Producer Andy Jackson on Recording the Final Pink Floyd Album, The Endless River

“It’s a very common name. Back of $20 bills, that’s me.” Producer Andy Jackson is being typically self-effacing as he leans back in a chair across from me in front of the massive Neve 88R console that dominates the control room in the Astoria, the grand houseboat recording studio moored on the Thames somewhere near Hampton, Middlesex in England. It’s late August 2014, and it was my distinct honor to be summoned across the Pond to partake in an exclusive listening session for The Endless River, which has been deemed the final Pink Floyd album. River, which will be released worldwide by Columbia on November 10, was born out of the 1993 recording sessions for 1994’s The Division Bell, and it’s since been graced with additional new material created by Floyd mastermind David Gilmour and founding drummer Nick Mason, and all framed beautifully by the many key contributions of late Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright. Produced by Gilmour (seen in the foreground of the above pic, looking over the console), Phil Manzanera, Youth, and Andy Jackson, The Endless River is a bold, powerful, and mostly instrumental statement from a band known for many decades of sonic superiority and compositional excellence. River flows with that grand tradition, as it’s an album enveloped by that ethereally timeless aural cocoon all great Pink Floyd records reside within. River‘s 18 tracks are sequenced into four specific movements, or “Sides,” and each one carries its own particular vibe, from the keyboard wash sturm and soaring guitar drang interplay of Side 1’s “It’s What We Do,” the abject percussive fury of Side 2’s “Skins,” the ivory-tickling solemnity of Side 3’s “The Lost Art of Conversation,” and the uplifting ride of Side 4’s hopeful closing statement, “Louder Than Words” (the latter being the only song graced by Gilmour’s distinctive, impassioned vocals).

In a statement, Gilmour confirmed, “We listened to over 20 hours of the three of us playing together and selected the music we wanted to work on for the new album. Over the last year we’ve added new parts, re-recorded others and generally harnessed studio technology to make a 21st century Pink Floyd album. With Rick gone, and with him the chance of ever doing it again, it feels right that these revisited and reworked tracks should be made available as part of our repertoire.” Added Nick Mason, “The Endless River is a tribute to Rick. I think this record is a good way of recognizing a lot of what he does and how his playing was at the heart of the Pink Floyd sound. Listening back to the sessions, it really brought home to me what a special player he was.”

River will be available in a multitude of formats, and one of the high-res double-disc versions will feature Jackson’s expansive 5.1 mix in glorious 96/24 on Blu-ray. After a rousing listening session in a place where much of the music I heard was either created, recorded, and/or mixed, I sat down across from Jackson exclusively to discuss the genesis of River, the costs and benefits of mixing in both analog and Pro Tools, and what may (or may not) be in Floyd's future. The lyrics from what could be the band’s final statement are not lost on my ears: When it comes to this thing we do and the way it unfurls, it’s louder than words.

Mike Mettler: When was the lightbulb moment between the time you put together The Big Spliff [an unreleased ambient record Jackson compiled from Division Bell outtakes] to when you realized, “Oh, we can actually do this as an album now”?

Andy Jackson: The whole thing with Rick [passing away], and David saying to Phil Manz [Manzanera], “Go and see what we’ve got.” It was quite intriguing. And then it went to Youth, who had a poke at it. He extrapolated some stuff and did some weirdness—that is, he did what he does—and then we all got together to listen to it and said, “Yeah, I think we’ve got a record here.” That was the beginning of November [2013], and it came from having done one layer of development after it went to Youth to play around with. “Have we got a record? Yeah, we have.” Well, not yet, but it’s in there. Then we got into the details: “This is great, lose that bit, this part was better before.”

Mettler: When you started on the mix in full force last November, did you and David talk about how you wanted the overall character of the sound to be?

Jackson: Not specifically. Once I got it together, he came in and got in my head, as it were. He trusts us, same as he does with James [Guthrie, Floyd's other main longtime producer]—he trusts us to do what’s right. What happened with this album is quite interesting, as there were huge sessions in Pro Tools. And because we were a generation back in Pro Tools, we were constantly running out of voices [i.e., room for extra vocal tracks], and it was really hard.

Mettler: Did you have to take any tracks off because of those limitations?

Jackson: Well, there was track-sharing and vocal-sharing. There would be times where David and I would be sitting there scratching our heads, going: “We need to find five voices. Where are we going to find five voices?” You’d find five voices, and then 3 days later, we’d need another six.

Initially, I thought this is so huge, that the only possibility is to do it as an “in the box” mix, and I did so. [“In the box” refers to doing a mix completely on a computer via a program like Pro Tools, instead of on a mixing console.] I thought it was pretty good, but David was the one who said, “I don’t know, but I’d really like to try and see if we can mix it analog.” It was partly just to make sure we were getting the best out of this music, and secondly, this board—the Neve 88R, which has 48 multitrack outs on it—has the nicest interface you can get your hands on. I mean, we’ve got a little Euphonix fader pack over there, but it’s not the same! (laughs)

So I had a big think about it, and I started with Side 1, which is the simplest side. [Side 1 consists of three tracks: "Things Left Unsaid," "It's What We Do," and "Ebb and Flow."] I said, “Well, let me see if I can get it on the board.” While referring to the digital mix, I did an analog mix. There’s no point if the drums are at a different level or the reverberation is different; I was just trying to basically match it. So we had a digi mix and an analog mix, and then David and I did a blind A/B. One of us worked the machine and the other was sitting there going, “Ok, this is State 1 and this is State 2, and which one is which?” And it was just like chalk and cheese. It was a huge difference with the analog. Everything was digital up to that point. There was a lot of DAT source material, which is relatively low-grade. Then we got into Pro Tools and mixing in the box with some nice-sounding plug-ins.

What a great storage medium, DAT. Coming back to 20-year-old DATs, and fortunately, they all did play. They were SRC’ed [sample-rate converted] into Pro Tools—which doesn’t make them any better, put it that way. But getting it into analog—God, that was so much better. It just felt like we’d gained so much air. Just the way the bottom end sounded, it was so much more satisfying. And the sense of openness was hugely different. It made the project more difficult as it went on, as it mutated. We’d be doing major edits, and then suddenly we were doing automation edits, and things like that. So it got increasingly complicated to deal with. (laughs)

Mettler: The good thing about Pro Tools is: it’s endless. The bad thing about Pro Tools is: it’s endless. Well, almost.

Jackson: Exactly. And it got to a point, very late on where the first 5 minutes of two of the sides swapped, which made for a much better flow. We’d put a song at the end, which meant we’d swapped Side 3 and Side 4; they reversed. Then the dynamic of the whole album was wrong, so we swapped the beginnings back again, and both 3 and 4 got pulled in half. [Side 3 consists of seven songs: "The Lost Art of Conversation," "On Noodle Street," "Night Light," "Allons-y (1)," "Autumn ’68," "Allons-y (2)," and "Talkin' Hawkin'." Side 4 consists of four songs: "Calling," "Eyes to Pearls," "Surfacing," and "Louder Than Words."] And that was just a complication too far. We were 16 voices over on Pro Tools, and trying to get it all on the board—we had to make an executive decision there.

Mettler: What, you couldn’t make the boat any bigger so the Neve board could extend out further? (both laugh)

Jackson: Well, exactly! We couldn’t get the session to run let alone get it on the board, so getting all those voices on Pro Tools was not possible. We had to leave them separate—which was ok, since it was right at the end of the mixing process.

Mettler: It’s a complete piece from beginning to end, and you hope that people listen to it that way, by following the arc of each side.

Jackson: Mmmm! When Phil Manz[anera] put it together in the first place, he was very much with that in mind, like classical movements. Each piece had a thematic thing—maybe not musical thematic, but instrumental thematic. Side 2 is this thing where Rick’s got an old Farfisa [organ] which got dug out, and it’s great; it just does wacky stuff. It does this thing where you’ve got this LFO-triggered gate-y thing and then this other LFO [low-frequency oscillation] strange syncopated rhythm thing.

Mettler: To me, that was the vintage ’70s Floyd sound right there.

Jackson: Yes! So Side 2 is the Farfisa side. That’s in there all the time, and that’s what drew all those things together. And Side 3 was the pastoral one, it was very acoustic, but it ultimately changed enormously and ceased to be so. But there was an overall sense as it if were a symphonic piece with four movements. That was the dynamic to it. And that was always there—that sense of making it a whole album.

Mettler: There are certain pockets where you can say it defines the Pink Floyd style of playing, which is an individual style that many have tried to do, but only those three guys can capture properly.

Jackson: Exactly. You have to be careful about being self-referential.

Mettler: Like you hear twittering birds, and you feel the callback to “Grantchester Meadows” [a track from 1969's Ummagumma].

Jackson: We used the same song, which kind of tickles our fancy. It’s back on this is as well—it’s only “just” a little flutter of birds [at the end of “Surfacing”], but it’s the same one as well. If they can’t quote themselves, then who can?

Mettler: Many have tried, but...

Jackson: It’s funny that no one seems to be able to pull it off, really. Odd.

Mettler: Who did the final mastering of the album, you?

Jackson: No, James [Guthrie] did. There was a suggestion that I master it as well, but I was too close to it. I kind’ve wanted to leave him to it, really. It’s always good to get another pair of ears on it in another room.

Mettler: Did you have any suggestions or notes for him?

Jackson: I had a couple of things where I went, “Ehhh, maybe tweak it.” For example, maybe there was a neat underplay in Side 2 [which consists of four songs: "Sum," "Skins," "Unsung," and "Anisina"] that should have been louder. Some of the big booms—well, my taste is a bit “boomier” than his. (laughs) Put some of those back in, please! But, you know, James and I go back a long time.

Mettler: Will you continue to go with 96/24 or even 192/24 for any future Floyd-related projects?

Jackson: I think they all count, whether it’s 44.1/16 or 96/24, but a higher sampling rate sounds better. We don’t have any gear that does 192 here, but James does everything to 192, and he’s going to do it to the highest rate possible.

Mettler: Is doing 5.1 on Blu-ray optimal for you?

Jackson: Oh yeah, I love doing surround. You’re always referring back to the stereo, which is so disappointing after you hear them both. (laughs) They’re not the same mix anyway. Whereas anything from [David Gilmour's 2006 solo album] On An Island forward, I can just bring the mix up on the board and work on repositioning everything. It’s inherently the same mix to start with, whereas working with The Division Bell (1994) was essentially from scratch.

Mettler: Would you go back and do surround mixes for albums like A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987)?

Jackson: We did talk about it at one time. Unfortunately, that’s where the bean counters come in, to see if it’s worth it. There was at one point a Momentary Lapse project, to rethink it a bit. We did a little bit of work on it, but it fell by the wayside. And, of course, we had relied on having Rick [Wright] with us.

Mettler: Is there a particular favorite moment you have on The Endless River?

Jackson: There’s a moment that goes to this large pipe organ [“Autumn ’68”]—that’s the Royal Albert Hall pipe organ. We did the Albert Hall on David’s tour [May 29-31, 2006], which was the first time they’d been back since they got banned. Pink Floyd played the Albert Hall in 1968 and got banned for letting off cannons and nailing stuff to the floor! But when they were there in 1968, Rick had a go on the pipe organ. There was a Revox and some mics going in, so it was recorded. Damon [Iddons, engineer] is also our librarian, and he tracks all the things that are coming through, and he went, “Oooh, I’ll tell you what I’ve got! This is great!” It’s a great sound.

Mettler: And that’s the kind of thing that translate so well in surround, especially when it comes from a source and a location like that.

Jackson: It’s not real surround since it was recorded in stereo; it’s reverberant-field surround. So often, with surround, it’s making sure the reverbs are done well. In this case, we had quite a few EMT plates, several of which were modified for quad. They have five pickups on them. I don’t use digital reverbs. Every time I do, I just wind up preferring the plates. I still use plate reverbs, even on things where you wouldn’t necessarily use them, like on drums. If we ever go quad, I’ve got the real quad plates, but when we go surround, I’ve got the real surround plates. That’s the primary reverb, and this album has two plates on it. It’s an elected choice. I just like real plates, despite the hum. It’s part of the charm. (smiles) When they do the modeling of a Roland Space Echo [i.e., the RE-201 analog delay effects unit], they model all the noise into it, and we’re trying to get rid of that in the first place! At least you can turn them off. But it always comes up with it on.

There was this delightful notion that we’d record On An Island in analog, and then do it Pro Tools as well. Genie’s out of the bottle, so that didn’t last long. We’d already done analog. You can go all analog, but are you going to accept the enormous limitations? Pro Tools has opened up a huge bunch of possibilities. And if you’re prepared to accept that you can’t do them, then you can record on tape. But David’s not. David likes to be able to pick stuff up and move it. Even just for the “nudgy” stuff. “If I’d played that better, it would have sounded like this. This is what was in my head.” It doesn’t sound as good as analog, but we live in an imperfect world.

Mettler: When the new guitar solos, vocals, and other things were cut last November and December, you had room for them, right?

Jackson: Yes. We had three or four tracks available at most, and that’s the number of tracks we could accept. David could just pick up and blow, and we could sort it out later. It takes enormous limitations away, and he likes it. There’s no way we could have made this record if it wasn’t on a DAW [digital audio workstation]. No possibility at all. You would have had to make loads and loads of little bits, and then glue them together afterwards. That’s the way you made albums before—each section would be its own multitrack, and you’d never get to hear the record until it’s finished. Periodically, you’d rough mix the album and segue together so you could hear it as a whole, but you’re never working in context.

Mettler: Will there ever be another new Pink Floyd album?

Jackson: No, I don’t think so. Shame. I’ve really, really enjoyed the process of making this record. It was inherently different than making any other record because I was dealing with pre-existing building blocks that took an enormous chunk of the process away that made it really fun to deal with. Certainly with Floyd, it was always going into the studio with a blank sheet of paper. You spend a year in the studio, but 9 months of it is writing. And then you make the record like a normal record at the end. Most bands, you don’t get involved like that. It’s typical of a few other guys—Genesis and Queen have “their guy” too. But that’s our life.

Mettler: Your final assessment of The Endless River is…?

Jackson: The same as any album you’ve spend that much time in the studio with—I just know exactly what it’s like. Any subjective reference is long gone. I remember really liking it 6 months ago, and I still do. The only albums I’ve ever made and been able to listen to as a member of the public would be a jazz album I did with David Torn that was done in 3 days. I could listen to that like I was never there! (laughs) I’m really curious to see how people receive it. It’s a bit of an oddity, because it’s largely an instrumental album. I don’t know.

Mettler: The Endless River doesn’t sound dated to me at all. It has a bit of a timeless feel to it. It has a combination of the Pink Floyd aural “touchstones” that let you know who it is, alongside the newer elements.

Jackson: Well good, that’s interesting to hear. I think that’s something we became very conscious of. When we did Momentary Lapse, there was a production decision that largely came from Bob Ezrin: “We should make an album that’s very now.” Now, of course, it sounds very then. Coming back to Division Bell and River, we said, “Let’s not do that. Let’s do classic.” We deliberately made it sound timeless rather than “of a time.”

A longer version of this interview—which includes Jackson discussing the recently released 5.1 mix of The Division Bell—appears on Mike Mettler’s own site,