by Johnny Martin
Jeremy Wilson has a level of enthusiasm that matches his level of success. The driving creative force behind Pilot and The Dharma Bums, he settles into his creative recording space in a loft on the eastside of the Willamette, producing and engineering musician’s CD projects and the now famous Mastan Music Hour Podcast.
Hi Jeremy, tell me the name of your studio and how you arrived at that.
The name of the studio is Mastan Music. It’s been my publishing name for over 20 years. Ever since I was in the Dharma Bums. It’s a Hindi word.
Are you still into Eastern Philosophy now?
It’s hard not to be. I was brought up in it. I’m a true believer in the spirit of people and the Universal Energy.
How long have you been making your services available here?
One year ago in August 2006. This board got wired in and I felt like I was officially where I wanted to be.
And you got the funds yourself ?
Yeah. There’s no other investors. It’s really an independent artist owned and operated recording studio/artist space that offers high-end services for commercial work and bands.
So, did you have a goal when you were building it, and do you have that same outlook now that you’re rolling?
I made this place to please myself. I’ve worked from basements to all the major studios in Seattle. I wanted to create a space where I could make industry-standard recordings and put out my own work. My goal was to make a place where I felt comfortable to write and create.
You’re happy with guys just making basic tracks and finishing elsewhere?
Oh yeah, totally. I have absolutely no competitive edge whatsoever with any of the other studios in town, they’re all friends. Guys like Tim Ellis have been loaning me gear for years and helping me out at times.
So then you do that same thing down the line?
Yeah, I’ve got interns working in film and I’ll let cameras go out the door to help etc.
Do you have some time for experimentation here?
We’re always experimenting here. Especially when you’re signed on as a producer, I’d be remiss to not experiment.
But when you’re producing, you’re also engineering?
Yeah I’m doing both.
So are you looking at the client and the clock? It’s a tough balance isn’t it?
Well, I might have my co-producer Sam Densmore with me and the two of us work so friggin’ fast, that it’s ten times more efficient and there’s no sense of wasting time. I don’t start experimenting until the drums and bass are perfect anyway.
How did you meet Joe Chicarreli? Did you intern?
No man, he made a record for me! I was on Elektra records. I really like producing because I like collaborating. I love the teamwork. I’m trying to run this place like you would run a classic studio.
What do you like to monitor on?
These Mackie HR824’s. I like them a lot a lot a lot. I’d do a commercial for them. I’m finally breaking down and I’m going to bring in some NS10’s again. I really got worn out on them in the 90’s, but I do think I could use them to do reference and stuff.
What levels do you listen at?
I try to work as quietly as I can.
Are there a few engineers you hold in esteem?
Hell yeah. Ed Brooks, Conrad Uno, Drew Canulette. Joe Chicarelli more than anyone in the world. Actually, Greg Williams here in Portland, I think he’s one of the finest talents to walk around this town. I would have him produce a record for me any day, and I feel the same way about Tony Lash.
Name a couple old recordings that still, just kill ya.
Oh wow. Fleetwood Mac Tusk. Replacements Let it Be. REM Life’s Rich Pagent. Neil Young’s albums. The Last Waltz by the Band is one of my all-time favorite albums. I love the first Stone Roses so much I can’t even tell ya.
Name two pieces of gear you have your eye on?
Oh God. the 421’s, I’d like to get 3 or 4 of those. Any high-end compressors and mastering gear.
Where do you like to purchase gear from?
Trade-Up. Musician’s Friend. Markertek. The thing is, I’m not in constant search of gear because I’m hoping to upgrade my ProTools system and that’s gonna be a big one.
I mean- the checks you write are huge , so you don’t write them every month, but there is a lot of research…
The research aspect of this has been non-stop, it doesn’t end. You never stop learning. I’m very intuitive. I’m a “close-your-eyes-and-listen” kind of person. I’ve never had the names of gear in my head. I’m just painting with whatever paints I have. I’m constantly asking Sam, “Is this mine?” That’s why you see my name on every single thing…
So that YOU know it’s yours! (laughter)
Right! (more laughter)
What do you use for headphones?
The headphones I want are like $250 a pair. We have Audio-technicas. I would love to buy some high-end phones, and I will. I buy those old Nova headphones whenever I can.
Any favorite producing memories?
About six years ago I co-produced The Oceanic Concerts for Pete Townshend. I worked with Raphael Rudd, who lived with Townshend and played these live shows with him. Pete liked it and licensed it to Rhino and it sold like 85,000 copies. All the money went to a hospital in India.
Wow man, that must make you feel great.
It does make me feel good.
You use music to help the impoverished. We all want to make a difference and our time here is short…
Is there a mic pre that you use on every session?
Yeah well, the board. The API pres are golden delicious.
How about mics? Do you have a favorite mic here?
Yeah the Neumann 103. The RE20 is the ultimate friggin mic. Ours is a vintage one.
How young were you when you started recording?
The first recordings I ever made I was about 13. I had just started writing songs, and I would record on one cassette and play it back while I overdubbed on another cassette deck. Of course it got out of phase and everything, but who knew? Then Eric and I started recording the Watchmen on a reel to reel two track. Then the Dharma Bum sessions… I did it in complete progression: 2 track, 4 track, 8 track, 16 track which was perfect. I wanted to learn and be hands on and I got to assist on a Nirvana session. A few years ago I took an online electronics course from PCC and I was stoked because over the years this stuff has sunk in.
But you have to show what you know.
I don’t know. The older I get the less I like to talk about myself. This is the first two years of my life where the doors have been open to the public. I’ve lived a secluded life when it comes to my art, because I started so young. From 14 to 30 I was playing upwards of 200 shows a year and really being an aspiring musician. I’m constantly in this zone of understanding how an artist can freak out about nothing, cause I was there too. I didn’t realize how much these producers and engineers really, really knew. If you find the right match with a producer you should embrace them.
Yeah it’s a touchy issue. It’s a personal thing with people’s music, and you need to have a relationship with them.
Yeah but the thing is, there’s a difference between writing a song and being a recording engineer. So if you’re saying to an artist, “here try this technique” so we can record you right etc. But if the artist is so fragile and the ego is getting in the way, I’m not really interested in working with them.
Well opening up youe studio is like opening up yourself to people, so how are balancing being the invisible engineer and the producer who paints “everything Jeremy”?
Because I love collaborating. Because I am not an asshole. I want the organic nature of the song to come through first and foremost too. I like the high-end production thing and experimentation as well. So when I get a band in here like the Dry County Crooks it’s a perfect meld.
What’s your current back-up system? The all- important back-up.
We don’t consider anything to exist until it’s redundant. I build these fire-wire drives. Our podcast is on two different hard drives at all times and then backed up to two DVDs.
What do you use for comparative listening? Checking low-end etc.
Believe it or not Steve Miller’s greatest hits is something I use because it’s so over produced with that 70’s compression, like just squashing everything, is a fun place to start from. And then I like a lot of Don Dixon’s albums (Neil Young, REM, John Cougar).
The new Who record I’ve been listening to as well. And all the local music comes in here because of the podcast. Lately I’ve been putting up Greg William’s work cause I admire him so much.
What is you’re basic drum mic set-up? Are you a minimalist or…
You know what? It’s so funny that you brought that up. I go back and forth and lately we’ve been miking the hell out of the drums. But a year and a half ago I wasn’t wanting to put more than four mics up.
Can you share an engineering meltdown? Something you survived and learned from.
I think the time someone paid me and my buddy $700 to record a live show and decided they weren’t going to have that second hard drive on hand and back it up the night of the show. They brought the hard drive to my studio and I plugged it in and “poof”. Gone! Thank God everyone was standing there, cause there went the session…The biggest melt-downs have always been the digital kind.
How ‘bout the flip side. Since you’ve been open, a session that just went amazing?
I have several like Raleigh Tussing. I did some Casey Neil stuff with several musicians.
What I did was put everyone in a circle around an omni mic and we got that vibe right to tape. I got the high-end just perfect and it’s one of the stand out tracks on the album.
I know what sounds I’m going for. Maybe I’m not precious enough. I work fast. I’m a guy that closes his eyes…
But your rough tracks need to sound amazing right?
You’re not a “fix-it-in-the-mix” guy.
And that’s an important thing right? You wanna be fast, but you want it to be natural in the room. Are you careful with mic placement etc?
I’m not saying I’m not careful, I just work fast. I’ll spend any amount of time it takes if something is wrong. I don’t let things slide by like phase etc.
How are you checking phase by the way?
Just using my ears and the API console phase button. Just use your ears. A lot of times the mics are just too close together for example.
Lots of young musicians don’t even think about some of this stuff.
I think musicians are missing out by not entering the studio and working with experienced engineers, just because they own all this digital recording gear at home.
Let’s just say a 16 year old with a band is reading this interview. What would you say to them?
I’d quote Kenneth Patchen on his death-bed. Art is a baton in a relay race. If you’re a writer you’re directly connected to Shakespeare by virtue of what you do. Don’t be afraid to have mentors and to work with others. A good classical education in anything is going to be what sets you up. Form, de-construction, longevity, etc.
So maybe look at you in the studio as sort of a mentor?
Or as a place to go learn. And a place to be exposed to new ideas. I think if you’re going to go out in the world and try to have a career in music it would benefit you to seek out honest situations that will help enhance that so you don’t have to be so alone in the whole experience of it all.
It’s a microcosm when you’re recording. So you might be saying “I’ll track you guys if you’re willing to learn” or…
Where there’s a different process besides just recording going on?
I think this studio is about that. You could tell me to shut up and just engineer, but that hasn’t happened. Sam Densmore (the silverhawks) and I bring 25 years of music performance, a music teaching degree etc. so you’re experiencing something well beyond “just pay me”.
An engineer who has influenced you?
Joe Chiccarelli is the most important engineer I’ve worked with. Before I met Joe, I didn’t really understand I guess, what was actually going on with sound.
Are you a reader?
I read a lot.
Can you recommend a book to would-be engineers or artists?
Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet”. A Russian book called “The Master in Margarita”.
I read a lot of Vanity Fair. It’s a good source for info. I think Tape-Op is just an incredible resource for everybody, Larry Crane has just done an amazing job!
I’m looking for a specific book on mastering now.
Oh, you master stuff? Do you know Kevin Nettleingham and Ryan Foster?
Yeah, though I’ve mastered a bunch of stuff myself. Once with Tim Votian who mastered U2’s stuff, and he dug my Pilot record called Strangers Waltz. I had met Neil Young and was able to sit in on one of the sessions. He had a kid-like enthusiasm for laying down his vocals, which I won’t forget.
How do you take your breaks? Are you a coffee guy, take a walk guy?
Actually I’m constantly running around the building and going outside. But usually nobody ever lets you take breaks! It really depends on the artist.
OK ,but when you’re mixing hours and hours, how do you break?
I break by maybe jumping in my car and heading all the way home to eat and come back, or sometimes here on the couch with the “power-nap” thing. To force an engineer to mix more than 3 songs a day is almost inhumane!
Well it’s not music after a while… you’re not even hearing the song anymore!
I think a good engineer is listening to all aspects at once, while the musician is listening mainly to their own part, and that’s about it. This is a really tough job. It’s not structured like any other job you know.
So when people come here it’s not the room the mics etc, it’s like all your experience.
If we’re trying to sell anything, that’s the point Sam and I are trying to make. It’s like an enjoyable boot camp. I have people leaving saying “how do we get the next batch of money together so we can work with you again?”
So it’s a hunker-down mentality…
Oh yeah but in a good way. I love what I do and have nothing to hide.
What recent projects out of Mastan would you like people to hear?
The new Deep Roots Project. Casey Neil’s “Brooklyn Bridge” . Raleigh Tussing. All of Ezra Holbrook’s records that are coming out…
My podcast: The Mastan Music hour www.mastanmusic.com/podcast We are recording a new band live every two weeks. It’s all original and we haven’t missed a deadline in 60 weeks. It features the band live with 2 audio streams and a video totally produced by Mastan. It’s no cost to bands, though we hope they eventually become clients.
You’ve got the cameramen in the studio with the band live right?
And where does the talent feed from?
Oh it’s insane! Little Sue, Stephanie Schniederman, Lew Jones and a bunch of others. We’re being contacted by PR firms all over the country. We’re co-sponsoring the Eugene Celebration this year. I’m acting as an Independent Producer most of the time. Obviously we’re having a conversation about an audio space but Mastan is a mini version of an Artist Media Space for self-produced, self-promoted, self-published performers.
I’ve been talking about multi-media for 15 years, although now it’s commonplace.
And you’re making it more affordable?
I’m a DIY guy, but I don’t want do-it-yourself to be mistaken for “make crap”.
There is an industry standard and that will always be. Having said that, personal limitations can be the greatest strength of a project because people are focused and the most brilliant stuff can happen, as opposed to unlimited time to over-produce something!
Visit www.mastanmusic.com for more studio info. JM