Raphael Saadiq’s tour in January and February 2020 featured a pared-down band who regaled audiences with songs from every facet of the artist/producer’s catalog, from the synthy ’80s/’90s R&B of Tony! Toni! Toné! to the classic soul of solo albums The Way I See It and Stone Rollin’ to Saadiq’s heart-wrenching new jazz-influenced album Jimmy Lee, and more. The versatile talents of Saadiq, keyboardist Ernest Turner, bass player Quantae “Q” Johnson, and drummer Chaun Horton were essential to cover all that sonic ground, weaving seamlessly between genres and decades.
Saadiq’s Grammy-winning front-of-house engineer since 2000, Kenyatta “Kelo” Saunders (The Roots, D’angelo, Jay-Z, Solange), also played a critical role in bringing Saadiq’s diverse studio sounds to a live crowd. From behind an Avid VENUE S6L console, Kelo utilized an arsenal of Waves and UAD plug-ins to expand and enhance the vintage sounds coming from the stage. Here he talks about some of his go-to plug-ins and what makes this Raphael Saadiq tour special:
“This tour is a little different because Raphael wanted to have a smaller band to give the fans a different sound,” Saunders says. “People are used to this crazy-big band that Raphael usually brings out, complete with horns, and it’s amazing, but in true Raphael form, he switched things up and did something unexpected; this time it’s just four people on the stage. It’s harder to do big things with fewer people and be very impactful, but Raphael with this particular tour is nailing it. There are elements of his whole career, including a jazz element that wasn’t there before.
“I use both Waves and UAD plug-ins for that old-school retro feel without carrying my vintage outboard gear, and it’s been working out great. Of course, a lot of that spirit comes from the musicians, the equipment they’re using onstage, and the microphones capturing it all. After working with Raphael for a while, I’m definitely dialed in to some of the pieces he uses in his studio, Blakeslee, whether it’s a Lexicon 480L reverb or the EMT plates he used on The Way I See It. Computing has grown so powerful that we can now approximate almost every nuance.
“Raphael’s vocal mic is the sE V7 MC1 with Shure Axient. It allows me to get a super-focused vocal while rejecting unwanted stage noise. I have a Manley Voxbox and Waves F6 inserted on his vocal group. Effect plug-in wise, I use the AMS RMX16 reverb (expanded), Lexicon 480L, and Capitol Chambers from UAD—the plug-ins that emulate the echo chambers under Capitol Studios. I also use AKG BX 20 Spring Reverb. That’s a lost reverb that a lot of live engineers don’t use, but I use it especially on drums, which was a tactic they used back in the day. I also love the Waves Abbey Road Collection, Abbey Road Plates, Chambers, Reel ADT, and the Abbey Road TG12345, the EMI console strip that was reproduced by Waves, plus the J37 tape saturator that just adds grit to the mix. All of that puts you in the nostalgic mood.
“Overall, I put Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain on my master bus, which is pretty unorthodox. It changes the character of what’s coming out of the P.A. and allows me to spread the sound a lot wider, which gives me more room to place things. Raphael has this amazing ability to put special musicians together, and I think with this combination of musicians and the plug-ins I’m using, I can open things up and make everything even more impactful, giving you the big Raphael sound you’re used to, but with a totally different presentation.”