Audeze catches up with musician and engineer John Thayer

June 20, 2023

John Thayer is a New York-based musician and engineer whose experiential compositions are inspired by a deep attention to the sounds of the natural world. His recordings, centered around a hybrid of studio techniques and improvisatory performance, range from long-form meditations to polyrhythmic electro-acoustic collage.

John Thayer in the studio with his Audeze LCD-X headphones

"I've really been enjoying my new Audeze LCD-X's. I'm finding the bass response to be incredibly accurate which is a rarity for headphones. It's a big confidence boost knowing your monitoring environment is true."  - John Thayer
Here's our chat with John:
Can you pick out any highlights from your work that you're particularly proud of?

I am particularly proud of my recent album Supermundane. I was able to distill a number of interests I've been exploring, blending interlocking mallet arrangements with ambient soundscapes and hi-fi field recordings.

Listening Sky is a long form piece I composed after an artist residency in the high desert of Nevada. I lived in an off grid cabin and recorded everything with solar power. Once I got back to my studio I processed the recordings using tape machines and various fx boxes. It's a meditative reflection on a timeless place.

YAI is a project I have with my friend David Lackner, an amazing multi-instrumentalist. We've been having a blast chasing weird sounds. Our next LP should be wrapped before the end of the year.

Last year, my partner, Lea Thomas, released an album entitled Mirrors to the Sun which I performed on, recorded and co-produced. I think it's pretty great.

How did you get started in music? What kind of music did you listen to while growing up and how has that progressed?

I pulled the pots and pans out of the cupboard at 5 and started banging away. My mom asked me if I wanted to play drums and a week later I'm in lessons standing on a typewriter case to reach the snare drum. I've been playing ever since. Later on I became interested in learning other instruments and then eventually recording.

Growing up I listened to anything that caught my ear. CD's loomed large, going to the record store, listening in headphones to what the employees had suggested, then just buying it to feel cool! That's how I ended up owning Trout Mask Replica at 14. I knew it was a masterpiece but I was in over my head! Then Napster came along and suddenly it was all right in front of me.

I've always been very into dub reggae and jazz and that's remained a huge influence on my production and recording techniques. That's how I learned the studio is an instrument.

The same way we can develop our palette we can develop our listening habits. If we approach new sounds with curiosity, there's a world of amazing music awaiting us.

Can you name any factors that influenced the course of your musical life? Heroes, role models, moments, interactions, etc?

I moved to Washington D.C. at 18 and became very into the DIY ethos of that city and scene. Suddenly there was no real impediment to making music or recording or touring. You didn't need to wait for another person's approval, you could just go for it. That was quite a liberating realization.

Can you briefly describe a moment of frustration from your past work, and what you may have done to overcome the obstacles? Would you approach it differently now?

Sometimes a project doesn't work out, for a variety of reasons. It's always important to act with grace. If a person can learn the lesson and let go of the sting, those difficult experiences can become teachable moments and, later, if a similar situation arises, they'll be better prepared to handle it.

When I first moved to NYC I was in audio school and working at 2 recording studios. Through DC friends I had wandered into 2 incredible studio opportunities. I was so naive though, I couldn't keep up. I just didn't know enough. I ended up getting fired. Now, in my mind I'd already become a star working out of this room! At first I was upset and hurt. Then I thought about my time there, how I had conducted myself and realized I definitely should have been fired. I just wasn't ready. It was a great learning experience, it taught me how to be a helpful, egoless and a silent collaborator when necessary. It also led me to a new studio and new community that I'm still very involved in 15 years later.

Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?

Last year I acquired a Lexicon Primetime delay. It's been a desert island piece of gear for me. Like all of these genius boxes it's really an instrument. I also love software, I'm always checking out new things to inspire creativity. Unfiltered Audio is a very cool company making some hip software.

I am looking at 40 so I was obligated to buy a modular rig. It's in the adult musician contract. All the Mutable Instruments modules are super inspiring.

I also love to mix analog if budget and time allow. I've long worked out of Thump Recording in Brooklyn, the studio has a Neve 8014 and mixing through that is a dream.

Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire toward a similar path for their own careers?

Comparison is guaranteed to take away your power. Only compare yourself to the previous version of yourself. Be generous when you can but also remember to know your worth and set boundaries around what's important to you. Be patient.

How long have you been working with headphones, and how do you typically use them in your workflow?

I've been using headphones since I started recording on a 4 track in high school. I've always loved the private world you enter when you're in phones.

In the studio, whether it's a rogue set up in someone's house or in a more traditional setting, having a pair of cans you trust is essential. I'm bringing my own to every session I do.

When mixing or mastering I'm always printing down in headphones, hyper focused on any details I might miss on my speakers.

Do you have any additional comments or stories you want to share?

Music is a post linguistic form of communication, a global language. It's an amazingly powerful and potent medium. I love and revere it.

How have your Audeze headphones affected your work? 

I've really been enjoying my new Audeze LCD-X's. I'm finding the bass response to be incredibly accurate which is a rarity for headphones. It's a big confidence boost knowing your monitoring environment is true. Adding the LCD's to my arsenal in addition to my nearfields has been a huge plus. I'm looking forward to getting better acquainted! 

Can you tell us what you've been working on with them recently?

Lately I've been working on a new LP with guitarist and composer Ezra Feinberg, putting the finishing touches on a new album with singer-songwriter and guitarist Lea Thomas and finishing production on a new YAI album, a collaboration I have with my friend David Lackner, an incredible multi-instrumentalist. Lots more in the works for 2023!

John Thayer's Audeze LCD-X headphones