EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH PRODUCER SHANE FRISBY: “DEATH TO LAPTOP METAL!”
Producers are the silent contributors to the albums of your favorite artists; their role is incredibly crucial to the final product, but their contributions are rarely recognized.
Many music fans don’t know exactly what it is a producer even does, or they’re under the assumption that producers direct from afar and check-in occasionally — almost like a spiritual album-creation adviser — ala Rick Rubin. In the vast majority of cases that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I’d liken a producer’s role to that of a movie director’s; whereas as a director’s job is set up each shot perfectly and get the best performances out of his actor’s, a producer’s is to set up the conditions in which a band records and to get the best performances out of the musicians. To be specific: which band member records when, how many tracks they lay down, mic selection, mic placement, types of amplifiers and guitars, which pre-amps, compressors, processors and effects to use, etc, etc, etc — the producer has a say in all of that and works tirelessly on setting it all up until it sounds just right, a way more difficult task than it may seem. Many producers also help with song arrangements by making suggestions to the band for ways they can improve their songs by making small — or drastic — tweaks. Some producers also serve as mixers, the film analog of which would be the editor. Mixers do a whole lot more than just adjust sliders to make the levels of each instrument right; getting each instrument to “cut” through the mix so they’re all audible and clear is no easy task, and requires hours upon hours of relentlessly making minute adjustments to EQ settings, outboard effects (reverb, compressions, etc) and more. In short, producers are really fucking important and they rarely get the credit they deserve.
I find the art of production absolutely fascinating, and I love speaking with producers, getting inside their head, and finding out what makes them tick. Their vantage-point of music is much different than musicians’, and it’s a fresh perspective we don’t often hear much about.
Shane Frisby has been producing and mixing bands since he was a teenager on a 4-track in his bedroom, and he’s since graduated to owning and operating the Brick Hithouse in Massachusetts where he’s produced records by Bury Your Dead, The Ghost Inside, Sentinel and many more. When I catch up with Shane one Friday afternoon he’s in the middle of installing patch bays into his control room, a necessary evil he’d been putting off for eons. Read on to find out what Shane thinks about tips for getting started as a recording engineer, his own career trajectory, mixing and producing “transparency,” his favorite all-time producers and mixers and his thoughts on the new generation of so-called “laptop metal” producers.
Why don’t we start by talking a little bit about your studio – when you started it, how you got into it and so on and so forth?
The present studio, the Brick Hithouse, has been around since 2008. It was in other forms before, but the actual really large building that I’m in now has been my studio since 2008. I essentially got into recording when I was young – probably 13 or 14 (that’s well over half my life now). The reason I took so long to do it full-time was that I was in a touring band. I would come home from tour and record bands, etc. It kind of got to a point when touring wasn’t as often as it used to be. I put that on the back burner and started doing this full-time. Luckily, some of the first few records that I worked on really took off. Here I am now, throwing a bunch of new equipment around. I can’t complain.
When you started, did you get your start in the traditional way? Just fucking around on a 4-track tape recorder in your bedroom?
I actually mowed lawns and did a bunch of bullshit work just to get a digital 4-track. I was that first kid on the block who went digital. This was in the mid-90s if not earlier than that.
Hells yeah, dude. I was that same kid. I ended up with this primitive Roland Digital 8-track that worked on Zip Disks. Remember those?
I had my Yamaha MD4 which has . . .
Fuck yeah, dude! My buddy had that one. [Laughs]
I still have it. I haven’t been able to sell it. I have so much stuff on those disks that I need to take a week and dump it onto my computer, but I haven’t had time in the last couple of years.
So when did you realize that you would be able to do it full-time and support yourself and pay rent on a studio and buy nice gear?
I accumulated the gear over the years. I knew what I wanted from the get-go. Even when I was younger, I would buy one nice piece a year and was like “this is going to last me forever as long as I take care of it.” Especially with pre-amps and stuff like that, you never want to get rid of them. It was probably after high school that I decided to go to college for music and for recording. When I went through school, I did a lot of audio engineering, but I was really going to school to either work for a record label or to start my own record label or do something along those lines.
As life usually goes, everything kind of changed. The second that I graduated, I just hopped in a van and went on tour for a bunch of years. I ended up working for a record label for a while. It got to a point where I would start a label or do something else. I wasn’t feeling the label. Even at that point in my life I was kind of like “people are just downloading everything. I don’t think that’s the best way to make a living”. So I found a space to do the studio and record a bunch of bands. From that money I kept buying new gear. Late last year I did a huge renovation and knocked down some walls and made the ceilings way higher, made an extra studio. This place has a full kitchen and probably the biggest band space area that I’ve ever seen in a studio. It’s going well. Some of the stuff that I have coming up in 2012 is just going to keep growing. No complaints on my end.
That’s awesome. Did you ever — I’m guessing that a lot of people who are going to read this interview are going to be aspiring engineers — do any kind of apprenticeship or internship at a studio where you learned the finer elements that take longer to figure out like mixing and certain techniques?
I did a little bit but nothing long enough where I retained a lot of it. The majority of the learning that I got was stuff I learned when I was in school. Besides that, it has been trial and error. I had some complete nightmare recordings when I first started out. I think a lot of it was learning from not knowing – learning through ignorance, I guess. There were many times when I was like “alright, why is nothing working?” [Laughs] It’s troubleshooting on the fly and then it gets to the point where it becomes second nature. I’ll do stuff now that I used to spend days doing and it’ll take me 10 minutes now. I guess a lot of it is diving into it and just figuring it out on your own or watching videos on Youtube and listening to your favorite stuff and trying to get sounds like that.
What are some of the toughest projects that you’ve worked on and what are some of the most rewarding projects?
I wouldn’t say that I really dealt with a tough one, at least not band-wise. I think everything tends to go smoothly here. I’ve definitely had some problems with payment when I first started out. That was dealing with no-name bands. I think most producers get that one band where they figure out “I don’t give final mixes until you fully pay me”. Now I don’t do anything without a contract or having my manager or lawyer go over stuff before I do projects. How much this place costs just to turn everything on every day is something that I have to factor into any project that I take on. Band-wise, nothing crazy. Almost any band that I’ve had in here, I’ve had in here more than once. They just keep coming back. I don’t think anyone has left or gotten a final product that they’re like “fuck this place”. It’s always been good for them and good for me. Other than that, payment stuff, but even then it wasn’t that crazy. I’m 6’6″ and 275lbs. I could just go to someone’s house and say “pay me” and I’ll get a check right away.
[Laughs] I wish I had that advantage.
I’ve been called the “Suge Knight” of the recording world more than once. I’m just a lot lighter than he is. [Laughs]
What are some projects that you’ve worked on recently and what do you have coming up?
Recently I’ve been doing a lot of stuff. I just wrapped up a song by the band Lions Lions, an EP by a band called Conforza (which, in my opinion, is one of the best unsigned bands that I’ve ever worked with). They’re a technical and brutal deathcore band. They just rule. I did a band called Every Minute Can Kill. The newest Bury Your Dead came out a month or two ago. It came out in August. This was a big year. That was a good record for me. I’m blanking on a lot of stuff. A band called Teeth I just finished, but for stuff just coming up on the horizon, I’m doing a full-length by a band called Hand of Mercy which is a really big band from Australia. They’re going to be flying over here for a month in November. That should be a good one.
From there I’ll be working with Armor for the Broken. I’ll also be doing a new Widow Sunday record, which I’m really looking forward to. The preproduction stuff on that has been pretty amazing. As far as that, everything else has not been 100% taken care of on the contractual end. It’s stuff that I’d rather wait on before I tell you because if all of a sudden I don’t get the record then I look like an asshole. I can definitely tell you that I’m doing four really big records in 2012. I’m just waiting on the paperwork, but it’s stuff that will be four of the biggest records that I’ve done in comparison with Corpus Christi, the Ghost Inside, Bury Your Dead and stuff like that. 2012 is going to be a good year for me.
One thing that producers talk about, especially mixers — and I know you do both for a lot of the projects you do — is transparency. How important is transparency to you? Obviously all those bands that you listed, some of them sound different but a lot of them are in the same scenes as the others. Is it important to you to diversify or do you not really care being the deathcore guy or whatever it is?
I’ll record whatever comes to me. Granted everything I’ve done that’s either sold really well or has been on the charts has been in the heavy genre. I’m not opposed to doing anything else at all. I think I kind of pride myself on that if I’m going to do a lot of stuff in the same genre that the stuff is going to sound different. I think that’s where a lot of current producers are shooting themselves in the foot because you’re putting out a lot of records that may have the same sound (which is cool). I’ve heard records that I could name who recorded and mixed it. I don’t know if that’s necessarily a good thing. I think that’s something that I’ve kind of tried to steer away from. I think there are 50 things that I’ve done that I could play for people and they won’t know if I actually did it or not. I think that’s a good thing.
I think with how bad the ADD is in this country, at least, that a lot of the stuff is going to be a flash in the pan and a lot of those [producers] aren’t going to be working in 5 years. With transparency and stuff like that, I attack every band completely differently. If it’s going to be a pop band it’s going to be different than what I’m going to be doing with a black metal band, and I think the end results are going to be 100% different. No one has ever left here unhappy with the end result. I say that to every band that comes in, that “I’m not done until you’re 100% happy because I don’t want to hear six months down the road that you’re saying stuff like ‘I really wish we had done this or he had done this’ “. Every single band that comes out of here is the biggest act for me, and that’s the only way that I get people in here, by [other people] actually listening to the stuff and finding out where it’s recorded and going from there. I’m not in the business to polish turd,s really.
I think most guys would say that. [Laughs]
I did it for years, and I still take on some complete nobodies (which is fine). I love doing that. I do my homework just as much as any band does before they come in here. I kind of pride myself on the stuff being different in the longrun.
Yeah. Are there any producers or mixers, either contemporary or in the past, that you look up to?
Yes, of course. I’m trying to think of some biggies. I think his name is Sterling Winfield. He used to do a lot of the Pantera stuff (the mixes), and I’m fairly certain he mixed Metallica’s Black Album even though Bob Rock gets credit for that record. He also does a lot of the Nickelback stuff which is a god awful band, but some of their productions are unbelievably good.
I think for current guys, and I mean if you are looking for anyone in the heavier genre for metal and stuff, I always liked Fredrik Nordstrom‘s stuff. I always thought that stuff was great, especially At the Gates’ Slaughter of the Soul. That record still sounds awesome and that was from about 12 years ago now.
More than that I think.
It was in the ’90s, and as far as I’m concerned there wasn’t really much better in the ’90s than that record. It still sounds awesome to this day. He’s really good. I like what comes out of Audio Hammer with Jason Suecof and Mark Lewis. They’re both fantastic at what they do. Tue Madsen does some great stuff. Some of his records have been fantastic. Waldemar Sorychta who used to play for the band Grip Inc., I always liked his stuff. The first three Grip Inc. records I loved, especially when I was younger. That was all good stuff.
I could go on and on, but mostly those guys. There’s nobody that I’ve really heard their stuff and gone “I want to do that and sound like him”. I don’t have a Rick Rubin poster in my room or anything. I’m not trying to mimic anybody. There are definitely a lot of people out there doing a lot of good things. It’s a fun time to be doing what I’m doing now, but it’s also pretty competitive. It’s kind of the way of the world at the moment.
Yeah. What do you think about the newer school, even newer than you, of guys who just do everything “inside the box” in their bedroom and on computers like Misha Mansoor and those kinds of cats?
Not to shit talk anyone specifically, but I just tend to not like that sound. I’m not really into it. I always say that like I’m a big fan of death to laptop metal.
I don’t know. It’s really thin and soulless to me, especially with drum replacement. Drum replacement bums the shit out of me and it always will. A lot of the big records that I love I find that I love because it all starts with the drum sound, and one of those has been Symbolic by Death. Man, I love that drum sound and you can’t do that if you’re going to replace everything that you do. I don’t know if I’m getting old, but all the drum triggering and drum replacement and people doing all the guitars plugged straight in. I don’t know. I guess I like my music with feeling and I think most feeling and emotion gets stripped when you throw it right into the computer and process it like that.
I think a lot of the newer stuff lacks depth. I think the spectrum that it is mixed and mastered in is pretty shallow. I like a lot of low end on my stuff. I’m a bassist, so I like the rumble of the low. It just seems that everything is high and clippy on the new stuff.
Sure. Unless there is anything else that you want to talk about, I’ll let you go and get back to setting up those patch bays.
Nice. Thanks, man. It was a pleasure. Let me know for sure when the thing is going to be up. And by all means, you can throw around “death to laptop metal” to people. That’s my new term. [Laughs]
That’s definitely staying in, don’t worry. [Laughs]
Awesome. Alright, man, it was a pleasure. Thank you very much.