Cadu Byington has been on tour and is ready to sleep in his own bed again. He is not playing in an indie rock band or the DJ for a famous rapper; Byington is the sound engineer/music producer whom Jakob Handel tagged to work with him to capture performances by classical and contemporary artists at some of the most famous and historic venues in Germany and Switzerland. Handel Classic Audio wanted to enable classical music fans to hear these famous ensembles in their home venues to pay tribute to the composer, artists, and the acoustics of these iconic acoustical structures. Jakob Handel (Grammy nominee, Latin Grammy award-winner, and German Echo Klassik award-winner) has the credentials that attract the elite of the international recording industry. Handel’s work with Sony / BMG record labels, Universal, EMI and several independent labels has empowered him to gain access to many historic venues for recording purposes. For his latest passion project, he wanted to gain access to some of his favorite venues in Germany and Switzerland, and he wanted Cadu Byington as the expert he trusted on this project in a very hands on manner. Jakob Handel explains the decision for this choice declaring, “Cadu is a very talented producer; over the past few years he has come to dominate all aspects of a production. He is also a great musician, a feature that I think is the most important for a music producer. One must think musically more than technically, and know how to convert this musicality with the available technical resources; this is the secret weapon to becoming a successful producer.” The recordings would require them to quickly access the personality and intricacies of each venue and tailor the recording process uniquely and efficiently to each performance. With a full understanding of the challenges and demands of this opportunity, Byington welcomed the chance to test his abilities and deliver a product up to the standards of the Handel Classic Music name. Handel and Byington had been associated since 1999 but this was a major undertaking on which the two would work together. To fully appreciate these recordings, one must understand the approach that was taken to attain them. At a time when recording software has made everyone feel that they are a true recording engineer, a glimpse into the process that Byington and Handel undertook gives evidence to true mastery of the recording process at its best.
For this undertaking, the recording process was different from both a studio setting and conventional live scenarios. Handel Classic Music wanted to record at three different venues; Rosengarten in Germany, KKL in Lucerne, and Tonhalle in Zurich. The acoustic identity of these locations as well as the ensembles famous for residing there are so lauded and respected in the classical music industry that Handel Classic Audio wanted to bring the experience of hearing them to the world. Music fans have spent so many decades listening to music produced in studios that they may have forgotten (or even not be aware of) the fact that many of the historic concert halls were designed by architects to create the optimal acoustic environment to deliver a moving musical experience. Today’s modern effects are based on the acoustic benefits of these historic musical venues. Modern concert sound systems are so ubiquitous that many audiences have never attended a performance without them. Handel Classic Music wanted to deliver a more purist experience. Byington states, “The approach is totally different. In a concert hall, we want to have the sound in its purest forms, without the interferences of PA systems, and with everyone playing at the same time, like a real concert. The halls were designed to “mix” the sound “’n the hall’. In a studio, you don’t usually have all these acoustical qualities, and you have to add artificial effects to emulate the hall sound. Besides, there are few studios that have room to fit a large orchestra.” While operating a large sound system requires one skill set, recording a performance while delivering the unique qualities of an individual location is a completely different talent.
Mannheimer Rosengarten in Mannheim, Germany has hosted concerts by contemporary artist like Sting, Simply Red, and many others but, it is mainly home for the classic orchestras and operas for which it was designed. Cadu and Handel traveled there to record the opera Der Prinz vom Homborg by German composer Hans Werner Henze. This Art Noveau structure was built between 1900 and 1903. As a traditional concert hall, Rosengarten has beautiful natural acoustic qualities. These characteristics can be overwhelming or beneficial depending on the abilities of the engineer in charge of assessing them. Byington explains, “When you enter a new hall, you have to sit and listen for all its qualities. Listen carefully to the rehearsal, and “learn” the hall. If you have a profound knowledge of your gear, you will know what to do in order to have the sound. The halls have dampeners and baffles, but in much bigger proportions. Based on the style of the repertoire, you’ll base your approach on more or less reverb, more or less microphones. This means that the venue characteristics as well as the piece of music and style need to be factored in when making the choice of microphones and placement.”
KKL concert hall in Lucerne, Switzerland is both aesthetically and acoustically stunning. This world famous venue is home for the Lucerne Summer Festival. Cadu travelled there to record the performance of Turkish pianist Fazil Say who played Ravel’s Piano Conceto in G. For this recording, Byington needed to take a delicate approach which took advantage of the tremendous natural attributes created in Jean Nouvel’s impressive design. Byington describes, “We did a light set up with 12 microphones, using a main mic technique known as the Decca Tree. The Decca Tree consists of three identical microphones positioned in a triangular shape above the stage. It takes this name because of the DECCA RECORDS engineers who made it popular as a nice way to get the overall sound of the orchestra while at the same time having a nice stereo image. In addition to the Decca Tree, we used other spot mics placed close to sections (like strings, woodwinds, brass) and a pair for the piano solo. The hall has such a wonderful sound that using too many mics can result in eliminating the characteristics for which it is known and loved.”
The final recording took place in The Tonhalle in Zurick, thought by many to possess the best acoustics in Switzerland. Cadu was recording a production which partnered American rapper Saul Williams and composer Thomas Kessler. A mix of rap lyrics with classical music. This truly unique and modern pairing required an engineer with both traditional and modern sensibilities. It was further proof that Byington was the perfect choice for Handel on this project. For a number of reasons, the mobile approach was well suited for this situation as Cadu relates, “It is very difficult for a traditional orchestra to go to a studio nowadays. It is very expensive to have an orchestra inside the studio just for a recording, that’s why we record live and on location. For the recording in the Tonhalle, we did three days of recording. We had singers, and a full orchestra with a lot of percussion, which required a setup of around thirty microphones. The approach was very similar to KKL Lucerne, but we captured the audio with much more detail, closer positioning, and more mics. The piece was an orchestral arrangement for some Saul Williams texts ‘said the shotgun to the head’.”
The experience was quite demanding of Byington, Handel, and everyone involved. A myriad of microphones was required to cover any possible situation. The recording crew also needed to travel as lightly as they could, assess each venue quickly and accurately, and set up as efficiently as possible. While recording in a studio allows for multiple takes and splicing of takes, this recording project meant that each recording had to be perfect as there would be no multiple takes or overdubs. Although everyone spoke the universal language of music, the technical aspects of recording and the different locations often necessitated the musicians and engineers to communicate verbally in a language that was not their native tongue. It called for everyone involved to conduct themselves with the highest level of professionalism. Byington feels that he grew in his abilities as well as his appreciation for the musicians whose performances he recorded. He notes, “I learned a new standard in my profession, the standards of Europe for classical music is the reference for the rest of the world.” The recordings themselves pay tribute to the honorable history of the venues, the talented musicians who performed the pieces, and the mastery that Cadu Byington used to deliver them to the world.
One of the key components of any renowned artist is the ability to achieve popular success while simultaneously keeping their artistic vision intact. This is no small accomplishment and can be quite a balancing act. The yin and yang of this (whether it is music, painting, film, etc.) is required to both satisfy the masses as well as lift the art form to new places. When executed at its highest level, art can challenge us to consider our thoughts on love, life, and the world. Technology has created a world in which we are more in touch with other cultures and lifestyles; it seems intuitive that it would bring the elite of the artistic world into a closer community. Sound Designer Veronica Li is an example of this very ideal. She has made a name for herself as a talented and in demand sound designer in Hollywood. Working on box office hits like Michael Bay’s 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (grossing 53MM) as well as artistically praised films such as STAND (for which Li won the Outstanding Achievement in Sound Award at the First Film Festival) has displayed Veronica’s ability to match the tone and scale of her work to any film and assist the filmmaker’s desired emotional impact.
Ask any director what they require to make a great film and they will tell you that it takes a highly skilled and talented team in order to achieve their vision. Ask Guan Xi, the director and writer of Mandala, about Veronica Li and she will reinforce that statement. Mandala received multiple nominations at the 2015 Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards including a win for LAIFF’s Best Foreign Language Film in July, as well as being recognized by the film community in Italy and India. Guan Xi states, “Veronica’s work was critical to the success of the production, as evidenced by the numerous official selections to the industry-renowned film festivals in the U.S. and around the world.” Veronica’s achievements on award winning films like Looking at the Stars captured the attention of Xi while they were working on this film and solidified the director’s resolve to enlist Li to work on Mandala. Remarking on the experience, Guan Xi comments, “Veronica’s work as a Sound Designer and Sound Editor on the production was absolutely crucial, as the sound in a film is one of the most important facets of filmmaking. Mandala was critically lauded by some of the industry’s most prominent directors and producers. The Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, journalist, and novelist Mark Harris called the film ‘Beautifully shot and impressively produced…’ while Amanda Pope, the Emmy Award-winning director called the film ‘A visually exquisite story of an artist torn between her modern life and her Tibetan Buddhist culture.’ Many more luminaries in the field have voiced their praises for the film.”
Mandala is a timeless and universal story of the loss of a loved one and the attempts of a female artist to overcome her pain while at the same time reconnecting with her roots. The story grounds itself in the physical world and its day to day realities, while the emotional upheaval creates a bridge to a metaphysical world. Only by dealing with the less familiar “higher plane of consciousness” does the heroine stand a chance at living a life once again free from sorrow and unattached to the tragedies life can bring. The sounds required to make viewers accept both visions of life as reality are equal to the demands of the visuals…if not even greater. Li is highly aware of the subtle yet highly important nature of her role professing, “I think sound design helps to bring a film to life. It definitely makes the environment more believable. Most of the sound designs in Mandala are so subtle that the audience won’t notice them but they will help to set the proper mood. They can really sell the shot.” The dichotomy of the setting of New York City’s Gotham and Tibet’s peaceful mysticism is stark and the sonic environment must reflect this in a “not too obvious” manner. Li’s expertise was called upon to meet this lofty goal. Guan Xi praises Veronica’s ability to exceed expectations recalling, “I needed the sound of the film to be at an exceptionally high-quality level. Veronica perfectly combined and contrasted Tibetan and NYC sound elements together, and as the Sound Designer and Sound Editor, she spent countless hours collaborating with the Composer, working seamlessly on the sound design and score of the film. Not only was I able to entrust Veronica with the sound design and sound editing of Mandala, but what most impressed me was the fact that she really understood the story and my needs as the director.” Veronica used her talent as well as some creative ideas to help link the main character’s two geographic anchors of NYC and Tibet. Li reveals, “In addition to contrasting the two places, we also wanted to connect them. Helena is someone who belongs to Tibet but is currently trapped in the city. We decided to use a very subtle Tibetan musical cue whenever we saw Helena’s Tibetan painting. The horns of the cars passing by would gradually change to Tibetan musical bells, as if Tibet was calling from inside Helena whenever she and Lobsang Lama walked by each other on the city street.
Authenticity was paramount in the approach to producing Mandala. With the exception of the lead roles of Helena (Sarah Yan Li, also know for Fast & Furious 6) and Paul (Omar Avila, also know for The Punisher), all the other lead actors were Tibetan. To ensure that the original Tibetan Buddhist culture was presented correctly, the production team consulted eight living Buddha about every detail in the movie. Tibet contains the highest plateau in the world making it quite difficult for non-Tibetans to do strenuous activities. Even though the filming could have taken place at a less “difficult” location, the audience needs to feel, see, and hear the real Tibet. In the rare cases that a modification needed to be done, they were delicately handled with the highest level of professionalism. Since shooting is forbidden in a real Tibetan temple, a temple was recreated in Los Angeles for filming interiors. Editor Cheng Fang describes his experience working on the film with Veronica commenting, “In Mandala there is a scene in which the female character is taking a test in a Tibetan Buddhist Temple to see if she is the reincarnation of the Rinpoche that passed away several years ago. During the scene, the character has several ‘visions’ and eventually has a mental breakdown. We finished the picture editing of the scene but everyone knew there was something missing. The picture itself was just not powerful enough. The mental breakdown of the character seemed to end abruptly. Veronica went to work on it. After she finished, we viewed the scene again…it was now so powerful! Veronica successfully combined the sound of Tibetan music instruments with mysterious murmuring; transforming the mental journey of the character into a crescendo as the music got louder, resulting in an intense ending.” When a poem that was already recorded was unable to fit due to time constraints, Guan Xi once again called on Veronica Li and her expertise. The director explains, “Veronica helped me choose the certain words from the poem, and reorganize them so they could fit the style of the movie but still deliver the message I wanted to tell. To be able to change such an important sequence in the film, yet stay true to a Director’s vision is one of the most difficult tasks in filmmaking, but Veronica was able to flawlessly execute it.”
Veronica Li and the message of Mandala share a few striking similarities; each is the story of a woman from one culture, living in another culture, striving for excellence in the arts, all the while using the best of each part of the world to tell the universal stories we all share.
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!
Andrew Kesler’s multi-faceted skills as an instrumentalist, singer and engineer have undeniably made him a valuable asset to the Grammy Award winning producers (Al Schmitt, Tommy LiPuma) and independent artists (Milan Boronell, Justin Dunlop) he’s worked with.
The Canadian-born music producer has married art and science to become a virtual Swiss Army knife in the studio. He’s learned to play seven instruments, including bass, drums, guitar and piano, since he picked up his first, the ukulele, when he was two years old. But it’s been his ability to create music from concept to finished product that’s set him apart.
“Part of what makes me unique is my versatility and experience,” Kesler said. “I don’t think it is common to find someone who plays a lot of instruments proficiently, writes, arranges and engineers music.”
Kesler’s worked with some of the industry’s top producers such as 21-time Grammy Award winner Schmitt (Quincy Jones, Steely Dan, Natalie Cole), three-time Grammy Award winner LiPuma (Miles Davis, Joe Sample, Barbra Streisand) and Grammy Award nominee Greg Wells (Adele, Katy Perry, Aerosmith).
Because of his reputation, Kesler was brought in to be the recording engineer for Al Schmitt in a session he was producing. After the session, Schmitt urged Kesler to move to Los Angeles, where he said his skills and personality would be a “breath of fresh air.”
The Saskatoon, Saskatchewan native moved to L.A. in 2015 with an already impressive portfolio under his belt, and multiple projects underway. His work with some of North America’s brightest young talents has spanned across a wide variety of genres, ranging from classical to indie-pop.
His album “Dragon Suite” with Homzy/Kesler Duo partner Aline Homzy won Best Contemporary Classical Album at the Independent Music Awards in 2013. He played on Canadian singer-songwriter Justin Dunlop’s album “Black Bay Nocturnes,” which was nominated for a Hamilton Music Award in 2015. Kesler produced Montreal native Milan Boronell’s self-titled EP, which was released in February, and is currently working on the debut album of Mario José, who was featured on NBC’s hit show “The Sing-Off.”
Boronell, an accomplished singer, songwriter and guitarist, needed the skills of an experienced producer for his EP, so he called on Kesler. The pair spent countless hours together to ensure they were on the same page before production started.
“My approach when producing is to do whatever it takes to make sure the artist’s vision is realized,” Kesler said. “It’s never about adding my footprint to their music, but rather understanding who they are, what the message is and using my skills to present it loud and clear.”
Kesler used his talents as a producer and a musician to bring their concept to life. His chemistry with Boronell was so good that he played a vastly larger-than-normal role in the EP’s production. Not only did Kesler produce, but he also played instruments, hired additional musicians, arranged parts for strings and background vocals, engineered the recording sessions and mixed tracks.
“I wouldn’t normally suggest to an artist that I be the one to fill all these roles,” Kesler said. “However, Milan’s music resonated with me and he really liked my contributions, which lead to me shouldering most of the load.”
The deep musical bond he shared with Boronell was a great example of Kesler’s approach in the studio.
“To achieve my best work as a producer, I have to find something about the artist I can invest in. I have to develop a connection with them,” Kesler said. “If I think my skills can contribute to helping them create the music they hear in their head then to me that’s a perfect fit.”
The time he spent with Boronell in pre-production was typical of his workflow. But Kesler showed his flexibility when he produced Dunlop’s latest single “Into the Cold.”
Kesler wanted to capture the roots musician’s “creative vibe” rather than record a “perfect performance,” so they spent just thirty minutes playing through the parts and crafting the song’s arrangement before recording. A few hours later they had recorded the entire song, including the vocals, overdubs and beds.
“Because I know Justin’s style, I knew what kind of contributions I could make that would be fitting for his music,” Kesler said. “Knowing this we were able to achieve a ‘live off the floor’ feeling with nuanced performances and interaction. I try to bring this approach to the pop productions I do as well.”
Along with José’s debut album, Kesler is currently producing the second album for his a cappella jazz group Accent. The group will guest-speak at the EG Conference in Monterey, California in May, and is planning to tour Germany in November. He is also producing the sophomore album for his indie-pop group Holy Oker, which is planned for release in 2016.
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