For a young man with just a few years experience in the music business, Steve Lillywhite has an astounding track record. This fresh-faced, friendly and modest producer has gained the respect and recognition of the very best in the field. With over 20 albums under his belt work now chases him, rather than the other way round, and he has the privilege of selecting the bands he would like to produce. But this is no overnight success story - it's the result of a hard slog which began when he left school at 17. Steve, now 28, recalled: "I'd played bass in the school band and I knew I wanted to make music my career. I was quite prepared to try making it as a musician, but I was lucky enough to get a job in a recording studio."
It took five years working as a tape operator and general dogsbody before Steve even got a chance to engineer. Eventually he was allowed to use the studio for his own projects if there was any spare time going. He had made friends with a young band called Ultravox, so he helped them make some demo tapes to take round to record companies. Before long they were signed up by Island, and so was Steve.
During his time there he produced acts like Steel Pulse, Eddie and the Hot Rods and, of course, Ultravox. But he found being tied to one record company and one set of bands restricting and negotiated a freelance contract, which allowed him to work with non-Island bands like Siouxie and the Banshees, XTC and The Members. Since then he has not looked back. Now a completely free agent, he is best known for his work with U2 and Joan Armatrading, and hopefully will soon receive the acclaim he deserves for his production of Big Country.
Steve takes his work extremely seriously, although it's not always obvious to watch him. He laughs and jokes and drinks with the lads, but at the same time he's not frightened of voicing his own opinions, or making unpopular desicions. He explained: "I'm not a dictator and I like quite a loose atmosphere in the studio. If people are enjoying themselves they are going to perform better. I have to make sure I'm able to get on with a band before I work with them, because I want to make a good job of it. My job is to bring out what is inside them, and when I first meet a band I'll go through each member individually and work out their weak points. It may not be anything to do with the music - one person might be nervous and unsure of themselves, and another may have a lot of good ideas but find it hard to express them. in that way I'm a bit like a psychiatrist because I have to decide how best to treat the individual."
When he was first approached to produce Big Country Steve admits he was dubious about the strength of Stuart's voice, but he's now convinced he's a good front man. Steve said: "I did like the experience of the rhythm section. A lot of Tony and Mark's expertise is lost at a gig, so I was keen to work with them. And I'm very much into guitars at the moment. I reckon a lot of bands have overdosed on synthesisers. Big Country prove that guitars can be modern and vital to the music scene." He first worked on the 'Fields of Fire' single and built up a good relationship with the band. Steve added: "The single went well so I suggested we go in and make a killer of an album together." Now 'The Crossing' is complete, Steve probably won't listen to it for months. "I do tend to get paranoid after finishing an album - I can't listen to it without picking holes," he admitted.