TRIBECA: In the middle of sessions with Kill Rock Stars dance-rock duo Shy Child, Chris Zane spent an hour chatting with us from behind a drum kit at Gigantic Studios. Drumsticks-in-hand, Zane gestures musically.
“The drums are my cross to bear,” he says. “I played drums my whole life and now on the records I produce, the drum sound is the most important thing to me. If the drums sound good, it all sounds good. And I always want the drums on my records to sound particularly awesome – in one way or another.”
Earlier this year, Zane produced Passion Pit’s Manners, blowing out the sound of the ‘08 EP, Chunk of Change, with such “particularly awesome”-sounding drums. Track-to-track, the heart-pounding, bombastic drumming anchors the dizzying Passion Pit sound, underscoring both the angst and exuberance of these exhilarating tunes. It’s just one aspect of a mighty dynamic record, but you sure notice it.
Record producers come at the job from different perspectives, bringing with them a particular set of specialties. Zane oozes music, but also seems an extremely pragmatic, high-energy, no-bullshit producer. “From the first day of music school when they asked us ‘why are you here?’ I knew I wanted to produce records,” he says. “I didn’t want to engineer acoustic guitars, I didn’t want to be an assistant. I just wanted to produce records. I knew someone had to be in charge of telling the band what to do, and I like to be in charge.”
Working back-to-back projects this year, Zane’s influence and handiwork can be heard on records by The Harlem Shakes and The Rakes, and upcoming records by The Walkmen, Tokyo Police Club, Shy Child and Holy Ghost.
Back behind the drum kit, in Gigantic’s not-gigantic-but-pretty-big live room, Zane spoke with us about producing The Walkmen and Passion Pit, and mixing records.
Q: How do you find artists you want to work with?
A: Work comes in two ways: 1) People see that I produced some record they like, look me up and contact my manager or 2) People I know in the industry call me and say they’re managing a new band and I should meet them. It’s all about your relationships with artists, labels, managers, etc…when I realized that, I started going to events and actually talking to people, and getting a lot more work. It’s a small industry — you meet everyone in like one minute if you try. And when you have a successful record, they all call you. And when you don’t, they don’t.
What were the records you think first broke you as a producer?
It’s happened in different stages: the first one was this band, Calla, who I did a record with in ‘02 — it was a dark, atmospheric album and every critic and band loved it. Then, I started working with Les Savy Fav (‘04), and that helped a lot. Then, I did a record with The White Rabbits (‘07), who we found in the middle of Missouri and a year later they were on David Letterman. And The Walkmen’s You & Me (‘08) was a big one, because I really feel like I helped reignite a flame in them and put them back on a plane that they hadn’t been on for awhile.
And, prior to working with you and Gigantic, The Walkmen had self-produced their records, right? They had a mostly analog studio up in Harlem?
Yeah, they’d pretty much never used Pro Tools. I really wanted to work with them, and I pitched really hard. And, they were pretty dubious. But about two days in, they were totally into it, and the experience was really great.
What do you think happened in those two days?
Basically, the sound they heard coming out of the speakers was something they’d been trying to achieve all along, and I made it happen without them even saying anything. I just knew that’s how I wanted to hear it. I’ve been a big fan of their records.