iZotope and the Dynamic, Demonic Derek Smalls (ex-Spinal Tap)

Derek Smalls

Every Friday, we’re sharing a newly released song or album from one of our favorite artists and talking with them about how they used an iZotope product on it.

This week we spoke to legendary Spinal Tap bassist Derek Smalls, and his producer CJ Vanston about Smalls’ debut solo album, Smalls Change. Smalls was enthusiastic (though slightly mystified) by Nectar: “I don’t know what Nectar is, or whether actual bees are used in its manufacture. I only know it makes this old voice sound like new. New voice, not new bees.”

Due to iZotope’s strict NDA guidelines, we can’t go into detail on the in-house apiary. Thankfully, Vanston expanded on how iZotope’s products served the album’s production, and provided some insight on their unique creative process.

“After recently finishing former Spinal Tap bassist Derek Smalls’ solo album, ‘Smalls Change,’ Dave Godowsky of iZotope reached out to ask if Derek and I, CJ Vanston, the producer and mixer of the album, had used any iZotope plug-ins on the album.

“Well Dave, in fact we did. And Derek was happy we did. You’ll especially hear VocalSynth on the song ‘Hell Toupee,’ where Derek wanted to sound even more devilish than usual. We warped his intimate portrayal of the great evil one using the Compuvox and Vocorder modules.

Nectar 2 was used extensively on Derek’s vocals also, on almost every song. Derek likes the way it brings out his lyrics that he works so hard on. Derek has a huge dynamic range and some deep pipes. I especially love the compressor and its four modes. Unfortunately, after I explained this process, Derek kept asking for more ‘demonic range.’

“We also used Trash on a few tracks where Derek wanted to hearken back to his beloved Acoustic 270 bass amplifier with a broken 271 horn cabinet. Derek never knew that one of the 15" drivers was blown, and the distortion became part of his sound. Sadly the amp and speakers were lost when his river barge studio caught fire and sank on the Thames in ’77. So when I dialed up some Trash, he immediately demanded we use it on his bass for the songs ‘It Don’t Get Old’ and ‘Gummin’ The Gash.’

“In general, the Spectral Shaper and the Tonal Balance modules of Ozone were used to tame the shrill guitars that Derek grew allergic to after being exposed to the excessively ratty tones of his short-lived Near-Death Metal band, Chainsaw Vermin.

“Ozone in general was used on the stereo bus as the final gatekeeper before the songs from ‘Smalls Change’ were unleashed to the world.

“Personally speaking, the entire iZotope line is a go-to Swiss Army knife of audio solutions that keep me happy and keep my artist off my back so he can focus on what he does best. Don’t know what that is yet.”

—CJ Vanston, Producer