Talking 500-Series with Matt Johnson of Jeff Buckley & St. Vincent

Matt Johnson is a fairly quiet guy, but exudes tremendous energy. He’s humble beyond belief, yet over the years has been the studio and touring drummer for artists like Jeff Buckley (yes, that’s him on Grace), St. Vincent, Rufus Wainwright, Elysian Fields, Duncan Sheik, and Angus & Julia Stone.


When a Sweetwater Sales Engineer told us that Matt had recently purchased quite a number of our 500-series modules, we got in touch and sat down with him over some Thai food in Brooklyn, NY to find out how he was using them.

On the 542 Tape Emulators

“These 542s are actually changing the way I am able to perform in the studio as a drummer. The way they can handle transients means I can slap the rims on the toms or snare a bit more, letting the emotion sort of take over when I want, and allowing me to use my compressors for other aspects of the sound. Performance choices that sounded less good in digital recording without tape are sounding great with tape, just as they did back in the days of the Studer. Also, the warmth and growl of the instrument as a whole with tape saturation and silk gradually changes the whole aesthetic and process as things are being performed – a sort of positive psychological feedback loop via monitoring. It’s enabling a real change in process and approach for me, with results that I love as well.”

On the 511 Mic Preamp

“The 511′s stepped gain, plus sweepable trim is so convenient for obvious reasons of speedy engineering and production choices in the moment without forgetting where the gain was set previously. Easy when the drummer is also the producer and the engineer at the same time. The high-pass filter works well for room noise too.”

“As a vocalist, I find myself going to the 511. It responds well to my voice, and has flexibility in all the ways that I need. It’s an intuitive thing, and similar to a favorite knife in the kitchen, or pair of shoes.”

On the 517 Mic Pre/DI/Compressor

“The 517′s, what can I say? These are total gold for drums. The ability to blend two signal inputs into one output is total gold for drummers wishing to, or limited to using a two channel A/D converter. Gain up mic #1 through a 511, then output it to the instrument jack on the 517. Then plug mic #2 into the back of the 517. Voila, two mics into one signal, all sculpted in the moment. Do this again, and you have [stereo] drums, but with four mics. As long as you solve the various riddles related to mic placement/phasing, you can create incredible and totally unique drum sounds that show your mix person exactly what you have in mind for the final result, minus the guess work. The idiot-proof, single bundled compressor knob is like a tension rod on the drum, turn it until it feels right. Vari-phase knob between blended signals is a savior in times of need. I love this pre.”


“Basically, the options to affect the signal across multiple stages with gain, silk red or blue, tape saturation, and compression are proving essential – i.e. part of my gear as a performer, writer, and producer. I bring my lunchboxes pretty much anywhere I will be recording. It gets used at least in some way regardless of the gear that’s in a studio. These boxes are a part of my drumset, as well as my own studio.”

“As a musician/drummer first, engineer/producer second, a basic understanding of how to use these tools is tantamount to basic literacy within this art form as a whole. As I have gained in ability to apply these tools, I have been able to “liberate” the frustrated musician inside. This is a life changing thing. So, I really cant believe how affordable, well-made, and well-conceived Rupert Neve’s products are. Though the music industry may seem total shit at times, from this perspective we are in a golden age.”

Matt Johnson is currently on a world tour with St. Vincent.