Craig Silvey

Best known for mixing key albums by the likes of Arcade Fire, Noel Gallagher, Florence + The Machine and Arctic Monkeys, Craig Silvey caught the record production bug at a very early age. Growing up in the Bay Area, northern California, he was a self-confessed “Beatles head” entranced by the sounds emanating from his hi-fi.

“When I was 12 or something, I discovered the idea that there was something called ‘production’,” he says. “That it wasn’t just songs.”

Craig Silvey first set foot in a recording studio as the keyboard-player in a high school band. The studio was owned by his bandmate’s jingle writer father, who was happy to let his son’s group use the equipment but wouldn’t go as far as operating it for them. Silvey was keen to accept the challenge.

“Somebody needed to figure it out,” he remembers. “So, I just started poking buttons. Then I was like, ‘Oh there’s an actual job here, isn’t there? This is something you could actually do.’”

Gainfully employed as a toilet scrubber-cum-apprentice engineer at Russian Hill Recording in San Francisco, he was taken under the wing of legendary recording engineer George Massenburg. Through Massenburg, in the early ‘90s, Silvey progressed to working at Skywalker Sound for Lucasfilm, learning the old school arts of recording and mixing on albums for Mariah Carey and Linda Ronstadt, along with orchestral records and movie projects including Jennifer 8 and the Sean Connery-starring Rising Sun.

Record production was changing fast in the ‘90s, however, and as a fan of hip hop (particularly Public Enemy), Silvey was keen to stretch out into other areas and learn the craft of sampling. In ’94, he co-founded Toast Studios in San Francisco, jokily retitling it from its previous owners’ name, Coast. The inspiration came from the cheekily tweaked name of a local chicken restaurant under new management.

“It was called Pioneer Chicken and they just put some tape over the ‘P’ to make it Fioneer Chicken,” he laughs. “I thought that was the funniest thing ever. So, we just changed one letter and Toast stuck as an interesting kind of a Dadaist name for a recording studio.”At Toast, Silvey worked with such diverse artists as R.E.M., Money Mark and Suzanne Ciani. “By the age of 25,” he says, “I had a full training in all genres.”

After moving to the UK in 1998, Silvey initially based himself in Konk, The Kinks’ recording studio in north London, producing and mixing records for The Magic Numbers and The Coral. Then, shipping over his vintage Neve console from the States, he pooled his equipment with Matt Johnson (The The) in the latter’s Shoreditch recording bunker, The Garden. “I absolutely loved that studio,” Silvey enthuses. “Depeche Mode and The Smiths did a bunch of stuff there. The space just sounded great.”

From the ‘00s on, Silvey’s reputation as a top-flight mixer began to grow, as he completed landmark projects such as Portishead’s Third and Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs. “As a producer/engineer, everybody seemed to like my rough mixes,” he says. “I think I just started then kind of insisting that the stuff that I either produced or recorded, I mixed it as well. Although that was a fight initially.

“At The Garden, I tried to concentrate on mixing for a bit,” he adds, “just to see if that was more where my strength was. Like anything, I guess, you just get good and you get fast. From that point on, it sort of stuck to being what I did, basically. That became my speciality.”

Now based in his latest incarnation of Toast Studios in west London, Silvey utilizes an array of vintage and modern equipment, while being trusted by artists and record companies as someone who can polish their recordings to an impressive shine.

“It was a perfect coinciding,” he explains. “Because as budgets were shrinking for bands and artists, there seemed to be a lot more willing from record companies to let new bands record in their rehearsal space. Then they just brought in somebody who knew what they were doing at the end. They only have to use the real studio at the last bit.”

The past decade has seen Craig Silvey mix Arctic Monkeys’ Suck It And See, Bryan Ferry’s Avonmore, The National’s Trouble Will Find Me, Arcade Fire’s Reflektor and Everything Now and Noel Gallagher’s Chasing Yesterday and Black Star Dancing EP. As a producer, he has worked with Baxter Dury, Bear’s Den and John Grant.

Recent clients include Jarvis Cocker’s new band JARV IS…, Tennessean singer/songwriter Julien Baker and The Rolling Stones, who employed Silvey to oversee a fresh mix of an outtake from their 1973 album Goats Head Soup.

“Coming of age in the ‘90s in the world of band rock,” he says, “I’ve spent my whole production career trying to make things sound like the Stones in the ‘70s. And then to finally actually get a Stones track and be able to manipulate it… It’s maybe the most fun thing I’ve ever done.”