I’VE DISCOVERED THAT DOING LIVE SOUND HAS THE VARIETY AND CREATIVE FREEDOM THAT I WANT. IT’S SCARY BUT I FEEL LIKE I’M SO THIRSTY TO KNOW MORE.
October 8, 2016
interview by Madeleine Campbell
illustration by Maggie Negrete
So you’re going to Knoebels today?
Yeah! I think it’s the oldest amusement park in the United States. I’m excited.
You’re driving to Pennsylvania from Brooklyn?
I’m actually in Philly today. I’ve been here since Friday. I’m going with a friend I haven’t seen in a long time since she’s been on tour. We play in the band Fleabite together.
I just heard Fleabite online recently.
It’s fun. We’re not as active as Aye Nako but we definitely have plans to record. We played a show at Silent Barn last month. Joe from Aye Nako plays, as well. Aye Nako is recording our next full length next month.
Nice! Where are you recording?
A studio called Room 17 in Bushwick. My friend Joe Rogers runs the place. I’ve known him for several years from being involved in the New York recording scene. I used to work at Sterling Sound and he would come in there from time to time. He’s currently recording with Rainer Maria who we actually got to play with last month.
Yeah! I saw your Facebook post about it. So they were a really significant band for you?
Yeah. They remind me of that time around 2000 and 2001. Joe recorded the last Perfect Pussy album too. He’s been running his space for about four years now so he’s still getting it’s name out there.
Where did you record the last two albums?
Unleash Yourself was recorded in Western Massachusetts. I’m not on that album. I joined the band right after it was recorded. As they were tracking, they overdubbed a lot of guitar parts and realized they liked the fuller sound so they asked me if I wanted to join in as second guitarist. I recorded and mixed our last album The Blackest Eye.
What was that process like?
I like to call it rogue recording. We recorded in several different places. Overdubs and vocals were done in my bedroom. We all work with Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls so we had access to their headquarters in a co-op preschool in Brooklyn. I’d go in there at night and record bass in the cafeteria. We were turned up pretty loud. In our practice space so everything would rattle. It didn’t sound good. The cafeteria was a good solution to that. It’s hard to find places you can just record in in New York.
Because of noise?
Yeah. I tried recording guitar in my apartment but it was too loud. My neighbors left a note on my door saying “You sound great but we can hear this throughout the entire building” so I had to stop.
What gear did you use to record that album?
I had an 8-channel PreSonus rack unit. My friend Phil from Sterling Sound kinda permanently loaned it to me. I was able to borrow some stuff from there. We didn’t record live. We started with drums and a scratch track. So that interface plus a few good mics took us a long way.
What mics do you like?
I’m really into these small diaphragm condensers. They’re made by a company called Octavas. They’re the biggest mic investment I’ve ever made. They were $800 so I guess it’s not that huge of an investment as far as mics go but for me it was. They can pick up an entire drum kit very very well.
So those were your overheads?
Yeah. So I just had kick, snare and overheads. I brought my Adam monitors along with me and set up shop.
Do you record in ProTools?
No. I recorded into Ableton Live which is kinda different because it’s used for live performance and electronic music more often than audio recording.
What made you choose Ableton?
I used it because I was in another band at the time that was kind of electronic so I got really used to arranging and programming in Ableton. I learned it really doesn’t matter what DAW you use. As far as tracking goes, I feel like you can use anything. It just depends on what you need and what works best for you. I had a great interface and great mics. I figured why not? I’ve worked in ProTools for a long time but took a break from it for a while. I think I’m ready to take the plunge back into it but I’m hesitant.
What are your reservations about ProTools?
I’ll get these daunting emails from Avid telling me to pay to upgrade because after this date it’s gonna be really expensive and I’m not going to be able to use it. The iLok and the format of the settings and all this stuff. Sometimes it seems like there are a lot of hurdles just to get going. Other programs are more intuitive. You can just open it up and go.
Did you study recording in school or are you self-taught?
I did study recording in school. I went to Middle Tennessee State University from 2004-2009. Since I’ve lived in New York City, which has been about six and a half years now, my career has kind of taken on its own form. One I didn’t predict it would be. A lot of things I’ve learned aren’t from school. It was cool and I’m glad I went and I have a good foundation of textbook knowledge but there is so much you can’t possibly learn in school. You have to learn as you go on the job. School can be really helpful but it’s definitely not the be all, end all. I guess my perspective has been really shaped by being involved in the New York DIY music scene and doing sound stuff for Willie Mae. I’ve done different types of workshops and different events. I run sound at Silent Barn. It’s been really helpful to network with people that way.
How did you end up in New York?
I moved to New York after school. After I graduated, I stayed in Nashville for another year and saved up some money to move. The south wasn’t diverse enough. The recording community in Nashville is full of older white men who have been doing it since the music scene originated. There’s a big country music scene and Christian music scene. It was a scene I didn’t feel connected to or reflected in. I had a really bad internship when I was still in school at a resort studio in Galatin, Tennessee. They have a fucking horse pasture there. One of my first jobs was the mow the horse pasture. I showed up dressed nicely on the first day and they asked me if I had used a lawn mower before. I lied and said I had. I learned a lot of landscaping that summer. Anyways, I thought I should give New York a shot. It ended up being the best decision I’ve ever made. I did Willie Mae and met Mindy Abovitz, the editor of Tom Tom Magazine.
Mindy’s such a badass.
Right? She knows so many incredible people. At the time she was working for East Village Radio. She asked if I wanted to help her run the Willie Mae sound workshop. She got me hooked up with some amazing people. She linked me up with Jessica Thompson who needed an intern at the Magic Shop a few days a week.
I’m talking with Jessica this week! She’s going to be in this issue, too!
Awesome. Jessica is great. The timing of that internship was amazing. It was good to be there but it wasn’t really the best for me. A lot of intern stuff and not so much getting to sit in on sessions but what did happen was I got to meet John Agnello who has recorded so many amazing bands.
Hell yeah. I love the last Hop Along record.
Yeah, that’s a great band. When I was interning, he was working with a band for a week and I’d go get him coffee and a copy of the Daily News. He took a liking to me. At the end of the album he asked me for my email address. He told me I should be running the place! His wife Sharon is the booking manager of Sterling Sound. I went there on an errand and was blown away. That place is amazing. I met [mastering engineer] Greg Calbi. It was such a great day. I was seen and validated by someone who is a pro in the world that I want to be in given everything. This wasn’t just another day where I got coffee and cleaned the bathrooms. I ended up leaving that internship and did some audio editing for video games. A few months later, Sharon Agnello emailed me and asked if I wanted to meet up to talk about an open position at Sterling. We had an interview at a wine bar. I got the job and soon was promoted to project manager and booking the mastering engineers there. On the side, I’d stay late and made friends with the technical engineers. I was asking them questions all the time about gear and tube amps and what not. They’d tell me “Why don’t you just bring your amp in and we can take a look at it together?” I learned how to fix the problems I was having. They have an amazing shop there. Eventually I asked them if I could listen to my own projects. I did some editing in there, too. Ultimately the business end, sitting at a desk emailing with major labels every day, wasn’t for me. There’s such a dark side of it. As an artist and creative person, it was draining. I felt like I couldn’t go on long tours. I was waking up to 50 emails at a time from Universal, going back and forth with these music industry sharks. Everyone there understood and supported me. They knew I wanted to engineer. Life really changed for me after I left Sterling.
I started running sound at Silent Barn. Through that I got my first FOH gig. Sadie from Speedy Ortiz messaged me asking if I’d come on their US tour with them. I figured out a lot as I went along. They were great to work with. This was only spring of last year! Pretty soon I started getting contacted by folks asking for a sound person. A new venue popped up in my neighborhood. It’s called C’mon Everybody. I run sound there, as well. It’s good to have a steady sound gig. Playing in a band is really important to me so I don’t always stay as busy as I wish I could. It seems to work out pretty well though.
That snowball effect is powerful.
Yeah. I’ve discovered that doing live sound has the variety and creative freedom that I want. It’s scary but I feel like I’m so thirsty to know more. Even when you’re touring with a band, you’re working with different people in different cities. The traveling aspect is important to me.
How do you practice self-care on tour?
Oh man. Good question. You have to take care of yourself. I learned this on a tour with Aye Nako and Joanna Gruesome. There are like eight of them and they’re awesome. They love to party! Everything adds up! Long drives and crappy food and alcohol. I had a great time but it kinda wrecked me. I realized after that tour that if I want to be doing this all the time I need to be doing something to physically and mentally balance myself out. I joined a hot yoga studio in January. That’s been really awesome. Especially when you have to be in a van for eight hours at a time. I know more about stretching and making sure my limbs aren’t gonna cramp out. Prioritizing alone time when I can is very important. When I’m home, I hang out with my dog Broccolini a lot. He’s a little chihuahua. That’s feels very restorative. I love to cook dinner by myself. It’s important to soak up that self-care time when I’m not on tour. We went on tour with Screaming Females and they’re a really good example of bands that take care of themselves on tour. They all have Planet Fitness memberships which you can use at any location in the country so sometimes before shows they’ll all go workout together.
What bands are you excited about lately?
Sadie DuPuis’s new solo album is coming out in November. I think I’m gonna go on tour with her and play guitar. The songs are stuck in my head every day. It’s a pop record. I feel like since I’ve been in Philly I have the band Empath on my mind. They’re kinda noisy grunge pop. I finally started listening to that band Flasher from DC. They’re really great, too. We should trade some links.
I’d love that.