BRIDGEPORT, CT: In the old days, there were engineers who came up through the established studio system, rising from the ranks of interns, and there were engineers who worked their way into their living by diligently slaving away in hodgepodge basement studios on quirky indie releases. Peter Katis did both.
“I was always a DIY kind of guy,” he says, ”But I thought it would be stupid to reinvent the lightbulb. I figured there were a lot of people who were really good at it already, and I could pick up a lot from watching them. I think it was good to see both sides of it. Otherwise I always would have gone my whole life wondering if I was doing it wrong. Although nowadays I think that secretly, everyone still worries about that.”
Katis had become obsessed with recording after taking a class at SUNY Purchase and never looked back. “For a long time every cent I made was another cent I could put into new gear, and every spare minute was time I could be in the studio.”
He’d soon go on to work on breakthrough releases for artists like Interpol and The National and build up a clientele of some of the most active and unordinary independent rock bands of the day: Frightened Rabbit, Mates Of State, Mice Parade, Tapes N’ Tapes, The Swell Season, Mobius Band, Guster, Mercury Rev, Tokyo Police Club.
Katis first worked out of his parent’s basement, and then built out a residential studio in Bridgeport CT named after his brother, Tarquin.
“When I started interning in studios back in the early 90s, people would really beat into your head that there was a right and a wrong way to do things. Nowadays, I don’t think anyone is that arrogant. I remember thinking ‘wow, I’m coming from a really different place than these people are.”
Recently, Katis has completed a solo project for Jónsi Birgisson of Sigur Ros, signed on to another with Trey Anastasio of Phish, released an album of his own music, and was commissioned to teach a small class of recording enthusiasts and burgeoning pros at a private villa in the South of France. We asked him about all that and more in preparation for our “Studio As an Instrument Panel” at this year’s AES Convention.
I hear you’ve been doing some recording workshops overseas. Can you tell us a little bit about this Mix With The Masters program? It seems to be getting a lot of attention lately.
The name of the program is hard to say without sounding insanely immodest, but it was a really great experience. The whole thing takes place in this really beautiful residential studio in the south of France [Studio La Fabrique] organized by two of the sweetest people. They’ve had a bunch of other speakers – Michael Brauer, David Kahne, Andy Wallace, Tchad Blake. Pretty good company!
I mean, it was hard work in the sense that it’s not easy to talk to a room of people for 8 or 9 hours and try to be interesting and educational the whole time. It’s harder than making a record I think! [Laughs] So in that way, it’s demanding. People were coming from all over the world, so if you were really boring… well, that would suck.
But it wasn’t all just talking. I also got to bring in some sessions from records I worked on. On the 4th day we actually got a French band in and pre-produced, tracked and mixed a song. In the last couple of days people played their own music and we all got to talk about that too. It was a great time.
People ask me sometimes if they should go to one of the other sessions coming up with other engineers. They’ll ask if it’s worth the money. It is expensive – but honestly, even if no one was there to lecture you’d have a great time, it’s such a beautiful place. People are hanging out all day just talking about recording in this amazing environment.
Well hopefully it’s left you prepared to talk to our crowd at AES. Thanks for agreeing to participate on the panel by the way.
Yeah, thanks for inviting me. The name “studio as an instrument” was kind of exciting to me. I think with my own band, The Philistines Jr., even more than any other, I get to approach things that way because there’s no one to answer to. I’ve been intrigued by that idea of the studio being an instrument since I started, since the very first time I got my hands on a 4-track.
Can you tell us what that phrase means to you?