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Mastering Engineer Focus: Steve Smart

Steve Smart is one of Australia’s most respected mastering engineers; he is also one of the few engineers working today who can truly master the vinyl medium. Despite his rock star resume, Steve’s real passion lies in mastering records that help launch and define the careers of independent artists.

This year Steve has kept busy working on releases for the likes of Tina Arena, Midnight Oil, Vance Joy, Kasey Chambers, Lisa Mitchell, The Pierce Brothers, Cub Sport, Dean Lewis, Ocean Alley and triple j’s ‘Like A Version’ amongst others. His work has achieved multi-platinum sales, received numerous ARIA and Golden Guitar Awards, and was even shortlisted for an Oscar nomination. We took a dig deeper into Steve’s discography to explore some of his favourite projects and some credits that have defined the sound of Australian music over the last 30 plus years.

THE LIVING END – State of Emergency

After releasing Modern ARTillary through Capitol Records in the US, Australia’s most famous punkabilly trio, The Living End, left their American label and returned home to Melbourne in fine form to debut at No. 1 on the Australian ARIA charts. State of Emergency, released in February 2006 through EMI, and in 2007, achieved double platinum status in Australia.

A word from Steve:

“This album was recorded and mixed by Nick Launay at Studios 301 Byron Bay. I recall on the day of mastering, Nick couldn’t attend the mastering session, but the guys from The Living End dropped in, and we had a chat. They liked the way American Idiot by Green Day sounded, so we went in that direction. It’s got some killer songs on it, a real high-energy album from an amazing band.”

PARKWAY DRIVE – Killing with a Smile

Released in 2005, Killing with a Smile is the debut album by metalcore outfit Parkway Drive. Absolute Punk website called the album a “true genre-defining” record. With ripping guitar work, vicious screams and growls, the band delivered their brand of hardcore to the scene. It was certified gold in Australia.

A word from Steve:

“My favourite Parkway Drive Album, not because I mastered it, but because it was like nothing else at the time. I didn’t know what to expect when I got the tapes; I mastered this with no-one else in the room. By the time I got to the chorus of the first track, I knew that this record was going to change everything in its path.”

EVERMORE – Dreams

Kiwi trio Evermore recorded three EP’s over a nine-month period (spanning 2002 – 2003), before unleashing their first full-length debut album, Dreams, in September 2004. The album peaked at No. 15 on the Australian ARIA albums chart and achieved platinum certification. The first of their three platinum-selling albums, Dreams cemented Evermore’s brand of dreamy pop music. The album received four ARIA Awards nominations in 2005.

A word from Steve:

“Recorded at The Laundry Room Studio in Seattle. The production team was Barrett Jones, John Alagia and Jon Hume. The mixes were sensational, and the songs are truly mesmerising. It was a pleasure to work on this album – it’s an enjoyable listen.”

MACHINE GUN FELLATIO – Paging Mr Strike

Paging Mr Strike is the second studio album by Machine Gun Fellatio; Australian’s rock equivalent of the Theatre of the Absurd with stage shows that were more like burlesque carnivals than traditional rock concerts. With their second album, Machine Gun Fellatio took a step away from the electro madness of their first album, Bring It On!, and added more radio-friendly rock guitar. Paging Mr Strike debuted at No.6 on the Australian albums chart, spent a total of 27 weeks in the top 50, and was certified platinum by ARIA. The album featured the singles “Rollercoaster” and “Girl of My Dreams.”

A word from Steve:

“I was a little concerned about how this mastering session was going to go, after all, I had seen the band live. As it turned out, it was an enjoyable record to work on. My favourite track is “All Of Them Ladies”.”

YOTHU YINDI – Birrkuta – Wild Honey

Birrkuta – Wild Honey is the fourth album from one the most successful and internationally recognised Indigenous Australian bands, Yothu Yindi. Featuring the single “Superhighway”, the album continued the Yothu Yindi tradition of combining ancient ceremonial songs with cutting edge rock. The album was released in August 1996 and nominated for an ARIA for Best Indigenous Release.

A word from Steve:

“Being involved with any Australian Indigenous artist is an absolute honour. This particular band is one of the more internationally recognised. The album features a brilliant collaboration with Mandawuy Yunupingu and Andrew Farriss (INXS) for the track “Superhighway.”

HUNTERS & COLLECTORS – Juggernaut

Juggernaut is the ninth and final studio album by Australian rock legends Hunters & Collectors. The album peaked at No. 36 on the ARIA albums chart and No. 48 on the New Zealand albums chart. Juggernaut was released in January 1998, and features singles “True Believers”, “Higher Plane” and “Suit Your Style”. With its release, Hunters & Collectors announced they would disband after the Say Goodbye Tour, giving their final performances in late March 1998.

A word from Steve:

“The last album from an iconic band, produced by Hunters & Collectors, Kaju Tonuma and Mark Opitz. Not much to say about the mastering session on this one, but quite simply THANK YOU. It’s what you would expect having a band by the likes of Hunters & Collectors, Kalju and Mark on board. One of my all-time favourite bands.”

THE SUPERJESUS – Eight Step Rail

Led by frontwoman Sarah McLeod, The Superjesus’ debut EP Eight Step Rail, spent over a month at the top of the Australian independent charts. It peaked at No. 47 on the Australian album charts and won the band Best New Talent at the 1997 ARIA Awards. Its feature track, the guitar-driven “Shut My Eyes”, received high rotation on triple j, and was listed at No. 81 on the station’s Hottest 100 for 1996.

A word from Steve:

“Dan Hennessey (Aloha Records / Band Manager) walked into the mastering suite with the tapes and a huge grin on his face. He didn’t say much, but I do remember him commenting, “Steve, I think you’re gonna like this”. He wasn’t wrong – I loved it. It was pure, unapologetic kick ass rock. Sarah McLeod commands your attention on this EP, and “Shut My Eyes’ is a song you just don’t forget.”

28 DAYS – Upstyle down

28 Days held the potentially dubious title of being ‘Australia’s premier rap-metal band’, which they nevertheless turned into a lucrative ten-year career. By the time their second album Upstyle Down was released, their popularity was peaking, and the album entered the ARIA albums chart at No. 1 and was subsequently certified platinum.

A word from Steve:

“This record blew out of the speakers even before I started to master it, and no doubt because of producer Kalju Tonuma. Kalju captured the punk/rock band perfectly. I used the EMI TG Mastering Console on this record to bring that unique colour to the mixes.”

SKUNKHOUR – Feed

Named after the poem “The Skunkhour” by Robert Lowell, the Australian rock band’s second album Feed, spent 14 consecutive weeks in the top 50 of the ARIA albums chart, peaking at No. 21. According to Australian musicologist, Ian McFarlane, it “featured a more adventurous and varied sound”. The band signed an international deal with U.K. label Acid Jazz, which issued the Feed album in Europe.

A word from Steve:

“Feed was one of the many albums that I mastered from the Studios 301 Mixing Room M, at the opposite end of the corridor from mastering. Mixed & co-produced By David Hemming. I was already a fan of their previous releases, so before mastering, I have to admit I was a little nervous, but once we got going, I found that they were a great bunch of guys. ‘Up To Our Necks In It” is an all-time classic song.”

REGURGITATOR – Tu-Plang

Tu-Plang is the first full-length album released by Australian band Regurgitator. After being offered a deal with Warner Music, the band travelled to Bangkok to record their debut album. They named it “Tu-Plang”, the Thai word for “jukebox”. A couple of the album’s tracks contained actual samples of the street sounds of Bangkok.

Released in May 1996, the album made the top 10 in Australia and achieved platinum status. The album won Best Alternative Release and Best Debut Album at the 1996 ARIA Awards.

A word from Steve:

“I mastered the first two EP’s for Regurgitator, but nothing could have prepared me for ‘Tu Plang’. Produced by Magoo and Regurgitator, it took two long days to master this monster. The first reason was that they wanted every song to be completely individual, as well as all fit together as an entity on the album. Each song was mastered with the EMI TG Console after we finished we cleared of all the previous settings ready for the next song. I mastered each song without comparing it to the previously mastered songs, which was done to give it a jukebox quality. The second reason it took almost a full day to complete was the multitude of edits throughout the record.”

JEBEDIAH – Slightly Odway

Slightly Odway is Jebediah’s debut studio album. In 1995, the band won a national campus band competition having played only thirteen times together. Six months later they signed to Sony subsidiary Murmur, home to Silverchair and Ammonia. Signed on the strength of their live shows alone; there were no demo recordings.

After establishing themselves on the indie charts with an EP and single, the group’s debut album Slightly Odway arrived in September 1997, achieving national top 10 and platinum sales status. It peaked at No. 7 on the ARIA albums chart and appeared in the top 50 for non-consecutive runs totalling 54 weeks. The album placed at No. 15 in a list of the greatest 100 Australian Albums compiled by triple j.

A word from Steve:

“The mastering session started around 6 pm with John O’Donnell (Murmur Records) arriving with the band to the studio. We all sat down and had a brief chat about the record and then they all left to go out for dinner, leaving me to have all the fun on my own. Neill King produced this incredible record, so there wasn’t much to do here. By the time they got back, I had most of it done, so we had a listen to what I had, and they left me to finish it off. I utilised the EMI TG Console once again. From the first track “Leaving Home” right through to “La Di Da Da”, it doesn’t miss a beat.”

THE WHITLAMS – Torch the Moon

Torch the Moon is the Whitlam’s fifth studio album, released in July 2002. It debuted at No. 1 on the ARIA albums chart. It featured the singles “Fall for You” (June 2002, No. 21), “Best Work” (September, No. 35), “Royal in the Afternoon” (July 2003, No. 66), and a cover version of Icehouse’s “Don’t Believe Anymore”.

A word from Steve:

“Another record from Studios 301 Mixing Room M. This time from The Whitlams and producer Daniel Denholm. Working with Tim Freedman is always enjoyable, he has a great vibe. The mastering session was smooth mostly because Daniel Denholm tends to give you a great sounding product. All the mixes were printed to half-inch analogue tape, so they had this great silky tone. The album went together effortlessly – it was a dream gig.”

GRINSPOON – New Detention

New Detention is the third studio album by Australian alternative rock band Grinspoon. It was released in 2002 by record label Grudge and peaked at No. 2 on the ARIA albums chart. By December the same year, it was certified platinum. The album provided four singles: “Chemical Heart”, “Lost Control”, “No Reason” and “1000 Miles”. The singles had a strong showing in the triple j Hottest 100 of 2002, with the tracks listed at No. 2, 14, 15 and 47, respectively. The ballad “Chemical Heart” marked a change in focus for the band towards a more mature, mainstream sound.

A word from Steve:

“This album was produced by Phil McKellar and had a few different mixing engineers on it, pulling it together was a lot of fun. The track “Chemical Heart” took me by surprise when I first heard it; it was a different sound for the band. I’ve mastered a few records for Grinspoon, and they’re a great band to work with because they’re a great bunch of guys that love doing what they do.”

LEE KERNAGHAN – Electric Rodeo

After successfully reinvigorating Australian country music throughout the 1990s, Lee Kernaghan released his sixth album Electric Rodeo to continue his legacy as one of the pioneers of Australian country music. The album peaked at No. 5 on the ARIA albums chart and was certified platinum in 2003.

A word from Steve:

“Working with Lee was always great. He has a great work ethic and is the quintessential professional. Garth Porter, Ted Howard and Rob Feaster were the team on this particular record, so the final mixes were in excellent shape on lots of analogue tapes. Lee is a perfectionist but knows how to keep the session going smoothly with his great sense of humour.”

SPIDERBAIT – Tonight Alright

Three-piece thrash pop group Spiderbait is one of Australia’s most distinctive and famous bands of the 90’s and 2000’s. Their album Tonight Alright peaked at No.14 on the ARIA albums chart and became certified platinum in 2005. It featured the No. 1 Australian single; a cover of “Black Betty”, which by the end of the year received double platinum certification. In the US, it reached the top 40 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock singles chart. The song also made the soundtrack to the EA video games Need for Speed: Underground 2, and Need for Speed: Underground Rivals for the PSP.

A word from Steve:

“Recorded at Radiostar in Weed California, produced and mixed by Sylvia Massy Shivy. This album was a dream gig to work on; everything went so well. The songs were great, the mixes and production were excellent. One of my favourite songs (and film clip) of all time “Black Betty” is on it. I still love listening to this record.”

KISSCHASY – United Paper People

One of the most revered and beloved Australian rock acts of the 2000s, Kisshchasy’s debut album, “United Paper People”, is pop with a rock/punk core. The first single from the album was “Do-Do’s & Whoa-Oh’s”, which received heavy rotation on both commercial and alternative radio, and nominations at the ARIA Awards, as well as Channel V & MTV Awards. United Paper People reached certified gold in Australia.

A word from Steve:

“Phillip McKellar and Barrett Jones nailed this one. Fantastic songs and amazing production. Not much to do here just helped bring it together without getting in the way.”

KASEY CHAMBERS – The Captain

With the release of her solo debut album, The Captain, Kasey Chambers was prophetically touted to be the next major country music star to come out of Australia. Released in May 1999, The Captain initially won Kasey the 1999 ARIA Award for Best Country Album, then in 2000, earned her the ARIA Award for Best Female Artist. The album went on to receive double platinum certification in Australia and peaked at No. 49 on the US Billboard Top Country Albums chart.

A word from Steve:

“I had previously worked with Kasey on the ‘Dead Ringer Band’ with her father Bill and brother Nash. The Captain was Kasey’s first solo album, and what an album it turned out to be. Mixed at Studios 301, Mix Room M on the Neve. Nash Chambers brought an honest sound to the production; it’s such a great sounding record. I’ve always enjoyed working with the Chambers Family, just nice people to be around.”

WASHINGTON – I Believe You Liar

In 2010, Australian musician and songwriter Megan Washington, also known as Washington, released her debut album I Believe You Liar. The album peaked at No. 3 on the ARIA albums chart, and by the end of 2011, received platinum certification in Australia. Washington went on to win both the 2010 ARIA Awards for Best Female Artist and Breakthrough Artist, along with five further nominations for work associated with I Believe You Liar, and “How To Tame Lions”.

A word from Steve:

“I got sent the mixes for this album by John Castle, who made everything easy for me. The songs and mixes were pure magic. Megan popped into the studio at the end of the mastering session for a playback, and it was such a privilege to be involved in bringing this fantastic album out into the world.”

THE CRUEL SEA – Over Easy

In 1998, The Cruel Sea reunited with Tex Perkins to release album Over Easy, preceded by a single, “Hard Times”. The album peaked at No. 13 on the Australian albums chart and was followed by the Takin All Day National Tour throughout the rest of 1998.

A word from Steve:

“Working on this album was an incredible experience. The band, Daniel Denholm, Phil McKellar and Paul McKercher make up the ultimate dream team. It was mixed in Studios 301 Mixing Room M, just down the corridor from the mastering suites, so I would often pop into the mix session for a sneaky listen. When it finally came to mastering, I knew the album inside and out already. We mastered on the EMI TG Console, and it sounds amazing.”

For mastering bookings please visit here.
For Steve Smart enquires please contact:

Lynley White-Smith
Mastering Manager
mastering@studios301.com
02 9698 5888