Mix caught up with Leela James’ tour at San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium. At FOH was “Commissioner” Gordon Williams, whose studio credits include Damian Marley, Joss Stone and Wyclef Jean. While senior director of A&R at Sony Music, Williams’ work on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill earned him two Grammys, followed by another the next year for mixing on Santana’s mega-selling Supernatural.
“I have been working with Leela in the studio for a few years and I’ll work FOH when I can, depending on my studio schedule,” says Williams. “Leela likes a lot of vocal up front. I really like tube compressors for Leela’s vocal. She has an extremely strong voice, and when she hits something like an 1176 or LA-2A, it just sounds natural.”
For live work, Williams prefers Midas consoles, “although last week, when we opened for Lionel Richie, they had Digidesign’s Venue digital console. It was incredible! I’ve been a longtime Pro Tools user, and this desk was probably the most user-friendly console I’ve used in a long time.”
Front-of-house engineer Gordon Williams
Technology aside, it all comes down to basics. “My main goal is to give the people what they paid for,” Williams explains. “I like to go for an aggressive mix, which comes naturally to me because of all my years in hip hop. With quite a few upbeat numbers in the show, I need the drums and the bass to knock. Everything in the show is live, so it’s a little trickier to get the type of low end that I want without using samples. I’m constantly adjusting the dynamics of the show — sort of ‘performing’ right along with the band.
“I really enjoy working with this band. They’re a seasoned group of musicians that always give 100 percent every show. Leela’s shows are an experience.”