Larry Crane is a producer, engineer, and writer, as well as founder of Jackpot! Recording and Tape Op Magazine.
- Tape Op Magazine
- Jackpot! Recording Studio
- Larry’s courses on Lynda.com
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- I’m here with founder, producer, engineer, editor extraordinaire, Larry Crane of Jackpot! Recording, Tape Op Magazine, et cetera, fame. Hi Larry, thanks for chatting with me today.
- Thanks, no problem. Thanks for having me here.
- You like how I put on my big formal recording voice?
- Yeah, I like that.
- Impressive that you dropped… like you went into the telephone booth and came out podcasting.
- It’s really good to be here, Ray.
- That’s good.
- We got a few things to talk about.
- Your sultry baritone, rich mahogany voice. Let’s start with where are you from? Are you from Portland or…
- I’m not. I grew up in Northern California by way of Berkeley, Oakland, Nevada City and Chico, all those places. I kind of spend my time between … I grew up in the Bay Area as a little kid and then my formative, like seven to 18 years, I was in the Nevada City area which is a really rich cultural area and then I went to college at Chico State.
At the very end of college, I started a band called Vomit Launch and that lasted eight years and toured the country. I was going to move to the Bay Area and I can do a full circle back to Oakland or something after college but the band started and so I wrote that out until I was about 30.
- That’s awesome. How did you end up in Portland instead?
- We used to tour up the northwest a lot. That was our best little regular tour, two or three times a year route and we’d come up here and play at Satyricon. There’s a great venue club called The Blue Gallery back in the day down near Powell’s, kind of, in a little bit fancier area now, The Pearl, we used to come up…
We became friends with a lot of the bands here like Calamity Jane, it was one of our favorite bands. The Dharma Bums were super nice. We played their first record release show opening for them. Crackerbash opened for us. We had a good time coming to Portland and we made friends, and we had another friend that had moved here from California. We’d stay with them in the Belmont Area, like around 33rd and Belmont.
After a while, it was kind of like … When the band broke up, I was wondering what to do and our guitar player Lindsey, moved up here before me. Lindsey now runs Exile Records, she’s the owner of that, a co-owner. She moved up here and she’s like, “Come visit.” I drove up and we’re hanging out. I went to Seattle to visit some friends, The Walkabouts, and some good friends of mine had a band up there.
I’d just turned 30, I think, I was just about to turn 30 and I went on this little road trip and I decided, “heck, I’ll move to Portland.” Because I didn’t have a band, I wanted to live somewhere that had a lot of music venues and I really was going to actually get out of music. I was so in debt from being in a band and I was stuck with the tour van which was a piece of shit. It was falling apart.
I just decided to move up here and Lindsey said, “Come stay with me. I’ll put you up ’til you get a place to stay,” but within a week I was living in a house with some cool folks. It turned out John Moen from Dharma Bums, now The Decemberists and everything was working for my roommate. My roommate’s girlfriend’s like, “Oh, I’ve seen your band before,” and ended up with some good folks and just started making more connections and pretty soon I was working for McMenamins after a little bit and I have lots of free time and got paid fairly well for a simple job.
I started building a little studio in my basement. My wife at the time, my first wife was a drummer, in fact every person I’ve been married to is a drummer. All three of them.
- It’s good you have a type.
- I guess. I didn’t try.
- We started playing music together and we started building a little studio in the basement. My friend Dewey Mahood, who owns Mothership Music now. Worked at trade up for years. He was in Eternal Tapestry and some other bands. He dropped off some four track reel-to-reel that his uncle had gave him. So we put a wall on our rehearsal studio, I mean, put a window in the wall and then we were like started recording ourselves and we got Dewey to come play bass so that was a band called Flaming Box of Ants that eventually morphed into another band called Elephant Factory where we swap around… I went back to bass which is my real instrument and so, we did that.
That band kind of started … The studio started because of the band and recording the song and mucking around and then John Moen would start coming over and doing demos for a band he had called The Maroons and then The Maroons did their first single in my basement. We borrowed Quasi’s recording equipment and then recorded a single. I helped them do that and then I bought a … I got doored by a car on my bike coming home from work one day and I woke up with a concussion and I got a settlement so I bought a little mixing board and 8 track reel-to-reel…
Then I started recording The Maroons’ first album and then also that lead to like Elliott Smith coming over and recording a little bit of, just a tiny bit of stuff on Either/Or, what became Either/Or and then Elliott’s girlfriend Joanna that was in a band called Junior High with Sean, he used to be in Crackerbash so they did a single and then the guy that was playing lead guitar had a band so they came over, it all kind of kept going like that.
- What year are we in here?
- I moved here in ’93 and I think started recording our band like ’94. I was even four tracking at the first house that I lived in when I got here. I started writing my own songs and that’s kind of what morphed into Flaming Box of Ants with Marila, my first wife, and Dewey. The first stuff that was really kind of being recorded for other people is probably ’94, ’95 like The Maroons and then that lead to, you know, we had Cat Power over there, we had Stephen Malkmus do demos for Brighten the Corners, The Pavement album, and some other stuff that ended up with what’s that other band he was playing in?
- The Jicks?
- No, you know, the one … It’s lead by this other guy, they had a … Forget it. Anyway, yeah.
- Put in the show notes. [Note: Ray suspects this was the Silver Jews.]
- Yeah, yeah. I don’t know. Anyways, he was doing demos there, Rebecca Gates from the Spinanes did some demos. She was someone I’d known for a long time. I was also friends with Mark Robinson of Teen Beat Records back east and so like he would send Versus to my house to do a single or a compilation track while they were on tour. I had these connections from years, you know, bands would come stay with me and work on stuff and bands would come up from California that I knew, younger folks I knew and stuff. They come stay and work on a record at my house. It became pretty obvious that I needed to get a commercial space. At the same time, I started Tape Op Magazine because I wanted to learn more how to record.
- You started that before you got a …
- Before a commercial space. Yeah, like a year before, basically. Like ’96, Tape Op started, like in the spring. That was just like a way to learn more like I just thought number one, I’d been researching a lot, I would go to the library here which is … This town has a great library downtown and I would go there and I’d read every book and every magazine I could find and I was … Go to Powell’s and buy books and buy magazines.
The thing about magazines is I was like who cares how Toto made their new record that nobody is listening to, you know, who cares? I mean, the writing about this stuff is just bullshit and I’m thinking like, “I’d rather hear about the records I like, you know, how are they made?” That was the idea like smaller, producer, engineers and studios and people, artists making their own records.
- Yeah, I mean, in retrospect you make it seem like such a natural progression but was there like a … when you started Tape Op, was there a moment where you were like, “Shit, I’m in over my head doing all these projects,” or was it … ?
- No, I didn’t try to do it real big at the beginning. It was quarterly and it was xeroxed so I had in somewhere where I can just go and xerox and then cut someone a check for the time after hours. I would go and buy paper and just go in there and use up all their toner and then I would take them home, staple them myself, I was doing all the layout myself. I wasn’t really looking for ads, I was selling subscriptions that were really cheap but I basically sent hundreds of copies out to labels and bands and people that I knew and that was kind of the thing. That’s kind of the … the follow through is always what’s important with any kind of creative endeavor.
Because of that, I knew people at Matador, I knew people at Discord, you know, they would take out little cheap ads and I just … The person who had recorded the last two Vomit Launch records and produced us was John Baccigallupi who still had a studio in Sacramento and so I would send him copies and he’d go, “Hey, that’s really cool.” That’s what eventually lead to us forming a partnership and doing Tape Op together because he had a lot of publishing experience. He had done a magazine called Heckler which was like a skate music snowboarding kind of magazine and at the point, they had kind of an office full of people and are like, “If we take on more magazines then we’ll have more work for them.”
Eventually, it just filtered all out when Heckler went under and it just ended up being me and John doing Tape Op. It worked out great. He’s like one of my best friends and so … He alleviated the stress a little bit, I guess.
Basically, I went like about three years on my own, I maxed out a credit card and then I was like, “What am I doing?” I didn’t really go into the publishing game to make money, I didn’t think it was even possible and John goes, “You can make money, let’s do it. It’s going to take a few years.”
- It did take a long time to start turning a real profit, but he had the wisdom of how to do it the right way, like to offer free subscriptions and let the advertising pay for the printing and distribution. Advertising is the hardest part, that’s a lot of painful work like selling ads but he had that vision. When he came onboard, I kind of said, “I just want to do the editing part and the writing and the interviews and then you do the layout and the publishing.” It’s a great division of labor. This is all like … That’s ’99 when that happens. The studio Jackpot! opened in ’97 probably like January or something, ’97.
- This is on Morrison?
- At 20th and Morrison, yeah.
- Okay. Let’s jump back to that for a moment. How did that come about? How long did it take you to set that up, get that going?
- My house was getting so busy. I remember people are starting to send me work that was pretty weird like metal bands, metal funk bands singing about girl’s body parts and shit.
- In the basement?
- It was kind of like … I was living there with my wife and we had a roommate, the multi-talented Francisco Garcia was living there for a lot of that. We had other roommates for over the years too and it was kind of like, you know, I think I’m torturing them. Dewey’s dad actually, Scott Mahood, who works at Powell’s Books was living there. It was kind of nasty. Also, I remember recording Stephen Malkmus and Francisco and hanging paintings in his room and it was like bam, bam, bam, you know? I knew I needed a commercial space.
I was at EJ’s one night which was a really fun club that we all used to just go to all the time and I swear to God, she says this didn’t happen but I swear to God, Rebecca Gates grabbed me and Elliott Smith and said, “You guys need to talk. You’re both about to do the same exact thing,” and so, “What are you talking about?” He’s like, “I’m going to build a 16 track studio,” and I’m like, “I’m going to build a 16 track studio.” We had already worked together briefly on Pictures of Me on Either/Or and Joanna was kind of our mutual friend. I was friends with her friends that worked at La Luna, she was a bartender there and I would just see her around a lot and I had recorded Junior High which she was playing bass in.
We had a meeting, we went over to a bar one day and drank pints of beer and just talked about like could we do this and I luckily said, “I’m going to do this but do you want to help me get the place up and running?” It was really funny like Rebecca Gates claims that she never said this to us but she basically … I swear to God, she put me and Elliott Smith together and said, “You guys are going to do the same thing,” and that was to build a 16 track studio.
We found this space on 20th and Morrison, the landlord was cool. He kind of knew the business we were in and we moved in there and just built a wall, divided the room up, put all our gear in there. We were open within a couple of weeks of signing the lease. We really scrambled and I had people booked up, people coming from California to record and all kinds of stuff. The Maroons were in real soon, this band called Harvester was in, a bunch of stuff was just set to go. I scrambled, got it ready and then just started working my ass off.
Along the way which is crazy that first even few months, I started recording stuff for Elliott. Like we didn’t know that that would be something we’d be doing but we recorded like Miss Misery and demos of stuff for what would become XO, like Blood White and we did a version of Division Day that never got released and demos for Waltz Number 1 and all kinds of stuff. It became kind of iconic in a way. I remember like going down there one day and I was getting tired of recording and every time he’d popped in so we taught Joanna how to record and she help track Baby Britain, the basic tracks of that. So it was just a lot of…
Elliott turned out to be really cool to hang out with. I remember him first telling me like, “Sometimes I don’t get along with people when I’m recording because I had my own way of doing stuff,” and at that point, really, I was just learning so I would just record very simply and straightforward and he was like, “Great. This is what I want.” He had issues, I think working with, I guess, with Tony Lash who had been in Heatmiser with him and Tony was really learning to become a really great producer. Here’s two guys that really kind of want to produce in the same band and pushing and pulling and I always assume that must be what he was thinking about but I was just there to facilitate. I’d be like, “That sound good? All right, cool. Let’s try the other thing.”
Really like that first few months or something, all these things started happening and we recorded Miss Misery, he played that … He had Gus Van Sant by one day and Gus is like, “Hey, I’m using some of your music as temp score. I’m putting it in a film but it might be replaced but would you be interested? Do you have a new song that we could put in there?” and he played him Miss Misery which was just kind of … I kind of thought a demo. Next thing I know, there’s some guy flies up, grabs it and runs down back to LA and they mix it and they put it in Good Will Hunting and it gets nominated for an Oscar. It’s kind of like, “What?” Zero to 50 for me.
- This all, this is how soon … Since when you first opened up …
- I mean, all that was happening within that year, I think. It’s kind of hard to remember but it definitely … I mean, Good Will Hunting came out in ’96 or ’97, I mean, sorry. Then, Elliott signed his contract with DGC or DreamWorks or whatever in the beginning of 1998, January. So it all just kind of escalated fast. Things were on the way for him, his manager also worked for BMG and had hooked him up with a publishing deal which provided his incomes and quit working so I knew there’s stuff in place and her husband, Rob Schnapf and his buddy Tom Rothrock, were producing most of Either/Or and they had produced Heatmiser’s final record too, Mic City Sons. You kind of see all this, what’s going on in the background.
You knew things were on the way and he was killing it. You go see a show of his back then, just playing solo, you know, you’d have a hundred-and-some-odd people just sit on the floor, dead quiet, watching him. He was one of the best performers I had ever seen and just worked really hard at the writing and the arranging the playing. It was a treat. An easy person to record because he’s ideas were there. It was kind of wild. I was doing that and then recording tons of others stuff, Junior High’s first record and this band called Land of the Wee Beasties which some of the guys went on to be in the Swords Project. God, I mean, Richmond Fontaine’s second record, I begged to do that one because I knew they were fantastic. There were times where I was working 30 days a month just … I would just let people work as long as they wanted and I would go home and work on a magazine at night. I had more energy.
- Yeah, well we all did.
- I was 30 something.
- I’m curious, where there … I don’t want to ask if there were like favorite people that you’ve recorded but I already said it, so like do you favorite people to work with other than Elliott, like other … ?
- Yeah, I mean, Quasi. Those two Quasi records, we did field studies and featuring birds before that. I think they are two of my favorite records I’ve ever worked on or maybe heard. That’s a real treat. I don’t think anyone could deny how amazing that was but early on, yeah, tons. Oh my God, it’s crazy. I feel really lucky, I mean, like the Go-Betweens coming from Australia to do their comeback record with Janet Weiss on drums. You’re just lucky. Sleater-Kinney, All Hands on the Bad One and One Beat. You’re so lucky when you get to do records like that because honestly, a lot of the time in the studio is spent on projects that maybe don’t have any traction so to speak.
Some of those projects don’t intend to have any, they try not to really make it a big thing and that’s fine too. I think you’ll just know or just even start reading like what they’ve done. If someone is driven like the way that Summer Cannibals are, you know that they’re just going to stop or get frustrated or if someone’s got that … It just depends, yeah. Sometimes you hear something that’s brand new and you just go, “This is so cool, people are going to get it.”
The Decemberists, there’s a great example. I recorded their second record, most of it, Adam Seltzer did the rest, a good friend of mine. They were in here working on stuff and they had just gotten signed to Kill Rock Stars and Slim Moon was still running that and he was coming around, he’s like, “You guys are one of my favorite bands right now.” I’m like okay, he’s got the muscle to make something happen, Slim’s a real nice, really honest straightforward guy and I was listening to his record and I’m like a big Robin Hitchcock fan and stuff like that and I say something to Colin and he goes, “Me too.”
We’re talking and you know, I was like here’s the thing, I’m probably one of the few people that actually does this and is a journalist as well. It’s like I’m producing records and then on the other hand, I’m getting hit with people’s press releases and promo copies and all that bullshit. It’s like 99% of that is miserable trash. It’s just so fucking boring.
It’s being sold like, imagine if The Beatles meet The Pet Shop Boys and you’re like, “No, nothing sounds like that. Nothing is that good.”
- You’re just like it’s just garbage. There so much garbage music out there and there’s a lot of people trying to PR people and individuals trying to sell it to you, write about it, write about it and, like, Colin, how easy is it going to be to write about The Decemberists like these songs are totally like … There is a certain thing going on. With your lyrics and the stories and the things and the band’s shit hot, you know, they’re all great players. Like this isn’t going to be a problem and they are good.
Sometimes you just know because of that … The situations are right and the bands got some of the best material they’ve done so far but, I mean, there are projects I do that are just, you know, people are kind of having fun with a band like Piefight, that’s a great example last fall or summer. We did a record and it’s all women that were met through a sort of ladies rock camp where women that are like 30s or whatever on, so some of the women are like my age, like 50 or so or in their 40s and they came in and we had a blast. It was so fun.
The first I was thinking, “God, I don’t know. This could be like one of those things were they want to be something they’re not.” They come to the studio and then, they’re like disappointed but I think that we were all happy with how everything … I really guided it and help produce it and everyone did a great job. They just had a good attitude too, they’re having fun. They’re not going to go on tour for six months and you know, probably some of them have kids and things that are going on but it’s like they can have fun locally and play shows and put out an EP and it’s a good time. I kind of see the beauty of any situation as long as no one’s frustrated, expecting something that’s not going to happen.
- Right, yeah. Having a decent attitude probably helps.
- A good attitude goes a mile, man. It’s like there’s so many people that if they’re really … If they come in frustrated already, they feel like this Portland hipster scene has shut them out or something, it’s like well, they’re probably not working that hard and what is this hipster scene you speak of? I’m kind of not quite sure and I get that sometimes. I’ve heard that. I’m just like that’s really sad. Just focus on your art, do a good job then it’ll make sense but people get some weird ideas.
- Do you sometimes hear, like you know as… in your function as a journalist or as someone as who records, do you ever hear… Have you heard albums lately or you’re just like, “It’s a good album but I wish they’d come into Jackpot! and let me take a shot at it.”
- Frequently. A lot of local bands. I’ve grown to the point where I can think that way and … If that makes any sense. To make a record, to be a producer, to be an engineer even, you got to have some kind of opinions about what you’re doing and how it should kind of come together but to really be a producer where you’re in there focusing on tempos and arrangements and local pitch and takes and what it could be and adding little parts, I mean, those stuff in the Minders’ record. I’d be like, “Oh, just do a little add in like a four beat section where you go up one note, like take it up a … ” What am I trying to say? “Just do a lift and then drop back down.”
It’s like, “Oh, it’s fucking amazing.” That’s producing to me. That’s like not just recording, I’m in there going, “Oh Martin, I got a great idea. Do this.” I think that now I can kind of hear when someone might be reminding me of myself like in my basement or something like just simply recorded someone and then I’m like, “Well, that’s nice but it’s kind of a demo. Do you want this to be really effective?” That’s kind of partly, I mean, maybe I’m to blame with Tape Op but sometimes when people are recording themselves I’m like, “The goal of recording yourself should be to capture something very unique and special and all these things.”
It’s not just to save money… and sometimes you hear these records that are so … The drums sound like absolute shit, not in a cool way, not even in like a Guided By Voices crazy fun way, they just sound like shit, they sound like an attempt at recording drums that failed and the vocals are fucking weird frequency spikes and you’re just like, it’s not … Not in an interesting way, they won’t sound like the OCs or something, they just sound like shit.
- This is not pleasing.
- Yeah, it’s not pleasant. I get sent those records by my readers all the time and it’s like, it’s a bummer because it’s like I could hear what it could be and it’s almost like the producer’s curse. This is my new theory. Producer’s curse is I hear one pass of a song and you go, “Oh okay,” and it’s like you got to go … Can it get there to what I can imagine? This is a cool song, can it get there or is that just impossible?
- Is that the best you can do?
- The limitations of the players and their pre-conceptions and … Hey man, I hear a lot of records where I’m like, “Wow, I could have done that a lot better job of that.” It’s kind of hard, I mean, because I’m not cheap and I know some people don’t have money but sometimes just getting your idea out there is not enough. Somebody’s got to be presented very well. Like if you get a Decemberists’ record and it sounded all muddy and the drum sounded like shit, you wouldn’t be very excited. You would be like, “Well, I mean the song seems okay,” but when you hear … Like they’re new record sounds fantastic. Tucker Martin, he’s someone I would never say it but I can’t do what Tucker can do. Like he’s a brilliant producer and engineer. We do our own things in our own way, I guess, but I hear that and I’d go, “Great job. Great job. Great ideas. Fantastic.”
If I heard something that was like that same music just done not cooked enough, you know, it’s a disappointment. It’s like, “Well, that’s too bad.” I did that with Richmond Fontaine. Richmond Fontaine’s first record sounded like shit and I went to them and I said I’d do this for less and I’d work for less than minimum wage to do their album because I was like, they said, “We got a thousand bucks,” and I said, “Sure, sounds good. Let’s do it.” We worked on it ’til we were done and it was really a nice shift because it actually sounded way more interesting and I wasn’t even that good then. That was ages ago. I got a lot of opinion.
- Do you wear a different hat when you’re like … If someone comes in like you had mentioned like The Minders as well. Do you wear like a different hat as producer versus engineer. Do you kind of get in a different mindset or can you do both at the same time?
- I look at it this way now, I look at it like 90% of the time, I’m a producer who can engineer and I don’t really ever look to get in a position where I’m not engineering like I’m not interested in panning out the budget and being lazier but that’s my forte. I’m a good engineer. I studied it, I’m good at it. I have had like my assistant Adam Lee, I’ve had him come in and engineer the beginning of a session or just help me put mics up and kind of maybe even run. There was this album I did last summer where I played bass, I bought Pauly Palvarenti to play drums and I played bass so I’m like, “Adam, if you want to three days with us, track the basics,” and I would come in and I’d pick the mics, get the sounds but then I don’t have to do double duty because that’s pretty hard.
I was massively producing that record, I was working on the arrangements out on the floor as part of the band. That’s great. I think like on the record, I was just a played a snippet of I was hired to be basically just an engineer but the producer coming in was Oz Fritz whose did like Tom Waits’ Mule Variations and as an engineer whose producing this stuff and he’s someone I’ve known for years and really respect so I’m like, “Sure, I’ll work under him.”
Really at the end of the day, anyone involved with this project would tell you that the artist was producing it, Oz was co-producing with him and I was kind of co-producing with Oz or something because I would be like making calls on pitch for vocals and stuff because I was more able about some of the stuff and other things Oz would be like, “I want to do this,” and I’m like, “Yeah, sure.” There’s a collaboration of sorts. I wouldn’t be someone and just sit here and go, “That’s flat,” but no one is saying anything. I’m never going to do that but I’m not an assistant. I’m not like some junior junior employee, I’m like … Someone’s hiring me and paying me a fair amount of money to be very professional.
- Do you that a lot like have someone else come in and act as producer or is that …
- Not as much for me anymore. I used to work a lot … JD Foster and I did some Richmond Fontaine records where he was producing and that was great. For me, I guess, it would have to be if I’m going to say yes to those anymore, it had to be someone I massively respect and know that they have a good attitude and work ethic because if I saw someone kind of derailing a band, I would be really uninterested in being involved, kind of, making them pick shittier takes or doing stupid ideas, wasting their time, I don’t want to be around that.
JD Foster is a great musician, great … Barely knows a little tiny bit of engineering and he’s a fantastic producer. He was a real good sounding board for Willie and the band and I’ve worked with him with some Richard Buckner stuff that never got released. That was super fun. I worked with Luther Russell years ago when he was living in town, he and I produced a lot of … I was engineering, he was producer on a lot of projects that came to him like Fernando and AC Cotton and a bunch of random different stuff that we did over the years. That was really good because Luther is really super musical and he knows what he likes so you could just kind of let him guide… I mean, he would run out there playing piano and tell people how to change their vocal harmonies and stuff.
I’d just watch and learn a lot too. From people that are good, you learn something. Like for JD Foster, I had learn sometimes you just kind of go, “It’s okay, don’t worry about it. You’re doing the right kind of thing.” With that, people relax. John Goodmanson too working Sleater-Kinney. He was producing, I was engineering but he’s a better engineer than me so I would learn engineering stuff like I learned Pro Tools making the One Beat album. Like, “Here’s how you make a track, here’s how you arm it.” “Great.” I got paid to learn Pro Tools and I would learn his engineering stuff but I also learned that that kind of dynamic was like really good. He was the buffer.
He was like if the band was uncertain about anything, he mostly didn’t try to … Like the way Luther would guide something, he would just kind of be like, “I think you’re on the right track. Let’s keep working on this.” He just keeps a positive attitude and keep them from doubting something and just keep it moving forward. Truth be told, he did the new record too so they had bring him back after these many years. It tells you that they can put their trust in him and he’s the sounding board and he’s the guy that glues it together and he makes it sound great.
I learned a lot from people, I just find that there’s probably less situations where I would be like, “Oh, sure. I’ll work for Joe Blow producer I’ve never heard of.” I’m not, probably not going to say yes to that. Why don’t you just get Adam and engineer it then you know and we’ve done that, we’ve had Adam engineer with people and he’s having a blast. It’s good.
- I noticed that you have a lot of like reel-to-reel tape here and as you mentioned…
- An analog console.
- Yeah, yeah and using Pro Tools like how does that all fit together in your studio for you these days?
- Any way you want it to fit. I mean, my preferred way to work like with the rock band type situation is like Summer Cannibals’ record last summer that we did. I keep forgetting the name of it, Show Us Your Mind. It’s all done on 16 track tape except for a tiny, tiny, tiny bit of stuff where we added extra guitars over the final mixes. Everything got printed back to tape, it got mastered off of tape, you know, a quarter inch and part of that was just like… If a young band is just ready to rock which those guys are absolutely ready to rock, if a band is ready to just lay it down and play live, open up the vocals, have some guitar solos and call it and then they go to a studio and someone’s playing around in Pro Tools and lining shit up and just not committing to things and … I said, “Okay, 16 tracks of two inch tape, that’s all you get to fuck with. Just get the record done.”
We got that record one like three days early because it was done. I was mixing like eight songs a day or something. “Okay, done.” It’s just so fast but it felt right and the record feels great to me. I like working on tape when it’s going to go that way but if someone has a rock band and they’re going to try some ambitious stuff and maybe they’re going to play with editing things together, all kinds of things, I’ll be just like, “Let’s track the tape and then dump it into Pro Tools and then go from there.” That’s a pretty good system because it gives them a little bit of urgency of getting it right on those tape passes but then we can dump it in like four passes of the song and cut pieces together or whatever.
- Interesting. It’s partly pragmatic and partly psychological even maybe.
- Yeah. The tape keeps people … I mean, like the Summer Cannibals thing, I don’t remember if we cut any takes together but we might have but most of the time, it’s just like, “Let’s get a good take,” and everybody was up for playing really well. The thing about … If the possibility of doing something is there like, “We can do 40 vocal takes and comp them,” then it might happen and no matter how much you’d say early on like, “We’re not going to work that way. Ha ha.” People end up working that way. If the door could be open, it probably usually gets opened along the way so I’d sort of set rules sort of thing, I try to keep things very focused even in a computer recording scenario.
I try to not just have like a lot of unfinished choices open like which guitar solo and things … I comp everything out and get it done and I don’t like sitting there at the mix stage and just go on like, “I don’t know.” I mean, I’ve done records like that sometimes that’s a creative way and a way of building and working but from my personal choice is to really kind of make decisions pretty hardline along the way and try to stick to them, just use my gut. Most of the time when I’m in here, I’m probably working with someone whose heard less music than me and made less records than me.
Sometimes those two factors are really important because I can see a bigger picture outside of what’s being created of like how it fits in to the history of rock and roll and things like that and what kind of records it should sound good against and things like that. Sometimes my clients haven’t heard the breadth of stuff that even in the genre they might be in so … As I feel like I’m saving them … You’re trying to save people from themselves and also just trying to put them into place like Summer Cannibals, you know, I didn’t … The funniest thing was I played it for a friend after we were done who had worked with them a little bit in another, in PR and stuff and he was like, “Oh huh, seems kind of safe. I expected it to be wilder.” I’m like, “This is a great rock and roll record. That’s what it is.”
It’s like this if I had applied a bunch of crazy distortion to everything, it would sound more modern to me and I’m not … There’s a lot of psychedelic and garage rock lately that’s kind of blown out and distorted and that’s super fun, that’s great but if that’s not the intent from the beginning for the band and me and stuff, I don’t see like applying this as like this patina of stuff you’re smearing all over something that wasn’t played that way. I was like, “Well, you know, it might have sounded more current but I think this record is going to be timeless.” There’s nothing on it that reeks of anything current, recording technology-wise. It just sounds like a band rocking out in a room, there’s plate reverbs, there’s tape delays, there’s spring reverbs, there’s no … There may be a tiny bit of digital drum reverb that’s like … I don’t know how old that thing is, 15 years old.
I always try to shoot for that. It’s just something really timeless and honest that it’ll hold through the years because I’ve heard … I went and lived through the ’80s playing in a band and I’ve heard enough digital reverb on gated snares to last me a lifetime. I’ve heard enough like current tones and sounds that sound dated five years later. I don’t want to make those kind of records at all. Never.
- When you hear an album recorded in a particular studio, is there like a studio that you could think of that would be … If you could record in there for a couple of weeks or just spend some time in there, it would be your dream?
- Abbey Road, man. I’ve seen all … I’ve been there and I’ve toured all the rooms and that one at Studio 2 with the staircase up where they did a lot of Beatles records, it’s like, “Holy shit.”
- Didn’t you have like an interview with Geoff Emerick or something in Tape Op?
- Yeah, we’ve interviewed Geoff and we’ve interviewed a lot of people that worked there over the years.
- That’s a good answer.
- For sure.
- Yeah, I mean, that’s just kind of an easy … I mean, I’m interviewing people that … Jerry Boys worked there when he was young, so I interviewed a lot of people who’ve worked over there over the years. That would be fantastic. Just for the legacy and the beauty of it. Blackbird Studios in Nashville, I’ve also been there a lot. There’s probably one of the biggest studios in the world and it’s fantastic. The level of service and quality and just good vibes but super professional, that’s pretty amazing.
On the other hand, it’s like … Rancho De La Luna and Joshua Tree where they do like those desert sessions and stuff, it’s so cool, it’s funky, it’s great hanging out there. I’ve got to visit a lot of places obviously. Sonic Ranch in El Paso would be kind of cool. My partner, John Baccigallupi’s studio Panoramic House in Stinson Beach is where like the new Band Of Horses has been recorded and what was the other? My Morning Jacket’s new record was done there. I haven’t even been there yet but it’s amazing. It’s like looking out over the Pacific Ocean and it’s residential and there’s a great equipment and rooms and echo chambers and stuff. Yeah, you know, there’s a lot of cool places out there to make records.
- How did you end up working with Lynda.com for this stuff? It’s a little digression.
- Sure, that was cool. It’s really weird.
- They had first kind of done like a profile of you and then you kind of did more like…
- No, actually backwards. David Franz who runs that department used to work at … Went to school at Berkley College of Music and then actually kind of worked there and he wrote a pretty good book early on about like a Musician’s Guide to Pro Tools, I think, it was called and I met him. I really like him. He’s just an honest guy, he’s a great musician, he gets it and so he became the head of Lynda’s Audio Department. I went to a meeting and I avoid … The Tape Op is a crazy thing to own, like John and I own it but we have a lot of people that work for us part-time so we have like two ad reps that were our first part-time, we have the web guy and he works out our subscription stuff, our PDFs, our databases, all that stuff, Dave Middleton. We have two ad reps, Laura Thurmond and Marsha Vidovin. Then we have Scott McShane, does pre-press. We’ve got my wife who does proofreading, Jenazine. We have all sorts of people working in little bits and pieces of it.
Marsha was doing a meeting with Lynda.com. They had a audio course that Bobby Owsinski … Owen, Owenski, is that how you say it? Anyway, he done this audio course. A very involved one where they went and rented a studio and shot like basically walk you through a whole session of recording a song, bringing in players, all these kind of stuff, really, really meticulous and I went to a meeting … Because she was going to a meeting, she goes, “David Franz,” and I’m like, “Oh, I want to go.” She’s like, “You never go to these meetings.” I kind of stay out of the ad business, I don’t like trying to sell people the magazine and I don’t like it when we go to a review thing where they’re trying to sell us their products to review.
Anyway, I was like, “This is could be kind of cool,” and we had lunch or breakfast or something and I was like, “David, I’d love to do a course,” because I had this in my head, I was almost just going to hire someone to shoot a bunch of little videos just to promote the studio, just show some things and give them away for free. He’s like, “Let’s talk.” A year later or whatever it was, nine months, we were setting up and shooting. We had to write all these scripts and it was a lot of work. I got more coming up. I’m going to be in Southern California like in August shooting more of like a screen capture type ones.
Man, it was like almost two weeks of shooting or something or 10 days actually total and we shot the mixing and recording courses and I had to get all sorts of songs prepared and written and musicians hired to come in. It was a lot of work and there’s like a four person crew doing it. It was wild.
- Yeah, I mean, I didn’t even realize how many people are involved in there, how many hours but yeah.
- It’s pretty extensive.
- I was thinking of, really, when you’re talking about some bands that make kind of say, “Well, just record this for myself,” and make probably pretty amateurish mistakes in terms of not knowing how to fit the sound together, how to capture the sound.
- Recording and mixing an album is not easy. If it was really that easy to make a great album on your own, there would be a lot more great albums that were made like single-handedly. Even like Elliott’s best work was not done alone. I think people don’t get it. There’s a few people like Jason Lytle and Grandaddy and stuff who can basically pretty much pull it all off but even he needs help with the mixing stages and I think there’s a very few people that … If an artist tries to even mix their own records, right? How many records are they going to mix in their life term? Not very many and it’s like how do you get good at something? You get good by doing it over and over and over and over. I get really discouraged or frustrated with that or I’m just like, “God, just at least hire a mix engineer.”
I can take things that sound pretty bizarre or screwy and rebuild them and make them sound a hell of a lot better because I know how to put it together. I’m always kind of frustrated by that but I do, I do a lot of that kind of work, I do a lot of mixing for people internationally, nationally, or in town of all kinds of music stuff. It’s kind of fun… but yeah.
- It’s interesting. I mean, I feel like more than probably most like you’ve put time into doing Tape Op and that Lynda stuff. You’re actually making effort to show people how to do this stuff but at the same time…
- That’s why I call that like “mixing secrets” or something. It’s like there’s no secrets. It’s so funny.
- It’s got to have a catchy title.
- I thought it was kind of hilarious. At first I was kind of like, “Come on, guys,” and then I was like, “Why not? It’s a good tag to grab someone.” You know, I mean, there’s no secrets and it’s like you can read how to do someone’s technique like the Glyn Johns Drum Miking Technique. You can read how to do that but the reality is when you sit there and try to do that, it’s really easy to fail, he knows exactly where he wants to put it and how to set things and it works. I can show someone how to mic a guitar cabinet. If they do it, just visually and they don’t listen, then they’re not going to succeed. You’re trying to get them part way there.
Like I remember when I first started, I’m like, “Where do I put the mic on the guitar amp? I don’t know.” I figured, “Well, I’ve seen it on stage and I’ve seen it back in the studio kind of by the cone.” You’ll find people like they read something like, “Oh man, we were able to mic the amps from 20 feet away. It was such a cool sound,” and you’re like, “Yeah, that usually doesn’t work at all except for feedback or like solos.” They’ll mic all their stuff in some weird way because they read it in a magazine and then everything sounds really weird.
- Yeah, I mean …
- I said weird, weird in a way like it doesn’t work.
- Right, yeah. For me there’s always … You hear about like … As a fan of music, you’ll read about when so and so was in the studio, they go to the bathroom with a mic or they, you know, recorded in a castle. It’s like, you know.
- Part of it is just like you’re trying to think of something to say because most of days are just slogging it up doing 14 days of vocal comping or something. It’s like I think someone wants … I read something like if I went and sat on the making of Dark Side of the Moon, I would have fallen asleep because it was just slow going. It’s never really … Sometimes you’re laying down a basic take or you’re laying down like this record I played a bit of, we were laying it down with a live vocal and some of those vocals we kept or kept parts of. When you heard it, it was kind of close to what it’s going to be. Like all the players are playing live. It was really cool. Sometimes you get that like a live thing is happening in front of you but other times, it’s like, “Okay, what do we have to do?” You have a checklist, you know, we have to do all these things, never get to edit things and do all these stuff.
- Where can people learn more about you and what you do? Are there some good websites that might point people to?
- I do have some websites, lots of ’em. My main personal website is just Larry-Crane.com and that’s got just information about all the things I’ve done like producing and editing and writing and music that I’ve done. There’s actually free music on there, all kinds of shit. Then, the magazine is Tapeop.com and that’s got subscriptions, free subscriptions, anywhere in the world via PDF and print versions in the States and lots of back issues you can read and articles, all the reviews of Gear you can read for free. Then, Jackpotrecording.com is the studio website. There’s also that and yeah, that’s some of the things I do.
- Top 5. Cool. Thanks so much, Larry. Appreciate it.
- Thank you.