Evolution of the Art: Colin Linden

Longtime Canadian Musician contributor Kevin Young had plenty of leftover material from his extensive interviews for "The Evolution of the Art," his feature story on the past, present, and future of music and production technologies and workflows for our March/April 2019 40th Anniversary issue.

Here's more from his conversation with musician, producer, songwriter, and Rodeo King Colin Linden, slightly edited for length and clarity.

When Linden and I last spoke in 2006, he was touring and simultaneously mixing Blackie and the Rodeo Kings' album Let’s Frolic on his portable Pro Tools rig. Since he started working professionally in the early 1970s, he’s played on hundreds of records and performed with countless artists, including Emmylou Harris and Bob Dylan, and produced a huge number of records.

These days, Linden does much of his work out of In Head Recorders, a studio designed by his wife, Janice Powers (an author and Linden’s frequent songwriting partner) and built on his property in Nashville.

In the way back, Linden said to me: "The worst thing somebody could say about one of my records is that there’s nothing wrong with it." The temptation, the act of making everything we do "perfect," in some cases, can suck the life out of a track. And while he’s no stranger to working in the digital realm, he definitely has a preference for "real" instruments, even if, over time, they develop what some might refer to as imperfections.

CL: For example, if you get real emotional and play the guitar hard, it will have an effect on the way that guitar sounds forever. In some cases it will make a newer guitar sound older sooner; the wood may dry out. If you’re aggressive with it, it will alter the structure and, in different environments for humidity and dryness, for heat and cold, have different sounds. I think that so much of what makes people as well as instruments unique are the circumstances they’re in, and I think that almost everyone is at their best as a human being when there’s an element that’s uncontrolled – that’s when they’re at their most honest. We’re all a product of what’s available to us, and of our limitations. If somebody’s real creative and all they have is a little keyboard, well, if you have something to say, you’ll find a way to say it.

At 16, when I left school and became a professional musician, having a place of your own to record wasn’t really an option. But in the early 1980s I began to do sessions at some of the more expensive studios in Toronto and had the opportunity to record on a Neve console, and sing through a (Neumann) U47 and a (Universal Audio) LA28. Those pieces of gear were really exciting for me back then, and still are. I get to play on a lot of people’s records even more now with people sending me files. It’s tremendous to be able to send tracks back-and-forth when I’m mixing or producing something and to communicate clearly and quickly with everyone involved. And our studio is built exactly to our specifications with what I do in mind, so I can do much more than I could before. I work in ProTools and use UA Apollo 16 and Apollo 8XP interfaces, so I have 24 ins from that. I have some modern pieces and modern, vintage-style pieces, but mostly it’s old stuff - a bunch of vintage microphones, a 1970s Neve and a 1970s Auditronics console, and a bunch of Neve and API pres. I actually A/B’d my old Neve pre with the UA Neve plug-in pre recently and I was pretty damned impressed.

CM: What about songwriting? Is there anything, even something as basic as your phone, that’s had an impact on your writing or workflow?

CL: I don’t think it impacts the quality of it, but it does help with the workflow and keeping the ideas flowing. Tom Wilson and I write regularly together. Again, being able to send ideas back-and-forth helps. But I’m not, and I never have been, somebody who’d come up with a loop and write to that. For me, the generation of ideas ends up being pretty organic.

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Andrew King is the Editor-in-Chief at Canadian Musician. He is also a co-host of Canadian Musician Radio and NWC Webinars’ series of free music and entertainment industry webinars.
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