When Little River Band was topping the world's charts, David Briggs was their lead guitarist and wrote some of their huge hits. His brilliantly executed lines and solos were integral to their unique sound. Since those glory days he's been a much indemand recording and mastering engineer at his Production Workshop in Melbourne. We had a great chat; so many stories so little space!
I vividly remember your interview in Guitar Player back in 1979! It was the first time an Australian had featured - quite an achievement.
LRB was really the culmination of all my goals as a player, and reaching those heights where we played in front of fifty or a hundred thousand people in baseball arenas was absolutely mind blowing. The Guitar Player interview was very satisfying.
I'm not aware of any high profile bands that you've been in since. Were you fed up with the touring, wanted to give up rock 'n' roll?
I was really interested in going to the 'other side of the glass,' doing some recording. Whilst I was in LRB, I produced other people. I discovered and produced Australian Crawl, The Boys Light Up album. I produced albums for Russell Morris and started a record label. I was interested in the whole concept of record production. My time had come to do other things, put it that way. LRB was very intense and funnily enough I get on better with the guys now than I did back then! You don't have to wake up and look at them on the tour bus anymore.
From those highs it must have been difficult to play pubs and low key places?
I did have a band with Frankie J Holden, Freddie Strauks from Skyhooks and Tony Naylor from the Bootleg Family Band. A whole range of people went through that and it was fun.
You're still a keen musician but what sort of things do you enjoy playing now?
I practice on my very old Gibson mandocello intensely, currently Bach's 'Suite For The Cello', as well as lots of dobro and mandolin. I'm very interested in bluegrass and I still play guitar, but for my own enjoyment.
Your studio in Melbourne is now a long established, but there must be some recordings that really stand out?
Recently I've mixed a live DVD for Darryl Braithwaite and I'm really proud of the mixes of those. There's a box set of Skyhooks albums that I totally re-mastered from analogue tape and then there's a T.I.S.M box set. The studio has been a creative blackboard for me. After LRB, I wrote songs with Greg Macainsh for Renee Geyer, John Paul Young and others and along the way learned all about recording and mastering. One of the most recent records I'm really proud of is a band called King Of The North, a two-piece band similar to The White Stripes, a real rock record, The studio has been a way for me to remain involved in the music industry.
As the engineer, is it sometimes hard to not suggest performance ideas from your vast experience?
I've learned that there are lots of ways to do things! People have come in and I've thought this will never work, I've said nothing, but by the end of the day it's worked and I've learned something! I like the creative process, the technology, good musicianship. I like pop through to all kinds of diverse music, but most of all I like good performances.
You've studied the recording craft, but how much of the skill is acquired 'hands on'?
I went to Surrey University in the UK after I left LRB and did music engineering, and though I'd already been recording, it was a real eyeopener, talking to people who had made records I'd idolised. But at the end of the day, learning from your own mistakes is the way.
How about explaining the mystery of mastering to the general public?
Mastering is the final stage in production and with today's technology, even though it's possible to make recordings in your own home, it's good to have a mastering engineer's overview and feedback about how your product sits in the marketplace, given its music genre. You need a solid understanding of a wide variety of genres and how they sound sonically, how they meter and use comparative music to steer them.
I do love that George Martin story when you were recording LRB tracks with him and you asked, "Where will we mix this George?"
He said, "We're not going to mix this record anywhere, I'm going to mix this record!". Certainly put me in my place!