Where No One Knows My Name
Q. Can you talk about the role of recording engineers when you are recording an album? Do they end up having a large role to play in the final sound? I think that also I am trying to get to something about recognizing that no artist, even ‘solo’ artists, create or exist or perform in a void…
A. This is true. I’ve done a few interviews lately and one of the questions that resurfaces is the concept of how this new recording project was different with an outside producer. The honest answer is that nobody really produces a recording. Everybody produces a recording.When the guitar player is fumbling through stomp boxes looking for the right slap echo or the drummer is taping down the heads of his toms he/she is producing. All of those decisions are part of what makes a record sound the way it does. It is by nature a collaborative process. There are very few truly solo projects out there. If you wrote everything, engineered everything, sound proofed your space yourself and there are no other musicians on your recording I suppose you’ve made a solo project. You will also have to master your recording because mastering shapes the sound of your recording as well.
Engineers can play a huge role in how an album sounds. There is a reason people want Gary Paczosa to set up the microphones. He gets the most beautiful and pristine acoustic instrument tones you can capture. He also understands how instruments play against each other. The recordings Gary engineers are darker sounding than you think they will be and he plays the darkness of tone against the lightness of the instruments. It’s a lot like film. Many people give full credit to the director but what you are seeing is a highly collaborative process. In the film Sideways, it wasn’t director Alexander Payne who shot those beautiful 1970’s looking sun flares in the driving shots. It was cinematographer Phedon Papamichael who captured that. Recordings are like that as well. If someone loves one of my albums I tend to get the credit where I don’t necessarily deserve it.
It’s an interesting dance at play. RS Field produced my new record the way a director directs a film. It was collaborative. You start by picking the cast, looking for players who will bring the flavors you are trying to work with. You talk through the instrumentation, you talk through sounds and what kind of atmosphere you want to set the recording in. You talk with the engineer about distance and closeness and how much room sound you want to capture. These are all collaborative pieces that bring you to where you end up. The producer, engineer, studio, recording gear, players, and songs themselves all play a role in what you end up with. All those things are part of the production of an album.
I’m so grateful to the people who have lent their talents to my songs over the years. Matt Mauch’s Dobro solo on Last Goodbye, Paul Slivka’s snaky bass on Kerosene, John Deaderick’s impossibly beautiful piano on Something in Spanish, David Henry’s cello on Haunted Man, Paul Griffith’s thumping toms on Wrecking Ball, Dave Coleman’s Mick Ralph-like solo on Where No One Knows My Name are all moments I get to take to my listeners because these people graced the session where we captured those songs. Those moments were all possible because of other people’s hard work and talent. I only get to put my picture on the cover because I wrote the checks.