Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Other Side with Chemical Sound Producers Dean Marino and Jason Sadlowski

Dean Marino and Jason Sadlowski (aka Jay Sad) first met as high school students growing up in the Toronto suburb of Oakville, Ontario. After graduation, Dean continued to play music and record bands on the analog reel-to-reel 8-track in his parents’ basement, while pursuing a degree in Psychology at the University of Waterloo. During this time, Jay was busy studying film at Ryerson University, where he began working with art house directors Isabella Pruska-Oldenhof and Kara Blake to write and record movie soundtracks. Dean explains, “It took a while to realize that recording would be a lifelong obsession,” but the dream finally became a reality in 2005, when he teamed up with his old friend Jason. The pair took over as the owners and lead producers of Toronto’s legendary Chemical Sound Recording Studio, best known for producing Sloan’s Navy Blues, The Weakerthans Reconstruction Site, Godspeed You! Black Emperor's Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven, Tokyo Police Club’s Elephant Shell, and Death from Above 1979’s You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine. Somehow, Dean and Jason also manage to find time to play in bands themselves. When Dean isn’t in the studio, he’s out playing guitar for the Tin Star Orphans, a band fronted by Zachary Bennett, or with his own project, EX~PO. Jason often plays under the moniker, "Jay Sad," which is a solo project that includes classical musicians Rob MacDonald and Dean Pomeroy for live shows.

We managed to track down Chemical Sound’s Dean Marino and Jason Sadlowski (who you can see pictured here in the studio) in between recording sessions to find out what it’s like to be on the other side:

Green Light Go: How long have been producing music and what inspired you to become a producer?

Jason Sadlowski: I've been producing professionally for about 4 years now. It all happened when Dean suggested I quit my day job and take over Chemical Sound studio with him.

Dean Marino: I’ve been a producer at heart since my high school days, overseeing the recording process of my own bands as well as other local bands, but [my career as a producer] became “official” quite recently. I started interning at Chemical Sound in 2002 and by 2004, I was getting paid to engineer. In 2005, the original building that housed Chemical Sound was slated for demolition. Rather than see a great studio go down, I decided to partner up with Jay, buy all the gear and re-locate. The previous owners felt it was a good time to retire from the “studio business” anyway…studio ownership tends to be a temporary endeavor these days.

GLG: How would you describe your role as a producer?

DM: These days the term “producer” seems to be loaded with preconceived notions, because the role [of a producer] has altered quite a bit over the last 50 years. It used to be that a producer worked for, or was hired by a record company, to discover and develop new talent. This person would “sign” the artist and oversee their recorded output as a micromanager, much like George Martin’s relationship with The Beatles. Over the years, the role of a producer began to focus specifically on the recording process. Now, we have people who set up mics, hit the record button, and want to be credited as “the producer.” There’s much more to the job than that. Now, roles tend to get blurred during the creative process. An album is usually a collaborative process between the artists and facilitators. A producer is merely another facilitator, as is the engineer, the assistant engineer, and even the lowly studio intern. Sometimes, the producer also functions as an engineer, arranger, psychological coach, or even a session musician. Today, I think, the term “producer” is more about responsibility than anything. The producer is the person who’s responsible for the completion of the record to someone’s satisfaction (either the artist and/or record label). He/she makes sure the record gets done on time, within the budget, and that the album ultimately works as a piece of art. The quickest way to figure out who the producer is on a project is to ask, “Whose ass is on the line here?”

JS: I agree with Dean. The official role is there to determine responsibility. I do whatever I can and whatever it takes, to help people make records. What this means depends on the project and artist.

Green Light Go: How does being a musician yourself help to hone your production skills?

JS: I think it's good to understand what the people you are working with are going through.

DM: Ditto…not to mention, I can also help an artist articulate their ideas, because I can sing and I can play. I can show someone how to write a killer harmony, help a drummer tune his or her parts, or arrange a song so it has a greater impact on the listener. Being a musician is a big plus in this business.

JS: Plus, [a producer who is also a musician] can give specific advice about the instrument. You can say, " Try playing that part closer to the bridge," and stuff like that.

GLG: What are some of the most noteworthy artists or albums you've produced in the past?

DM: The work I’m most proud of is the stuff where I took on the responsibility of seeing a whole project through, from beginning to the end. As of late, these would include: Automatic Movements by Everything is Made in China, The Days of Blinding Fear by Tin Star Orphans and Gospel by the Schomberg Fair.

JS: I'm proud of all the records I've produced with Dean and the few I've produced alone.

GLG: What bands are you currently working with?

DM: Currently I’m producing a 3 song 7” record
for La Casa Muerte and eventually I hope to produce their first LP. I’m also collaborating with Nathan Vanderwielen (of Ruby Coast) on a film soundtrack that we intend to perform live.

JS: I just finished 2 songs on the new Wallscenery Demos album, in which I produce and perform. The Wallscenery Demos is an indie-rock project by James Hicken, who currently lives in New York. He sends me his vocal and guitar tracks and I add all sorts of stuff on top, and mix it. It's cool and messy!

GLG: As a producer, how do you know that you are a good match for a band? What things do you have to keep in mind before agreeing to work with an artist?

JS: As long as I can understand what they are trying to do and they accept what I do, we can work together.

DM: Typically, genre is not an issue for me. It’s more about a band’s willingness to accept input and constructive criticism. I’ve been labeled as both invasive and passive – in truth, the role and disposition I take depends on the project. Also, I have a “sonic fingerprint” that you can hear on most records I have worked on, so a band should be willing to accept that.

GLG: What is the best piece of advice you’d give a band that thinks they are ready to record?

JS: Be honest and understand where the band is and where the producer is. A good producer should be able to take the band up one level, not more. I'm always able to improve some aspect(s) of the bands’ sound, but the producer cannot take the band anywhere that they aren't already poised to go.

DM: I totally agree with Jay, but I would add, be prepared. The band should know their material, but shouldn’t become too emotionally attached to small details. You have to be ready to give 100% and be open to new ideas and new directions. Most of all, be ready to be revealed. It’s not my job to make anyone a better player or singer, but rather to hone in on what makes an artist uniquely intriguing.

GLG: What is your favorite thing about producing music?

JS: I'm proud of the work I do. I love records and appreciate all aspects of them. I've been lucky to work with so many super talented people.

DM: There’s this moment, usually a few months after working on a record, where I revisit [the record] and listen to it like it was the first time. I think, “This sounds really great and really well thought out.” I love that.

JS: Yes! I love going back to a record I've worked on to enjoy how good it sounds.

GLG: What’s your least favorite thing about being a producer?

DM: The long hours. I need to take breaks and press the reset button now and then.

JS: Dean's right. [Another downside is] running out of time and not being able to explore all of the possibilities.

GLG: In addition to the music you are working on, what current albums have you been listening to lately?

JS: I've been listening to the Daytrotter sessions a lot. Daytrotter is kind of an internet version of The Peel Sessions. They've made great recordings of Born Ruffians, Nurses, The Walkmen, Holiday Shores, Daniel Johnson, Cursive, Vampire Weekend…the list goes on.

DM: The pile of LPs near my turntable right now include Dog Day’s Concentration, Bill Callahan’s Rough Travel For a Rare Thing, Neil Young’s Live Rust, Caribou’s Swim, The National’s Alligator, Tom Verlaine’s Dreamtime, St. Vincent’s Actor, Talking HeadsRemain in the Light, and Spoon’s Kill the Moonlight. All [of the music I listen to] will radically change by next week. That’s just from my vinyl collection, I won’t even get into my iPod playlists.

GLG: What is one record you didn’t produce yourself that you consider to be a masterpiece? From your standpoint as a producer, what makes this album so special?

JS: The first thing that comes to mind is Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division. It's amazing that producer Martin Hannett did so much, and yet, the record is still very Joy Division. If you compare this record to live Joy Division stuff, it seems to embody and even heighten the raw essence of that band. Even though we know [Hannett] changed so many aspects of those songs, we never feel encroached by some outside influence.

DM: Wow ONE record? Today, I’d have to say, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space by Spiritualized. The amount of work that went into that record is just phenomenal and you can feel the emotional and intellectual investment. The fact that Jason Pierce assembled all those world-class musicians and developed such a rich sonic landscape in order to express some very personal and intimate ideas was a huge risk, but it worked out splendidly. The bombastic nature of the album made his lyrics all the more believable and universal, even when the opposite could have easily happened.

GLG: Anything else we didn’t cover that you’d like us to know?
DM: I love cats.

The Other Side highlights the talented folks behind the scenes of the music we listen to. The Other Side features 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


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