Andrew Scheps: ‘I watched Adele turn heartbreak into fame’

Adele almost breaks character during hilarious SNL sketch

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Iconic anthems such as Rolling In The Deep, Someone Like You, Set Fire To The Rain and Rumour Has It, were created out of the Brit School graduate’s break-up. Offering insight into heartbreak, reflections on relationship missteps, anxiety and self-forgiveness, the lyrics as much as the memorable tunes resonated with millions. But it was not all plain sailing to create the magic that won her seven Grammys and one best album Brit. She insisted on picking music from demo sessions, and incredibly her pitch and power and passion were so perfect that most of the vocals on 21 remained untouched on the final release.

With sessions in LA and London, Adele battled with the desire to stay “private” while “sharing with millions and millions” her most intimate thoughts on her break-up.

One of the album’s top engineers, Andrew Scheps, today reflects on how 21’s tunes went beyond heartbreak anthems, and were a “real woman talking about a real break-up in a real way”.

Multi-Grammy winning Scheps reveals Adele took charge of much of the process despite working with top creatives like Paul Epworth, Dan Wilson and Rick Rubin. Scheps says that audiences fell in love with the star, who has the rare ability to convince listeners of her true and heartbroken emotions.

After laughing and joking her way through radio and TV promotions, fans then heard Adele bare her soul in the 11-track album.

Scheps, who won a Grammy for his work on the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Stadium Arcadium album, says: “There is something transcendent about certain artists.

“Her appeal is being one of us. Everybody loves her like a friend, while not being someone to idolize.

“When she sings, you believe it. Everybody has a personal connection to her. It’s not just liking the songs, they love her singing the songs and feel they know Adele.

“She connects with normal people because she is normal, not some rarified superstar that lives a life you cannot possibly imagine.”

At the time of the album Adele revealed: “I was bitter as **** and so sad about my relationship, that’s what 21 is about. Obviously it was intensified because the record exploded, and it was a constant reminder of him that I couldn’t avoid. I missed him because I didn’t like feeling lonely and so I just kept going over and over the ****-ups and resenting him and regretting our time together.”

It was Adele’s authenticity that struck Scheps, the Long Island-born record producer who spoke to us from his Worcestershire home.

“Anyone can write songs about break-ups, and millions of people have – it is practically 90 percent of the music that is out there,” he says. But she is eminently believable. I don’t feel like she is just singing some lyrics – you feel she believes every word she sings.

“The emotion of the words is in the vocal performance.

“There are lots of people who are technically great singers, with exquisite phrasing and perfect pitch, but you don’t believe them when you hear it. But you believe every word Adele sings. She says it’s a personal record, but she could have got away with it if it wasn’t, because it sounds like a personal record.

“For most successful artists, an audience connects with someone they believe, because they connect with a conversation rather than being yelled at.”

Scheps’s role was to mix the first run of vocals with musicians’ instrumentals before sending them on to final production. But unusually he knew from the first note that Adele’s vocals barely needed touching. “The testament to what was recorded by Greg Fidelman, who did an amazing job, was that normally when you mix there is lot of processing, EQ, adding effects and compressions.

“The mixes on that album had almost zero processing on them.

“I just wanted to get out of the way. People needed to hear these raw recordings – that is what comes through. They are mixed, but there is so much less audio sculpting on that music. It was all about getting that performance to come flying out of the speakers, which was not difficult.

“Those vocals are amazing and stand the test of time, because people are still buying that record.”

Scheps’s reputation in world music has been to make magic from studio sessions with musicians and singers, but with perfect Adele it was a case of “less is more”.

“I immediately try to figure out how I want to feel when I listen to the song – that is what I’m chasing through the song and mix process.

“On some mixes it takes a huge amount of work to realise the potential of what’s there. But with Adele it was absolutely baked in. I put up those faders and it was 
a case of letting her shine over the top.”

Mother-of-one Adele, now divorced from Simon Konecki, had already raised expectations with her hit album 19 in 2008.

But she accepts 21 “will define my life forever, because of the success”.

She said: “Of course I’m bowled over by people’s response to 21, and when I meet artists I love, it blows my mind. But it baffles me as well.

“I go home and my best friend laughs at me, rather than going to a celebrity-studded party to rub shoulders with people who know me but who I don’t know.

“When it comes to staying myself – my career isn’t my life, it doesn’t come home with me. So it’s a piece of **** staying grounded and not being changed by it.”

Scheps feels that Adele played down her role in delivering the final sound of 21, despite being just her second album. He reveals she refused to simply hand over the tracks, insisting on having a voice and vote on each track’s final cut.

He says: “I know she works incredibly hard. She did a lot of songs with Paul Epworth, Frazer T Smith and Dan Wilson and others.

“When she had a collection of songs produced, she actually wanted to use original writing demos of some of the music. Those versions were extraordinary but technically they were writing demos.

“Her vision as an artist was to never be swayed by anything and only put out what she wants. It takes a lot to say I want to go back to the original version.

“Special artists know what’s right. Sometime it’s a matter of confidence, sometimes it’s just a matter of the way they feel.

“It’s more of a view that it is not right until it’s right.”

Adele’s determination paid off in spring 2011 when 21 topped the charts, not only in the US but worldwide, with her singles too selling millions. Sales have not stopped since. Scheps revealed his favourite tune on 21 is her cover of the Cure’s Love Song.

He says: “It is so understated. She makes those words work so well. Obviously the power in the other tracks is amazing, but that it such a personal and intimate version of that song.”

The Tottenham-born star, waiting to release her fourth album once the pandemic has passed, also admits that the cover of Robert Smith’s 80s hit was special, because it was a tribute to her mum’s fondness for the goth band.

She said: “My mum loves that I covered a Cure song. Their records were a huge part of my early life. They are the soundtracks to some of my first and fondest memories. They’re a bigger part of my life now than they were then because I reference them in my writing and I’m aware I’m inspired by them.

“My family are obviously a huge part of where I am now, but my music and certainly my career are very separate from my home life. I don’t and never have involved them in it, but they’ve never gotten in the way of it either.”

Even after the hit success Adele described herself as a “Z lister”. Scheps laughs that her humour has been a key factor in her success too.

He says: “There is this little piece of not taking yourself too seriously.

“Adele is like that. You can say serious things over the top, but you do not lose your sense of humour.

“It is very odd that an island this size produces so many globally successful acts – out of all proportion.”

In February 2011 Scheps joined Adele on stage as 21 picked up Best Album Of the Year at the 54th Annual Grammys. Other honours that night included Best Song, Music Video and Record for Rolling In The Deep and Pop Solo Performance for Someone Like You.

Scheps has just finished work on Marti Pellow’s new album Stargazer.

He says: “It is an incredibly honest record, which he is doing with a band. He is doing stuff we have not heard before. It is less traditional pop, tougher, like 70s-style Bowie.”

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