A solid Reason for the Grammies

Propellerhead Software met up with Grammy winning band Flaming Lips. Guitar Player and Reason Wiz Steven Drozd, told us about the role of Reason in their productions.

Steven Drozd interview

Steven Drozd 1

Steven, please tell our readers who you are and what you do!

My name is Steven Drozd, and I am mostly a multi-instrumentalist in a band called "The Flaming Lips". We are recording artists on Warner Bros. and have several records out. Our last record was called "At war with the mystics", it came out in Spring 2006 and "ta-dah!!" we won a couple of Grammies for that record. One was for best non-classical engineered recording, and the other one was for best Rock Instrumental, which was the second time we won that category.

Wow, congratulations. Did you use Reason for the production of "At war with the mystics"? And when did you discover Reason for yourself.

Yes indeed, we did. And it was pretty much because Reason was the first thing I learned on how to do anything on the computer. I was completely computer-illiterate until November 2002 when a friend of mine bought me a PowerBook. I just was learning a little basic stuff with it like, to do email, iTunes and things like that.

Then, Dave Fridman, who is the guy who produces our records with us, told me about Reason. He told me that if really wanted to go into this digital programming, sort of computer based editing and creating music kind of thing, I should check out Reason. He added that it has a user friendly interface especially for someone who never used a computer before. So it was the first Music Software thing I started to figure out on a computer. I didn't even have a MIDI-Keyboard for the first 4 months. I was just typing and programming beats and was not playing any instruments. For me it was a cool way to learn how the stuff works. The sounds were great: the reverbs and the delays, everything, basically.

Since when did you use it for your music productions?

Since early 2003 on everything we have done, there is some Reason in it, when we put out a couple of EP´s in 2003. I think I can't name a song where there is not some part that was done with Reason. One thing I like a lot is that I can build orchestration and things like that. And keep it all in Reason, always ready for some editing when we go to Pro Tools. We put it into slavery to Pro Tools, that's how we mostly do it. Yeah, we use it a lot.

Do you use other software or hardware as well?

No, not really, I build all the tracks with Reason here in my house in my little studio just on the computer. Then the "Lips" take it up to Dave Fridmans Studio, and there he runs it into Pro Tools, by the way, he is a master of Reason as well. I do a lot my stuff at home. Reason is just so straight forward and also complete. I don't have to patch or plug in anything, I use just an Edirol USB-Keyboard that plugs into my Powerbook, I'm running Reason and I have a couple of Mackie speakers. That's all I need at home.

Do you have some particular tips and tricks you would like to share with the community?

Oh no. What I'm doing is pretty the same as anybody else. Really, in some way I feel like, I learn some things very fast and in other ways just like a dummy because I only realized very recently that I can actually mute and un-mute tracks and things like that with the keyboard controller. Also I recently just figured out how to do some of those automations and stuff like that.

So, I really don't know if I have any good tricks for anybody. Well maybe - what I usually like to do, before I do anything is, I open up a new session and create a mastering suite and a scream device. Before I even set up the mixer I set up the Scream with one of the saturation patches. I just always have a little bit of distortion on my mixdown. The thing with the "Lips", what I'm just trying, what I'm doing technically, is we're trying to sound like real strings and real old instruments. And for that a little bit of crispy distortion is always kind of nice. When it sounds a little bit dirty... yeah, I love it.

What kind of sounds are you using? A lot of ReFills or do you create your own sounds? Tell me what's in your rack?

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I'd say it's about 90% of the Reason soundlibrary. I first look there if I can find anything to start a track with. Only sometimes we use samples from other places and maybe sometimes just some samples that I create myself. The perfect example of how we use Reason is on our new record. The song called "Vein of Stars" is what the Propellerhead people will love to hear because at the beginning of the song the only thing you hear is Reason running by itself. There is no other stuff, nothing else is going on, it's 5 tracks pure Reason. There is the flute, there is the clarinet, in a section there is an african oboe and there is another sound like a Mellotron, I think. Four of the sounds are from the Reason soundlibrary. The other one is an Optigan sample I have imported.

You can listen to it and hear what kind of beautiful music you can make with it. Most of the sounds are Reason sounds. And generally, just tweak it a bit and do whatever you want with each actual sample. There are so many different things you can do to make the sounds your own in a second.

Do you use reason live on stage as well?

No, we don't and that's not necessary because of the way the Flaming Lips do a Liveshow. Here is what we do: four of us are on stage playing live and then there are some tracks from the productions we can't play live. These are synced with a video that we use for projections up on screens. Audio and video is played back together from just a DVR tape. Like we do when we play "Vein on Stars"! What you hear in the beginning are actually Reason-tracks but it's not Reason running live. But there is also an exception. We do a lot of radio shows, just Wayne the singer and me, the two of us going by ourselves. And there we want to hear more than just acoustic guitar and acoustic piano. For that I build some backing tracks or some basic drumbeats with some cool synth bass. I just take the stereo feed out of my computer into the radio station's DI-box and we just run it out life on the radio.

Is there anything you miss from Reason at all, you have some wishes?

Oh, I'm quite comfortable with it. But one thing is that some of the bigger orchestra string sounds could be better, but I know that the Propellerheads are working on it all the time. And also for Reason now there are loads of libraries with strings available. And they are getting better and better. Everybody is getting better in creating realistic sounding strings, but what I told you before, for me the point is that it is so easy to use the interface and that I know it so well. I can very quickly put 24 tracks of orchestration together in no time. The thing about a lot of recording and programming for me is it takes you away from the excitement, because you're trying to figure out, what you're supposed to be doing and not just having the idea and doing it. That for me is probably the biggest thing I like about Reason, I can have the idea and immediately work with it instead of figuring out how to record, or route, or edit or anything like that.

Published: May 2007

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Steven Drozd started out as a drummer in his fathers polka band at the age of ten. Little did he know that he merely ten years later would sign a deal with Warner Brothers as part of the multiple grammy winning band Flaming Lips, play with Beck and have his music featured in the Spiderman movies.