May 30, 2023
I suppose the most recognizable highlights would be as a producer, engineer and sometimes drummer for Leon Bridges, and as a drummer and occasional recording engineer for the band White Denim. Like many, I tend to be most proud of slightly more recent things. Live recordings in a single room on Jamestown Revival’s latest album ‘Young Man’, or helping produce a comfortable and trusting creative environment for the band CAAMP on their last album ‘By and By’ represent some more recent highlights. Those and the albums that aren’t out yet or are still being made.
More recently, I’m finding myself in a more supportive roll overall, trying to tie the room together whenever and however possible. That could be producing, co-producing, co-writing, mixing, engineering, or playing drums because someone just doesn’t have a drummer. Sometimes it’s just handing the keys to the studio over to someone with good energy and great ideas, and just getting out of the way. Personally, I’m always pretty focused on recording acoustic instruments.
I started young. My mother was a singer with a degree from a popular music school in Texas. She didn’t force music on me, but it was just a thing that came with childhood. That evolved into early education, which centered around percussion. From there, music school, and after that playing in small groups and jamming with my close friends. That usually always ends up with someone needing to learn how to record the band. I had some basic engineering classes behind me, but most of my recording knowledge I learned from either tracking my own projects with friends or spending as much time with a producer or engineer we were working with. That soon turned into being a member of a touring band that I had recorded. And soon I started getting called into sessions as a drummer, and showing up to try and learn production whenever possible. If you’re buying gear the whole time all that’s happening, it doesn’t hurt, and it eventually becomes a full commercial studio and a discography of works.
I suppose growing up in a small town that had an above average amount of interesting and artistic personalities had the most impact on me, at least when looking back. The spirit of placing great importance on expression, along with a connection to folklore and embracing the more magical or mystical parts of our world was a constant part of life. It definitely made its way into the schools, and of course the music programs. Having people around to help build a foundation early on can be important, and being in an environment where every kid ended up together by 6th grade meant that you were given the chance to experience this with peers from the whole of the community. I’d say I’ve tried to carry that wonder and curiosity I grew up around with me as long as I possibly can.
Every single day has its challenges. Ha! I’d say that the most simple recording I’ve ever made was my most frustrating. I had limited gear, no listening environment, no tools I trusted, and all the time in the world to get it more and more wrong. In the end, half of what was chosen as final mixes for the album were roughs I made right off the first listen back. It was after three or four days of tracking, I printed the roughs down while breaking down the studio, going over every once in a while to turn something down because it clearly sounded wrong from wherever I may have been standing.
This is maybe less about what I did in the moment to overcome it, but more what I’ve learned about objectivity and trying to get where you know you need to be quickly. It’s okay to take a while to have something to say, but what’s not okay, for me personally, is trying to work something before I actually have anything to say at all. Learning to come at something with perspective because you were able to listen with an open mind and clear heart seems to be the lesson I’m constantly learning. It’s taken a while to realize it has more to do with headspace than it does with stamina.
I promise this isn’t just a plug, but I find myself turning to my Audeze headphones and favorite headphone DAC the Chord Hugo 2 more and more. It’s definitely been said before, but it really is nice having something you trust as much as your near-fields everywhere you go. One thing that’s recently opened up for me is starting my mixes in them (and preferably outdoors if it’s a digital recording). When I finally pull the session up on my speakers, it’s already so close and I can just be creative and in the moment in all new ways.
I’ve also been spending a lot of time moving the Terry Audio CEQ around in my mixes, and it’s a creative and deep tool to bring in. Marshall is a special designer, and it shows in the tools he has created.
Don’t stop at what you’re doing now, or how you’re doing it. And I couldn’t say my path is clear, but I’m completely fine with that. I think being satisfied in the work you do is paramount. The main stuff I regret in my career is the work I didn’t enjoy making.
About 6 years now and counting with Audeze, and I’ve been using headphones my entire career. I check everything with them, from tracking through mixing and reviewing masters. I know them more than my most trusted nearfields. And now that I’m trying to work away from my studio more, I use them at every single point I can.
I’ve seen a lot of benefits since I added the LCD-XC closed backs to my headphone collection, on top of the LCD-2C open backs I use to mix. One major benefit is that I’m often producing and playing on most of the albums I work on. Having some consistency that not only moves from room to room, but also from role to role has been pretty massive. I find it a lot easier to make production decisions from behind the kit now. The other is being able to work in single room environments more. It’s been a goal to become much more mobile and flexible with production, both with mixing remotely and producing from odd locations. The combo of LCD-XC’s and 2C’s have solved a lot of issues for me in that regard. Looking forward to stepping those 2C’s up to 5’s very soon! :)
I’ve been tracking live albums at our studio in Texas a good bit recently, one of which is for a newer artist named Thomas Csorba. Since it’s a very acoustic band driven album we decided to track drums in the control room and give the acoustic ensemble and vocalist the live room to capture a much more dynamic and wide open performance. The XC’s were SO helpful with that!
In the same respect, I was engineering some single room tracking dates with Leon Bridges recently at a remote location. The goal was to get everyone in the room together and work out ideas, drums and all. Having the detail of monitors and isolation at the same time made my job easier by an overwhelming margin. I ended up using the mains for just band playback, and all my decisions were informed by my cans. That was a very new and exciting change for me.