SAFETY HARBOR, FLORIDA – JANUARY 2016: “I kind of accidentally fell into producing,” claims Josh Wilbur. “I started playing in bands in high school and then naturally gravitated to the other side of the glass. I thought I was just an engineer until someone pointed out that I was really engineering and producing the bands I was working with.” That’s fine with Wilbur, whose passion is great music and the creative process that brings it to life. In his view, recording technology is merely a tool to elicit and record great music. He started out in rock music, then moved to working with pop and R&B acts like NSYNC and Lil’ Kim, and then Wilbur gravitated, over the years, back to his roots with rock music.
On the way, he picked up a Grammy for engineering Steve Earle’s Washington Square Serenade and has subsequently earned three Grammy nominations with metal powerhouse Lamb of God. One of the hits from their latest work, “VII: Strum and Drung,” is up for a Grammy in the Best Metal Performance category. Wilbur produced, recorded, and mixed the project, and, as with all of his recent work, he used Metric Halo’s ChannelStrip plug-in on all the drums, guitars, and bass.
Other recent work of Wilbur’s that features Metric Halo ChannelStrip on all of those “organic” instruments includes Gojira’s “L'Enfant Sauvage,” Hatebreed’s “The Concrete Confessional,” and Sons of Texas’ debut “Baptized in the Rio Grande.” “I’m especially proud of Sons of Texas,” Wilbur said. “I think they’re a really excellent band. I was able to get in on the ground floor with them and help them define their sound.”
He continued: “I like to consider myself a ‘band-first’ producer. A lot of producers get caught up in themselves and start thinking that they’re the rock star. I focus on helping a band be the very best band it can be, period, without putting my stamp all over it. The way I see it, if people start talking about the production, then I failed. They should be blown away by the music.” To that end, Wilbur is always conscientious about making every discussion a two-way affair. Moreover, he works hard to get the bands he works with to write and rehearse as a group. “The vibe is almost always better when every band member gets to add their thing to a song,” he said. “The modern approach of writing everything in a computer and then coming into the studio to lay it down tends to make things stale and predictable.”
Wilbur first started using ChannelStrip in the early 2000s, shortly after Metric Halo created it. “I remember thinking at the time that of all the plug-ins on the market, ChannelStrip was the closest to an analog console in terms of both the sound and the way it reacted. Especially the compressor; it knocks the same way an SSL compressor knocks.” But then Wilbur moved studios and lost track of ChannelStrip. “Around the time that Pro Tools 10 came out, I was reading an article that mentioned ChannelStrip, and I thought, ‘what ever happened to that plug-in?’ I downloaded the demo and immediately kicked myself. It was like, ‘oh yeah, this is awesome!’ It’s still at the top of the heap. I’ve used ChannelStrip on every album I’ve mixed since then.”
Wilbur is particularly pleased with how quickly he can get a great sound with ChannelStrip. “I’m not going to sit there and fuss with things,” he said. “I work with my gut instincts. Either something feels good or it doesn’t, and if it doesn’t, I just move on. ChannelStrip makes it easy to set a few controls quickly and to A/B different parts of the plug-in. I rip through it and find the sound that feels right, and then I’m off and away, on to something else.”
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(PHOTO CREDIT: © 2016 Julen Esteban-Pretel)