MOUSSE T: Recording Tom Jones' 'Sex Bomb'

Interview | Producer

Published in SOS August 2000
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People + Opinion : Artists / Engineers / Producers / Programmers

Mousse T's radio remix of the song 'Sex Bomb' has sold a million copies across Europe and has once again revived sales of Tom Jones' Reload. Mike Senior talks mixing and remixing with the influential German producer.

Tom Jones's most recent album Reload has now sold almost four million copies worldwide. A third of those accrued in the UK during a 39-week residence in the charts, and a string of collaborative singles have doubtless helped to fuel this impressive comeback. Of these, the track 'Sex Bomb', produced by German dance maestro Mousse T, has been particularly successful -- his radio edit has already sold in the region of one million copies throughout Europe and has spent seven weeks in the UK charts.

A couple of years back, you would never have dreamed of mentioning Tom Jones and Mousse T in the same breath, which must surely be an indication of how substantially Tom Jones's public image has been brought up to date following the success of Reload. Yet, though you might have been forgiven for suspecting the contrary, it was actually Mousse T who approached Tom Jones with the offer of collaborating on 'Sex Bomb', as he explains: "The track 'Sex Bomb' was initially destined for my own album, but I had decided that it would be really great to get Tom to come in and sing on it. I wanted to make the track a mixture between the sounds of the '70s and those of today's music, and so we definitely wrote it for Tom to sing -- after all, he's the original sex bomb!

"We sent him a demo and he really loved the song, so I flew over to London with a demo backing track I'd done on DAT. We did the vocals at Bunk, Junk and Genius Studios -- small studio, but an incredible setup -- and we had a really good time. I flew back to Germany, where I got a call from Tom saying 'That song's a real hit -- and I'd really love to have it on my album.' I had no problem with that, so in the end we made it a kind of a duet between the two of us."

Re-record, Not Fade Away

Though it was Mousse T's involvement with the radio version which has received the most publicity, it turns out that he also co-wrote, recorded and produced the album version of the track upon which the remix is based. However, he was careful to ensure that the two versions had very different characters. "For the album, I always had in mind the sound of Tom's own material somehow, yet I didn't want just to reproduce that -- he's been there already. I wanted to do something modern, yet still with that element of soul and funk in it like those classic '70s tracks. We could do everything quite fast, partly because we had a lead sheet for the song before we went into the studio, and also because we'd been listening to the demo and knew that the song worked. I worked out the harmonies against a 123bpm breakbeat, quickly got a bass player in and also added some brass, organ and Wurlitzer piano. It made for a pretty classic arrangement against Tom's vocals, nice and open.

"After we'd done the album version of the track, I said to Tom that I'd like to try another version as well, because I always love to do remixes -- whenever I produce things, I always like to just take an a capella mix and play around with chords against it, just to see what other ways of looking at it I can come up with. The album version of 'Sex Bomb' is a pretty classic song structure with traditional chord changes and a transposition at the end, but I decided to develop more of a house feel with the remix instead, and to keep it really simple. I repeated basically the same pattern throughout the song and got rid of the transposition at the end, so that it stays in the same key. I changed the way the chorus harmonised by experimenting with new chords against the beat and vocals, to make it fit in differently, and ended up with an extended club track. This worked out so well that I decided to edit it down for a radio mix which became the single."

Something Old, Something New

The element of 'Sex Bomb' which most obviously separates Mousse T's two different productions is the drum sound. Yet, despite their deliberate sonic differences, his programming method for both of these was very

  Recording Tom Jones  
  Though all the other elements of 'Sex Bomb' were recorded at Peppermint Park studios in Germany, the vocals were recorded at Bunk, Junk and Genius Studios in London with house engineer Alex Clarke, who kindly agreed to tell us how they went about it. Alex: "We recorded Tom using a Brauner VM1 mic, because I've always been blown away by the Brauner's vocal sound. The results were particularly good in this case not only because Tom's got a great voice, but also because he has such good mic technique -- he really knows how to position himself to get most out of it. I usually try both cardioid and omni modes with the Brauner, because there is a subtle difference in the low end between them -- you have to decide which one works best for each particular vocalist, and with Tom it sounded more open when it was in omni. Because I wasn't sure how Mousse T wanted to mix it, however, I had to make sure that the omni pattern didn't pick up too much ambience, so I built Tom a little vocal booth in the live room using screens.

"They brought a DAT with them, which we ran off onto the multitrack, and folded that back to Tom through ordinary Beyer DT100s. He likes his voice in his cans as well, but prefers it pretty dry -- I hardly used any monitor reverb at all.

"We passed the vocal through two Focusrite Reds -- the mic preamp and the compressor -- and plugged them straight into one of our Otari MTR90 MkII 24-tracks, bypassing the desk. I hardly needed any gain on the preamp at all, because Tom is just so bloody loud, and we also needed no EQ -- it was sounding nice and clear as it was, so I didn't see the point in touching it. He did four takes I think, two in each key, and all of them were absolutely spotless -- unbelievable!"

Because such a good sound was captured on tape, there was very little else for Mousse T to do when it came to the mix: "I didn't really need to do much at all to the vocal during the mix, because Tom sounded so great through the mic at Bunk, Junk & Genius. I just added a little more compression from a Urei 1176 compressor and the smallest bit of crispy high-end EQ."

 
similar. "There are always two ways you can go with drums. You can leave everything very empty, like D'Angelo does on his album, in order not to get in the way of the music. But, alternatively, you can do a very full drum beat where there are a lot of things going on of equal importance, making the thing groove. Obviously, the drums on both versions of 'Sex Bomb' are of the latter type -- if you listened to each drum sound alone you wouldn't necessarily be blown away, but when you hear them all together they sound very rich and have a great groove.

"I work with Emagic Logic Audio and Digidesign Pro Tools, and I used these together with the huge selection of sounds which I have loaded into several Akai samplers -- an old S1100 and four S3000s. Though the sounds on the two tracks were different, the equipment I used to create all the drum parts was exactly the same. I don't usually use loops at all, because I like to extract single sounds in order to get exactly the sound I'm after, whether it's really clean or completely dirty. It's also nice to be able to program all the details I want into the drum parts. I start off with a main kick and a main snare, around which I program a whole bunch of other little things -- I like to use a lot of different sounds, yet to mix them in a way that allows them all to gel really nicely together. It's little things, like ghost beats on the snare, that really make a difference to the way a track moves along, even though the normal listener doesn't consciously hear them.

"In fact, I normally use three or four kick drums, and the same number of snares too, but this time I used slightly fewer. I switch these sounds both from section to section and from beat to beat within the programmed patterns -- it all depends on how it feels. On the album version of 'Sex Bomb' I sampled some old snares to give the drums a bit of the old feel, in spite of the breakbeat which underpins them and which provides the main beat. However, I completely redid the drum sounds for the radio version to make them much more disco-sounding, and made the hi-hats much more prominent to bring the sound more up to date. Also, while the original drums are a great breakbeat, they don't really have the necessary low end for a club version."

Bomb The Bass

The two versions of 'Sex Bomb' have very different harmonic patterns, and hence different bass lines. However, though it may not sound much l

  Horny, Horny, Horny...  
  "The horns are also the same on both versions of the track. However, because the arrangement was written to fit the album version, I had to chop the lines up a bit to make them fit. The funny thing about the horns on 'Sex Bomb' is that they were arranged by the bass player -- he's really into the music of the '60s and '70s and plays the trumpet just as a hobby. I got a trombonist in as well and the two of them double-tracked all the parts together -- there are no saxes there at all. The trombone was very useful for doubling the bass line to add some extra movement to it, making it 'chug' more.

"The muted trumpet at the end of the track is the bass player again, and was recorded, like the rest of the horns, in the SSL room at Peppermint Park, with a simple mic setup of just U87s -- they're such solid, professional mics, and really versatile."

However, the strings which were added when the time came to do the remix weren't recorded especially for 'Sex Bomb', instead being built out of samples. "The strings are a sample which I filtered to remove all the bottom end. I spent a long time cutting up, pitching, time-stretching and processing the samples so that they really fitted with the track."

 
ike it, both versions started from the same bass sound. "On the original track, we recorded the bass guitar by just DI'ing it straight into the computer, keeping it quite clear with all the highs intact. However, when it came to doing the club version, not only did I want a different line, I also wanted the sound to be much heavier. So I chopped up the the bass sound from the original within Logic so that it was playing something pretty close to Sister Sledge's 'All-American Girls', then filtered it using that North Pole plug-in so that it sounded almost sampled, and added in some sub-bass underneath."

The keyboard parts from the album version of 'Sex Bomb' were also reprocessed in order to make them reusable within the context of the club version. "The organ was played live on the original track, using this newish chunky Hammond-type Roland organ, whose name I can't remember, and we passed that through a Leslie imitation pedal that the player had with him. We have a proper Hammond at Peppermint Park, but somehow we didn't feel that we had to go through all the hassle of miking things up for such a background part. I sampled a few licks of the original part for the remix -- not much though, because I only really worked on some of the new track.

"The electric piano on the album is a real Wurlitzer, which we DI'd and recorded straight through the desk and into the computer. I also used it in the remix, but it was filtered, put through a Leslie simulator and then resampled to get that old, messed up sound, because most dance people don't like the sounds too clean. Things also tend to fit into the mix a little better when they're darker-sounding."

What's New, Pussycat?

The new drums aren't the only sounds unique to the radio mix of 'Sex Bomb'. "There's a guitar sound which occupies the centre of the stereo image, and this is simply a sample which I processed using the internal filters in one of the Akais. It's going pretty much the whole time, though it's often difficult to hear during the verses, because the filter is set so low. I always wanted the remix to be quite filtery, in a kind of French house style, so that was the first sound I added once the bass and drums were in place. There's also another guitar sample that's mixed quite low on the left-hand side of the stereo image and which provides a little bit of extra rhythm -- it's a combination of two different guitar loops I had.

"In keeping with the house style, I used some resamples of the final mix of the album version on the club remix, and you can hear these particularly in the intro. I resampled first using the Boss SP202 -- it's that funny little Doctor Sample machine, which I like using because it sounds really nasty. Then I resampled the output of this again into the Akai, doing some reverse gimmicks, and finally put it all back into Logic to use within the club version.

"There's also a synth in there as well: I used a Clavia Nord Lead 2 for a few of those old synth sounds, the most obvious of which is the drone under the intro."

The Voice Of Experience

What is it like to work with a legendary singer such as Tom Jones? Extremely quick, by the sounds of things! "We did all the vocals in 45 minutes flat -- Tom is just incredible like that. He makes you want to cry, he's so good at what he does! Tom is without a doubt one of the greatest singers I have ever worked with and it's such a pleasure to work with those kind of vocals, because they let you concentrate entirely on doing the music without having to work at the vocal sound. He just opens his mouth and that's it -- all you can say is 'Thanks,' really!"

The speed at which all the vocals were recorded is even more remarkable because a last-minute hitch meant that Tom had to sing some of the takes to a rather unusually processed backing track. Mousse T explains what happened: "Normally, I'm very careful about making sure that my tracks are in a key which is comfortable for the singer -- you have to know the singer's key, to get the best out of them. But for this track I totally forgot to do that and I didn't know which key he preferred s

  Changing Rooms  
  "In the small studio where I do my mixing I only have NS10s, but they sound remarkably good in there. It's magic, really, but the room just sounds nice: there's an extended low end that you normally don't associate with those speakers. However, I always check stuff on the Genelecs and big Quested monitors which they have in the other rooms at Peppermint Park. It's so great to be able to check stuff in this way, in lots of different rooms and on lots of different speakers.

"Admittedly, after all these years of working with NS10s in my room, I know them pretty well now, so sometimes I don't bother with double-checking things in the other rooms, because I know they're all right. It's been a long time since the sound of one of my tracks has shocked me when it's been played on another system, and I'm pretty happy with the sound of the tracks I've done since I've got used to this room."

 
inging in. I turned up at the studio with a DAT backing track, having completely forgotten that we might have to change the key.

"It turned out that, though he was fine singing in that key, he was much more comfortable in a higher one. In the end, he sang it in the original key first and then did another complete version a few steps higher, but to do that I had to put the entire backing track through an Eventide DSP4000 Ultra Harmonizer, which sounded pretty weird! However, Tom's such a pro that he just sang right along with it without any problem at all. It was having two sets of takes which inspired me to do the key-change which you can hear on the album version.

"I did separate takes with Tom for the main lines and for the ad libs, so it ended up that Tom did more ad libs than I actually used and it was nice to have that degree of choice, particularly when it came to doing the remix. However, I left most of the ad libs at their original positions in the song, rather than moving them around too much."

Mix & Mismatch

Surprisingly, given the very different sounds of the two versions of 'Sex Bomb', they were both mixed in Mousse T's personal studio. However, first time around he deliberately reversed his normal working method in order to obtain the most suitable results. "In the album version, the one thing I knew was that I didn't want to have the beat too much up front, because I usually go for big drums such as are on the radio mix -- it was quite hard for me to do, being a big drum man myself! In the end, I decided to mix the music of the album version first and to finally add in the drums only when everything else was in place.

"However, when it came to doing the radio mix, I did it completely the other way around, in a way that is much more normal for me. I started with the drums, getting their levels, effects and panning sorted, as well as sorting out their compression -- I don't wait until the last minute before I use compression. I compressed all the drums together, by subgrouping them and then strapping a BSS DPR402 over the group channels. I love the BSS for drums and complete mixes, and it's incredible for club music because it's really aggressive.

"Once the drums were working, I built everything around them starting with the bass first, then adding the keyboards and samples and finally the vocals. I usually try to start with the low frequencies and then work higher and higher -- you just have to remember that the rhythm section always has to be pretty powerful when you're doing a club mix, but that the vocal must also be absolutely in your face. Even if you have a shitty track, people will always listen if the vocal sounds great.

"I had the horns and bass already running from Logic, and I imported the vocals from the two-inch as well. However, I left the samplers and synths running live while I mixed -- with everything going through my old Mitec desk the sound is really warm and really punchy, so I'd rather not mess with that by trying to do everything in the computer. The console doesn't have much in the way of facilities, just EQ and six basic sends, but that makes for a better sound.

"I like to use a lot of processing on the sounds I use, but I use it during the pre-production and recording stages -- I try to make sure that I process everything from the beginning to sound good, so that mixing is just really a case of balancing, EQ'ing and adding a bit of reverb just to get everything to gel together nicely. I had a couple of reverbs going on, which is pretty typical for me, though I try to use them in a way that you don't hear them. I used a Lexicon 480L for Tom's vocal, but on the drums I just used a nasty little Boss SE50 which always seems to work -- I use the SE50 on everything to varying degrees."

Re-Reload ?

Even though 'Sex Bomb' has been a great success for Mousse T, he certainly doesn't seem to be resting on his laurels: he's currently hard at work on his own album, Gourmet Du Funk, which will be released at the end of this year, as well as managing a busy remix and production schedule. And, of course, there will be continued collaboration with Tom Jones. "When Tom decided that he wanted to have 'Sex Bomb' for his album, I said that it was fine, as long as he came and sang another song -- called 'Groove Train' -- for my album, so hopefully that will be happening soon. Also, I know that Tom will be starting with his next album sometime around Christmas, and I'll probably be involved in a couple of tracks on that."

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