An interview with ‘Piano’ engineer Linn Fijal
If you have picked up a copy of the Piano album by Benny Andersson, then you will see that the credits for engineering the recording lay with Linn Fijal, as well as a co-credit for recording and mixing alongside Benny.
Linn works at Benny’s Riksmixningsverket (RMV) Studio in Stockholm and icethesite caught up with her recently to find out more about her work.
How and when did you first start working at RMV Studios?
It was actually through a chance meeting with Benny’s son Ludvig at a mastering studio that I got in touch with the studio regarding a position. This was back in 2010. I applied, was interviewed and got the gig.
My early days were spent buying and constructing stuff, getting the mixing desk working, assisting more experienced engineers. These days, seven years later, I’m doing a whole lot more, far more responsible, managerial type work and scheduling duties as well as being a recording engineer, mixing engineer and sometimes producer as well.
One thing I don’t touch though is the budgets and invoicing, that’s definitely not my thing!
Are you having fun?
I love it here. I think it’s really nice. And now I have a lot more help, because if you have more than ten people in on a session, like an orchestra, that would mean a lot of running around unless you have some assistance.
Have you ever recorded just piano before?
Not a complete full length record, just the odd ballad here and there. I don’t do that much classical music and if I do it’s mostly about setting up strings.
RMV produces a lot of different kinds of music, from classical piano, through folk to rock, do you have to swap your mentality for each genre?
I can’t lose my rock head, that is always there but I have studied classical music too, so that is in my background. Ultimately though, a good song is a good song, a good melody is a good melody, and a good sound is a good sound, regardless of genre.
That in some ways is why Benny’s Piano album has been so enjoyable. I think if an engineer steeped in classical music had been at the desk, it would have been a different sounding record. Piano is very much a straight-up pop type recording technically. We didn’t try and replicate the sound of a concert hall, which is a more typical way to do this type of album.
Benny likes the sound to be quite wide and I like an open sound and we have produced something that is very true and real, whereas a lot of classical music can tend to sound a bit muddy and blurred to my ears.
We tried out lots of mics in order to hit on a sound that was right. Benny is ultimately in charge of the recording and he made the final call, which was to use really accurate microphones, the CM 402s by Jörgen Thuresson, and record in the brightest way possible. We didn’t want to muddy the sound in any way or have to modify the sound later by messing too much with EQ and compression.
The tuning is also really important for the sound and sustain of the piano, Jussi Karjalainen did a really good job making it sound clear, not all through ‘perfect tuning’, which makes it all sound more real.
The only tweaks we made affected the digital reverb and as a result it’s a really honest sound recording. You can actually hear on this recording what’s going on within the piano.
I’m getting lots of good feedback from the classical community about the recording, so that makes me happy.
What was the first you heard of with regards to Benny wanting to do a new solo album?
I had picked up some corridor chatter really, that perhaps Benny wanted to do something for himself. The first task I was involved in was trying out some pianos, so we visited the Royal College of Music here and listened to and recorded maybe six or seven different grand pianos. We also tried out Benny’s Yamaha in his office and the Steinway here before he settled on the Fazioli.
Once the decision was made about which instrument was the one, there wasn’t really a lot of planning for the recording, at least not on my behalf. He would call me up and say “I want to record…when can we do it?” and then it was a matter of fitting in the recordings between projects we were already committed to.
Setting up to record was a pretty simple affair, just Benny, me and a piano required.
There are 21 tracks on the album, did you get the impression that Benny had practised them all and knew which ones would make the cut before recording started?
I don’t think he practised that many. Very rarely he would say “I have actually practised this.” Mostly he would say, “I haven’t played this for 20 years!”
The selection was made on variety, the ones he liked most and also on how long the tracks were. I don’t think he knew when he started the project how long the record would be, that was decided later.
You have worked with Benny for some time now, on a variety of different musical styles, what’s that like?
Benny is a mastermind! He is in control of everything and has always been like that. He knows what he wants and there’s no compromising. He will say: “I want it this way,” and then I will do my best to make sure he gets what he wants. That’s nice for me because he is never shy of taking the important decisions.
RMV studio is a state of the art setup and I don’t imagine there are many compromises in terms of the gear you have to work with?
You’re right! And I’ve been lucky and thoroughly spoiled in this set up. That also means that the only thing that can create a bad recording here is me, it’s not like I can ever blame the gear or the budget. It’s a lot of pressure but I’m not complaining…it means that when I get a great sounding recording that I am really proud of, like the Piano album or Benny’s choir album Kärlekens tid, that I treated all this great gear right.
What’s next up for you?
I have a really exciting hardcore project mixing ‘Riot Girls’. They take band members playing rock and hardcore style music from the 1980s punk groups through to bands from today and assemble a group. They were here for a weekend recently and wrote and recorded music like it was nothing. All in a weekend, twelve songs were written and recorded. They were long days of course, twelve hour shifts and I was here with two assistants and two runners and it was so much work but also so much fun.
Then I have a jazz album to mix and a pop album too. A lot of mixing coming up.
Thanks for talking with icethesite Linn, it has been a real pleasure catching up with you.
Thank you for giving my work notice.