Tommy Harden is an editor at Joint Editorial, a post-production facility housed in Wieden + Kennedy.
- Tommy Harden
- New version of Logic X out today!
- This week’s music: Yardbirds album Roger the Engineer
- Next week’s music: Elvis at the Sun
- Our theme song is Rite of the Ancients from The Budos Band III.
- Photo by Elizabeth Aley.
Recorded Monday, July 16th, 2013, and this is episode number 21. Follow Ray, Kandace, Dan, or Needmore on Twitter. Please rate our show on iTunes!
- Hello, Tommy.
- Hi, Ray. (Laughing)
- How are you today?
- I’m doing pretty good.
- It’s good to see you, man.
- Yeah, so um … where are you originally from? I have to fill in a lot here, because I knew you for a couple of years but then I don’t think I ever really knew your past and then we were out of contact for a while. So, why don’t you tell me where you’re from?
- Okay. That’s the question that everyone always asks that I have a really hard time answering because I moved a lot. I never really lived anywhere really one place for longer than five years in my childhood.
You knew me in Minnesota and I was there for about five years. That was high school, basically. Then, before that I was in Kansas and before that I was in Ohio. Then, before that I was in the South in Georgia with my Dad’s family. It was like just because of the work situation, I was one of those kids that got pushed around and moved around a lot. When I meet somebody and I’ll ask them where they’re from and I’m like, “Oh yeah.” I always can say, “I’m at least one state over,” or, “Oh yeah, I grew up there, too.”
- Like a chameleon.
- People might say, “Yeah, Wisconsin,” and I’d say, “Oh yeah, I’m from Minnesota,” which is not … I’m not really from anywhere.
- Right. Right.
- I’ve now lived in Portland longer than anywhere else in my life.
- Okay. Yes, I guess that’s probably true of me, too. Yes.How long have you lived in Portland?
- A little over six years.
- Did we run into each other? That must have been soon after you moved.
- That was the week I got here.
- Oh, that’s crazy. I had no idea.
- That was the first movie I ever saw in Portland and you were line.
- (Laughs) That’s even more crazy.
- Right in front of me or behind me or something. (Laughs)
- Yes. I was like “huh”. So, I remember … For our listeners, you work in film. Are you an editor?
- Okay. I have memories of you in that era of shooting with a super eight at the railroad tracks or something.
- It’s such a like stereo-typical … Yes. The train wreck. I don’t believe you have any of that stuff you shot?
- You know what? I’ve actually … I’ve got the exposed film in a box somewhere in my basement. I never … because I tried getting it processed once, but back then I didn’t really know who did super eight film anymore. I know who does them now, but I just had yet to ever dig in and see if it actually worked.
I didn’t really know how to use that camera really well and at one time I thought I was still filming stuff, but it wasn’t really filming so I don’t really know what that looks like. It’d be fascinating. It’d be fascinating if I found it.
- Yeah. For a while I was really into light bleed like some cheap camera (Laughing), and you got carried away with it and it’s, half of the shots were white or orange or …
Yes. I won’t ask you about Reba. (Laughing) I actually have that in here.
- She is great. Reba’s a fantastic woman.
- Good on tour. Yes. Keeps the spirits up.
- Really kind.
- In between that, filming trains and what you do now, how did you get from point A to point B?
- Okay. You ask good questions.
- Thank you. (Laughs)
- It’s convoluted. I think what probably inspired me to pick up that camera back then is we went and we watched a bunch of old R.E.M. videos like from Reckoning and stuff and it all …
- We were into R.E.M.
- Yes. That was the first time that I saw the moving images of some sort that I thought, “Oh that’d be cool. I want to do that.” It felt artistic in a way and something we could actually do, whereas I’ve never necessarily thought of myself as, “Oh, I want to make movies or I want to make a movie or be a filmmaker in that regard.” I took more of an art school approach to it initially. When I got out of high school, I went, I moved to North Carolina and I spent a couple of years not really in school, not really knowing what I was doing. I was doing math degrees and stuff like that and then I dropped out and then I went into art school. That was the first time that I started thinking about things artistically and I started doing photography and painting and stuff like that.
I had a hard time finding one particular thing. I liked it all and I still really liked music. Music was still really important to me. So again, I just dropped out of art school for a bit. I had to figure it out and then I moved to New Mexico. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just out driving around and there was a beautiful place to live but, they had a film school there in New Mexico and they call it Santa Fe. I didn’t even know they had a film school there. I just knew I had to go back to school somehow and actually finish. They had a decent art school there, so I went to the art school and they were like, “You should check out the film program. They have really interesting people over there teaching.”
When I got there, they just totally spoke my language. They were like, “We’re interested in doing really experimental stuff. We’re interested in just hearing the artist’s voice. We don’t really do Hollywood films. We’re interested in doing … and everything you do is like you do it yourself. We’ll just give you the cameras and go out and shoot. We’ll look at films you hadn’t seen before.”
“To Work”, Levi’s 2012.
That became the multi-disciplinary thing that was attractive to me, is that I wasn’t going to be a photographer or a painter or something or a musician. I could put music and put photography and put acting or even just color and all of those artistic things all come together in weird ways in film and that was really attractive.
- In arts, you’ve got to be a bit of a recluse sometimes if you’re going to be a painter or something because it’s just so solitary. The do your own thing and I was never good at that. I needed the interaction. Filmmaking in general, it’s just got to be collaborative because there’s just so much work to be done and there’s so many things that need to happen. You’ve got to be able to deal with people and talk to people. It was great. The people that I was in that film school with were just really just cool people and we all just started out and just learned from each other and just did cool stuff. They showed us stuff, like crazy shit that you would never have seen otherwise. The other note to make about that school is Matt McCormick who is from up here and proved here in Portland. He knows …
- I know Matt.
- He was there just before I was.
- Okay. Cool.
- Yes, then editing. I guess we had to get a job out of film school and then I was actually thinking I would be in camera, like in cinematography and I worked on this really awful, low-budget horror film as a camera-loader …
- … clapper loader and I just understood being on set and being in production, it’s almost like a military operation and there’s not really all those many people being super creative unless you maybe the director or the maybe the D.P. Everyone else is just pretty much liked a soldier and I was like a camera donkey. I couldn’t really talk to anybody about … the whole collaboration thing just wasn’t happening at all.
Then, after just talking to people I realized that the editing room is a much more open space to talk about creative ideas and you actually get to see the film that you’re working on. Whereas if you’re on a movie, you could be working on a thing for months and you never see a frame of film until it comes out in the theatre. Don’t you want to know what you’re working on?
- But, anyway, it just seemed to me, it became clear that the editing room was just a much more interesting to be. I moved to Los Angeles after film school and I just started working any connections I could to try to get into film editing.
- When you’re in school were you working on like, was it digital? Were you doing digital then or was it like both?
- It was both. It was both. They had us shooting all formats, both shooting video and shooting film and they also had us editing. They wanted you to learn how to edit the old-school way first and then they slowly … They had Avid there which I learned. That’s the software I use today. But I started off with reel to reel which was great. (Laughs)
- Yes, that’s cool. Yes. How did you go from that to, I don’t know, Portland making commercials? What would you essentially describe the genre you’re working in as?
- It was advertising. Yes. When I got to Los Angeles, it’s all about who you know there. I didn’t really know that many people but I had one connection at Universal Pictures and they were like, “Okay. So, what do you want to do?”
I said, “Well, editing.” They were like, “Editing what?” Meaning what I had to quickly learn was that it’s like an assembly line there, it’s a big factory. It’s all these departments are completely broken down into boxes and they were like, “Where are you going to fit into this box?” Since she was the only connection I have, I was like, “Oh, just show me around. I don’t know. Just let me figure it out.” I was like an intern there, basically. Ray, it was awful. It was awful. My film school was very D.I.Y., the whole Portland aesthetic is just so D.I.Y. I’m a generalist. That’s what I just described. It’s like how you handle everything. There just the editing department at a big studio is divided up completely in different departments. Say, you’ve got picture editing and you’ve got sound editing. Then in sound editing, you’ve got dialog editing, you’ve got music editing, and you’ve got sound effects editing.
- The stuff that appealed to you about editing wasn’t really happening? Yes.
- No. No. There’s like rows and rows of long hallways with dark rooms and the guys are hunched over looking over their shoulder like they’re paranoid, “Don’t fire me.”
- These were all talented guys, really smart guys and they all have the same lava lamp on their desk and they have a picture of their family and they were just, “I’m working as hard as I can, man, on my TV shows and stuff.” I would come home and I would be like, “Oh my God. I’ll do it if I have to, but shit, is this what I signed up for?” How could you say no? It’s Universal Pictures? It’s the movies. It’s the fucking movies!
- I was sitting there going, “Oh shit.” Then, I wasn’t really that happy and then I met somebody … like a family friend who was an old-school Hollywood producer and she was just like, “What do you want to do?” I was like, “Oh, I want to be an editor.”
- I love how people in L.A. talk in your head. It’s awesome.
- Yes. She’s like, “Hang on. Hang on.” She knew this editor who worked in commercials and he was out in Santa Monica. She said, “Call him up.” She says, “Hey, there’s this kid. You should talk to him.”
- Did she have like a beard and a cigar? (Laughs)
- Yes. (Laughs). No, but she is like a legendary connector. She just knows people and she’s gotten so many people jobs.
So, I go out and I meet and I go out and there’s this editorial shop and all they do is work on commercials and music videos and it’s just this tiny little office, maybe twice the size of yours or something and you’ve got a handful of guys working and there’s like art magazines spewed out everywhere, there’s like punk rock posters on the walls and there’s music blaring. I immediately walked in and I’m like, “These are my people.”
- This is more like it.
- Yes and so I talked to them about what I just experienced and they are just like, “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. We choose the music, we work with the music. We do sound design. We supervise all the visual effects. We do everything. We see the whole process through.” Which you can do. There’s just 30 seconds.
Also, if you’re talking about like doing cool shit, whatever, frame for frame, there’s more money being spent on a commercial than there is on your average feature. There’s just a lot more money going into it. We work with the coolest people, some of the best sound mixers we can get, the best visual effects artists who work in the business to work on this stuff and get to hang out with these cool people and learn what they do because there’s just more resources to it.
But, that said, he gave me a warning. He’s like, “Commercial editing is seen as the red-headed stepchild in editing in L.A. Even though we work just as hard as everyone else and we’re working with the best people in the industry, commercials have a taint to it and if you ever want to move into features or move into television, they’re not going to see you as a real editor. They’re going to see you as a commercial editor.” I was like, “I was just in the feature world and that is not fucking me, and this looks really cool.” That’s what I did. I just kind of worked my way up.
- It’s a really small business. There’s a ton of small shops, editorial shops, who work almost exclusively in commercials. Used to be music videos but all the money of that went away a long time ago. Mostly its commercials and they’re all in Santa Monica and they all cross-pollinate. I learned about all those shops and I worked around in various places. I just slowly built up an editing reel based on some of the work that I got. I would just jump on anything and just work on it for free or whatever. I’ve known about Wieden+Kennedy in Portland just because of the legendary work that they did there. In the entire world of advertising, there’s this golden halo around Wieden+Kennedy and you just say, “Wieden, oh shit. Wieden’s here.” It was just like always like …
- … that and so I had no idea the Joint which is like the editorial shop inside Wieden. I didn’t even know it even existed. They don’t really have to tell anybody. They have plenty of work coming out of Portland that they don’t really need to go down to L.A. or other agencies to try and get work. There’s no reason for them to let anyone know that they existed. I didn’t know they existed, but I would have jumped on it in a heartbeat. They were looking for another editor. They were looking to grow and slowly through the grapevine in that L.A. scene, I got wind of it and I was like … I knew Portland was amazing and I knew Wiedman+Kennedy was amazing so it was a no-brainer, so I just immediately sent them my work and luckily it happened.
- Yes. Yes. It’s interesting about your perspective. Talking about the red-headed stepchild phenomena … I think it’s like people assume that … and it’s funny, I had the same conversation with a commercial photographer recently, here on the job. (Laughs) He was saying lots of the same things. Commercial work is really fun and especially if you’re doing something that’s 30 seconds as opposed to like 90 minutes or something. It’s going to be like one person is going to have a big picture.
- Yes. A typical 30-minute spot can cost about …
- Thirty-second spot (Laughing)
- Thirty seconds. Thirty minutes is not a spot (Laughing)
- You can tell it’s a spot.
- How much of that are you doing?
- What do you mean?
- I can’t actually be more specific. How much of it are you doing? You’re not shooting.
- No, but I often am on set at the shoot which is a newer phenomenon. It didn’t use to be that way.
- You’re art directing, make sure you get the coverage you need for a particular …
- Yes, more or less. Often, I think that the traditional way that editing used to be seen is that the editor was just always up in his editing house and then once the film gets all shot and everything’s been written and it gets shot and then it gets sent to him and he assembles it together with the team of people who wrote it.
Since really the business is changing and the way things get made are changing and it used to be you could just have something on a piece of paper, like when you sell an idea to a client, you just write it on a paper and show it to them or read it to them and they’re like, “Okay, great.” Now because there’s so much … Everyone’s so addicted really to moving images and they need to be able to see it or they can’t just see it on a page; they want to maybe see a film or see … They want to imagine what that spot would look like. That means editors are coming in earlier and earlier to the process.
- Then, as an editor, are you involved in pitching the idea or …
- Yes. Not always, but occasionally, especially if it’s a really big idea with a lot at stake. If it’s a smaller thing or it’s no big deal, it’s like, “We don’t need to make a video for it.” If it’s a brand new account and they want to see if Wieden+Kennedy, what they can come up with, then we’ll put together like this is a spot we would make. I get involved earlier in the process for that. At that point, there are traditionally in advertising, there’s the writer, there’s the art director, there’s creative directors and stuff and I think …
- I’ve seen Mad Men.
- Yes. As you know, all of that is sort of … Those boundaries between what those people do is just sort of breaking down. You really just have sort of a handful of people that are all on the same page and we all just worked together to figure out what the best way to tell the story was or whatever so that goes back to my whole film school thing. I just really liked … Ultimately, I just like being around people who are doing cool shit and being part of it and so that’s … I never really had, “Oh, this is the vision I want to see as Tommy Harden on the drums, that I want to see through so let’s,” I just wanted to be part of what cool shit is doing.
Anyway, I get involved earlier on and half the time now, I’d actually go on set and meet the director, work with the director. I even start cutting on set even. We’ll take the dailies that are coming right off the video tap and just start editing right on the fly, on the spot, to see if this stuff’s working or not. “Did we get that take? Do we go back and do it again?”
- Shooting, that kind of stuff, is that usually you can do it literally in the building or it in Portland or is it elsewhere?
- We usually fly down to Los Angeles, that’s where the big film community is and just due to 100 different reasons, that’s just where all the locations. If you write a script almost 90% of it, you can probably find a location that looks right somewhere in Southern California in a weird way unless you’re saying it’s for the Olympics and you got to “Oh, you want to pretend you’re in China or you’re in Canada or you’re in the U.K. or you’re in Brazil, then you get to go to those locations and film in those locations but for the most part, I think there are smaller jobs that shoot locally here in Portland but most of the stuff that I’m working on that usually shoots in New York or L.A.
- Okay. Do you consider yourself to have a particular style of editing or do you just let the project dictate that?
- I think if you were to ask somebody else that question about me or other editors about me, they would probably be able to say, “Yes, that’s a Tommy Harden edit. That’s how Tommy cuts.”
- Yes, I think so. “That’s very much Tommy’s sort of thing.” Asking me about it, I have a harder time seeing it and I do really want to be more specific to each story that each spot has. I would hate to be seen as a particular style. I don’t want to be …
- Oh, I love that. This is like, what’s the little flies in here. What kind of place is this? Sorry.
- No, it’s all right.
I’ve seen and this is what’s really great about being in Portland is that I had access to all the different kinds of work that are coming out of Wieden+Kennedy. Some of its comedy, as well as some of the poetic, some of it’s more aggressive, some of it’s just playful, so I can taste all of that whereas there’s so many editors in L.A. that they start pretty quickly to label you as, “Oh, that guys a comedy guy,” and then pretty soon every job you have coming your way … Let’s say I did a really big Old Spice commercial that I had on my reel. Oh, look, he’s the Old Spice guy, he’s the funny guy so I’d be getting all this comedy stuff and it was just like …
I ran into an editor who does features and he works in comedy. He does Apatow movies. He was, “I’m tired of doing comedy. I’m just tired.” There are movies, that if you and I talked about, you’d be, “That’s a hilarious movie. How can you get tired of being on a Will Ferrell move or something?” He’s just sort of like, “I’m ready to do something different.” That’s all. You want to exercise different muscles, whatever. I see that happen to editors in L.A. That guy is a really big car guy. He knows how to cut car footage together. Who wants to be in the visual of all the fact?
Anyway, that’s what’s weird about being enjoined is that, yes, so maybe I have a style and I think people would say I do but I pretend that I don’t.
- How many other editors do you work with?
- At Joint, we’ve got … Let’s see. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, I don’t know. Around that many. Seven or so, yes.
Those projects, like let’s say you’re doing a particular spot, let’s just say. This is great. Are you start to finish the editor or does that get passed around ever.
- Usually. Usually. It depends. Sometimes, it’s more than just one spot. it’s a body of spots that are all share footage or it’s a campaign and so maybe I’ll cut some of those spots and somebody else will cut some of the other spots but usually or oftentimes, things go way, things might go off the rails and one editor isn’t able to finish it because they’re already put in another job and a different editor will come in and fly in and finish up a job that went off the rails for this so we definitely have this sharing thing.
- It can be handed back and forth.
- Yes, but the longer form stuff because we don’t just do commercials, we do some other longer form stuff, too and that’s much more a sharable thing. There is … I’m not sure where we are. We’re just staring the process of editing it but at Joint we’re starting to cut a feature length documentary film on Carl Young and so there’s like three editor figuring out how to do it right now.
- Okay. Wow. A random … There must be a story behind that.
- There is. Yes. I’m not sure you want to go into that.
- Now, how do you find music for these spots? Is there a library you just look through or can you say, “I have a particular ..” If you’re really into Yo La Tengo for example, can you reach out to them or their agents?
- I’m glad you came here because music is so important obviously. It’s obviously something we’ve shared in the past and music is so important to me.
- Yes, I’m going to intersperse some … I actually thought about you changing the theme music or something.
- Don’t do it. (laughing) The knowledge I have of music … Maybe knowledge is the wrong word. The passion or the way the music has saved my life in a way, the way I understand it. It’s everything. In a sense, when I’m cutting, it’s like, it’s so, so important, sometimes way more important than even what you’re seeing on the screen, the music is just, it tells you everything you need to know is that track.
It used to be again, because advertising was the red-headed stepchild, it used to be that the musicians that you and I would like or music and bands that we would like, they would never consider, one, selling their own music that they’ve made to a commercial or two, even really composing something unless they really needed the cash. That has completely changed because of the record industry falling apart. Yes. It’s good for me.
I remember, let’s say 10 or 12 years ago, there was huge Cadillac commercials and Led Zeppelin. They used rock and roll or something on that and I, as a Led Zeppelin fan, I saw that and I was just, “Oh, gross,” seeing that. “Oh, man.”
- They definitely seem like one of the more “anti-using their songs … ” Zeppelin.
- Exactly. Zeppelin. But they were, back then they were paid, If I remember, if I ask somebody, they were paid at least two to 4,000,000 to use that song for those campaigns and then slowly but surely those numbers like that came down and slowly but surely bands started just saying, “Okay, we need the cash.”
Yo La Tengo, for example, they do … You can talk to their agent or something and if they’re interested, they will maybe buy something for you. They would never sell an existing track. That’s just not who they are. There are some bands who can’t afford to be able to have that stance. That’s one thing that I … I know what the music budget is as I’m starting to cut so I know if I can maybe either one, look for an existing track that I feel like maybe we can buy and the band would be cool with having on the commercial or there is a library of stock music that’s already been written and just ready to buy for commercials. There’s also like musicians standing by or we have music supervisors who just know musicians who can just reach out and say, “Hey, do you want to do a track and see if they like it?” Again, it’s amazing nowadays who you can actually get on the phone.
- Have you ever been in a position where you were able to reach out to a band and they said, “Yes,” and you were like, “This is perfect?” Or is that still relatively rare?
- No, that happens. No, that happens. Perfect is a hard term because it … sometime it is, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes, it’s really close and it’s close enough and then you change it or something.
- If you could talk about it.
- Yes, yes, yes.
- One that’s already been aired or something.
- Yes. I wouldn’t point to a specific commercial but let’s say for example. Okay, here’s a story that I like telling is that because I’m constantly searching for music, I’m constantly listening for stuff and I try and find people that might need the money.
There was one time, it was for a Nike golf commercial and I had just been watching YouTube, random YouTube clips and I found this guy who was this beatboxing flute player, he’s a street musician. There is a video of him playing the subway of New York beatboxing a flute and I just fucking loved it. It was amazing.
- I started putting together this Nike golf thing. It needs a certain rhythm, it needed a certain, like a hip hop rhythm to it and yet I knew the flute in a weird way classed it up a little bit so it’s a little bit more like a playful golf thing and so I went to try to find this guy. All he had was a MySpace page. He didn’t even have a label. He didn’t have anything. He had four tracks that he had recorded himself on MySpace and we were able to contact him and call him up and get him paid and his music ended up on this Nike commercial.
- That’s great.
- I try and I really like supporting musicians who are cool with being on the air or whatever.
- I remember, I had seen the Shins when they first moved to Portland or something. I think actually, I didn’t even see the Shins. I think I saw the guitarist, the singer and a drummer. I don’t think the whole band was even here. It was like, “These guys are great,” but I couldn’t really hear what they sounded like. Not long after that, they were in a McDonald’s commercial. Do you remember that? It was that do-do-do and I heard it and the commercial is .. It actually sounds good but man, are they going to get shit about this and they did but then again.
- Then again, that’s the thing is that the whole culture is changing now.
- Now, I think bands love to be in a commercial. For a lot of bands, to be chosen for an Apple commercial, what a break that is for a lot of bands I’ve heard of for the first time in a car commercial or Apple commercial, specifically iTunes.
- Yes, but it’ll generate sales and stuff like that. Hopefully, the work that you’re doing … Hopefully the work that I’m doing as an editor isn’t shit that people would think, “Oh, god. People are going to associate my music with this? No, thank you.” That’s rare, it’s rare but I’m really happy.
I did a Levi’s commercial about two years ago and we found a track by Julianna Barwick who was this one woman show and she at the time, she was on Kickstarter trying to raise money to actually put a record out on vinyl, so the fact that we could put her on a Levi’s spot and the thing is the music worked perfectly with the spot and I would not think at all, it’s like there’s a Bukowski poem on it. She would not feel at all like her music was being bastardized by that commercial. It was beautiful.
- There was a Bukowski poem in the commercial?
- That was being read.
- Oh, okay.
- That was, the voice over was a poem by Bukowski.
- Huh! Check that out.
Did you get to meet Clint Eastwood?
- I stood near him. I wouldn’t say I met him. I didn’t talk to him. He looked at me. I looked at him back but we did not actually meet like, “Hi, Clint. I’m Tommy.” “Hi, Tommy. I’m Clint.” That didn’t happen.
- Wow, okay.
Yes, last time, I think we hung out, you were really into Yo La Tengo. What are you into now? Sounds like you have pretty broad musical tastes these days.
- Yes, sometimes you go and get on phases where I just can’t find anything new that I like and all I’m doing is going back into old records and listening to old stuff …
- Don’t talk to me about old records.
- … but then all of a sudden, I go through a phase and then I like everything and I start listening to, in fact not hearing new bands or new albums, “Oh, my god. This is amazing.” Then, I’ll buy too much.
- Isn’t that so true? I’ll be out at a restaurant and maybe I’ve had a couple of cocktails but it’s like, some stupid Pandora station. I’ll be, “What the hell is this? What is this? Why do I not know what this is?” I’ll be bugging the bartender, like “What’s this track.” I’ve used up my …
- … SHAZAM for the month or whatever, I refuse to pay for it like three or something with …
- Then I go out and buy too much and then go back and I play the record, “Why did I buy this?”
- “What was the track that hooked me here?”
- I think right now, where I’ve had the most success or what I’m really liking right now a lot is Mississippi Records has their own label and they’ve been re-releasing a lot of old folk music or Ethiopian Jazz, got the reels on Éthiopiques rereleasing some of that stuff …
- … and I love it all.
- I love that stuff.
- Basically, anything that Éthiopiques puts out, I’m going to try to look at least and see if I want to buy because they’re …
- Talking about here in Portland?
- Yes, here in Portland. They’re so good but basically anything, especially Ethiopian or African stuff. That stuff just sounds so great and I’m really into that.
I think one thing that I’m interested in now because I think the whole music industry is been affected so much since we listened to music and were teenagers and stuff and what I see, I think there’s a lot of great music being made but the problem that I see is production value is just gone, not necessarily, even though the access to be able to record your shit and mix it in pro tools or whatever you go to GarageBand, it’s so great because it allows people to go record anything.
Since everyone’s listening to music on mp3’s and since everything is compressed, I’m just hearing a lot of these new bands that I really like and it seems like it wasn’t recorded that well or it just sounds like, oh, I wish I could get in there and mix it better or I think I just .. If feels thin, it doesn’t feel really fleshed out and to me, when I find an album that’s been really well produced, I’m into it. The last album, the last “My Funny Valentine” record, the new one, is amazingly produced. It just sounds so good.
- I still haven’t heard that. I’m guilty.
- I heard it on vinyl and I’m almost scared to hear it off my computer because I’m afraid it just won’t be the same but listen to the record of it, it just sounds so full, it’s like a bath of sound and it’s almost addicting, when I put it on, it’s like because there’s nothing else that sounds like him, you know?
- He has such a specific sound that he’s created and no one else has really been able to figure that out. It just has a really great quality to it, a really rich quality to it.
There’s a new record out by this band called Savages. They come here from the U.K. in an all-girl punk band. Really well produced record. It just sounds like … And I know the bass could almost be like something like, like a Steve Albini bass and she’s a really full, heavy sound because I listen, I’ll go back, I’ll listen to Tom Petty records like just a couple weeks ago. Stuff that was recorded in ’81 and everything on that record sounded good. You know? Just, the guitar sounded great like it was just all right in the pocket. Back then, they had all these huge studios and the money and the gear and the microphones were all perfect. I’m like, “That’s what some of these new bands need is like that.”
Now, you’ve got, it’s a lot of creative voices out there that are doing great shit and I don’t think any of them are limited by genre, not being limited by radio, like trends, some of the people are naturally but it really feels like an exposition of new interesting shit that people want to put out there but now the challenge is the average teenager, probably 90% or more of them have never heard anything besides compressed piece of music, listening to either the radio in the car or they’re off of their iTunes or off of a computer streaming live on a computer, whatever and it’s like they don’t know. They don’t even play the CD, they don’t even know what high quality recording sounds like. I think that’s got to the next thing.
- Maybe that’s not just that but it’s when you combine it all, it’s not just … I feel like a lot of it is … I always see people walking around just with cheap headphones, like ear buds …
- Exactly, right.
- The difference between that and putting on a nice record on a good system with speakers and a big room. There’s … It seems to me to add way more dimension like this is not possible in headphones. It goes way beyond a binaural two sound sort of thing. It’s like you hear delays and all sorts of … You can move around the room and it’s a completely different experience, not to mention a lot of them have sound like with the place they were recorded. I think a lot of people will start with something in GarageBand. They’ll be like “We’ll just overdub a couple of things in the studio just to leave time,” and leave a lot of the basic tracks.
- I’m making a metaphor here. Think about it in terms of video and camera. Suddenly, you can go out and make a movie on a video camera. You can shoot something with a handheld thing and it creates a certain kind of language. It creates a visual language and it’s like a loose collogue-y amateurish feel and which I think it really great for certain stories and it’s really great when we first saw that happening but now it’s changing the way stories are told in a way. It’s like suddenly, now we’re missing that note, a very purposeful, thoughtful, well-crafted movie that a film camera requires. Now, a lot of the stuff feels loose and it’s like, “Where’d the craftsmanship go?” because it feels loose and crazy. It was fun for a while. It was like Slum Dog Millionaire came out and it was all handheld cameras and that won an Academy Award for cinematography.
- That was when you got tired of it, it’s like when Blair Witch did it, when it first got cool, then it ended and it’s like, “Please, just go.”
- Yes. Please! Yes. Stop doing this, please. Yes. The same thing, I think musically is like people don’t really, when everything is so highly compressed you don’t hear the detail so why even care about the detail and I think people have forgotten about it. It also creates a different kind of taste in music. We’re hungry for that bass that gets lost in compression and we’re hungry for those high ends …
- For the dynamics. Yes.
- The dynamics that aren’t there any more so they got to feed that hunger doing other things musically and it creates a manic quality to the music that you don’t really need.
- Acoustic desperation.
- You don’t need it. It just felt bigger, it just felt more full.
- Not even … It seems flat now. It’s ruined my ability to shuffle on iTunes because if you put something recent in there, it just sounds so loud it just pegged on the level. One of my treasured old Beach boys things will come which is super dynamic. It’ll start out really quiet. I was really into “Do You Want To Dance,” their cover of that. That thing is fucking kettledrums. Kettledrums? Are you shitting me? You can tell it was recorded in a great studio and obviously had a great ear and it just keeps building. Every time they get to the chorus, there’s this new crescendo or even simple stuff that they did. If you look at the start of the waveform over the whole song, it really builds where you just don’t … It’s like pop songs now, they got to catch you in five seconds or maximum allowed …
- Yes. That’s the whole listening to songs versus albums thing. It’s like people go … I do this. I go on Spotify. If it’s a new band I haven’t heard of, I go to their Spotify profile. I play one track and then it’s like, “Oh, I’m half way through the track, I haven’t decided whether I’m into it or not as opposed to before, you had to invest the money to actually buy it as opposed to just hearing it for free or go to your friend’s house or borrow their tape or whatever. You could never be able to fast forward through one track and say, “No, I’m done.” You have to listen to the whole side at least or at least what I would do, I would buy it. I took my allowance. I’d buy the tape and then listen to it four times to convince myself, “You know what, I can’t like it. I need to sell it.” Anyway.
- Yes. I had this weird memory just now and I’m still friends with this guy on Facebook. I can’t say his name because he’s probably in the clear by now but he used to print out on this old dot matrix, tear off the spool side of all of the albums that he had that he was willing to make you a copy of in exchange for. In my case, I would make him copies of games on a floppy disk. So we would swap. That’s where I first got copies of Beatles and all that stuff. Very primitive music swapping.
- Think about it. Back then, if you didn’t want to hear what was on the radio, what were your options? If you weren’t interested in what’s playing on the radio, what could you do? You had to know somebody or in my case, I didn’t know anybody so I just, I would buy Rolling Stone and I’d read all the reviews in Rolling Stone. Anything that sounded interesting to me, I would buy it. If it sucked, I would just return it and sell it. That’s all I could do. I just had to find some other source of magazine and then it wasn’t until I got into high school and I started meeting people with other, people with good taste like yourself and suddenly we could, “Oh, let’s make tapes.”
- It’s crazy to think of that, that you couldn’t just double click on a track.
- I remember when I bought my tape to tape deck, where I could actually make my own takes and oh, that was a good day. The fact that I could go borrow tapes so that anybody that I knew could make copies of them. That was and you’d buy those blank tapes. It’s like, “Oh, my god. I can get ten tapes.”
- Amazing. Then you’d punch out the little holes so you wouldn’t accidently record over them, then you’d tape over that because you did want to record over it.
- Yes. It was so much more like about the people that you met and what was their taste like and you would get to know them because of the mix tapes they would make for you and it’s like, it’s something about even buying a record like when we had that record on all summer and it was like, “Oh, I want to go back to it and open it up and I remember where I got this. I remember who I had a crush on or I remember what was going on in my life.”
- It really had a sense of place. Yes, sure.
- Yes. For a time you could say, “Oh, I remember when I downloaded that track.” I remember when that day, when I could play, when I clicked on that tune for …”
- That’s a good point. That’s a good point. You talk about how much more important journalism seemed and I suppose it is now but in a different way.
- The raw quality is, I think it’s different.
- I don’t know if this.. This might have been with you. I remember going … There was … Do you remember that record store Orafolk Joe?
- …. or maybe Garage Door. It was Garage Door and they had a basement where they’d keep old copies of every music magazine and you could dig through those. It’s just a whole basement of music magazine. You dig through them and find a great article on R.E.M. from 1984. You’d buy this old copy of this magazine just because you were so starved for good writing about the music because it was the only way you could really … There were so few people who would listen to something like that [crosstalk 00:48:15]
- We used to just go, that was our destination of choice was to just go to a record store and flip through their records, even though we already knew what they had, even though we’ve already flipped through them like a hundred times, but we just wanted to see them again because where else you going to get a chance to even see the artwork or even talk to the person who worked there about what this band or whatever, there was that dyke who worked at Orfolk who was there for The Replacements when they made their Stink record and she was helping put on the Stink stamp.
- She was really into, what’s it like … New Zealand rock. Do you remember that?
- Yes, yes, yes, yes.
- Which turns out is actually good. I just refused to listen to it back then because she was putting down The Pixies. “Well, screw you. I’m not going to listen to New Zealand rock.”
- But yes, I was all about, it was like in order to listen to or find good music, you had to find cool people and it was about what they were passionate about and there was this human connection we had to have which I still want to know what people are interested in music. “What are you listening to?” It’s always interesting to me.
I’m at the point now, I’m in one of my phases right now where everything sounds good so it’s dangerous for me to buy records right now. I don’t know. I can like almost anything sometimes, it seems. The music is so great but I just, I miss that quality, that more tactile human quality about music which now just feels so … I’m looking forward to the time when everything sounds better and production gets higher and this whole, I think the bitrate thing or all of the compression thing will be solved soon but anyway.
- I hope so.
- Neil Young is working on it. I don’t know if you heard about that.
- I don’t know. I’m generally an optimist but I don’t know how much Neil Young could move the needle In the whole industry but we’ll see.
- I think the good thing is …
- Isn’t he putting out this whole catalog in high def Blu-ray, something like that.
- I don’t know what he’s doing exactly with his catalog but he’s making this thing called The Pono, P-O-N-O.
- I hadn’t heard about that. It sounds like one of his albums.
- He’s trying to make a device like an iPod that actually plays things back at full quality which you’re really at this point isn’t a software program that could really lead it that quickly unless you’re playing it back on a tape or playing it back on a record.
- I wonder where you would set the upper limit like 96 …
- It’s 96 or above, is where it’s at.
- Like 24 bit not 16?
- I don’t know exactly. You’ll look it up.
- Yes, okay. One of the Ponos. You heard it here first, folks.
- He’s being trying to do it for years. I think he’s been trying to do it with Apple because he had a relationship with Steve jobs and I think they were working on it but then Steve died, the pushed, brushed Neil aside. He’s been doing it on his own. He says it’s going to come out last year, didn’t really work, then he said 2013.
- He got a Kickstarter?
- I don’t know. He’s talking to people. There think there are other devices that are trying to do the same thing but when people say they’ve heard it, it’s like listening to the original studio tapes. It’s better than CD quality. The thing is, I think back when iPod first came out, it was like, “Oh, look. I can put 200 songs on this little box” and now it’s like “I can put 200,000 songs on this little box.” Okay, we don’t need 200,000 songs. What we need is 20 albums that are all highest quality, and that seems doable, right?
- Maybe just proportionally compress the music on your iPod, so if you only have 20 songs it sounds amazing but if you have 2,000, it would sound pretty good.
- So, there’s my idea.
- There it is.
- There’s for the Pono, too. Whatever. Cool.
Okay. Tell me what else you’ve been enjoying in Portland in your six years here. You have any favorite restaurants or recreational areas or what’s cool here?
- I think food. The food scene here is definitely ridiculously good.
- Yes. I think so, too.
- if you live here and don’t realize that, you’re spoiled rotten because go visit some … I was just in New York for a large portion of …
- I went back to Minneapolis recently.
- Oh, my god. You. There’s a handful of good if you know where to go but here they’re everywhere. You can go to any corner. But I was in New York and even this huge city of New York it’s like people were like, “Oh, this is a great place for lunch,” and I go there and I’m like, “Oh, Portland. I miss Portland.” The food here is so … It’s so cheap. You don’t have to go to a fancy restaurant to get something that’s just fucking amazing.
- Yes, even on 82nd, despite all of its setbacks, it’s amazing ethnic food out here, I’m sure. You get this great Panini sandwich for $2.50. Its like, “Whoa!” They’ll sell it to you, some lady just yelled it to me today. She would not sell me anything on the menu. I was like, “Okay,” I was pointing to every part of the menu, couldn’t figure out what she … Just, “No, no, no,” and I was, “Well, how about tomorrow?” and she’s like “Two o’clock.” I’m not going to wait until 2:00 to eat a sandwich but …
- Yes, the food scene here is great. I think also, speaking of music, the fact that it is a music town and a lot of good bands feel like they need to stop in Portland along their tour which is great but then the venues are small, generally the crowds aren’t annoying. It’s really interesting going from city to city, moving around a lot and seeing how the different crowds are at different towns. The Portland vibe is great. It’s really friendly and excited but not annoying.
Weirdly enough, the vibe in LA is quiet. They’re almost too cool to enjoy themselves. They’re very respectful, they’re very quiet and they’re like, “Oh, yes. That was a very good show, very good show.”
- You see a lot of live music?
- Not as much as I’d like. I used to see it a lot more which leads me into the other part of Portland that I like, which is … If I can just chill the fuck out here. I think in being an editor, it’s really hard to be an editor in a city or do what I do in a city like Portland. Normally, I’d have to go either to New York or L.A. and those towns are just really hard to live in. There’s great people there. There’s great things to do there. There’s plenty of awesome shit happening but it’s just that day in and day out, it wears on you and I feel like when I lived in L.A. for five years, I had no … I couldn’t decompress, it’s always go, go, go, go, go whereas here in Portland, I can work a joint and get that jet fuel, that insanely intense working late night hours and being focused and creative but then when I leave, I can just go home and just be king of the introverts and just disappear or ride my bike or just walk around the neighborhood. It’s so easy to live in Portland and I don’t feel like there’s any … I don’t know. There’s any need to … It’s just, I can just check out in Portland. It’s great.
- I definitely come to terms with Portland. I like it. It’s totally not what I thought when I moved here even but …
- When did you move here?
- I’ve been here, I would probably say I moved here in 1999. it was right before the Y2K because I remember stockpiling jugs of water like, “Great. I’ll live for an extra week.” I don’t know what I was thinking but that’s how I remember it.
- What were you expecting when you came here?
- I think I was still not settled so I was thinking it would be overrun with hippies, like I’d be able to get mushrooms at every corner or something, which actually, you probably could back then. I feel like the city’s grown up along with me. Like now, it’s like I was vegetarian back then and all this stuff and not to imply that you grow up, you should grow out of it but just that I did. Now, Portland is like, it seemed like a super vegetarian friendly town, now it seems like a super meat friendly town.
- Meat eaters win in this town for sure.
- Yes, I mean and yes, like you were saying about restaurants are like, I will walk into some random place. We went to a jazz show at the Mission overnight.” What’s the nearest restaurant? I’ll just go there happy hour and just get something to eat and it was called Fish Sauce and it was amazing. It was like really good and they had hundreds of whiskeys. They made amazing, amazing drinks, it was like this is ridiculous.
- You just wondered in. That’s exactly the way it is in Portland.
- It was affordable. Everyone there was nice. (laughing) What else can you ask for?
- Okay. Cool.Is there some place that listeners who are interested should keep up with you online? Are you really into social media?
- I’m not really. I’m not a social media guy.
- Just watch your portfolio for interesting stuff. Do you even have a portfolio?
- It’s called a reel. If you go to jointeditorial.com, you can probably find it somewhere, and you can get an idea.
- You have no idea, do you? Just go the way and if it doesn’t say drummers it’s probably right. (laughing)
- Yes. No. I’m not really on computer. I’m on a computer all day. At one point, I think I realized at the house, I’m constantly in front of the screen, be it a computer screen. I have two computer screens that I’m looking at side by side and then I’ve got two different TV screens that I’m watching stuff on. Then, I’ve got like, when I’m figure out my life on my phone, that’s the screen I’m looking at. If I go home, it’s a TV screen I’m looking at. At one point I think about a year ago or something, I was just like, “Okay, no more screens. Like fuck screens. I’m not looking at screens. What does that do to my brain?”
- I’m going to quote that.
- Since I have to look at a screen all day for work and I’m constantly looking at images constantly, I just realized I needed to take a break from anything on the screen so I spend a whole lot of time online.
- You don’t put video on vine in your … (laughing) Kidding.
Okay, cool. Tommy, thanks for chatting with me today.
- It was great. I wish I could have actually had to ask you a lot more questions, too.
- Next time you can interview me.
- Okay. Great.
- I won’t start making up … Cool.
- Okay, bye. (laughing)
- There it is. Okay.