Saint Saviour talks kit
One of Saint Saviour’s favourite music-making tools is Ableton, and she uses it for all her songwriting.
She maps things out first on her piano.
I like to have a full-sized keyboard, it feels free. Most of the time when I come into this room to write, I’ll sit at that keyboard because it’s got weighted keys and it feels like you’re properly playing the piano. I started playing the keyboard about 10 years ago. I come up with a chord structure and then I try, before I go to the computer and start up Ableton, to get a good verse construction and a good chorus, so at least you’ve got the structure of a possible song.
Yamaha NP-30 Portable Grand Piano
It’s got weighted keys and it feels like you’re properly playing the piano
I use Ableton Live, just through habit, I write in Ableton all of the time. Ableton’s great, it’s got a lot of really cool sounds on board so you don’t even have to buy a lot of other synths, I’ve got a rack of effects that I always have on my vocals, so when I open up a project in Ableton they’re already there, ready, because I’ve put them into the settings.
Ableton’s great, it’s got a lot of really cool sounds on board.
So I’ve got an EQ there, I’ve got a compressor, I’ve got a gate, I’ve got Tube Drive and lots of stuff that I can bring up and down, depending on what the song actually needs. And one of the things I really like, I’ve got a synth on here called Omnisphere and it’s got some really good rhythmic sounds.
Spectrasonics Omnisphere 1.5
I really like Omnisphere, it’s got some really good rhythmic sounds
She showed us how she starts a song and builds it up.
Saint Saviour also likes to combine different sounds.
I use a lot of effects, I’m a fan of kind of warping sounds myself so that I’m not just playing sounds out of the box kind of thing, so I put most things through guitar pedals, I even put my vocals through guitar pedals. I like authentic sounds like I like the sound of Moogs. There’s quite a lot of Juno (Roland) on the album because actually the studio that we went to to do the big things like the real drums and the harp and things like that, they had a Juno so we were all just playing on it the whole time.
But most of the synths that I use for everything are Native Instruments synths.
Native Instruments Kontakt 5
Most of the synths I use for everything are Native Instruments synths
I also really like the Arturia Moog series.
Arturia Modular V
I really like the Arturia Moog series
When it comes to her vocals she has a clear idea of what she is after.
I like using a lot of effects on my vocals, I think that’s a singer’s thing as well, actually, trying to disguise the sound of your voice as much as possible, but I like to put lots of things through guitar pedals so I’ve got a plug in called Guitar Rig and I put everything through it.
I layer my vocals up like, I’ll have stereo pairs and like four stereo pairs and one stereo pair will have an effect on it and another, another, and another pair will be clean and another pair will be really compressed, and I just kind of mess about and in different sections of the song I’ll bring this effect up and that effect down. I do a lot of automation so that the voice, the sound of the voice, kind of morphs throughout so that it’s not just one kind of level and one kind of feel all the way through. I just like making things sound otherworldly and superhuman.
Native Instruments Guitar Rig
I put everything through it
She particularly likes the effects pedal.
I really like the effects pedal. I still haven’t gone through all of the sounds because I’ll find one sound and I’ll use it on everything for a couple of months but it’s mainly the effects. I really like the fact that you can make your voice sound like the guitar from Black Hole Sun or like, an old Led Zeppelin type sound. I put synths through it as well, it’s not just my vocals that I put through it. I even put drums through it to give them fuzziness or to make them sound really nasty and compressed.
Another pedal, actually a real guitar pedal, that I was introduced to by my guitarist who is amazing, is this pedal, the Strymon, it plays a big part on my album Union, because we put everything through it, we put the cello through it, we put the Juno through it, we put drums through it and obviously all the guitar. Because what I like about my guitarist, David Klinke, is that he’s a real geek about his pedals and he likes exploring new ways of playing, and new things to put through his pickups and stuff.
Strymon El Capistan Pedal
It plays a big part on my album
We started experimenting with little music boxes that have got a hand crank, and you can get them in all different keys, and we realised that Strangers In The Night is in the same key as one of my songs, Mercy. So he played it really slowly and he put it through the Strymon and it’s kind of delaying all over the place and it sounds really weird and spooky. And then we put the cello through it on that song, as well, and that’s what gives the song a weird, almost Arabic feel. He’s really good at that kind of stuff and he brought that to the album definitely, and the Strymon. And we want more Strymons, so we’ve got to save up.
Becky also told us she had a Cream Puff - a really unusual hand-made boutique pedal from Frantone.
Frantone Cream Puff
Thick fluffy fuzz tone
Though she prefers a full-size keyboard, Saint Saviour gets a lot of use out of her Carillion USB Midi controller.
Sometimes I use this little keyboard. It’s not big enough to do anything like chord sequences and stuff but I just play like this, basslines and stuff, and the really basic synthy pad. And then you can control envelopes and delays and effects and stuff, using these ones. And it’s really handy because it’s USB so you don’t need an interface. You can just plug it straight into the computer. So I take this on tour with me as well and I like to practice with it.
Carillon Audio Systems USB Midi Controller 25-key
It’s really handy, USB so you don’t need an interface, I take this on tour
For her recent live tour she had a very pared down set-up, with two other musicians and kit such as samplers.
I used a lot of electronic, pre-programmed drums, and I used Ableton live to play them back. I play a lot of stuff on an SPD-SX as well. So I play hits and orchestra hits and drumbeats, and sometimes I’ll even play like a three minute sequence and sing over the top of it. I sample quite a lot from the album sounds but I don’t ever play the album versions live.
I play a lot of stuff on an SPD-SX, hits and orchestra hits and drumbeats, I’ll even play a three minute sequence and sing over the top of it
Also because they’re so heavy and thick, and I took a production decision at the beginning, I wanted it to be quite ethereal and fuzzy and spectral and beautiful, which is the opposite to what I want my second album to be, so I guess I kind of got it out of my system, but it’s hard to recreate live unless you’ve got someone with a Hammond and strings and lots of stuff going on, which I don’t because, simply because I can’t afford it, I can’t afford to go on tour with a big band. And I can’t afford big synthesizers, like real synthesizers and stuff, so most of the synths that I played on my album are just soft synths.
Here’ Saint Saviour with a live version of Midnight City, playing her SPD-SX.
The soft synths include the Sylenth1.
Versatile virtual analog synth
Saint Saviour loves experimenting with lighting to create the right mood. For live she uses special lighting effects including the D-Light lighting sequencer, and the MIDIPipe app which enables MIDI control of lights.
Other instruments that feature on her album include cello, bass guitar (Jonny Scafidi), harp (Jharda Walker), bells and percussion. Here’s an early session for Amazing Tunes, featuring Becky on her piano and Jharda on harp, along with guitarist David, and bassist Jonny.
Saint Saviour records her vocals using a classic vintage U67 Neumann microphone.