Chris Coady Talks Beach House, Destination Recording and Music Of The Digital Natives
May 4, 2010 by Janice Brown
Starting at Quad in the early aughts, Coady’s come up through tumultuous times in the music industry and kept incredibly busy the entire time. Teaming up with David Sitek to build Stay Gold Studios, where he engineered TV on the Radio and Yeah Yeah Yeahs records, along with !!!, Cass McCombs, Blonde Redhead, Architecture in Helsinki, Coady’s been the trusted engineer to some of the most admired and sonically experimental artists in the Brooklyn indie-rock scene.
Coady recently co-produced and engineered Beach House’s at-once intimate and majestic Teen Dream proving once again an indispensable production partner to the visionary artist.
Inside DNA Downtown — the bunker-like studio he shares with a producer-colleague — Coady points to racks of outboard gear once in the chain at Stay Gold and to the SSL G Series console formerly of Quad. The room is filled with equipment, the urgency of a deadline fast approaching and the promise of this young sonic mastermind. We get right to it…
So this is your studio. Tell me a bit about it. You share it with another engineer?
[Prior to opening DNA,] I had been working a lot at The Carriage House in Connecticut, which is really nice — they also have an SSL E/G series console. I’d been talking to a friend of mine about opening a Pro Tools room. He thought we should be more ambitious, combine our resources and open a [more serious] room. A lot of the outboard gear is mine, and was originally at Stay Gold. The console is his and we share the Pro Tools system and the speakers.
And you can do projects start-to-finish here?
Sure. And I have recorded projects here top-to-bottom, which — even though the space is small — have come out sounding great. I generally don’t use a lot of room reverb. For the most part, the sounds I record are usually pretty tight, so having a small studio is fine for me. I close-mic my sounds and then I create most of the ambiances artificially. So, a lot of times the drum sounds I get will be the same whether I record them here or in a nice big studio.
But with the Beach House record, now that’s a big sounding record…
Yes, and that record, by contrast, is filled with lots of room reverb. When we first got to the studio [Dreamland Recording, near Woodstock], I put up these two Earthworks mics, way on the other side of the church from where the band was set up to play. I’d set out to design the ultimate setup of all their organs and keyboards in the studio — they’d brought their own piano in addition to all these thrift-store 70s organs. I wanted to create this awesome environment for them to play in that would be visually stunning and inspiring.
Within a few days, everything got moved around and it became a free-for-all but the one thing that stayed were these two Earthworks mics setup far away from everything, on stands really high up in the air — left and right, pointing down at them. And these Earthworks mics and the studio’s API mixing board had a really cool marriage.
So you ended up using those room mics throughout the record?
Yeah, they were used quite a bit, especially on guitars. The record opens up with that sound — Alex’s guitar and Roland Jazz Chorus Amp pointed in the direction of those mics.
Also, we didn’t realize this until later on, but it turns out that outside of the church, right above where those room mics were set up, there was a bird’s nest. So when we went to mix, we found all these baby birds all over the album. And it was impossible to get rid of all the chirping! You can’t exactly hear it all over the record, but it’s definitely there!
Sweet! Was that a problem at all? Or just kind of amazing?
We were psyched! But it was totally consistent through the whole thing. I think at one point we tried to bring it into focus but it wasn’t quite loud enough…
Did you mix the record there? Or here?
Two of the songs were mixed here. We went through the mixing very fast at Dreamland, which made me nervous because I wasn’t used to the monitoring environment. The band wanted me to do it intuitively. And that did work, for the most part. But we did end up remixing two of the songs here, and I’m glad we did because those two songs have a slightly different feeling. The mix for “Norway,” for example, sounds more deliberate, less spontaneous.
Do you end up doing most of your work here at DNA?
I prefer to work here, but I end up traveling a lot. The bands I’m working with seem to not want to record in New York City so much. They want to go out to the country because it adds to the story — they find it inspiring and like the idea of living there during the recording. They don’t want to be getting texts about some party going on down the street.
And I appreciate that — going out to the middle of nowhere and shutting off your cell phone and not having Internet. But, I do this all year long. So it starts to get a little crazy when I haven’t checked my Internet in three days because that’s my only connection to normal life! Three isolated sessions in a row and that’s half my year that I’ve been sort of off the grid.
But has that approach helped get better results? When you and the band encamp somewhere, away from all the distractions?
If the band wants no distractions, that’s what we’re going to do. Because if the band’s not getting what they want, you’re going to hear that on the album.
Beach House is a band that knew what they wanted: they wanted to go out to the middle of nowhere and record, they wanted to record on tape and they wanted a co-producer, not a producer, because they wanted to be hands-on on the production side. They came with the most complete set of demos that I’ve ever gotten. The album was completely mapped out, from the beginning. All we had to do was do a really good job recording it.
There are a lot of bands who don’t know what they want and they hire a producer to help them figure it out. This time, we did it totally based on what the artist wanted and I’m really happy with how it turned out.
Delorean was an interesting project because they recorded it themselves and had me mix it, but they were in another country [Spain] in a different time zone. So we mixed it over podcast. So, the mixing board was going into the computer and being sent over NiceCast.
And this was happening in real time?
Yes, and so they would listen and give me direction. It was an insane amount of tracks. One song had nearly 300 voices in Pro Tools. They’d say “Can you turn up that shaker?” and you’d go in and there’d be 20 shakers! And so…it was daunting.
Seems like that process would take a lot longer – did it?
It took a really long time and we did it over a long period of time — a week here, a week there. I’d love to work with them again, but I think I’d prefer to work with them in person.
Do you see any trends in music that you find inspiring from an engineering/production perspective, i.e. artists taking a more experimental approach to music?
Well, there’s definitely that. And also, I think there’s a new wave that’s happening right now, of young artists who are making music I find really imaginative.
But one thing I’m not really into is the way that Internet culture has influenced music culture. People are always thinking about how they’re going to be perceived on the Internet. And I really find that tragic. That music blog culture has such an impact on a band’s success to the point where with younger bands who’ve never consciously lived in a world without the Internet, I sometimes feel when I’m watching them perform that they’re performing thinking of the Internet, the bloggers. What are they going to say?
Do you think that’s affecting what kind of music is being made? Like a band going for a noisier, more distorted sound because they think bloggers will favor that?
Well I’m really lucky to work with bands like Beach House who don’t give a fuck what anybody thinks about their music. And I think that’s great. But then there’s the other half of bands that may have just come off a terrible tour and they’re in the studio thinking: if we don’t get a good blog acceptance, then we may as well not make music anymore. And I guess those people shouldn’t be making music in the first place. But in the 90s, it definitely didn’t seem like critical acceptance was nearly as much of a factor for bands.
But back to what I’m psyched about: I feel like there is a new wave of kids who are around 20 years old, making music that’s so wildly imaginative. I’ll hear some of these bands and just think ‘wow, that is a wild, forward-thinking sound.’ And then you find out they’re only 20.
Can you mention any artist in particular?
Yeah, lately I’ve been listening to Zola Jesus. And I read an interview with her, where she was citing her influences and she mentioned Morton Subotnick. And you wonder, how did she even come across Morton Subotnick? And I guess that’s definitely one of the positive effects of the Internet on music! I remember when I was younger, going to the library to research music. And now, these kids have grown up having access to absolutely everything.
For more on Chris Coady, visit http://justmanaging.com/producers/chris-coady/ and get in touch through his manager, Dan Backhaus.