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John X

One of the new breed of engineers who’s thrown off his old school chains and ventured into the world of remixes By Bobby Owsinski
His effects are loaded and he’s not afraid to use them. John X. Volaitis is one of the new breed of engineers who’s thrown off his old school chains and ventured into the world of remixes (known to some as Techno, Trance, Industrial, Ambient, or any one of about ten other different names). Along with his partner Danny Saber, John has done recent re-mixes for such legends as David Bowie (Dead Man Walking, “ Little Wonder”) and U2 (“Staring at the Sun”), as well as Marilyn Manson (Horrible People), Garbage (“Stupid Girl”) and a host of others. As you’ll see, the X man’s methods are both unique and fun.

When people send you tapes for remixes, what are they actually sending you?

Far too often they send us the entire multi-track when all we need is one track of that. Usually you could just send the lead vocal, time code and a start time and tempo because half the time we’ll change the key and the tempo anyway. David Bowie’s “Little Wonder,” for instance, we did in almost half time. That means you’re pretty much throwing out most of the original tracks because you can’t use any of that stuff to begin with. Sometimes that’s inappropriate though. We just did one for U2, “Staring at the Sun,” which they’re really happy with. Part of why I think they’re happy is the fact that we didn’t butcher them at all. We kept a little piece of everybody because they’re a band. The one thing you learn is that when you remix for a band, you can’t have the singer and the guitar player in the track but not have the bass player and the drummer in it because it creates total warfare for them that’s gonna make them say, “Look, let’s not use that.” So you find one little thing, like some thick fill that the drummer did or the bass player making some noise at the beginning of the song, and use that. Maybe it’s the only thing that you can really loop and get into the track and make it dancey, but it’s something that’s gonna let them say, “Hey man, that’s me.” As long as they know they’re in there, they’re fine.

One special thing I’ve noticed about the remixes is that if you don’t have a really great vocal performance to begin with, you’re screwed. The same old rule still applies. If you got a good performance on somebody, you can almost do anything to it and it’s still good. With somebody like Bowie or Bono, those guys are the cats, so it sounds great right off.

Where do you build your mix from?

I generally have to start with the loops. You’ve got to find the main loop or the combination of loops that creates the main groove. Sometimes the loops may have a lot of individual drums, but they’re usually not crucial rhythmic elements. They can be accents and they can be stuff that just pops up in a break here and there.

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Related Keywords:John X, Volaitis, engineer, remixes, Techno, Trance, Industrial, Ambient, David Bowie, Marilyn Manson

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