The Pete Hammond Interview
As one of the original 'Mixmasters' in Stock, Aitken & Waterman's talented in-house team, Pete Hammond mixed and remixed many of Mel & Kim's single and album tracks. These days, Pete remains a successful and sought after music producer, creating both current and retro styled remixes for worldwide artists which contain his unmistakable musical signature. Here, Pete takes the time to chat with melandkim.com about his work on girls' recordings.
Thanks for agreeing to chat with us Pete. We obviously know you for your brilliant work mixing many of the classic Mel & Kim tracks (amongst so many others). Did you enjoy mixing the girls' songs and do you have a favorite?
Oh yes! I definitely enjoyed mixing the Mel and Kim records, though Showing Out was mixed by Phil Harding, just before I joined P.W.L. I enjoyed mixing Respectable most of all, although I do also have a soft spot for More Than Words Can Say.
The 'Tay, Tay. Tay' 'vocal loc' of Respectable remains instantly recognisable. Did the heavy use of sampling equipment on the girls' tracks make for a time-consuming process when mixing?
No! Surprisingly, the 'Tay, tay, tay' vocal loc wasn't at all time-consuming (laughs). It was created almost by accident, whilst 'flying in' the chorus vocals, and was nothing more than Matt [Aitken] messing about impatiently. He was playing the start of the chorus' vocals, on three different notes and it sounded fun, so it was recorded. To save time, we only ever recorded one chorus, and the mixed chorus vocals were then recorded into the 'Publison' sampling machine. It had 20 seconds of digital stereo recording time which, though tiny by today’s standards, was massive at the time. A keyboard was then connected to the Publison and when the middle C was pressed on the keyboard the vocals played in normal pitch, and were recorded on to the multi-track. The one thing about the Publison was that, unlike other samplers, it didn’t change the length of the replayed sample when you played samples up and down the keyboard. There is an example of that in Respectable, when the girls sing the low “Respectable” while the synth riff is playing. That vocal sound is actually the last word of the chorus played a 5th down on the Publison keyboard. It was always fun doing the vocal tricks with 'The Infernal Machine' (as it was known).
Which of the girls' tracks was the most challenging to nail?
Well, I have to say that, despite being my favourite, Respectable was the most difficult record to mix for me. There was a lot of pressure to follow up Showing Out, which we all called ‘follow-up-itus’, and so I mixed and remixed it many, many times. Nick East (MD of Supreme Records) wasn’t convinced about the final mix and we were actually asked to take out the 'Tay Tay Tay' bit as he thought it was a bit naff. Shortly after that though, the girls played a live appearance in Holland, where they mimed to one of the earlier mixes of Respectable. The crowd went wild when they heard the 'Tay Tay Tay' bit, and the second of the six mixes I did was released.
Were you present during any of the girls' recording sessions?
Sadly no - I was never present when the girls were recording. You see, the recording sessions were done during the day, by Mike and Matt, and their engineer, and they usually worked from about 11am till 10pm (pub time). I would then come in and mix most of the records during the night, between 11pm and 8am. That said, I did meet the girls once or twice; usually late at night, after they had finished recording. My main memory is that we used to play table tennis together in the studio recording area. It was great fun, and I still remember Mel laughing. She had the most wicked laugh!.
Stock, Aitken & Waterman worked with a wide range of artists with varying vocal ability. Having listened to the vocal tracks of the Mel & Kim songs during the mixing process, how did you rate the girls' vocal abilities?
(Laughs) well, unlike some of the other artists, I never heard anyone complaining that the girls were hard work [vocally], although I do recall that, after my first mix of Respectable - because of the vocal loc's - it was impossible to understand the girls' lyrics, so Mike (Stock) and Matt (Aitken) re-recorded the girls vocals. You have to bear in mind that we didn’t have the technology that we have today. These days I can fine tune or change the pitch of any small note that is sung; I can even add vibrato and create harmonies from the lead vocal…and then there is Antares Autotune! But, in the PWL days, there would always be a great deal of “dropping in” to replace badly sung notes or phrases and often several vocal takes would be taken on different tracks and a composite lead vocal, made from the best bits selected from all the different takes, would be “bounced” to a master lead vocal track. That track was then labelled as 'lead vox comp'. I do have to say thought that Mel & Kim's vocals always sounded very good though, so I didn't have to do this with their recordings.
In 2009, you produced a remix of Mini Viva’s Left My Heart In Tokyo, which had a real Showing Out/Respectable vibe. What influenced your choice to use the Mel & Kim tracks as a blue print for the Mini Viva’s remix?
I was asked to do the Mini Viva retro remix by Brian Higgins, from Xenomania. He felt that there was a similarity between Mini Viva and Mel & Kim, and suggested a Mel & Kim style remix. Because Showing Out and Respectable were the biggest hits, I decided to make a record that included elements of both. After it was released, Pete Waterman tried to sue Xenomania. FYI, nothing was sampled from the original Mel & Kim records in the making of the Mini Viva remix. I recreated and played everything using 'Cubase 5' on my computer, at my studio in Purley. Having mixed the original, I knew exactly how to recreate the 'Mel & Kim sound'.
Lastly Pete, why do you think Mel & Kim's music is still memorable today?
I think the girls' music has endured because it is very different, full of fun and had a bit of attitude! Everyone can sing along and dance to their records, yet they still sound serious and tough.
Rare photos of Pete with his band the Limmie Funk Ltd.