Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Other Side - Producer Vince Casamatta

Growing up in Ohio, producer Vince Casamatta remembers going to see the Cleveland Orchestra at Severance Hall and it always stuck with him how passionate the musicians appeared on stage. “I was always the kid who was pushing everyone too hard, being the perfectionist, taking all the fun out of it. I think I’m still that way!” says Casamatta. After moving to Chicago a decade ago, like many music producers, he admits he played guitar and drums in a variety of what he says were “bad rock bands.” After he put the sticks and picks down, he got into music engineering and producing, working with bands like OK Go, electro-rockers Hey Champ, The Prairie Cartel (Scott Lucas of Local H and members of Caviar) and many other Chicago-based bands. Casamatta is currently settled working at Engine Music Studios (where musicians Bonnie Prince Billy, Iron and Wine, Wilco, Margot & the Nuclear So and So's have all recorded). Not only is he a studio producer and engineer, he also does live sound, working with They Might Be Giants and countless others. Every producer is different and works in their own way. Meet Vince Casamatta, he likes big drums.

1. How would you describe your role as a producer?
Getting people to do what I want, while simultaneously getting them to think they came up with the idea. I’ve been lucky to have the privilege to tour with bands like They Might Be Giants and OK Go and mix them live recently. They are both masters of production in their live shows. They’ve definitively taught me there has to be a vision behind everything – a driver behind the wheel, and everyone chips in to fulfill that vision. That’s what making an album is like.

2. How long have been producing?
As long as I’ve been in bands or engineering – a long time.

3. Who are some of the most noteworthy artists you've produced in the past?
I’ve done some work with an up-and-coming folk-rocker by the name of Joe Pug. He came to me a while back when he needed to put together a full band rock arrangement for his debut album. Up to then it had mainly just been him and his guitar. The hard drive literally caught fire upon completion of the tracking. Our work was almost lost forever! But I’m happy to say it ended up being the first single off his new album (Messenger) – and it’s enjoying steady radio rotation while he enjoys an ever growing success. I’ve also worked extensively with Chicago electro-rockers Hey Champ. Long ago I was set to the task of combining electronic drums and synths with their hard-hitting real life drummer. It wasn’t always easy straddling the line between big rock drums and hard electronic samples. What we came up with was a very produced and thorough pop album (Star), which has just been released this July.

4. What bands are you currently working with?
Right now I’m finishing up a debut for another electro-rock band that really leans more towards electro-punk; if you will. They go by the name Battlestations. I’m also knee deep in production on a full length for more of an indie-pop band by the name of Farewell Captain. This band features a few members from previous indie favorites Light FM.

5. Do you mainly work out of one studio or do you go where a band needs you?
Lately, I’ve settled in at Engine Studios in Chicago. It’s an amazing facility. They’ve got everything I need to do my job with a healthy collection of cool and/or vintage musical instruments and a crazy collection of microphones. It makes my clients feel like they’re really into something special – and that’s an important feel to have. But in the past, I’ve run my own studio and I still like to hop around from time to time to mix it up. I’m actually a big fan of location recording, especially for drums. I like taking drums to big open spaces or large rock clubs and mic them up after running them through the PA or with a bunch of room mics. I like big drums.

6. How do you know if you, as a producer are a good match for a band?
This happens the first time we talk on the phone or as late in the process as the first day of production. That’s why pre-production becomes somewhat of a vetting process for me and that’s why I’m so frustrated when bands want to coast through it. It becomes quickly obvious if I’m a bad fit for a band when we spend all of our time justifying our artistic decisions to one another and we can’t move to trust our own skill sets. If it’s clear an artist isn’t willing to part with some aesthetic oversight than it’s clear I’m an unneeded expense. I like to find this out before I start pressing that REC button – but that’s not always the case.

7. What's the best piece of advice you'd give a band who thinks they are ready to record?
They’re probably not. I would tell them to rehearse. Record your rehearsals (so you can hear every part). Then make a list of what parts are lacking or tough and rehearse. Then rehearse some more! If you want to end up with an album you’re proud of and have a fun time making it, you need to have it down. I can make musicians in pitch and on time with my computer, but it’s demoralizing to the players. And if we spend too much time getting the core tracks done, there’s never any budget left to explore creative avenues and take our time mixing. It’s an unhappy place to be, and yet so easy to avoid.

8. What kind of inside experience does being a musician yourself help with producing?
Being able to get around on guitar and drums gives me a lot of context to the music I record for other people. But it really serves the purpose of bridging a gap. Producers/Engineers live in a very different world than musicians, but we have to try and get along. Playing just helps me bridge the gap - put myself in their shoes. Empathy is worth a lot more than fancy mics sometimes. It allows me to create a world around my musicians to bring out the best performances.

9. What's your favorite thing about producing?
Everyone’s got his or her own motivations for being in this bizarre line of work. For me, it’s just a worthy challenge everyday. One album can consist of hundreds of thousands of individual decisions, it’s an amazing feeling to manage that process for people and end up with a great outcome. The first bands I loved for their production were groups like the Pixies, the Clash, the Beatles, Blur. It always sounded so effortless – it didn’t need to be polished. And when I’m doing something that sounds effortless – that’s how I know I’m on the right track.

10. What's your least favorite thing about producing?
It’s no secret that the music business is in a bad way. What I hate is that the art form of production has been relegated to a line item on an expense sheet. In reality, there’s less desire to pursue the art of making albums if albums don’t make artists money. That’s why production has gotten so gimmicky. I’ve gotten very fast at the nuts and bolts of recording- editing and setups. I’m always looking to streamline a necessary step so we have the luxury to pursue other desires. Like recording drums in an empty rock club, or spending an hour seeing if five pitch corrected vocals sound good through a Leslie speaker, or banging on a metal staircase with hammers to see if it will make a cool drum kit if played back at half speed. These are all things I’ve tried to varied degrees of success.

11. In addition to the music you're working on, what current albums have you been listening to lately?
The DigElectric Toys, OK Go – Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, The Black Keys – Attack and Release. Also, the Royal Bangs, Cymbals Eat Guitars, Lasers and Fast and Sh!t, Russian Circles, MSTRKRFT, LCD Soundsystem’s new album (This is Happening). So much good music out there, I know I’m leaving out a bunch.

The Other Side highlights those talented and very important folks behind the scenes of the music that we listen to. The Other Side will feature producers, engineers, booking agents, band photographers, online radio DJs, etc. It's pretty awesome.


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