1) How did you get started producing records?
I observed a friend and bandmate of mine use a 4-track quarter-inch reel to reel to create amazing mind-boggling and ear pleasing music, and I thought I had better learn how to do that in order to record my own songs and sounds which were really starting to develop when I was about 19. I had some honest-to-god sonic revelations from using my Arp Odyssey synthesizer
in combination with echoplex, phase shifter, fuzz-boxes, guitars and vocals that led me to basically recording my own ever and increasingly weirder ideas about music. Visitors to my apartment is Seattle would generally have meetings, conversations and entertainment together, whilst I was parked on the living room floor surrounded by wires and boxes and keyboards chanting esoteric “poetry” into synth-echoed microphones that were distorting and feeding back through the headphones. I always imagined that my music was taking place in outer space. I think I recorded my own music in this fashion almost every day for a couple of decades.
2) Can you tell me about the major differences that you have experienced in recording each of the albums for ‘The Strokes’, most notably the limitations imposed by the first record, as opposed to the greater flexibility you may have experienced on the following two?
I didn’t really have any limitations on any of the records I have made. Unless of course you count limited imagination, experience and ability! The job is to try and create a fabulous listening experience with the musicians and songs that are presented, and make damn sure that the people creating the music, and myself are very happy with the results.
I had 8 inputs on the first EP (The Modern Age) and at the time I had no notion whatsoever that it was any kind of limitation.
In my Chateau Relaxo studio, previous to Transporterraum NYC I had the experience of recording one of the most astounding slamming drumtracks with one Neumann condenser mic, a Neve pre-amp and a Manley Opto-Compressor. Now my view of having worked on The Strokes records was that there were really no limitations, but that may not be their view at all. I had dealt with Julian enough to know that his ears and imagination could (in those days) have found a way to do just about everything “better” in one way or another. Perhaps he would have liked more time to be in the studio, or figured out “better” balances between the instruments, “better” ways to deliver the vocals, etc. But for me, I love the sound of the first three records we made together, and for the concept and overall impact I believed we were looking for, I am very, very pleased with the results. In my early days as a composer and musician, well- till I was about 21- I also was plagued with the notion that compared to Bartok Symphonies and Bach organ music, my playing and writing had a long way to go. But after recording about 20 of my own songs, I realized that I had a unique view on things, and my music could reflect that in a way that was exactly perfect for what feelings and experiences I wanted to communicate.
So, in terms of differences in the three records I produced, and then the 3rd album that David produced;
The EP was actually intended as a demo by a young talented band trying to at least get a few of their ideas and values recorded in a way that wasn’t completely a depressing experience. They, apparently had worked with a few seasoned music producers who tried to enforce a “right way” of doing things, and a more “corporate” environment as far as New York studios can go. I wanted the band to be free to give their own input, and try and have some fun whilst we were initially getting to know each other. However, it must be said that at one point I tried to use my “expertise and experience” as a way to not try one of Julian’s ideas, and when I did back down and try his approach on a mixing level of one track, he was absolutely right- and I wasn’t jaded enough to deny that! So I learned a great lesson about taking many suggestions and ideas from the bands, and believe me it has been very helpful and useful along the way.
Is This It had 16 inputs available (we used 11!). The psychological environment was unbelievably amazing (in my view), as we felt that the whole world was waiting for us to record these songs in excited anticipation. I my basement studio we had RCA, Rough Trade and NME coming by to listen to our progress, and for me that was a first time for the exposure I had always been seeking. The combined excitement, again- in my view, was helping to create sounds and performances and musical tones and overtones that were literally bouncing off the walls. When I hear the tracking of Take It Or Leave It, for example– it was a really hardcore listening experience for me, and by the time Albert’s guitar solo happened on that, the way the sounds blended together naturally, was one of my peak musical times so far. New York City Cops was the same kind of thing, and both songs were really hardly mixed at all from the way it went down live as they played it.
Room On Fire was different on many levels. The band had been touring for 2 years or so, solidly– and it had some sort of strange mental/emotional effect on the guys, which I cant pin down, because we really didn’t discuss it, I just felt something.
It also had the effect of honing their skills into very high levels. Fab’s drumming was huge and strong and very moving, Nick’s guitar playing went through the roof, and some of the solo’s on that record are freaky-cool, indeed. The biggest factors of difference were 1) They wanted to try and create enough difference in the sound of the record that people would think it was an evolution. 2) They knew the world already loved them to an extent, and wanted to give their audience an even better record than the first one, with perhaps some apprehension about how and if that could be done! 3) We were in a huge studio (I had been evicted from my studio during Is This It for noise complaints and “politeness issues”!) with an SSL Board, and not 3 days (The Modern Age EP), not 7 weeks (Is This It) but 3 months to work in. I believe that Julian had some idea that he wanted the mixes to try and balance every instrument and sound with each other one in an equal and noticeable way, as if to say that no one sound of player was any less valuable than anything else. It was very long and hard to mix that, and it was an area that I, personally received a large amount of criticism for. I have to say, when you watch the video for Reptillia, and see how they played all those parts, and how amazingly that was photographed, you can understand alot of what went into that record. One more thing worth mentioning. I believe the mood of the songs on Room On Fire, due to whatever personal reasons that inspired the songs– touring? relationships? observing the world? was much darker and heavier than on the first ones. Some of the “PARTY” was more in the background, and the heavy concerns were more featured.
First Impressions of Earth was really not a sound determined in any way by me. It reflects a real desire from the band at that time to move into a bigger-clearer production sense. You can hear it on the drums, bass- everywhere in fact. I think they wanted to break through to more people, escape the sonic trademarks of their earlier efforts and explore new ground.
I have nothing but respect and admiration for David Khane’s musical and production abilities, they just are very very much different than my own. Perhaps some words that indicate those differences would be fun and immediacy, vs accuracy and marketability?