British singer-songwriter and guitarist Corinne Bailey Rae has been busy touring behind her May 2016 release, The Heart Speaks in Whispers (Virgin/ EMI), her third studio album and her first since 2010’s The Sea. She began a new leg in the U.S. in August, which included a September 4 appearance with Stevie Wonder at Jazz Aspen Snowmass in Aspen, Colo., five dates with Alabama Shakes in September, and the Austin City Limits Music Festival in late September and early October.
Her new album is a lush, expansive, textured, and often buoyant work of R&B, pop and soul music with guests such as Esperanza Spalding and KING (Paris Strother, Amber Strother, and Anita Bias), among other collaborators. Bringing this music to the road is Rae’s quartet of Steve Brown (musical director, keyboards, bass, backing vocals), Mark Walker (keyboards, bass, backing vocals), John McCallum (guitars and backing vocals) and Myke Wilson (drums and percussion).
“We are touring songs from the new album along with other hits, and I want the live sound to replicate the amazing textures of the original records,” says Rae’s front-of-house engineer Sam Hocking, who works with monitor engineer Lorien Edwards, production manager Mikey Jerku of 24/7 Productions, and tour manager Mark Pickard. “We’re a self-contained production. In the U.S., we have been using in-house consoles. To help with this I tour my own outboard rack with effects. I am touring a Universal Audio Apollo with some of my favorite plug-ins. I utilize as many of the plug-ins I possibly can depending on what system I’m faced with.”
Hocking calls Rae’s vocal chain “the money channel. It’s all about her voice being heard. Her voice naturally sounds great when I just turn the mic on. The microphone of choice is a Sennheiser SKM5200 with an E5235 capsule. The rejection of spill has really blown my mind. I then have her going through a Neve 1073 preamp mainly for the color, an Empirical Labs Distressor, then through some minimal EQ, also reducing any frequencies that are prone to feedback whilst retaining high-fidelity audio, especially in smaller venues. Lastly, I use a beautiful Bricasti vocal plate.
“I’m not just an engineer for Corinne but a fan of her music,” Hocking says. “I feel that you can tell when the FOH guy is actually into the music that he is mixing.”