Audeze chats with pedal steel guitarist Bob Hoffnar

Bob Hoffnar is primarily a pedalsteel player, but has found himself running a small studio where he does quite a bit of composition and production work. He's produced dreamy soundscapes in the pop, jazz, classical and experimental realms, sometimes all at once.

 

"My LCD-X headphones have been a major game changer for my workflow. I now can completely trust the sounds I am developing when I'm unable to use my monitors."  - Bob Hoffnar
Here's our talk with Bob:
Can you pick out any highlights from your work that you're particularly proud of?

In terms of popular music I'm really proud of my work with the Brooklyn band Hem.
I also had my own band in Austin that was super fun called "the mood illusion"
I've been mostly interested in more adventurous music lately, using overtone ratios to create different forms like this.
I run a concert series and have a bandcamp page with some of the more interesting work I've been doing. 
I have been working on a system of activating the standing waves and null points in a room so that they "freeze" in place. As you walk around or turn your head you hear different sounds. I call it "Spatial Prismatic Active Listening." It's a different sort of thing. Maybe it's not music but it is a very cool thing to experience.

How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on these days?

I'm either a hired pedalsteel player or a composer/producer or sometimes all at once. I have also been doing a fair bit of live recording work of classical chamber music and some jazz.

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

I've been into playing music since I was a kid. I got my first job when I was 12 so I could buy a bass and an amp. I listened to Jimi Hendrix and used to take the bus in Silver Springs MD to the library of congress in DC so I could hear the Juilliard String Quartet play. My dad used to sneak me into bars to hear Roy Buchanan. I basically devoured any music I could get at. I'm not sure if I have made any progress over the years but I have somehow been able to keep getting by as a musician.

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

I was obsessed with the sound Jack Casady made with his bass as a kid. Then when I was 21 I was playing a gig with a pretty wild band (Indoor Life) at the Mudd Club in NYC and he met me backstage and wanted to talk bass. It took me a bit before I could speak in sentences!

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?

I was unable to access the music I was hearing in my head because of lack of vocabulary. I was also getting offers for gigs that I was unable to do because I couldn't follow the changes or read much at all. So I took a break from gigging and went to music school for four years. The benefit from that was exponential. I would highly recommend getting a solid education.

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

I play my Emmons pedalsteel and Milkman amp for recording and gigs. In my studio I find myself reaching for the Pendulum Audio ES-8 for compression and the Pultec EQP-1A3 for EQ quite a bit. I don't use plug-ins hardly ever in my work flow.

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

I was talking with Henry Threadgill about some composition problems I was having and he suggested to not add any more information to the piece but reexamine the material already there. That opened some big doors for me. Other than that I think that when you are playing (or maybe composing) the main thing is to pay attention to what you are hearing more than what you are playing if that makes any sense. As far as careers go if you want to pursue a life of music don't have a plan B.

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

I need an accurate way to monitor my low mid range because of my room. So headphones have become essential as part of my workflow. If I can't hear the detail I can't get functional sounds. And then my studio is at home so I need to work on headphones to keep the peace.

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

The isolation and abrupt stopping of all live work during the shutdown has been great for me. I took on a bunch of composition and production work just to stay busy and it turns out I really love it.

How have your Audeze headphones affected your work?

My LCD-X headphones have been a major game changer for my workflow. I now can completely trust the sounds I am developing when I'm unable to use my monitors. I also can check on bass response in the problem areas my room has. Super comfortable and very easy on my ears. When I work on classical type recordings the Audeze are the first headphones I have used that capture the depth of field without ambiguity. After using my LCD-X headphones I realize how essential being able to hear accurately really is. I should not have waited so long to upgrade.

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

The current projects on my desk now are transcribing The Shaggs first album, then writing, arranging and recording the music for a contemporary jazz ensemble. I'm primarily using medieval composition techniques for structure then letting guys at it. I'm also recording and producing a western swing band for a client as well as producing a chamber ensemble I recorded in a small concert hall.  Also a steady stream of remote pedalsteel overdubs.