Dating a drummer turned out to be a life-changing event for 15-year-old Paula Jones, who loved listening to records non-stop in her room.
“While we were out seeing a band one afternoon I noticed a guy at the back of the room checking a bunch of gear,” Paula says. “I asked what he was up to and someone said ‘he’s mixing the sound’. After they explained what that meant, I said ‘that’s what I’m going to do’. Everyone laughed, but I instinctively knew mixing sound was for me.”
Every weekend Paula would bug the sound guy to show her how to mix and many hours were spent reading engineering magazines.
“I met some fabulous people at the Seaview who I’m still friends with today,” Paula says. “One guy called Sneaky Pete and I hit it off and we’ve been friends ever since. We’ve worked together with various artists including Jimmy Barnes, and he’s now the Production Manager on Elton John’s final tour. So you never know what friends and future colleagues you might find starting off in Townsville!”
After moving to Sydney in 1983, Paula started live mixing and met a monitor engineer who had a friend who owned a studio – Rhinoceros Recordings. Blown away by the gear in the studio, Paula knew she had to work there, so she started going up late at night to clean and help out for free.
“They couldn’t get rid of me, plus I made a mean cup of tea, so they eventually gave me a job,” Paula laughs. “I loved records and was a huge fan of many of the artists who’d worked there, so I couldn’t believe my luck. David Nicolas, who was the friend of my friend, is one of the great Australian record producers and we’re still close friends.”
Scoring a gig as assistant engineer on INXS’ Kick record was a career-high for Paula, whose first time overseas was to London with Michael Hutchence to mix Kick.
“I never wore shoes in the studio. I just ran about in my socks (still do). One of my tasks was to take the multitrack tapes off the machines at the end of the day and put them away. I did all the labelling before I locked up the studio too,” Paula recalls. “One night I couldn’t find my shoes anywhere. I must’ve looked for over an hour. I finally gave up and went to take the tapes off. I got the box and checked the label – Devil Inside Take 27 and 28. But underneath, in very neat writing, was Paula’s Shoes, Take 2 and there were my shoes. Timmy bloody Farriss! We were in there a long time, so we all went a bit nutty.”
In London, Paula was also lucky enough to work with Elton John and Chris Thomas, who was the producer on Kick. “He was a great mentor who started off at Abbey Road with George Martin working with the Beatles,” Paula says. “We did the three songs Elton sang on the Lion King soundtrack. Can You Feel The Love Tonight went on the win the Academy Award for Best Song and I’d moved to LA by then, so it was quite the moment.”
Living in Hollywood for many years, Paula worked with an impressive line-up of artists including Stevie Nicks, k.d. lang and three out of five of the solo Spice Girls. It was only when she and her American husband Ringo decided their then 10-year-old daughter Phoebe might be safer growing up in Australia that the trio moved to Sydney.
“They both love it here, and Ringo and I have bought a 12.5-metre motorcoach and turned it into a mobile control room for streaming and recording live shows and festivals,” Paula says. “We’ve started our own streaming platform (blindchihuahua.com) where we can stream the shows for artists with amazing sound quality.
“Ringo and Phoebe are still agog at everything but are fast becoming hardcore Aussies,” Paula says.
“And I appreciate Australia so much more after living overseas for so long. It’s great to be back!”