expect to make your money back with Atlantis?
Atlantis has been around for a long time and has a good reputation, which is probably why Janne did so well in spite of hardly marketing the place. We also saw a business opportunity with the smaller rooms that weren’t being used that much, so we’ve rented them out and currently have three clients in there.
To be honest, we haven’t done much marketing other than to set up Instagram and Facebook pages, yet Atlantis is more booked now than it was previously. It’s partly due to how the pandemic restricted artists from touring, but we also did a lot of refurbishment to make the facility more appealing and I think it’s produced some good results.
– Tell me about some of this refurbishment work. How extensive was it?
We barely did anything in the main live room besides reorganizing stuff, taking out unwanted equipment and painting over one of the walls. The control room required most of the work and took four months because of how complicated the setup was. Thinking back, it was easy to make mistakes when I freelanced here – if you needed a compressor, there were four different patch-bays and you first had to find the correct one. Even then it was easy to make a mistake with the connections. So the first thing we did was sever the old cabling, install a new patch-bay, and allow for 80 channels of recording in the control room. We also had to restore the Neve because it wasn’t well-maintained, and we redid the flooring and wall panels as well. We also did a lot of work in the reception since it never had any real space for people to sit and socialize, so we tore down the walls and put a bar in there.
(Below: The main live room at Atlantis Studios)
– Let’s talk about the equipment you’ve installed in here. I see a lot of Genelec speakers.
That came from my time at Polar. They had Yamaha NS-10s, which were a studio standard back then, but I never liked them and would always bring in my own speakers. I eventually discovered a small pair of Genelecs in the late 90s that suited my ears well, so I stayed with them. Most of my clients enjoyed them too, so I continued using them at Park Studios. I later mixed a record in Iceland and the studio had a new Genelec model that I’d never heard before. The mix turned out so well that the mastering engineer said, “This sounds so good that I won’t have to make any adjustments “. Those were the 8040s. Not long after, I got to know the staff at Genelec and met their boss at a trade show. They pulled me into their demo room to play the 8351s, which is a coaxial speaker with aligned bass and treble, and I was blown away. It was a huge leap, especially in stereo imaging, and we mostly have Genelecs in our rooms now.
– What about your mic collection? Was that mostly brought in from Park Studios or is it the pre-existing Atlantis collection?
We brought a lot of stuff from Park but there was already an existing collection here, so we merged the two of them. Last we did inventory, the number was around 250, so it’s probably one of the biggest mic collections in Northern Europe at the moment. We have multiple U47s, U67s, and even 251s, so it’s great for when you need multiple mics of the same type.
– Are there any brands in the last ten years that you’ve found interesting microphone-wise?
I think it’s more interesting to use older mics partly because of the inspiration you get from them, but also because it’s hard to build better gear nowadays. So when we purchase new mics it’s mostly dynamics that eventually got worn out, like SM57s. But the downside of having a vintage studio is that everything doesn’t always work, so there’s definitely new mics that are more quiet and reliable. There’s an Estonian company called Violet Design and some of their mics are pretty good; I’d check out their stuff if I were building a studio on a budget. Korby Audio Technologies has a nice mic that resembles a U47 with switchable caps, and Townsend Labs has the Sphere L22 that lets you insert software-modelled vintage mics. I was skeptical about it at first but eventually used it in a session and was happily surprised. The band I was working with wanted the ELA-M 251 but I thought it would sound too bright, so I tried the Sphere L22 with a U47 setting and it worked well.
– What do you do for summing?
I have the SU2 from TK Audio. It’s a sixteen-channel passive summing box that doesn’t color your sound, which is fine since a preamp is needed to boost the levels back up anyway. For that I have DW Fearn VT-2, as well the Ampex 351, which works great if you want higher levels of saturation. I also have a few Calrec 1253 modules; we had their console in “Studio B” at Polar and it was surprisingly good. Joe Baressi is an American engineer who booked time at Park Studios, and he’s a preamp connoisseur who spoke very highly of the Calrecs. They used to be a hidden gem if you were on a budget, though the prices have gone up recently. I believe they’re now branded as AMS Calrec since Neve bought the company.
– Can you take me through what your final processing chain looks like?
Sure. It differs from track to track, but after summing into the SU2, I might use the VT-2 as a pre-amp followed by the Lang-PEQ1. It’s similar to a Pultec but without the tubes. Then I’ll go into the Curve Bender if I need mastering adjustments, followed by the Neve 33609 for mix buss compression. Then comes the Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor at very modest settings.
– The Lang-PEQ1s seem interesting.
They are. I was working on a rock track when we got those and the mix was pretty much done. On a whim I decided to insert those on the master chain and it sounded so good that I was taken aback when I hit bypass. I ended up reprinting the whole track just to include the Lang-PEQ1s.
(Below: Some outboard at Atlantis Studios)
– What’s this radio-looking box thing? The white one.
I really love spring reverbs and that one is from a German company called Rerun Electronics. They reuse old cases and VU meters to build their own gear, and have even made stuff for people like Adam Clayton from U2. I got mine one from Norway, and it’s a pretty complex build for spring reverb. It’s tube-driven and has four different spring tanks with different decay lengths. You can use them all simultaneously or choose one at a time. It normally costs around $2000 but I got mine second-hand for $500. It’s my main reverb on everything unless I’m using the echo chambers downstairs.
– Speaking of the echo chambers, what can you tell me about them? Did you have to make adjustments to those?
No, we didn’t want to touch anything in there. Those chambers were built in the early 60s as part of the original building. There used to be one speaker and mic in each chamber for the left and right channel respectively, but at some point in the 80s they switched to two microphones in one chamber. All the surfaces are made of concrete and have a lacquer coating to make the surfaces more reflective. Both chambers are identical, save a few centimeters here or there.
– As a final question about Atlantis, how many preamps do you have and what are some of the more unusual ones?
We have the 28-channel Neve 8026, along with a number of external preamps. In total, I think we have 50 – 60 preamps, which is useful for when we get big sessions with 25-man bands or ensembles. The Calrecs might be the closest we have to an unusual model, other than the TG12345-MK3. We also have a pair of Helios‘ and some Telefunken V76s. We have some DISAs too, which is a Danish brand that pre-dates Neve and was used on early ABBA projects.
(Below: The Neve 8026 at Atlantis)
– Let’s wrap up the interview by examining some of your records with the artists you’ve talked about thus far. I’ll mention a few tracks and production categories, and you can share whatever insights you like.
Backstreet Boys – Shape Of My Heart
Vocals: I can’t take much credit for recording vocals. I did a good job but it was something anybody could have done. The overall sound had more to do with Max Martin choosing the right takes. He did a lot of coaching on those records and is actually quite a good singer. As I recall, he sang on his own demos to demonstrate the toplines and harmonies down to the tiniest details. That’s how he guided his artist’s performances, in addition to coaching them. So basically, no stone was left unturned with his vocals.
Kent – Spökstad
Drums: Sorry to disappoint, but the drums are just a loop and I don’t know where it came from since I didn’t produce the track. I did record some other songs for their B-side collection, but for “Spökstad” I only did the mixing, and it’s too long ago to remember the details.
Guitars: I’m struggling to remember, but it’s probably just a line-in going into distortion and chorus pedals.
Vocalist: I don’t remember recording the singer, so I don’t think it happened at Polar. I’m guessing the track’s producer recorded those.
Recording Medium: This was when producers started working with DAWs, so I was given computer files to mix. Parts of the lyrics were missing on this song and Kent wasn’t in town, so I had to do a lot of editing to make the empty parts work.
Kent – Palace & Main
Intro Pad: That was done with a guitar and an Eventide effect, though I can’t remember which one. It had an envelope that turns the guitar into a pad. The “Du & jag döden” album took nine months to complete, which is a long time for a Swedish band renting studio time. Joakim Berg kept having different ideas, so there was a lot of writing, rehearing and recording to do before we finished everything. We brought in another mixer to get a fresh pair of ears, but I ended up mixing a few of the tracks anyway, though I’m unsure if this was one of them.
Drums: Kent would use a combination of loops, recorded drums and triggered samples. We did that on a lot of albums, though it required careful editing afterwards, so the kick at the start is probably sampled, possibly with real drums on top.
Guitars: We wanted to do as much live playing as possible on this album, so we had a room with three Fender amps separated by iso-booths and screens. I probably used an SM57 and a Sennheiser 421 on each of them.
Salem Al Fakir – Cold Shower
Intro Keys: Salem used a lot of Nord keyboards, so I’m guessing the intro sound came from that.
Piano: The piano is an upright at Park that Salem played himself. I don’t remember the brand, but like I said before, Salem made everything easy because of his playing style so I didn’t have to do much. We didn’t have a large mic collection when we started Park Studios, so I think we used two Audio Technica 4041s on the piano along with a long spring reverb, which might have been the AKG BX-15.
Bass: That’s a real bass, though I can’t remember if it’s Salem or the session player that’s playing. It’s probably a Fender going into an Ampeg SVT.
Backing vocals: The harmonies are stacked and the reverb might be the physical plate we had at Park. It was big and really hard to move so we set it up in the backroom, which turned out to be a bad idea. The ventilation system was also back there and plates are very sensitive to noise, but we didn’t realize anything until the hum from the ventilation got printed into the reverb during a session (laughs).
Salem Al Fakir – Astronaut
Intro Sound: That came from a string machine synth called Jen J-800 Superstringer, which is nothing fancy. I remember finding one of those in the garbage room of my building and having it repaired for 50 cents. The percussive sound in the intro is just Salem hitting the hi-hat stand or some other stand on the drum kit.
Keys: The piano is the same upright as the last track, and the organ sound is probably from the Nord keyboards.
Vocal: There might be an Eventide chorus on it, along with a short slap and some compression.
Acoustic Guitar: It might have been my old Höfner guitar, though it was mixed to sound the way it does.
Drums: That’s Salem playing a Ludwig kit that belonged to Kent. We often used their instruments because they were already in the studio. Obviously the drums sound nothing like Kent, but a drum kit can be made to sound completely different by using gaffer tape and a thin towel on the snare. Added to that, Salem’s playing was defining to the sound.
Salem Al Fakir – Roxy
Intro Stabs: There’s a keyboard in there, probably the Nord, layered with guitar stabs.
Drums: I don’t think we used any triggers, so the sound mainly comes from dampening the drum heads with tape and towels, then using EQ and compression afterward. There might be a small amount of gated reverb too, but the main thing was to make the drums as short as possible, with no ringing. You also have to play softly, which makes the sound fatter and more bass-heavy. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but a lot of rock drummers play really hard and the result is a thinner sound.
Guitars: I think it’s just two guitar takes with chorus on them.
Salem Al Fakir – Purple Lady
Vocals: This track was recorded with a symphony orchestra at the Berwald Hall. Salem and one of his friends had made orchestral versions of his music, though I don’t think the show was ever released as an album. “Purple Lady” was the only exception, and featured a 20-piece string orchestra with percussion. I don’t remember if there was a problem with the original vocal or if the lyrics were changed, but we had to re-record the lead vocals at Park. His original vocals were picked up by all the surrounding mics, so we had to be careful to match the timing. The final result drifts a bit at times, and because of all the mics used, the Pro Tools session had 80 – 100 tracks in it.
Salem Al Fakir – One of the Others
Drums: I think it’s Salem playing the same Ludwig, with me going for a dry sound as usual.
Piano: Same upright, same mics. I think this was the first song we recorded, and it was mostly done with overdubs.
Bass: The bass was played on the Nord keyboard.
Drums: We used the AKG D-112 on the kick, which is one of the few mics I really hate now. It sounds okay here, but we had to work on it since it doesn’t sound that good out of the box. I think we used the piano’s Audiotechnicas as overheads with Sennheiser 421s on toms and Cole 4038s as room mics.
Salem Al Fakir – Keep on Walking
Strings: Most of those are violin overdubs done by Salem himself. He used to be a competitive violinist at seven years old but hadn’t played in a while, so it took time for him to get back into the groove. The end result turned out great, and even if it sounds like an orchestra, it’s mostly Salem doing tons of overdubs. The only other string sounds came from a cellist that we brought in.
Shaky Background Percussion: I think those are heavily filtered and distorted drums. It’s mainly snare and toms, but after filtering it sounds like a shaky percussion sound.
Bass: That’s a Fender bass, though heavily distorted.
Theremin-type sound: It’s not a theremin; those are way too hard to play. It was a Moog synth that Salem brought with him to Park.
Drums: I think this was a track where the kick, snare and hat were recorded separately as single hits.
Reverb: Probably the BX-15, but I also had a TC Electronic System 6000, so it could’ve been that one with a plate preset.
– Thanks for talking to me, Stefan. This was a great conversation. What’s next for you in the coming months?
I’m doing quite a lot of Dolby Atmos mixing now that my room is Atmos-certified. We’ve had a lot of support from Dolby’s UK and Germany offices, and they’ve been here a couple of times to calibrate my room and offer advice. One of my bigger projects has been turning Roxette’s biggest hits into Atmos format, which has been lots of fun. The originals were recorded to tape, so I had to use the multi-tracks to rebuild the stereo mixes before converting them to Atmos. There’s a few other mixing projects in the works but that one is the biggest.
It’s fun that I’m still somewhat early to the Atmos game, meaning there’s still time to figure out how to maximize things. I have a lot of experience with stereo but Atmos is more advanced so I sometimes wonder how to approach it. It’s probably comparable to when stereo became popular in the 60s and all the engineers were probably asking, “What do we do with the panning? Let’s put the drums on the right. ” (laughs). That’s how it is for Atmos – everyone’s trying to figure out how to take advantage of it, including myself.
(Below: The original ABBA piano at Atlantis)