Sampha Sisay’s collaborations with Kanye West, Drake, Frank Ocean and Solange, to name just a few, have had the 27-year-old soulful singer/songwriter traveling far and wide from his UK home. During the course of these experiences, Sisay, who uses Sampha as a pseudonym, discovered a correlation between the way he felt when he was singing, and the weather. “I was noticing my body was more adaptable to hotter environments,” says Sisay, a characteristic he feels might be biologically ingrained in him from his original home country of Sierra Leone.
Sisay’s warm and smooth debut album, Process, was recorded in studios located in primarily chillier environments, in the UK (Sarm, Westpoint) and Norway (Ocean Sound). To re-create the tropical climate, humidifiers were purchased. This was a first for producer Rodhaidh McDonald, who works in-house at XL Recordings studio, home to Sisay as well as Adele, Radiohead, the xx and others.
“When Sampha sings, there is never any problem with getting the energy, and the emotion is always dialed in,” says McDonald, who uses either a Neumann U87 or M149 (on the rare occasion an SM57 for more upfront or louder vocals) through a vintage Neve 1073 preamp into a Universal Audio 1176 as the signal chain.
“I might say I want you to project more or try a slight change on the dynamic, but we never get stuck in terms of getting the takes, just in getting his vocal warmed up,” he continues. “A couple of humidifiers in the studio got a smoother tone to the vocal that is audible. It’s as important as any piece of equipment to have a lubricated vocal. Having the humidifier firing off in the vocal booth at all times became an important part of the process. It’s quite a relaxing thing to have in the studio, just this vapor, so it creates a nice feeling.”