Hailing from the mean streets of Washington D.C., Roger Greenawalt migrated up to New York City before launching his career as a record producer and audio engineer in 1983. Over the past two decades, in between producing records for The Pierces, John Moran, and Radish, to name a few, Roger also managed to discover and record albums for indie darling Ben Kweller and the fiery-haired pop singer Colleen Fitzpatrick, better known as Vitamin C. Although the musician at heart plays over twelve instruments, including guitar (acoustic, electric, and pedal steel), drums, bass, banjo, mandolin, and keyboard, he is best known for recording the on-going project Beatles Complete On Ukulele, in which Roger is tackling the feat of re-recording all 185 original Beatles songs with 185 different artists. Every Tuesday for 185 consecutive weeks from January 20, 2009 until July 24, 2012, Roger releases one new Beatles cover accompanied with a personal essay on his website: Beatlescompleteonukulele.com.
We managed to track down Roger Greenawalt (who you can see pictured here with The Pierces and friends) in between recording sessions to find out what it’s like to be on the other side:
1. How would you describe your role as a producer?
To set the standard [for a] masterpiece and lend my utter confidence so [the artist and I] can create that masterpiece. I also want to make something as formally innovative as possible, while still being of service to the people. I still believe in grooves and hooks.
2. How long have you been producing?
My first production was in 1983. I’ve been a full-time producer since 1987.
3. What are some of the most noteworthy albums you've produced in the past?
The Pierces' Thirteen Tales of Love and Revenge, John Moran's The Manson Family - An Opera, and Radish's Restraining Bolt. I also discovered Ben Kweller and Colleen Fitzpatrick (Vitamin C).
4. What projects/bands are you currently working with?
In July 2010 alone, I’ve worked with The Pierces, Alison Clancy, Lovely Liar, Julie Kathryn, Thinking In Pictures, Jonah Smith, Leah Siegel, Craig Greenberg, Cowboy And Indian, and Todd Carter.
5. Do you typically work out of one studio or do you go where a band needs you?
I work mainly out of my own [studio], but I will travel.
6.How do you know if you, as a producer, are a good match for a band?
I just need one crucial element: there must be a star in the band. Without a star, I don’t care.
7. What’s the best piece of advice you’d give a band that thinks they’re ready to record?
Build a business team. Art floats in an ocean of fame and money, so [an artist] needs to know and understand culture.
8. How does being a musician help with producing?
It is not possible to be a producer if you are not a musician, because only a musician can produce records. Anything else is executive production. If you don’t know music, the orchestra, or the history of jazz/pop/audio recording, you are throwing darts in the wind.
9. What’s your favorite thing about producing?
Listening to a brand new masterpiece over and over again with the people you just made it with.
10. What’s your least favorite thing about producing?
Philistines, amateurs, and cowards.
11. What instruments do you play?
Expert Level: Guitar, Ukulele, Bass, Banjo, Mandolin, Lap Steel
Proficient: Drums, Percussion, Keys, Pedal Steel, Programming
Best In The World: The Recording Studio, The Internet
12. In addition to the music you are working on, what current albums have you been listening to lately?
I’m currently listening to Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti on vinyl, medieval chant, and female vocalists. I often listen to NPR and WFUV, especially The Trevor Wilkins’ “World’s Greatest Calypso Radio Show” on Friday and Saturday nights. I’m also into Woody Guthrie, because I just read the Joe Klein biography. I also like The National, I recently went to see them [live] and they were awesome.
The Other Side highlights the talented and very important folks behind the scenes of the music we listen to, featuring producers, engineers, booking agents, photographers, radio DJs, management teams, and label representatives.
This week’s The Other Side is brought to you by: Lauren Roberts