August 20, 2020
Brad Wood, a record producer and mixer since 1988, has produced hundreds of albums including groundbreaking debuts by Liz Phair, Veruca Salt, Sunny Day Real Estate, Ben Lee, Pete Yorn & Placebo. He has also produced career highlight albums for artists like Smashing Pumpkins, mewithoutYou, Touché Amoré, Say Anything, the Bangles and Skating Polly. Originally from Chicago, Brad now lives in Los Angeles and works in his private full-service studio, where he uses a hybrid of the best new and vintage analog and digital equipment.
Here is our interview with Brad:
Can you pick out any favorites from your work that you're particularly proud of?
I love them all, but am particularly proud of the Liz Phair album Exile In Guyville. It was an important vehicle for her voice and unique lyrics and it continues to resonate with listeners, gaining stature as the years go on. I also am proud of the 2 Veruca Salt albums I produced (1994’s American Thighs & 2016’s Ghost Notes). The chance to work with the band at their inception and again as they reformed after so many years was gratifying and humbling. Ben Lee and I have made several albums over his long career- from his debut in 1995 to his hit album Awake Is the New Sleep in 2005 and continuing right up to 2019. He’s now a man in his 40’s and I’ve seen him go from a precocious 15-year old to a husband and father who lives just a few minutes up the road from us. mewithoutYou and Touché Amoré dazzled me with the raw power of their music and words. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so challenged in the studio before I worked with those 2 bands, from a philosophical point of view. Game changers. I truly have the best job.
How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on?
When a band or artist hires me, they get the whole package: pre-production to mixdown. Sometimes that means helping write songs, but usually it means getting into the practice space (or Zoom call in 2020) and pulling the songs into shape, isolating the players’ parts and looking for strengths and weaknesses, recording all the music, editing and mixing. It takes effort to make a great record and I love the craft of recording sounds. When you hire me you get an ally.
How did you get started in music?
I started playing saxophone as a young kid, joined the musician’s union at age 15, studied jazz in college and moved into record production at age 22. I’ve never not been a musician.
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?
When I was in college, I began to realize that I would never be the great saxophonist I had hoped to be, no matter how many hours I practiced. It took a few years of frustration and fear before I found a way to put the knowledge I learned from studying jazz and classical music into good use as a record producer. I feel that our 20’s are often disruptive times and I had to go through that period like everyone else. I wouldn’t change a thing about that.
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’ve got a 1970’s Electra Jazz Bass copy that I bought in 1985 for $50. It’s on 100’s of songs I’ve recorded and is indispensable to me. It’s trash, but it’s glorious trash. I lean heavily on Pro Tools and have done so since 1991 when it was Sound Tools. I adore anything made by Rupert Neve and now use a lot of the Rupert Neve Designs line in my everyday work flow. Earthquaker Devices make the best guitar pedals, full stop, and they’ve become my go-to pedals when tracking guitars. I also love my Alessandro Beagle 10-watt guitar amp and my 1940’s DuKane public address amplifier from my dad’s funeral home.
Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire to get where you are in their own careers?
Make stuff. Don’t wait for permission, just make stuff.
How long have you been working with headphones, and what inspired you to start including them in your workflow?
I bought my first pair of headphones at age 12 (Realistic) and would listen in the dark to my favorite albums, all night long. Headphones are essential to my life and work, can’t imagine not using them!
Revisiting mixes on the LCD-X's, getting lost in the moment. An occupational hazard, courtesy of Audeze. Truth in advertising- I lose so many hours listening with these cans!