So let’s start it off really simply. What are Producers/Mixers and why are they important to musicians?
Well, there are really two types of producers. The one thing they have in common is that they are an outsider who is really an insider. Ideally they are with the band at the time they are working with them, they are almost on the same level as someone who is in the band but they also bring this outside perspective that you simply can’t give yourself as an artist. I mean you can, but it’s difficult and it’s easier when there is somebody else there because they can see past your prejudices and insecurities that you might have about your performance. I am always trying to imagine it from the perspective of somebody who doesn’t know anything about music, doesn’t like the artist, doesn’t care, and isn’t emotionally involved. And obviously the difference between being somebody who can do that and a producer is that if you have the appropriate skills you can actually translate that into technical things in the studio. So that is ultimately why producers are important in a broad sense. Engineers are involved in the technical side of all the sounds that musicians don’t know how to do because it’s not their main focus. Having musical ideas as opposed to production ideas is a really different thing. But like I said, there is all different kinds of producers.
What made you want to become a producer? How did you work out this was what you wanted to do
I came from a musical background, playing and writing music as a kid and gradually got into the technical side first at school and then at uni. I always found that I was interested in the technical side, and the recording equipment and that aspect of it. Working as an engineer, you basically come up with a song and the performances and I will just record them. The sound of that kind of thing is just somewhat limiting. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter how good it sounds, if it’s a crap melody. For me it was wanting to get to the core of what makes music good and be able to influence that, help that, improve that. So being just an engineer or just a song writer, even though it is a calling is not really enough for me. I really want to do all of it, and yeah that kind of how it happened.
What makes a good producer?
I suppose it’s all about perspective and if you don’t have ultimate perspective then its not going to work. If you had ultimate perspective I always said you would be King of the world. Really lots of people know what sounds good and what doesn’t. You can listen to an album and you can go I like that and known whether this sound reaches me or it doesn’t. The point is being able to do that, and all those other processes of the album, and if you can do all those processes then the world is yours kind of thing. Perspective is the most important thing, it’s more important than how productive you are, how many hours you work in the day. It’s all about perspective. Yeah…perspective.
Where do you draw your inspiration from? Or is it more of a science?
I try for it not to be. I do happen to know a lot of the technical and electronic reasons behind the decisions I make. I am constantly trying to move away from that. I just want to forget about it and be all about how it makes me feel and how it makes other people feel. There are certain bits of gear that will give you a good result, but you always have to use different bits of equipment to achieve the end result. Whether you are breaking some sort of technical taboo for a particular reason or whatever. If you have to record something with your iPhone to get the right result, then that’s fine, you should do it. It is definitely completely inspiration, the science is just interesting to know. Myself if it helps get some music to work initially sometimes, then you have to just have to be ready to go with that at the drop of the hat, move to how it feels.
How do you know that what you are doing isn’t done somewhere else?
It’s kind of a good thing in a way. People like artists who have a style and I think it’s harder to be appreciated and liked if you are an artist who doesn’t have a style. I still try not to, and I don’t think I have much of a fingerprint really in the way I produce. I try to kind of mould it to the artist, so they have the fingerprint. There is equipment I do like to use that will give it a particular sound. But I don’t think its obvious enough that people will go that must be Matt in Brisbane, kind of thing. As far as fingerprinting, I would probably be the last person to realize what my fingerprint is. There are something’s that just work, other times it doesn’t and you are face with the choice, and you can do nothing or do this thing that I have done before and works. And people will be like it sounds the same. But yeah, I don’t know.
You recently made records that won six Queensland Music Awards. Emma Louise, Trouble with Templeton and Ball Park Music. What was it like to see those guys win? And more importantly did they all thank you?
Yeah they did actually, especially towards the end because it got a bit funny because they announced there in a row towards the end. It wasn’t something I had really experienced before. It had a strange feeling in the room, with rounds of applause and I wasn’t even up their receiving the award. The people who won awards was super nice and now some of my best friends as well. Yeah, it was a pretty weird night.
We have touched on it already, but who knows best? The artist or the producer?
There is no one final answer with that kind of thing. It is a complicated process. I guess there are a few songs that I try to exhume some more feeling from. But, at the end of the day it is there face on the CD and thy have to be happy with it, even if I’m not fully satisfied with it, which is pretty rare really to be honest. But it is there vision and they have to be happy with it. It’s their vision and I have to make it happen. If I want to make an album for myself I will make it as good as I can to my standards, but it’s their album. And I think that’s what you have to remember. Its art of just having respect for them which you should have if you are working with them.At the same time, there is a lot of room for push and pull over time. If you are aware of something and that could be a bit of a problem you think they should change that, then you might be able to influence it over time. If they are aware of something they don’t like it can change over time and sometimes it happens to me as well, and for some reason I’m wrong. Sometimes I just wanted to do it at the time, and they weren’t aware it wasn’t working, but then they feel like we should change it. You need to be ready to learn from each other every day. I don’t like the idea, and I wouldn’t work with somebody who I hate. Like they wouldn’t get anything done and hate change. I would want to work with somebody who hates change. Some of the big international producers may occasionally do that. And you hear stories of international acts that happens to them and they make them change things and it’s a horrible experience. I can understand why they do it, but it’s not my personal style. I just want to live my own life.
Do you ever listen to music on the radio and go, mmm I reckon we could improve that? Or does your producer hat go off once you leave the studio?
No totally. I listen to music all that time and literally never stop listening to music or something sound related. And it’s a problem in a way. Because I am constantly listening to new stuff and work stuff.I can totally listen to stuff just as a fan. I mean a good example recently is when I was listening to Ainslie Wills and was a huge fan and loved it. Although in my mind I would have liked to do a couple of things differently I still loved the hell out of it. And then when we talked about the possibility of doing some things together, and I went back and listened to the album again and started hearing if from a producer’s point of view and hearing all these things I would do differently. It was this weird change, because until then I had mostly been listening as a fan and not been too critical on things that I had picked up on.
Did it ruin the album?
It hasn’t ruined the album. There is no way you could ruin that album. It’s too good. But um, yeah I guess the other way it kind of benefits itself is that there is something you are sensitive to as an artist yourself, especially when there is a particular technique been used all throughout an album. The artist might know something that they find distracting, or bits of its boring and there bits that are over doing the song. It just gives you a chance to just keep tearing apart.
If you could produce any artist’s album, what would it be?
That’s a really difficult question. It’s not just like my three favorite bands in the world, because I know that if I walked into a studied with Radiohead there is nothing I can do for them. It would be embarrassing, there is nothing I could do for them but make a recording. I don’t think there is anything I could bring to the table that those guys haven’t already got. I think it would be something that I would be able to help with and bring something to the recording. I think Ainslie Wills is my example of an Australian artist I would love to work with, as I was mentioning before I really loved her album. Internationally, it would have to be…ah, I don’t know. It’s really hard. There are so many bands I really like, but I wouldn’t bring much to the table.
I also heard you are working on Holy Holy’s eagerly anticipated album. Is it going to be any good?
Yeah it’s going to be a good one, it’s going to be fantastic. We may do some more stuff for that soon, but I’m not really sure how that is going to go, other than well. I mean I’m just not sure in terms of the timeline of things, because their single dropped and it was awesome. SO yeah, the will be a new single soon, and it’s going to be really good, hopefully bigger than the single that just came out. I love these guys, just a privilege to work with them and just hang out with them as well. They are some of my best friends. I’m very lucky in my job.