Leeroy Thornhill, late of the dance titans The Prodigy, takes Gavin Paisley on a virtual tour around his home studio.
Where do you go after being ‘the tall bloke’ in the biggest electronic dance band in history? Leeroy Thornhill answered that question by hanging up his dancing shoes and leaving The Prodigy a decade ago to build his own studio from scratch. Since then his Flightcrank and Smash Hi-Fi projects, plus a nifty line in DJ-ing, have seen him earn his productions stripes.
“Even since Flightcrank started 10 years ago,” says Leeroy, “things have changed so much in music technology. It was all hardware even then. Now, I’m almost completely software based. There are so many good plug-ins and synths now.”
So you’ve crossed over to the virtual side completely? “I still use a bit of outboard gear, compressors mainly. Obviously things have changed so much in the last few years. I still have my patch bay all rigged up, with the compressors in it. I route stuff through them, like kick drums for instance. Then I route them back into the audio cards on my Mac.”
How about sampling? Does he still fall back on ‘90s favourites like the Akai series? “Nah, I use an internal sampler now, the Motu Mach5. It’s an awesome bit of kit, with really good quality sampling. I’ll sample something in, say, (software synth) Kontakt, then run it into the Mach5. It instantly sounds a lot better.”
If sampling, does he go straight for the original audio or take the recent production approach, favoured by Daft Punk in particular, of replicating samples using your own equipment?
“I’d go for the original audio every time. Usually I’ll try and manipulate it in some way. With sampling, especially if you’re making bootlegs, you need to sample the original and leave it as it
is, so people can recognise it and connect with it. But generally I’ll take the sample and twist it ‘til it’s unrecognisable”.
A very Prodigy-eque approach. Did you pick that up from Mr Howlett? “Heh yeah well... I’ve picked up a lot from Liam, I’ve learned so much from him over the years, being in the studio with him.”
Is it true that your first proper piece of kit, a (Boss multi-effects processor) SE-70 was a hand-me-down from Liam, because he’d bought a few new models?
“Yep, a great machine too,” he smiles nostalgically. “I’ve got a few, still dig them out every now and again and patch ‘em in. The thing about being in the studio with Liam, he’d buy all this new gear he wouldn’t have touched yet, show it to me and I’d be like, ‘Yeah this looks sweet, I’ll have to get me one of these’. I’d get one, relying on him to show me around it, then he’d say, ‘Oh did you get one then? Come round and show me how to use it!’”
Being in a band with Liam Howlett must make it tough finding your way as a producer though?
“To be honest, I feel I’m only finding a sound and identity that’s really me since I started this Smash Hi-Fi thing. Before then I liked a bit of a lot of things, but nothing that sounded like it was coming totally from myself. It’s great to have that identity now.”
So what about piecing it all together. Has he been sticking with (pro-editor) Logic since his switch from Cubase VST a few years ago? “Yeh, definitely – Logic as the main editor on a G5 mac. I need to upgrade my G5 processor at the moment, never mind a new version of Logic. I’m using 9, just getting to grips with its new features. But we use a lot of different editors for the different sound you get out of them, ‘cos of their different engines. We throw a lot of stuff into FruityLoops to get a certain sound out of it. FruityLoops! That’s proper old-skool man.”
Is he just as old-skool in his approach to DJ-ing?
“I like CDJs, yeah. I like how physical they are, it’s important to me that you’re doing something with your hands. I hate the idea of fiddling with a laptop up there. I’ve actually used the new (Pioneer CDJ)2000’s a few times and to be honest, I wasn’t even comfortable going up there with a memory key, instead of all my CDs and tracklistings. I don’t use names for my CDs, I print little pictures on the tracklist instead. So I’m like, ‘What’s on this CDR? Oh right, it’s a pic of a man with a big afro, I know what’s on here!’ I’m basically in the field of breaks – all my favourite DJs and producers, like Stanton Warriors, Atomic Hooligan plus all the old guys like Carl Cox, Mickey Finn, they are all rooted in breaks, breakbeats. I always throw in a few Prod tunes though. The crowd go mental. Then you can sneak in a few underground tunes off the back of it and get the good new stuff in before they have a chance to go to the bar!”
Leeroy Thornhill plays a DJ set at Smirnoff, Ears Have Eyes at Karma Nightclub, Galway on Friday, May 14. Tickets on the door at e10.