Producer, DJ and multi-instrumentalist Joe Turner has worked with Lapsley and Joe Hertz. Coming through with a driving but soft synth-heavy electronic sound, the South Londoner loves building beautiful electronic moments around incredible vocalists. One of those vocalists is Julia Church, who’s collaborated with Joe Turner to write their latest track, Borders.
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Joe’s just moved house and made a studio in his garden which has been “a revelation for creativity”, he says. In it, he layers big name synths from Korg, Moog and Oberheim to make big sounds and uses all manner of soft synths and software tools to shape this pristine sound. We find out more about the tools and techniques that went into Borders.
Hi Joe! We’re loving Borders, your latest track with singer Julia Church. Tell us about the collaboration.
Julia and I had a writing session towards the end of last year and by the end of the day we had written the verse and pre-chorus sections. We left the session knowing how the chorus needed to sound and over the next few months, we worked remotely, sending each other updated bounces.
It was surprisingly straightforward writing the chorus on this track. I’d sent a bounce over to Julia after our session which included the chorus (without vocals). After a few days, I received the main bulk of the chorus vocals from Julia, which are in the final version of the track. I was so happy with what she had written but asked for small minor tweaks. After those tweaks, the chorus was finished.
Where do you make your music?
I make pretty much all of my music at home. I’ve recently had a studio built in my garden and it has been a revelation for creativity. Removing myself from the inside of my house (albeit a small distance) helps me separate ‘home life’ and ‘work life.’
Within my setup, I make sure every element of the studio is accessible almost instantly. All of my synths are plugged in and ready to go. They’re also plugged in via MIDI so I can send data to any of them if needed. I find that the best way to write is to get ideas down quickly, and taking time to mess around with cables or switches usually takes away that moment of inspiration.
What’s your latest plugin purchase?
I haven’t bought a new plugin in a while, but the latest addition is the Korg Collection 3. There’s a great diversity of sounds you can use from all of the synths, and it’s great to have a big selection for when I’m in writing sessions away from my studio. I’ve been mainly using the Korg PolySix VST as I love how rich the pads sound. At times, I’ve actually favoured this sound over my Sequential Prophet 08!
What’s the best free plugin you own?
There’s a free chorus plugin by Oblivion Sound Labs called OSL Chorus, and I use it on every single one of my tracks. I have a template set up in Ableton Live and the plugin is placed on a return channel with an EQ after it, cutting out any sounds below 120Hz. I send pretty much every synth track in all of my projects gets to it in some way. I think it really helps glue all the sounds together to make them feel in unison.
What’s the best-value plugin you own?
Without a doubt, it is the whole Soundtoys collection. I use two Echoboys on separate return channels, as I love the versatility of the delays and they always sound vibey. Another favourite of mine from the bundle is Decapitator. I’ll always use it on my bass sounds to help bring out the low end. I find Decapitator also sounds great on soft synths, as it helps those more polished and clean sounds feel more analogue and rough.
What’s a DAW stock plugin you use all the time?
I use so many stock plugins in Ableton all the time. My two favourites are EQ Eight and Auto Pan. I use the EQ to help shape sounds before I use the FabFilter Pro-Q for more surgical cuts. In addition, I find automating the parameters in EQ Eight really simple. Whenever I’m looking to do a natural filter sweep on a sound, I’ll turn on the automation arm in Ableton, press record and then have some fun with it.
Auto Pan is excellent because it has more capabilities than just panning. If I’m looking to create stereo movement on an individual track, I’ll load up Auto Pan and adjust the parameters until it feels right. I find the sine wave (which is the default setting) is the smoothest for doing this. You can also create great tremolo and pumping effects if you sync the plugin to the tempo of your track.
What plugins go on your master bus without fail?
I have a custom master bus chain that I use on all of my tracks. The ones I love using are the VBC Rack from Slate Digital, the UAD Pultec Pro and Soothe2 by oeksound. The VBC rack does a very small amount of compression across the three compressors, but it always helps give tracks their extra sparkle.
The Pultec does some boosting on the lows, low mids and hi’s and i’ll usually adjust the amount of these boosts depending on how the track is sounding during the mix. Soothe is an incredible plugin, and on my master, it tames some of the harsh hi’s in my tracks.
When mixing, I usually sit down and get the levels sorted first, then I’ll load up the master bus chain and see what needs fixing. The Pultec in particular is super helpful for identifying this.
What plugin would Borders, and indeed the whole Borders single (including Desire and Forever) be incomplete without?
Re-pitched vocals are a big feature on all three of these tracks. What’s your technique for pitching vocals up or down?
I always love working with vocals. I try to use them as an instrument like I would a synth or guitar. I’ll load in a vocal from a previous session or sample pack, match the whole sample to the key of the track, and just have fun with it. The majority of the time I will manually go through the vocal and find small adlibs or licks, cut them out and copy them onto a new track. Once I’ve found around 10 chops I start to put them together to see what works melodically and rhythmically. It’s a bit like trying to fit pieces in a puzzle together.
How did you create that driving synth sound that arrives on the drop at 1:06 minutes in?
That sound is four separate layers and they come from my Moog Grandmother, Prophet 08 and Korg Minilogue. The two Moog sounds are saw waves, and one of the oscillators is pitched up seven semitones (a perfect fifth). One layer is a low octave, and the other is an octave higher. The other two layers are playing the fifth chords in the same octave as the low Moog, just to help the sound feel more powerful. When layering this many synths playing the same notes, I’ll make sure they’re all panned uniquely to help the overall sound feel super wide.
Do you have any secret sauce plugins?
Whenever I’m reaching out for a unique organic pad/drone, I go to LABS by Spitfire Audio. The best thing about it is it’s totally free. I actually used the Rhodes sounds in Labs as the main key tracks for Borders.
What do you use without fully understanding?
Diva by u-he is a plugin I have almost no idea how to work, but it sounds absolutely incredible. The default setting when you load it up is instantly useable and I have actually released a few tracks that have that patch on there. It sounds so warm and full! I’ve watched a few tutorials on how to use it, but always end up going into the presets as there’s such a great selection in there.
Listen to Borders by Joe Turner and Julkia Church on spotify.com.
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