Audeze catches up with Iceland's most streamed album creator Alisdair Wright

May 23, 2024

Alisdair Wright is an English musician and producer living in Iceland with his wife, singer-songwriter Hafdís Huld, their two children, and a flock of chickens. Together they proudly have the most streamed album in Icelandic history.

Alisdair Wright wearing Audeze LCD-MX4 headphones playing guitar
"My Audeze headphones have given me confidence in my production and mixing decisions, this is a huge benefit in the studio in terms of time saving and peace of mind, not only that but they make listening to music a joy..." - Alisdair Wright 
Here's our chat with Alisdair:
Can you pick out any highlights from your work that you're particularly proud of?

I would have to pick the title track from our latest album ‘Darkest Night’ as my first choice, the song is written about my wife’s great grandfather Axel Björnsson who formed the first union fighting for a fair wage for working class fishermen. The owners of the fishing companies wanted to stop him so they showed up in the middle of the night and removed him from his home. He was shoved into a sack and driven to Hvalfjörður, from there they took him out on a boat and threatened to drown him. They left him wet and cold hours away from home in the harsh Icelandic winter. Miraculously he made it back, but he was never the same after that night. The union he fought so hard for is still active today. I am proud of how well the production fits the story, we made a music video here

Next something different, a while ago I released a solo piano EP which was a first for me, it was inspired by the incredible Icelandic nature surrounding our home, I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and plan to release more.

The next track would have to be ‘Dvel ég í draumahöll’ from our Icelandic lullabies album ‘Vögguvísur', we made it for our unborn daughter in 2012 and I think people respond well to its intimate and honest production. Incredibly it has reached double platinum status and has been the number one album for 4 years in a row now.

How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on these days?

I work primarily with my wife, the talented Icelandic singer-songwriter Hafdís Huld. We craft our songs on acoustic guitar, Hafdís brings life to the lyrics and top line then I go off into the studio and use a mix of instruments such as guitar, ukulele, piano, percussion, synths and bass to create a soundscape around the story or vibe of the song. Then after fine tuning the arrangements together I move onto the mixing stage, this process often blends into one, I’ll be mixing while recording, editing before mastering, it’s a journey but we get there in the end.

How did you get started in music? What kind of music did you listen to while growing up and how has that progressed?

I had piano lessons when I was young but I really didn’t get on with the classical structure and struggled a lot with sight reading being dyslexic, my tutor soon realised I was playing by ear and pretending to read the notes. Then at 15 I found the guitar and became engrossed, I spent many hours teaching myself songs by Smashing Pumpkins and Joe Satriani. This led onto playing in bands and after a few years ending up in London where I attended LCCM music college, I studied piano, composition and studio production. When I was growing up I listened to a variety of music by Stevie Wonder, Queen, Metallica, Jimi Hendrix to name a few. These days I enjoy the crazy skills of Jacob Collier, Julian Lage, Snarky Puppy and artists like Aurora, Ane Brun and Lizzy McAlpine. I also love listening to sound tracks by Thomas Newman and Hans Zimmer.

Can you name any factors that influenced the course of your musical life? Heroes, role models, moments, interactions, etc?

Making the decision to enrol in music college at the age of 24 was a pivotal moment in my musical journey. While it's true you can learn almost anything from YouTube these days, I discovered the true value of collaboration and making genuine connections with fellow musicians. Whilst on tour, with Hafdís, her debut album ‘Dirt Paper Cup’, produced by Boo Hewerdine and Neil MacColl, introduced me to the art of fingerpicking and acoustic arrangements. Their expertise and skills has had a lasting impact on my work. Additionally, I had the privilege of working with the legendary audio engineer Phill Brown (check out his artist list), we continue to call upon his wisdom and guidance to this day.

Can you briefly describe a moment of frustration from your past work, and what you may have done to overcome the obstacles? Would you approach it differently now?

On one track for our latest album I struggled to achieve the acoustic guitar sound I had envisioned. It was crucial for the stripped down vocal and acoustic arrangement. Despite many attempts with different mics, positions and guitars I realised my initial take was best and I just wasn’t used to my new Atkin acoustic and how it translates in the mix. Often capturing the right take is more crucial than the perfect goal you envisioned. Sometimes you have to go full circle to find what you’re looking for.

Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favourite tools/instruments recently?

The two plugins I use on most tracks are the Pro-Q 3 and UA LA-2A Silver, I find this combo works on almost everything, besides percussion, then I look for another compressor. After that I can move onto colour, saturation and character with additional plugins, if I have to re-visit and fix something then there is probably something else wrong with the arrangement or mic position etc. In terms of tracking I recently purchased the Universal Audio LA-610 mkII for its LA-2A style compression and tube preamp, it really doesn’t disappoint, I have no doubt it will feature on every vocal and mono instrument from now on. In terms of recording acoustic guitar I use Neumann U87/TLM 103 and KM184 going through a Neve 1073 DPX, having recorded straight through my interface preamps for years I wish I had invested sooner, now I’m pushing air if that makes sense, the mixing process is much more enjoyable, I will never go back! In terms of instruments, I have always used Crafter acoustic guitars but lately I’ve been playing Atkin and Martin.

Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire toward a similar path for their own careers?

Trust your artistic instinct and keep going! It’s incredibly difficult to stand out in this overcrowded industry, take risks and learn from them moving forward.

How long have you been working with headphones, and how do you typically use them in your workflow?

I have a few pairs of headphones, your typical studio sets, I’ve always used them in conjunction with speakers, they go hand in hand I think, it’s the best way to quickly reference your creations in a different colour when fine tuning or testing translation, our ears adjust so quickly it can feel seamless to switch between. On our recent album (Autumn 2023) during the mixing process, a friend in the mixing industry here in Iceland (Addi 800) lent me a pair of LCD-MX4s and this was my first experience with Audeze. Every detail was so clear, I was able to make fine-tuned decisions with confidence and my mixes then translated exactly how I had hoped. For me it was like finding the missing link to create that final polished mix I was searching for.

How have your Audeze headphones affected your work? Can you tell us what you've been working on with them recently?

My Audeze headphones have given me confidence in my production and mixing decisions, this is a huge benefit in the studio in terms of time saving and peace of mind, not only that but they make listening to music a joy, I can hear things in songs I’ve never noticed before, this new level of clarity really is a game changer (not the clickbait kind). Our latest album is Darkest Night. The mix was done using the MX4s. 

Audeze LCD-MX4 headphones on mixing table