music: interviews - John MacCormack
the sound man
John MacCormack has been touring and doing the sound for major acts (see below) for quite a few years now. He started out playing in a band in Ireland then went to London where he picked up his trade and now you can find him pretty much anywhere around the world. When we sent the questions, he was on tour in Europe.
Mstation: Let's start with now and go backwards - you're on the road right now with The Enemy on what looks like a fairly grueling tour. How's that going? Any adventures so far?
John Mac: Yes I'm out with The Enemy supporting Ash on their Scandanavian and European tour. Its the 1st time for the band to be out on tour here so they're very excited. No tales yet but we did think we were in Sweden when we were actually in Norway and tried to pay for food in euros which in actual fact neither country accept.
Are you tour managing as well or just (!) doing the sound
No just sound on this. I prefer to do sound all the time now not much tour managing. Tour managing is a thankless task.
I see the label is Stiff - have you done much with them before?
Ive never. The band The Enemy asked Stiff if they would like to release their first demo. Stiff have not released anything for years, but the music seems to fit the stiff records sound.
Going back a bit, would you like to tell us about your musical background in Ireland? Did you do any PA work there?
No, I played drums in Ireland. 1st with a band called Darkest Hour, a punk band from Kilkenny, then The Belsonic sound (a reggae band from Cork) then a band called bone idol (bluegrass eastern European kind of band from cork). Then a lot of session work.
Getting started again in London must have been rough at times. How did you get started? Do you think you had more than average good luck during the process?
Id just passed my exams in the SAE (school of Audio Engineering). I was helping a man called Brian (can't remember his surname) with a very old pa system who had a dog he brought everywhere in his old van. He was doing a gig in a venue called The swan in Stockwell London. It was an Irish house (venue). Straightaway I knew Brian didnt have much of a grasp on sound but he'd do anything to pay the rent. I got talking to the owner and convinced him to take me on to do the gigs there. After 2 years I became the house engineer and owe a lot to the swan, its where I learned my trade. You can pass an exam on paper but it don't mean shit if you cant work the engine!.
While the sound people are frequently regarded as add-ons , there's a pretty good case for regarding the main person as being just exactly like another member of the band... and just as important for the musical result. Any comment on that? Do you have this sort of relationship with many acts?
You have to be part of the band or at least feel like you are. Its very important, you spend a lot of time with these people maybe sometimes a career. They have the voices, instruments and talent, but if it sounds bad it can mean nothing..
The glamour of touring can be overated but there are good times to be had. What's your favourite tour from times past?
My best tours for different reasons were with Beth Orton and then a band called Clayhill. We all know why.
I guess there must have been some stinkers as well - care to tell us about any?
As to date none. Good or bad I enjoy what I do
Some people might find your average day while on tour a bit of an eye-opener. What does your average day on the current tour look like?
An average day maybe is, wake up about 8 or 9 on a fast moving bus while everyone else is in bed but maybe the tour manager after not having a lot of sleep due to the band the crew or yourself being very pissed or stoned the night before. (I pretty much have the odd beer don't do drugs been there done that sort of a thing). So im nearly always up first. Have some cereal with hopefully not sour milk. Sit and watch the road ahead. Arrive at the venue, load equipment in, set up, soundcheck. Have dinner, do gig take equipment down, load truck, talk about gig with band and crew. Get pissed wake up on a fast moving bus .
What do you think the most important personality characteristics are for someone doing your job?
Lots of patience, strong character and lots of dedication, you have to take a lot of shit sometimes.
Technical knowledge is a must too. Is this mostly a case of learning by doing? Are there courses available to start people off?
There are many , too many in fact. There's so many fuckwits running around with papers sayin there sound engineers because they passed some exam by some failed engineer who only knows the inside of his own studio and his own brain. The SAE is good. Get on a course that's going to get you workin in a venue or pa company. Get yer fuckin hands dirty - it's the only way or you'll end up a fuckwit that everybody pisses on, literally.
I guess there wouldn't be too many people doing your job that don't have a vital interest in music and don't play a little themselves when they have time. What are you up to musically when you have a free minute?
Im a drummer originally, and now run a studio with my good friend Sean Read. The studio is called Cockerel Sounds in Hackney. I'm the house drummer and also record mix and produce with Sean.
I also played with magic Alex on and off for nearly 7 years as the drummer supporting such great bands like Echo and the Bunnymen. These were some of the best years of my life which led to us making an album called dated and sexist. You can find it all on myspace.com/magicalexthegroop
Who are your musical heroes/heroines from the past?
I grew up into music being a punk. One of the first bands was The sex pistols and all that punk scene, The Jam, Bob Marley, AC/DC,, Joy Division, Oasis, Stone Roses, , Yohann Strauss, all across the board really.
I guess, at some point, there are pressures to stop or cut down touring and some alternatives might include production, PA hire and consultancy, or studio related business. Touring gets in your blood though - Do you have any thoughts about this?
Ive been doin this for a long time nearly 20 years, Im probably coming to the end of my career in 2 to 5 years, after that I'd like to have my own venue, if I had some amazing generous rich person to back me financially!.
Thanks a lot.
A few of John's tours... Low Fidelity allstars Beth Orton Clayhill Terry Callier St Etienne The Like Lincoln Emilliana Torrini I am Kloot Doc Ks Blues Band Lots of bands on rough Trade, I uest to be there stable engineer. The Enemy David Kitt Loney Dear The London Lasses Pete Quinn Cara Dillon, Kathyrn Williams, Flook, Seth Lakeman, M Ward, Little Barrie, Emilliana Torrini, Grizzly Bear, Space raiders, Absentee, Field Music, Peggy Seeger pete and bob Seeger, Chris Clarke and last but not least Blue Ghost And many many many more but just cant remember them all. blog.myspace.com/therealjohnmac
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