An Interview with Juno Award Winning Music Producer Siegfried Meier!

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Producer Siegfried Meier at Beach Road Studios shot by Rob Boyce

Siegfried Meier is an internationally acclaimed music producer, audio engineer, mixer and musician who’s been doting his unparalleled talents upon the music industry for nearly three decades. While he first became enthralled with the magic of audio recording at a time when most of his peers were still learning to walk and memorize their ABC’s, it wasn’t until he hit high school that he actually started recording projects professionally. But, the instant love he developed for mixing and recording when he first discovered that he could create his own versions of the songs he heard on the radio using a tape recorder at the age of 2 was the initial step that led him towards the successful career he has today.

Something that separates Meier from most other producers and engineers is the fact that he is, above all, a musician. In the early 90s, when he was still in his teens, he cofounded the melodic rock/punk band Curtis. Meier has gone on to release six albums with Curtis since the band’s inception over 20 years ago, all of which he mixed, mastered, engineered and produced in addition to playing guitar, piano and serving as the band’s lead vocalist.

In 2006 Meier started Beach Road Studios, but the vision for the now incredibly well known recording studio was one that he had brewing a decade prior to when it first opened its doors to the public. Over the years he has recorded a plethora of bands and artists across practically every genre including Kittie, Thine Eyes Bleed, Woods of Ypres, Baptized in Blood, Dayna Manning, Painted Faces, Slouch, Gag Order and many more.

Meier’s vast experience as a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and vocalist has been a major factor in the success of many of the bands that he has recorded and produced over the years, as he is able to easily jump in and play additional instruments when needed during the recording process.

When it comes to the metal and punk genres, Meier has left an indelible mark on the industry with his skill; and, in 2013 the album “Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light,” which he produced and engineered for the band Woods of Ypres took home the Juno Award, the equivalent of a Grammy in the US, for Best Metal/Hard Music Album of the Year.

To find out more about how Siegfried Meier got to where he is today, some of his early influences and his plans for the future, make sure to check out our interview below. You can also find out more about him and the long list of projects he’s recorded and produced over the years through his website: http://www.siegfriedmeier.com/

Where are you from?

SM: I was born in Oberviechtach, Bavaria, Germany and moved to Canada when I was 5. I grew up in Goderich, Ontario, Canada on the same 220-acre family farm where Beach Road Studios now resides. Growing up, I was the one that was always interested in music – creating it, recording it, pretending I had new bands that I was in and creating album artwork for said “fake” bands. My mom was a huge fan of the Beatles when she was younger, having bought all the German versions of their singles back home, but didn’t really expose me to any of it because by the time I came around the focus was on the farm and raising 4 kids while my father was working construction in Berlin during the week as well as the farm on weekends – sadly leisure time came few and far between in those days. Being the youngest, and 5 years behind my next brother, having a babysitter to take care of me while my mother did the daily chores wasn’t always an option. To prevent me from getting killed on the farm while she was working, my mother would keep me in a locked, but safe, room in the house with toys to keep me occupied– yes, it sounds awful by today’s standards but times were different back then! My father had given me a tape recorder to play with by the age of 2, and even though it probably wasn’t the safest thing to be tinkering with (220v in Europe of course haha), pressing the buttons and recording my voice along with music off the radio became my favorite way to pass the time. My life would be forever be changed.

How and when did you get into music?

SM: Having moved to Canada in 1983, the first 3 music videos I was exposed to were Van Halen’s ‘Jump,’ Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ and Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’…it instantly changed my life since all I’d ever really heard were Bavarian polka songs on German radio. Growing up I tinkered with playing synth and keyboards and always created fake bands that “made it” and toured around the world. It wasn’t until my early teens that I started to focus solely on guitar and recording/producing as a profession. I started to play in local bands at age 13 and focused on my first serious band Curtis by my mid teens – we released a few records, and I began my production career by recording all of our albums. It didn’t take long before I realized that by making records with bands that we shared the stage with that I could afford to buy more equipment to build up the studio. While our band is still together and making music to this day, for me the focus shifted quickly to producing for a living early on. I attended The Ontario Institute of Audio Recording Technology for Production and Engineering by age 21, and the rest is history!

What did music do for you when you discovered you were able to communicate through it?

SM: Music literally saved my life early on. Times were tough during the financial brutalness that was the 1980s and living on a farm when interest rates were high, and drought was ravaging the only income our family had. I would sing and create songs and melodies to keep myself occupied, and it often made me forget how bad things seemed at the time. As a teen, and going through the things teenagers do, music became the thing that got you through the day – the reward for putting up with what appeared to be general social unfairness. I listened to music when I went to bed every night at a very young age, and it would always put me in a relaxing, conscious state while I dreamt of what the next day would bring. It really was what got me from one moment of my life to the next, and continues to do so.

How many instruments do you play and how long have you been playing each?

SM: Guitar would be my longest running instrument – 25 years. I’ve played piano and keys for well over 30 years, but would hardly say I’m an accomplished player – I hear the melodies in my head and with the aid of Pro Tools and MIDI am able to create what I need (strings, piano, synths etc.). I’ve been drumming for over 25 years, and have been programming drums for well over 25 years. I’ve played bass for as long as I’ve played guitar, and often provide bass playing services on many projects I produce. I sing backup vocals on nearly every album I produce these days, and I am a vocalist as well in my own music and projects.

Which was your first? And which one do you currently get the most enjoyment out of it?

SM: Keyboards/piano would be my first, but I never became a prolific player beyond hearing what needs to be there and where a song needs to go. Guitar is certainly my main instrument, and the one I get the most enjoyment out of. I’m by no means a shredder– I’ve always focused on songwriting and chord voicings. An infinite amount of feelings and emotions can be created with a voice and a few guitar chords, it’s pretty incredible.

What was one of the first projects that you engineered for another artist?

SM: When I first started acquiring gear, having a space to record in wasn’t always available to me. While it was fine to record our own music in our bedrooms, it wasn’t always an answer when it came time to start working with other clients. In those days, I’d often take a small Mackie mixer, a 1/4” 8 track reel to reel and a case of mics and stands to the bands spaces to get the job done. One of my first was a band that was considering using my services, but wanted me to show them what I was capable of before they committed. So I dragged all my gear to their country home and we tracked the band live off the floor in their barn! I ran a long snake out to a desk I had sitting outside, and it was a nice and sunny day so there were no worries of the elements damaging any equipment. They loved the outcome of our demo so much that I got the record, which I ended up producing in a friend’s home where I later had the studio temporarily setup. 

How has your approach to engineering changed since you first began?

SM: Incidentally, much of my approach really hasn’t. Being a musician first and doing so much work with my own band, I understand that the artist always comes first. You shouldn’t have to make it too complicated to capture a good source – it comes from the hands, heart and mind first, and when you have a great sounding room and a good instrument, it’s easy!! However, having this amazing facility these days has made things a little more complicated. I prefer to keep a lot of instruments and gear permanently set up and wired in at all times, so it’s very quick to lay down parts and keeps the artist in a creative mind. But I’d say the options available to us these days in the studio don’t necessarily make for better sounding music, but they do allow me to have certain effects and sounds ready to go for the artist, and being quick on the draw is what’s important when you’re dealing with outside clients.

When did you start producing music?

SM: I started producing our own bands music early on in my mid teens (Curtis). Our first studio experience with an engineer really changed my outlook on music, and it made me realize that the other side of the glass was more exciting. The technical side of things has always fascinated me, and my father used to manufacture and customize all sorts of machinery on the farm – it’s what gave me my interest in mechanical and electronic devices. Having always been a computer fanatic from an early age, once I realized that the music, the electronic and computer worlds could all work together, it became my trifecta of nerd awesomeness! 

How does producing tie all of your talents together?

SM: Being a musician first, I’m able to get into the mind of the artist better than someone with just a technical background. So many bands have chosen to make records with me because of that. They know that I treat them the same way that I’d expect to be treated if I were the artist. A good producer is someone that is well rounded, and doesn’t necessarily cater to the band member that plays their instrument of choice – you can often hear the producers that are drummers or guitar players only, as those elements are in the forefront while others take a backseat. But I understand that the song is king, and whatever element is telling the story needs to be treated with the utmost importance. 

When did you open Beach Road Studios?

SM: We broke ground on Beach Road in May of 2006, although the idea of it went back at least a decade prior. The studio was built with the help of family and friends, and I enlisted the help of the singer of a band I had produced an EP for, Robbie McCowan of Chasing Mercury. We worked out a wonderful barter deal where I would produce the bands forthcoming album, put them up here and take care of all costs, and he would build the studio for me, a nearly 3000 sq ft structure from scratch and from the ground up until completion – a process that took several years to finish. Robbie was an incredible guitar player and songwriter, and while I had never seen any of his work before in person, I wholeheartedly based his carpentry skills on his musical ability alone!! And, my gut feeling was the right one — Robbie proved to be one of the most talented guys I’ve ever met in my life, both in the studio and in working on one!

How has your career changed since you opened your own recording studio?

SM: Having our own dedicated facility has certainly opened up what I can offer to other clients. Before Beach Road, I was still working out of a small apartment, and tracking the loud instruments like drums in commercial studios. But, I lost out on a lot of records because my schedule and space weren’t ideal to the creation and vision of the artist. These days, all I do are produce and engineer music, and my clients know that I’m ready to go 24/7. By providing a secluded place in the country where the artist can live and stay during the creation of their masterpiece, I’ve not only set myself apart from nearly everyone making records these days, I’ve also created a vibe and atmosphere that aren’t easily attained. Most artists feel instantly at home when they walk in and see 40 guitars on the wall, a stack of amps ready to go and all these other instruments patched in prepared to create music. The studio has also given us press and notoriety that wasn’t available previously. For a while, the studio was getting so famous that people had heard of Beach Road without knowing who I even was!

Can you tell us about some of the projects you’ve produced and engineered and how approached the project?

SM: The band Kittie was looking to detract from their previous record and wanted something more stripped down, aggressive and back to their roots; and they approached me to produce “In The Black” in 2008. They loved the idea of doing the record in a secluded space like Beach Road. It was the first album I produced on my own for the band, and I definitely had to prove myself to them, regardless of the fact that we had a previous working relationship.

Thine Eyes Bleed was hot off one of the biggest world tours of the year, and signed to New York metal label The End Records. I’d known the singer and guitarist for some time, and they approached me about producing their next record here at Beach Road. I knew they were snowballing as a band, and that it would be an incredible opportunity for me. The bass player was the brother of the singer of Slayer, and his massive resume and experience certainly intimidated me at first. Once he understood that I was on his team, and only wanted to make an amazing album with them, things certainly started to move along well. The band wanted a pretty stripped down thrash record, that was heavy and full of life. I produced the record the way we used to on tape – capturing real, natural performances instead of the standard cookie cutter Pro Tool’ed method that was becoming so common in 2007.

Blue Skies At War approached me to produce a collection of songs live off the floor for them in late 2002. They were quite a popular emo/punk rock band in the early 2000s, and I was stoked to be working with them. At the time, I was still working as an assistant at a commercial recording studio, so while I was happy to be getting any of my own production work, there wasn’t always time. These guys were definitely on my radar, so after some discussion with the band I was finally able to get them to come in for a few days…and we tracked FAST. Because of budget constraints, the band only had 3 days to record and mix 9 songs. One specific song caught the attention of label owner Brian Hetherman of Curve Music, and he expressed interest in working further with the band. The song was the only super catchy, radio friendly song the band had, and while it was still in development when we started working on it, I created and sang a number of background vocal hooks that became the focus of the song. Curve put some more money into the project, and it allowed me the time to edit and remix the entire record for commercial release. The album did well, with said song ‘Last Call’ getting radio play on every major station across Canada. The band did a number of tours before calling it quits. The singer started a new side project called Machete Avenue, and I produced their first record and 2nd EP.

I’d worked with singer Nick Harris on a solo acoustic side project before he joined 4 other tech/punk rock/space rock dudes in the band Seconds To Go. I produced an EP for the band that quickly gained the attention of Face To Face singer Trever Keith at Vagrant Records. The label expressed interest in the band, and I produced a few more EP’s for them before they took off to do the record for Vagrant unfortunately. A few years later, the band came back to me to do a few new singles that they were releasing independetly. These turned into a few more songs and eventually a full-length album that was released in 2006 on Trever’s label Antagonist Records and Pop Culture Records. The band toured long and hard for many years, and was on the big Face To Face/My Chemical Romance tour in 2004.

I had lived in the same town in my teens as The Salads’ singer Darren Dumas, and the band expressed interest in working at the commercial studio I was at in the early 2000s. I was the assistant engineer and Pro Tools engineer on their “Fold A To B” record that did quite well in Canada, winning the band a CASBY Award and landing a deal with Labatt’s Brewery for their song ‘Get Loose.’ The song became the runaway hit of the summer of 2003, and people still recognize the song from commercials to this day. The track was also featured on the soundtrack for Eurotrip as the closing credits song. In 2009, after I’d built Beach Road, the band approached me to help produce their forthcoming album “Music Every Day.” Budget was a concern as always, since the band was now independent, so I provided as much as I could to the record with the band filling in the gaps in their own home studio, tracking some guitars and vocals. Their bass player currently plays in famous Canadian rock band I Mother Earth.

What makes you want to work with an artist?

SM: First and foremost, their music. Talent certainly plays a huge role in there as well, but it’s important to me that a first meeting proves how we gel and generally get along together. If I’m to put up an artist or band for several weeks at a time in my private space, and spend days upon days with them creating something very dear to their heart, we need to establish that we have a connection together. I’m not really at a point where a manager dictates what artist would be “good for my career,” and I hope to always have the freedom to choose who I work with.

How much musical input do you have when producing a project for an artist?

SM: It generally varies from project to project. Some, I’m simply capturing the performance and delivering the desired product. Others, I’m being asked to play drums, bass, guitars and sing backup vocals!! We usually establish very early on in the meeting stages exactly what my role will be, and it feels great to be able to provide all these services to a very personal project for others.

Who have been a few of your favorite artists or groups to produce over the years and why?

SM: I started working with the girls in the band Kittie at a young age. I was the assistant engineer on their 2nd record “Oracle” that was produced by Gggarth Richardson (Rage Against The Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rise Against). It was a pivotal moment in my life as it was my first time working with such a legendary producer. Years later, after I built Beach Road, the lead singer/writer of Kittie, Morgan Lander, came to sing backups on a record I was producing for the metal band Thine Eyes Bleed. She loved the studio and we instantly rekindled our old friendship. The girls have gone on to have me produce 2 full lengths for them and several singles (one for a David Bowie tribute record out on Cleopatra Records and one for a Runaways tribute record), and we’ve all become the best of friends. Our sessions are an absolute riot and it hardly ever feels like we’re actually doing work.

Robbie McCowan, the singer and main writer of the band Chasing Mercury is the guy that built Beach Road for me. The year after the studio was built, we got to work on their first full-length album. The band is a great mix of tech/prog/punk, similar to Propagandhi, and wrote some incredibly catchy songs. A year after the release of the album, Robbie landed a deal with a video company and the songs were licensed to a snowboarding DVD that has been in regular rotation on TV. Robbie and the band were clearly very close to my heart, and he’s become one of my closest friends.

Thine Eyes Bleed was a band that was on my radar for a while. They were a Canadian thrash metal band that had just finished the Unholy Alliance Tour in 2006 with Slayer, Lamb of God and Mastodon. I knew the singer of the band, Justin Wolfe, from previous bands around the area, as well as their guitar player Jeff Phillips, who toured and teched with Kittie for a short while. The bass player John Araya is the brother of Slayer singer Tom Araya, and the band was definitely doing some amazing things. After running into Justin in a club, they expressed interest in checking out the new studio we’d just finished building. The idea of recording in a secluded area really interested the entire band, and after coming to see the place, they were sold on having me produce the record. I produced the followup to this album as well, and Tom Araya was a guest vocalist on it – a pretty cool moment in my life to have to opportunity to work with him!

I got the record for the band Woods of Ypres through Morgan Lander of Kittie, who recommended me for their upcoming record. I knew the history of the band, and that they’d put out quite a few records. From the first few chords that we tracked for the album, I knew it was going to be something quite unique and special. I only spent a short 2 weeks working with the band, but the experience will never be forgotten. The album went on to win a Juno Award a year after David Gold passed away. I continue to work with the other half of WOY, Joel Violette, in his other side project Thrawsunblat, and I’ve co-produced, edited and mixed the last 2 records for them.

Breaching Vista was a local band that contacted me early on in their career to produce an EP, and I went on to produce their full length “Vera City.” We spent the better part of a year making the record and the guys and I became very close. The record sold a decent amount for an indie band in Canada, but they landed gigs with Mariana’s Trench, Theory of a Deadman, Econoline Crush, Hedley, Jack’s Mannequin, Our Lady Peace, The Arkells and many others. Definitely one of the hardest working bands I know.

I started working the band The Dunes when I was working briefly with a Canadian Producer Manager. I’d heard about them for a while, and their music was really picking up momentum. My manager had them do a couple demos here with me in the fall of 2007, and the band was hooked. We ended up doing a full length together in 2008 that went on to do quite well in Canada. The first single was featured in the soundtrack for the movie Limitless starring Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro.

You’ve produced A LOT of great work for punk and metal bands over the years, can you tell us why these are some of the most challenging styles to produce?

SM: The records can certainly be technically challenging, especially with such aggressive music and often tricks and special techniques have to be employed to capture the desired result. But, with such aggressive music often times comes a certain attitude as well, and it’s as difficult clicking and jiving with the artists as it is capturing their hard work. With a full band, there are so many personalities and opinions that need to be dealt with and addressed, and it can definitely be trying at the best of times. However, approaching it all with a cool head and a willingness to work hard helps in a big way. When the artist knows that you’re on their side, and not simply there to tear it apart and make it your own, they truly do trust you. When I make decisions, I make them a part of it – it’s their record, and they ultimately sign off on any decisions made. But, I make them understand that they have to pick and choose their battles. 

How do you manage to achieve such clarity and definition in the work you produce for metal and punk bands without losing the heaviness of their sound?

SM: I feel it’s important to stay true to the artist. I’m very much a performance based producer since I’m a musician myself, so I make sure to get full takes of the artist. I feel this has a much more realistic vibe and really captures the essence of what the artist is going for, without losing the heaviness that they’re accustomed to hearing in a live situation. That being said, I employ lots of various vintage analog and digital equipment that is really geared towards sounding a certain way – let’s call some of them one trick ponies – that are set up and ready to patch in when I need them. Also, not bloating a production certainly helps maintain the clarity and making certain elements sound smaller in the mix are sometimes necessary – not every guitar part needs to be huge, thick and heavy! You have to pick and choose which parts need to be excessively thick based on the song and structure of the track.

Who are some of your music influences, and how have they influenced you?

SM: Because of what I was exposed to growing up, my influences are so wide…everything from Fleetwood Mac to Ric Ocasek (The Cars) and The Carpenters to Nirvana and Face To Face…listening to the top 40 pop records of the 80s and being a taping kid (cassette tapes recording music off the radio), I grew up loving the over-the-top productions of that decade – and often the production was better than the songs!! Madonna and Blondie to Jimmy Eat World and Refused…in the end, the song is king. The melodies and the beat. I learned early on that drums and vocals are such a huge part of any successful production that it’s key to get those in the face of the listener. They are what speak to the average person that knows nothing about music production. Everyone has a voice, and everyone dances to a beat – if they can feel and relate to those things, then you essentially have the makings of a hit.

As a musician, do you have a personal music style that you prefer to play?

SM: I grew up listening to top 40 pop hits of the 80s, but having older siblings exposed me to the heavier and harder acts. In the 90s, Nirvana and punk rock completely changed the landscape, and it was a very influential time for many – myself included. While my musical tastes have certainly developed over the years, I’m still most definitely attracted to any catchy, hooky tunes that generally have an aggressive edge to them. I love all types of distortion, and I find such a harmonic bliss in adding it to any source. I suppose having such a wide variety of influences has helped my career as a producer, and I’m comfortable jumping from doing a metal record to a country album the next day.

What awards have been the most exciting so far?

SM: We were nominated for Best Metal/Hard Rock Album of The Year for the Woods of Ypres album “Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light” at the 2013 Juno Awards, which we went on to win. It’s my first win, and definitely the most unexpected. The band was a Canadian underground Doom Metal band that had been slaving away for over 10 years before I did their last record. The singer/main writer and frontman David Gold sadly passed away just before the album was released, and it’s made it a pretty difficult record to even listen to anymore.

What do you think separates you from other music producers?

SM: My ability to see the end result even at the earliest phone recording demo stages certainly sets me apart from most. Patience, organization and an undying dedication to the projects are a given for any successful producer, but certainly being a musician and understanding the wants and needs of fellow musicians makes me stand out.

 

Can you tell me everything about any upcoming projects/ tours/ releases/ collaborations?

SM: Kittie will be releasing a new documentary/book next summer. While I’m not directly involved in the creation of it, they did film a good chunk here at Beach Road with me. The girls are also planning on recording their next album with me here next summer, presumably to coincide with the release of this. It could be their last album as a band, as they’ve hinted to in the past…but that’s to be decided as of yet!

I just finished producing a record for this hardworking Christian rock band, Anthem For Today, which won a Covenant award (Christian version of the Juno’s) and have been nominated for several others. The record will be released in spring 2016.

I’ve been working on a record for Zealot’s Desire for nearly 2 years, the band is a mix of prog rock and metal. The album plays like a classic, timeless work of art and feels as fresh being released today as it would have been in the 70’s.

Tallan MD is an incredibly unique punk/glam/pop album from the grunge rock band Slouch, which is fronted by singer/songwriter Tallan Byram. I’ve actually produced a few records for the remaining members. They all grew up together and by colliding their styles (Tallan was a huge fan of Madonna and anything 80s pop), we’ve made a crazy record that sounds like it was stretched across 4 decades. Everything from The Beach Boys and Madonna, to Nirvana and Mudhoney.

Static Prevails is a pop punk band from Ontario that is releasing their new record in the spring of 2016. Two members of the band are currently touring with Walk Off The Earth as monitor, guitar and drum techs. The record is a pretty hard-hitting melodic powerhouse of an album, and with their connections in the industry we hope to land a deal soon.

What do you hope to achieve in your career as a music producer?

SM: I love finding and developing new talent. I thoroughly enjoy working with someone that still has that spark and excitement in their heart, and music really does move one’s soul. At the end of the day, knowing that anything I’ve worked on has changed someone’s life in a positive way is enough of a goal for me.

Why is music your passion and chosen profession?

SM: Being self-employed is one of the best things in life. Choosing your own schedules, and deciding which projects I want to work on and contribute to have been incredibly fulfilling. Music is the reason I’ve been able to do that, and it really is an amazing healing tool. Being around so many young musicians has certainly continued to make me feel young as well!

 

 

 

 

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