December 2010

Interview by Niels Kolling,pictures by JD Fanger.

In 2001 The Human League released their last studio album Secrets which was hailed by fans and press as their best work since Dare! The talented production team TOY played a big part in shaping the sound of the album, so I caught up with producer and programmer Kerry Hopwood to learn more about the incredible work they did on that album. And with his heavy link to Depeche Mode the interview ended up being just as much about Basildons finest!


First a little background, how did you end up in the music business in the first place? Was it always in the cards that you would end up behind the mixing desk or did the world miss out on a swaggering rockstar?

I guess a combination of fear and bravado!

When I was a kid I was going around telling everyone I was going to be a rockstar and you can imagine the response I got so I had a point to prove added to the fact that I remember being filled with dread from quite an early age at the thought of having to leave school and find a "proper" job. This career has been perfect for someone who likes music, technology but can't make his mind up.



What was your knowledge of The Human League before you started working with them?

I had a friend at school who was a couple of years older and he introduced them to me (I actually had my first "sort of" band with him). He was a great portal into all sorts of music at that time as he had a bit more pocket money than me to spend on records and being a little older, he would go to London and bring back new records. I remember he was also the first person I knew with a video recorder so we'd dub tracks off early League albums to our rather shoddy attempts at arty industrial videos that we made with a second machine - seems so primitive these days but it had a profound effect on me I guess.

Would you label yourself a fan or more a casual listener?

Always loved the League, bit of a fan yes but not nearly in the same league as you Niels

How did it come about that you ended up producing the Secrets album as part of the highly talented TOY production team?

Out of the blue really. It came via our management at the time, Principle Management who are basically U2 and PJ Harvey's managers. Papillon records were looking for someone to work with their new signing, The Human League and as you can imagine we leapt at the opportunity to work with them.

It's a bit unusual to have a three-headed producer, so how were the roles defined between yourself, Q and Dave Clayton? Were there ever a need for one to step forward and be the boss to make a decision?

Well, yes it was maybe unusual at the time and in hindsight it would probably work better when one person takes charge but we wanted to start a new way of working as a bit of a collective but one where our mutual respect would mean that any one of us, could speak out and lead, if that was needed, at any time.

We each had our roles of course, all three had particular strengths and between us we felt we could do any project be it for bands, for tours, for adverts, for films. These days, it seems that this was the way to go but I remember at the time, people just didn't get it and we eventually, rather sadly, went our different ways.

The demos I've heard from the Secrets sessions are quite different to the end result. Is that a fair reflection of the whole project that the production team took the songs in another direction?

It's funny as I seem to think that many still have a nod to the demo's, especially with All I Ever Wanted. I would always worry about spoiling something good and have actually declined projects as I felt that whatever I did may change the spirit of a demo.

I guess what I am saying is that sometimes things get changed for no other reason than you need to be seen to be doing something, which I don't get. It'd be interesting to hear those again, as for me, as long as the spirit of the demo or whatever we have ended up with is still there, then I'd say it was a success.



You even chipped in with the songwriting as you are credited for co-writing 122.3 BPM and Ringinglow. A couple of really cool tunes, but how did the songwriting partnership work? Did you add to the demos already written or were you involved from the first note?

I wouldn't say it was songwriting really, that's Pilip's department - the concept was to have little sections inspired by the album, sometimes using some parts or sounds. Those pieces were really done in isolation. Philip came in with stuff, Neil did and then we did too so no partnership as such, no sitting round the piano waiting for inspiration to strike although I long harboured thoughts that we should all get behind a synth each in their big live room and make noises and see what came up with.

One of many highpoints on the album are the awesome instrumental interludes, but they are so short that you sit there screaming for more. So did you make full versions of the tracks that were edited shorter?

That was the point, a short concentrated burst of something, I don't think we made them as long versions and cut them down. In a kind of way, some aspects were like early albums of theirs where there were snippets or even soundbite type things and they always struck me as fun and cool.

Personal favourite from the album is Reflections, especially love the instrumental ending. Any memories from producing this excellent piece of electronic music?

I just loved hearing so many of the noises being generated and the general flow, I think it was one of those tunes that just looked after itself and had such a good atmosphere about it.

All I Ever Wanted sounded like THE comeback single for the band, but failed miserably in the charts, since BBC Radio didn't want to play it and Papillion Records went bust. With the right backing did it have the potential to go Top Ten?

I'm sure of it!

We had a similar thing when making the Depeche Mode album (Ultra) when the record company wanted us mix It's No Good first so it could be the first single and we were adamant that Barrel Of A Gun had to be the first single out as a statement of intent. Well we got our own way with that and with All I Ever Wanted, the track was all there…. it was all about "The Human League are back and doing it better than ever".


The disappointment of Papillon's collapse really signalled my loss of faith with record production, record companies, radio etc. as I thought, if nobody get's All I Ever Wanted then nothing I would do ever again would either, I felt that strongly about it's potential.



Listening to the album 9 years after its release, how has it stood the test of time? Anything you would have done differently? Any of the songs that you were particular satisfied with the end product?

I'll have to listen to it again and get back to you on this one.


Can you remember if there was any tracks left over that didn't make it to the album or as b-sides to the singles? And in case there was, what did they sound like?

I don't think that there was anything left over, you may need to check with Beevers (the bands engineer) on that though as I have no recollection anything that we felt we needed to do but that we didn't do in the end.

The band has a vast collection of vintage synths stacked away in their Sheffiedl Studio. Which ones were the most fun to "fiddle with the knobs"?

I think the most fun thing to "twiddle" with was the singing - that was the thing that made the record for me. Synth wise, we really liked Philips Korg 770, Philip was kind enough to give one to us (Dave Clayton has it now) but I managed to track a nice one down last year when I was on tour with DM in the US.

They've recently signed a multi-album deal with Mark Jones cool Wall Of Sound label. Looks like a perfect match?

I really hope so, Philip and the band are a thoroughly decent bunch of people and I just hope that they get the support and energy that they deserve but it has become a tough business making and selling records in the old idiom so my hopes is that a happy medium can be met with their new partnership.


The band is currently working on a new album. Could you see yourself producing the next Human League album and how would you like the band to sound?

I mentioned before that after Secrets, my feelings towards production took a huge blow. As a producer, you are judged on the records you make and although the press generally were favourable, in the real world when there is no product out, for whatever reason, that year of work is a failure.


Out of the The Human league s vast back catalogue, can you name your favourite album, single and song?

Album: Travelogue, just still get's put on, turned up and makes me happy

Single: Human (controversial eh! - just a great single)

Song: Blimey…. err! Being Boiled….. Empire State Human… come on, that's too hard to answer Niels.



Have you experienced their live show? And if you have, when was it and what did you think of it?

Yes, quite a few times in fact over the years. I'm the wrong person the ask as this is what I do now so I am very, very critical of anything I see now so it is hard for me to enjoy any show just as a fan, I'd always want to take control and make changes that I think would improve it.


Will you be attending the up coming November/December Night People Tour of the UK?

If I'm around I'd always like to go along and see Philip, Beevers and the gang.

The band have just finished of the recording of their new album Credo that will be out March next year. Could you see yourself producing them again and how would you want them to sound?

I loved my experience with the band and it is probably one of my favourite projects but I doubt I would sit in the producer chair again, with anyone for that matter. Secrets was, at the time, our take on how they should sound and I have a feeling that it would still hold true today as much of it is still relevant.

Being as big a fan of Depeche Mode, I have to sneak in some questions about the work you’ve done with Basildons finest. Congratulations on the brilliant job you did as musical director on their recent tour. I went
to the Berlin, Copenhagen, Bremen, Paris and Horsens gigs and it kept getting better with the 2 latter ones the highlight for me.


Thanks for the kind comments about the DM tour, I think we were in a good place and by all accounts the feedback has been positive about the sound and look of the show plus I think Dave were putting in some great performances.

Really glad you enjoyed the shows in Paris, the boys certainly enjoyed them as the crowd were so enthusiastic even though Martin was quite ill on the first night, he still pulled off a good gig.

Horsens seemed very dry sounding, I guess due to the size but not too bad to work with.


Working as musical director on DMs last 2 tours, how involved are you in the pre-production of the live tracks? Are you programming what the band tell you to or do you have creative input as to what bits to extend or remix?

Well there is a long list of potential songs that we start out with and then I work by myself getting those together and then we'll get together a few weeks later and try and get it down from say 40 to 30 so I can concentrate on them more and then I'll do another stint before we go into rehearsals.

It is very loose with what to do, there may be suggestions about a direction for a track but on the whole I just get on with it and make of it what I want but I don't ever want to go too off piste with their stuff as I think sometimes it can alienate audiences when tracks become too overworked or vastly different. My main aim is at some point to have prepared the definitive version of a DM track for live.

This time around I remade a lot of the sounds so that sonically it would sound better than before and also changed the way I work with Christian with regards sound processing plus giving Pete sounds he can manipulate on synths rather than samples from the record, which was how it used to be done due to the complexity of DM recordings.

Any track that was particular interesting to deconstruct for live programming?

I think Photographic is the most fun in a way as I did that, just how they would have done it with three synths and a drummer (machine).


You also worked as programmer on the Ultra album, so how did Depeche Mode do things differently in the studio compared to The Human League?

Very similar in fact - Philip and Martin come in with songs and whether we go about things in the right way or the wrong way is another discussion but we tend to get into the studio, have our take on what we want to do with a track and just crack on with it.

So you may even not hear anything for a few hours as we're all beavering away on headphones but the we all emerge and start throwing sounds, parts, ideas together etc. It is a bit of an isolated way of working at times but it is really because we just want to get as many ideas out for the project in the time frame and getting good sounds, for instance, is never a quick process.

Of the songs you've worked on with Depeche Mode my favourite track is Sister of Night and I was chuffed to bits as it was introduced in full band version on the recent tour. Just mindblowing! Any memories of making this cracker in the studio?

It is one of my favourite's too. Lot's of memories about this one, some a bit painful I'm afraid to say as it was a difficult time for the band but we got there in the end with Sister. We had done an initial recording session in London and then moved all the gear over to work at Electric Ladyland in New York for a month or so. Sister, in the form you know it as now, emerged from this session.

The demo was really like a Bill Withers track, you like "Lovely Day" very nice but one day, we took it in another direction as that is what you do with DM tracks, deconstruct the song and rebuild with noises. Dave Clayton came up with most of the parts on this and I just did the drum programming to his amazing stuff.

The painful memories of this track were that Dave was not very well at the time and as Q and I were left to do the vocals, it was a very hard emotionally as Dave was trying his best to sing but was clearly not well enough to do so. In the end the vocals took many days to do and I ended up comping (making lines of songs from words and syllables) as best I could and patching it together as best I could from the many, many takes we had. In the end, I doubt many people would hear what it took to get that vocal, which is good in a way.



Did it cause any problems as you programmed it for the tour?


It was a delight revisiting the track just to hear the sounds again in isolation.

I'm a little surprised that Depeche Mode didn't play more songs from the Sounds Of The Universe album on the tour, especially gems like Perfect, In Sympathy and Corrupt. So were they programmed and rehearsed?

Yes, we actually rehearsed more stuff off the new album than before except Perfect (much to my dismay) but as the band said, sometimes there are songs that, with the best will in the world, just don't seem to lend themselves to being done live.

My favourite from the SOTU sessions are Oh Well. Would love to hear it live with Martin, Dave and Fletch moved to the front with a couple of synths, dim the lights, turn on the stroboscopics and let it rip. Could create a club vibe in a stadium! Can you see its live potential?

Maybe you should come and do the next tour with them Niels.

Listening to Depeche Mode live a hundred times in a row sounds like a wet dreams to die hard DM fans. So are you able to enjoy the show while you're working?

I really enjoy working on all my live shows anyway but with DM it is always special, they are a great band, great fun to be with. We have, in my opinion, the best front man out there plus added to the fact that each night's DM audience are quite often heads and shoulders above other audiences, there is never a feeling of Groundhog Day.


Any favourite live tracks?

I think my favourite live tracks are when Martin gets up with Pete and then either Never Let Me Down or Stripped.

You were also heavily involved in the production of the Live In Barcelona CD and DVD that has just been released to sum up Tour Of The Universe?

I mixed the live DVD for the SOTU tour with Antony King our sound engineer and I really enjoyed my time back in the studio. The band were not happy with the mixes that the first guy had done so right after the tour I went in to start some prep work at my studio and then we mixed for a two week period with Antony our FOH guy and then after some comments from the guys I made the tweaks and then did the 5.1 mix.

We mixed it up at Alan Moulder and Floods studio in London and it was a lot of fun, hard work at times I admit but I am looking forward to it's release and hopefully a favourable reaction to what we did as I tried to get over what I think the show should be like with plenty of atmosphere rather than some of the clinical, clean and dry DVD's some bands ending up sounding.



You did a brilliant job as the sound is simply awesome! It's No Good, Jezebel, Never Let Me Down Again and Sister Of Night are some real hightlights. Found lots of new details I didn't noticed at the gigs, real goosebump moments!

I really appreciate your kind words for the DVD. It is always a bit difficult to please everybody, but I just tried to do what I thought was right for this project (as it is the only way I know how to do things really) as the previous attempts just didn't sound very exciting or how I heard the gig so that was why we took over.

My expectactions went sky high when I read that Toy were working together with Camouflage on their come back album Sensor from 2003, but sadly it didn't materialise. What happened?

Yes, that was a strange project. Maybe a combination of things but post Secrets things were tough for us anyway as it was such a disappointing end to a great project and we just felt that we were not getting anywhere with the tracks we were trying to "improve" for Camouflage.


Nothing we did seemed to please Heiko, one of the band members and as he was a producer himself we just said it would be best for all parties for call it a day and in my opinion I don't think Heiko could let go of the project enough to let us have free reign. It is the only project that we called time on and it spelt the end of TOY unfortunately.


You also did some excellent work with Karl Bartos on the Flatz album Love And Violence from 2000. So how was it working with a former member of Kraftwerk?

Well again it was one of those situations where when we heard what he had done we had to get involved and we loved the concept and the tracks. Karl (Charlie) came over and I was so disappointed as he wasn't a robot…. he was a normal guy who laughed and joked and liked looking at pictures of the girls that we were songwriting with….. no red shirt, no vocoded voice…. nothing! They say never meet your heroes!

In truth, we again just got on with it, I don't even know if he liked what we ended up with but we were very happy with the end result, especially with what we achieved in the time frame and we mixed at at our own studio.



The TOY production team sadly no longer excists and it looks like you work more as a live engineer/programmer these days. But do you ever get the itch to go back to production?

Of course, I'd love to still do things in the spirit of TOY which was that it was ambiguous to a degree and that we could try and outlet sonics into any medium but I just keep getting asked to go out on tour and therefore put all my energies into that. I have a studio full of old synths (going to build a new one next year hopefully) so there is no excuse and my girlfriend would be very happy for me to be working at the bottom of the garden rather than the other side of the world.

You seem like a very busy man, so what are the future plans for Kerry Hopwood?


I am out with Jay-Z, we're currently in the US doing these big double headline shows with Eminem and this morning os the first morning in nearly two weeks when I don't have to rush out to do anything! The schedule has been pretty hectic as we went and did Summersonic in Japan and then came back to NYC for a Nike show at Radio City Music Hall and then we have been in prep for these big shows then we're out with US in Australia later in the year....... so busy all in all.

Future plans: None, I can't make my mind up!

Watch a really interesting Ableton video with Kerry demonstrating the drum processing set up at a Depeche Mode gig


And you can check out Kerrys impressive studio CV by checking out this link;