Exclusive Interview: Guitarist/Producer Will Putney from Fit For An Autopsy and Machine Shop
If you’ve listened to metal at all during this century, chances are, you own something Will Putney has worked on. As a producer and mixer at The Machine Shop in New Jersey, he’s worked with an illustrious list of modern metal bands, including Shadows Fall, The Human Abstract, Stray from the Path, and Thy Art is Murder, to name but a few.
But now he’s getting a chance to shine as a performer, too. Putney is a founding member of modern death metallers Fit For An Autopsy, whose sophomore album, Hellbound, was released today by eOne/Good Fight to rightfully-rave reviews (order a physical copy here or a digital copy here). Last week, Putney took some time out of his busy schedule to talk to me not just about Hellbound but how he got into metal, how he got to be a producer, what Fit For An Autopsy “won’t do” as a band, the group’s appearance at The Fourth Annual MetalSucks/Metal Injection CMJ Showcase on October 18, and more. Read the full transcript of our chat below.
Where are you, Seattle?
The band is in Seattle; my ass is in the studio.
I’ve subbed myself out of some of the touring with the band. We added a third guitar player so that we can tour as a five-piece and I can make records. I can’t be out on tour six-to-seventh months out of the year. It’s cool; we picked up this dude Tim [Howley] who was in a band around here, The World We Knew. They broke up, and now he’s handling my stuff on tour and he’s doing good.
Does it feel weird knowing the band is out there without you? Does it feel like your wife is out there with another dude?
Yeah, it sucks. I want to be there. But where I’m at right now… for whatever reason, I have a little bit of heat making some records. I’m getting good opportunities, and if I was gone half the year, it would pretty much blow my career. I have a job making music, which I like. I wanted to not lose that job to maybe have a job making music.
That makes sense. So where are you from originally?
Did you grow up going to The Starland?
Yeah. It used to be Club Benay, use to be the spot down there. Club Chrome. There were two venues that did what Starland does now, basically. But those venues disappeared, Starland is the only one left. And it’s five minutes from my parents’ house.
How did you get into metal in the first place?
I was pushing carts in Shoprite. I was fourteen. I went to high school in Old Bridge, because of a weird-town borders thing — so I could walk to friends’ houses in Sayreville, but had to take a twenty minute bus ride to school. So at Old Bridge, there were no bands, no scene. But I had this disconnect with the kids I went to school with, [so I] made a lot of friends in Sayreville, went to Sayreville High School, who seemed to be in to metal and hardcore.
Are you still in touch with any of those dudes?
Yeah, I still talk to them. My first band was with those kids from Shoprite when I was fifteen. We were playing hardcore shows with All Out War and fucking E-Town Concrete. All the NJ hardcore scene bands from back then. I started with that, and heard Dillinger and God Forbid when those bands were fresh and coming up around here, and that’s what I jumped into.
How did you get hooked up with The Machine Shop?
I was interning at The Syndicate, which is a company that does marketing and radio and promotion and stuff like that. I was just trying to get into the music business — I didn’t know about making records yet. And The Syndicate shared the same building that the original Machine Shop was in. So, I had met Machine [producer, Lamb of God, Clutch, etc.] once before — he had a kid and kind of needed someone to babysit a band at the studio while he went away and did baby stuff. I got hired to basically be there… and it turned into where I am now.
So how did you learn to record?
Partially self-taught, partially from Machine.
That’s pretty amazing.
Yeah, I went into that studio and bonded with Machine. He let me use stuff when it was available. So, three weeks after being in that room, I was trying to record local bands, and I had no idea what I was doing. I was trying to copy Machine and slowly figured it out; it took a few years to get to a point where I was really comfortable doing it, and by then I had done a bunch of local bands, just people I knew coming up in the scene around here. And then small label bands started to call, and that’s how it snowballed.
It’s really inspiring that you taught yourself.
I had some schooling. I went to Stevens, which is this college in Hoboken, for fuckin’ bio-medical engineering. And pretty shortly into that, I had a job at Lysol, a paid internship sort of thing, so I was getting a taste for what that world was going to be like — and it creeped me out. So I started taking music classes on the side for fun to see what other options were available. I wound up getting this studio gig, and it just sort of clicked for me. I just dove into it. I started taking what few music production courses the school was offering at the time. I got basic knowledge. But I didn’t really learn how to make records; I pretty much learned that from Machine and myself.
What would you have been doing at Lysol?
I was hired in a microbiology lab to basically test how effective Lysol is at killing staph infections and all these gnarly strains of killer bacteria and stuff. It sounded like it was going to be the coolest thing in the world, but it was terrible.
All right, yeah. It sounds like you ended up with a much cooler job.
Yes. To me it was like, “Well, it only gets worse from here, so I should probably bail now.” It’s funny, I look back on some of the people I went to school with, and they pretty much all hate their lives. I’m actually feeling all right. I think it was a smart choice.
How did Fit For An Autopsy originally come together?
Pat [Sheridan, guitars] and I were in a hardcore band called Nothing Left To Mourn for a few years and then that came to an end. We still wanted to write music and we were both more into playing metal because we started getting a little better at guitar, and we weren’t that into the bands that represented the state of New Jersey hardcore at that time. So, we started throwing ideas together.
We tried other formations of FFAA with local guys, and it was okay, but it wasn’t what it is today. Then we went to a Since The Flood show; Pat is buddies with those guys. Nate Johnson [vocals] was touring with them; it was one of their last tours before that band came to an end. And as a joke, Pat told Nate that he should sing for our band. And Nate said “Sure, send me some demos.” So, knowing that I was about to get Nate Johnson to sing for the band, I ran to the studio and did four songs, and that became the original FFAA demo.
So at the point you met Nate, you didn’t have any material written or recorded?
We had two songs with another kid from New Jersey singing and another drummer, a whole other band basically. We weren’t as sweet [laughs]. We wound up re-working those songs and putting together a few others, and that became the original four song demo that we gave out for free.
So, would you consider the moment Nate joined the band the moment that it became the FFAA we now know?
Yeah, that’s when it became real, and that’s when my brain switched into more of a “Focus, I now have a platform”-mode. I grew up loving Nate in Deadwater Drowning and Premonitions of War and all the stuff that he’s done. I saw [his joining the band] as a “Wow, I actually have an opportunity to write some songs that people will finally hear, and I can actually get out of this little local metal scene that is New Jersey.”
So we put our big boy pants on and said “Okay, let’s try and do a good job on this. People are going to listen to this now.” That’s when it got serious. There was a local Jersey metal band, Forggeting Tomorrow, that was cool in its day, and I’m really good friends with their drummer, Brian Mathis, and I always wanted to be in a band with him, but he was never really interested because we never really had anything cool. But I actually got him on board for this. So, once we got Brian, who played drums on The Process of Human Extermination [and has since been replaced by Josean Orta], we said, “Okay, now we have a real lineup. We have a real drummer; a real singer and we can write good songs.”
Did you or do you find it hard to produce yourself? I would imagine it’s like directing your own performance.
In a way it’s easier, because I have full control over these songs when I’m in the studio. I feel cool about that. I entertain other opinions, but I don’t really have to [entertain other opinions]. It gives me the freedom to do whatever the hell I want. Producing records all year, I grow to hate so much stuff. There’s so much I don’t want to do. We talk about that all the time, about things Fit For An Autopsy won’t do.
At the same time, I’m a producer for a living, so people are going to judge my own art pretty harshly. If I record someone else’s band and the guitar riff isn’t that cool, it’s not necessarily my fault — but this time, it is. So the pressure is definitely on in that sense.
But I kind of put that to the side. I know what I want to hear when I listen to heavy, progressive music. I just wanted to make a record that I would be happy with. I didn’t care so much about so much of the rest of the world. I’m glad it worked out and that people seem to like the record, but I probably would have made the same record with or without that pressure.
You said there are things Fit For An Autopsy won’t do. Without talking trash about any other bands, can you give me some examples?
There are a lot of bands that do the same thing. They do the same things on stage, they write the same parts, it’s the same trick, it’s the same gimmick. It just doesn’t feel sincere. We do our best to steer clear of that stuff. You’ll never catch synchronized stage moves or show tapes or fake production. There are just things we’re never going to do.
We’re older. If I was twenty, and just being exposed to heavy music for the first time, I know for sure I would have a different taste. I don’t blame any young bands for following whichever bands are the leaders at the moment, because that’s all they know. But we grew up in basements in New Jersey watching The Dillinger Escape Plan destroy a house. We’re not going to go and play to a show tape. We come from a slightly different background, and we do our old guy version of trying to incorporate that and yet still appeal to kids. So, yeah, we don’t want to tour with bands like that. We just want to do our own thing.
I’m bummed to hear that you’ll never do synchronized stage moves. I was listening to this album and thinking, “I can’t wait to watch these dudes dance!”
I’m not saying that once we hit it big that we won’t start flying into shows on rocket packs, but in the meantime, we’re just going to be normal dudes who like it hard. The bummer is, it shoots us in the foot, because I’ve got access to everything I’d need in production — I could back us with tracks, and we could have this whole fake thing. But it doesn’t feel as satisfying in the end.
Well, I appreciate it. Let’s talk about the new album, Hellbound. I love the first album, but this one just feels to me like a huge evolutionary step forward. Does it feel that way from the inside?
I’m really happy with how we’ve progressed from the last record. That record came together really fast. We got offered a deal with [record label] Black Market Activities, and I had to bang those songs out relatively quickly to get them out. We just weren’t prepared. We didn’t have the long-term sight we do now. I really like that record, there’s some parts that are cool. But, those songs… the label stalled, and a lot of time passed, and I sat on those songs for almost three years. So I really learned what didn’t work, what I didn’t want to do. My taste in music has certainly changed a bit, and is definitely more eclectic now. And there’s not a lot of bands that throw different things into their music. So I kind of wanted to do that, and it sort of just blows by the average person, but if you listen there’s a merger of sounds in there. There’s a Queens of the Stone Age bass line, there’s a Converge riff… There’s stuff that doesn’t “fit” in death metal that’s in there. So it’s the little things this time that we paid more attention to, which I think helped give us an identity.
Were you very conscious about trying to incorporate those new elements this time?
I was. It goes back to what we don’t want to do. I’ve heard so many of the same bands… the whole deathcore scene… it just sounds like the same thing. We took that all off the drawing board as a starting point, and what we were left to work with was something a little more unique, which I was happy about.
I think we’ll explore [those varied influences] further in the future. We didn’t want to scare our small-but-dedicated fan base away this time by just getting super-weird. I’ve seen that backfire time and time again. Without naming names… there’s a band that we’ve played with, and I thought their new record was cool, but it wasn’t a record that anybody necessarily wanted to hear. I watched the crowd look at them like they were a different thing than they were expecting. We were scared of that. We have a little steam going and we didn’t wanna blow it over that. We were able to find a happy medium that we all liked. I think it’s cool to have a foot in a couple of different worlds with a record like this.
It seems like you don’t shy away from the deathcore label, though, which a lot of bands do at this point.
We were just bummed going to shows. We were just kind of angry dudes who liked violent shows. It’s not something that I’m proud of, but I’d rather watch kids run around and go nuts and kill each other. And you’ve got to fuel that a little, while remaining as tasteful as possible. We never want to play shows that are just a lot of guys at the bar head banging, even though we love those guys… we are those guys. We’re fucking old dudes. But it’s still more fun when the energy is up at shows. So those [deathcore] parts serve a purpose in a live setting. They’re not my favorite parts on the record, when the big breakdown kicks in, but I’m happy that kids like it. It’s a gateway for kids to get into some of the weirder shit that we do, and that we want to continue to do. I think it serves a good purpose in that it allows us to introduce our band to younger kids.
I have a question about the lyrics, should I hold that for Nate?
Nate and I wrote the lyrics together, so I can handle it.
“Thank You, Budd Dwyer” was released yesterday, and I was just curious what brought about the decision to write a death metal song about Budd Dwyer.
I remember the Filter song [about Dwyer, “Hey Man Nice Shot”], and I always thought it was cool that a band with a platform wrote a song about something that mattered. I’m not even a huge Filter fan, but when I realized what that song was about, I thought that was boss. This is a rock band that I’m listening to on mainstream radio that should be writing songs about chicks and dumb shit, and they wrote a fucking song about a politician that committed suicide. I always thought that was cool.
And we always wanted this record to be real. We talked about how we didn’t want to do fantasy lyrics and we didn’t wanted to do typical cheesy gory stuff just to be “edgy “and “extreme.” None of that shit is scary or extreme. There’s real shit that happens in the world, and that’s where we get our sustenance.
So I had just watched An Honest Man [the documentary about Dwyer] again and I thought a Budd Dwyer song would be so easy to write. It happened in the 80s. Chances are, nine out of ten kids don’t even know who Budd Dwyer is anymore — that Filter song was over a decade ago. It’s one of those things that has been buried over time, and it would be cool to dig it up.
Do you think that desire to stay away from more fantastical, horror-movie lyrics and concentrate on real stuff comes from your hardcore background?
Absolutely. I respect a band, like Amon Amarth, who just write about viking stories. I like that stuff. But I don’t have to be in a band. None of us have to be in a band anymore. We’ve got careers and jobs and stuff, and to go on tour… it’s hard to make time for this shit when some of us have kids. So if we’re going to do it, it has to be for some reason. We all unanimously agree that we don’t want to be a band that means nothing. For sure, growing up and listening to music that was about real shit influenced us. Pat is a straight edge dude, he’s been straight edge his whole life. We have vegan guys in the band; we care about certain things in the world. It’s stupid to just pretend and write songs about serial killers. It’s corny. The real world is scarier than the fantasy world.
So what’s next for you guys?
We’re doing a tour with Thy Art Is Murder from late November into December. We’re putting a plan together for some cool stuff next year. We’ll probably hang back during the winter, we’re going to write some new stuff. But we’ll be out on the road pretty hard through the spring and summer. We’ll be touring more than we ever have before and doing our best to push this record. We’re all really proud of it.
Awesome. By the time we run this, the show you’re doing with us in October will have been announced.
Yeah, man. We’re looking forward to that one!