Rich Brotherton – Ace of Austin
ND: What’s the difference between your approaches to playing live and in the studio?
RB: The road is a lot more forgiving, unless someone is taping the show; then I just start cringing. The studio requires a lot more; everything’s got to be right because it’s all under the microscope. I end up doing a lot more whittling down when I am in the studio. I’ll play something and listening too it on playback and think “I need to take out this, this, and this.” A lot more of that takes place in the studio, trying to play the right notes instead of the most notes. I aim for that live, but sometimes you end up just blazing away to try and build space. Sometimes you want to. It’s really just a matter of listening all the time.
ND: How did you make the transition from folkie, Celtic musician to what you are doing now with Robert?
RB: The astounding thing to me at this point is that I have hammered out a career for myself playing essentially the same thing I have been playing all my life. Robert pulled out “Billy Grey” to record [on Walking Distance]. I’m like, “You know ‘Billy Grey’?” “Yeah man, it’s a great song, let’s sing it.” I’ve known ‘Billy Grey’ since I was in high school; it’s a really great Norman Blake song off of his badass Old & New record. He pulled out “My Home Ain’t In The Hall Of Fame”, that Jonathan Edwards did.
So it’s like we know all the same stuff, we listened to all the same records, with some exceptions. He had a more hardcore country upbringing and I had a more folk into rock, but if you draw it out with a diagram of circles, there was a huge intersect where his music world overlapped my music world, and that’s kind of where I am still making my living today. It’s very encouraging and a great relief.
ND: How did you get into producing?
RB: With Ed Miller. I moved to Austin and I met some guys who were math professors and bachelors, and Celtic music freaks. They had professor money and really nothing to do with it, so they would buy stuff. At one point, they bought some recording gear. And they said, “We need to make a record.” Ed was living around Austin singing great stuff and had never made a record. He was painting houses.
So we tried to do some recording with him one time and it didn’t really work out. Those guys moved on to something else, but then Ed later on thought that making a record would be a good thing and he called me up. I had done a little bit of recording since then; I could figure it out. So I just arrogantly, blindly said, “Yes, I can produce your record.” So I made a record with him I just kind of fell into it sort of by accident.
ND: You have your own studio now?
RB: It is called Ace Recording. It’s not a big place; it’s a room I added on to the back of my house. It’s a good space. It’s a nice big all-in-one sort of room. There’s a smaller isolation room where you can go off and sing vocals. I have a Pro Tools Mix Plus system. I’ve been collecting mikes off of eBay like everyone else. I’ve got a Neumann U87, and a couple of KM184s, and a bunch of alphabet soup.
ND: Who all have you had in your studio so far?
RB: We did Caroline Herring’s record here. I just finished a[nother] record with Ed Miller. I did a record by an Irish band called the Tea Merchants who just won the Best World Music Band at the Austin Music Awards. Recently I’ve been working with a guy named Stephen Clair from New York City. He’s an incredible singer-songwriter who I met when he opened some shows for Robert.
ND: When you are producing, how do you approach the way you work with a Caroline Herring versus the way you work with Robert? What do you bring different to each project?
ND: To a large degree it was just a level of experience. Caroline had made one record up to that point. Robert, when I started producing his records, had made ten. So he already had a really good idea of what the process was and how it worked and what he wanted to do. My job was to kind of facilitate things and keep the ball rolling and to just sort of be the kind of arbiter.
With Caroline…it was a lot more of directing the whole of the thing, showing her to some degree how to do this, how we could do that. But now, with this newest record, Caroline has her sea legs underneath her and has much more of an idea of what she wants and how she wants it to sound. So the new one was much more of a collaborative process.