EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH ADAM TUCKER OF SIGNATURETONE RECORDING
Interview by Boone Ipstenu
It’s hard for me to talk Minnesotan metal without bringing up Adam Tucker. I know you haven’t heard of this guy, but trust me, he’s worth watching. Between engineering, mixing, and mastering, he’s worked with pretty much every local metal and hardcore band that I listen to. Adam’s work stands out to me because of his ability to capture genre-bending and unconventional bands at their most unique. It feels like every record he makes conveys part of the essence, or identity of a band, which is what an album is supposed to achieve, right? Anyways when HessianHunter, who’s real name definitely isn’t Steve Bergquist, asked me to interview him for his Run-Metalsucks-for-a-Day schtick I was like-totally-pumped. I’ve made two records with the dude, but I hadn’t had a good excuse to just sit around and pick his brain until now. We hung out at his studio Signaturetone Recording and talked about Twin Cities metal, how he got into recording, and what his process is like.
So I’ve always assumed that you started as a musician…
Pretty much. I don’t play as much as I’d like to anymore. Both my parents are musicians. My dad is a jazz drummer, he’s been playing for like forty years, and my mom could be a musicology professor even though she’s not right now, so I grew with tons of classical, tons of jazz. I took piano lessons, took up guitar, took up bass, and took up the upright bass which I took through college. Then of course when I was like 14 or 13 I got introduced to heavy music.
So sometime between then and now you got into the craft of production. How did that happen?
It’s something I’ve… well I can’t say always been interested in, because I don’t remember what I was into when I was 10, but I’ve been recording on my own since I wanted to record bands I was in. I did stuff with an old tape deck with a mic input, then I bought a yamaha four track recording thing, and I did stuff like that until I migrated up to doing computer things and computer composition for this weird grindcore band I was writing for called Uncle Bob Drives a Combine. Then when I was looking for something to do for college I found out that there was a four year degree at a school that I could go to that could fulfill my bachelors requirement, but also had a recording emphasis that would let me make music, and it would give some kind of indication that I was a “schooled person,” so y’know hypothetically I could get a job afterwards. I’ve been doing this for a long time now, I guess a little over half my life, which is upsetting in an I’m-going-to-die-someday way, but it’s good!
What was your process like when you were first learning how to record music and how did it evolve?
I have a bad habit of doing what I feel like at all times and not really asking for advice, so there was a lot of trial and error. Y’know “I’ve got four tracks I can play with… I’ll just put mics on things and see what it sounds like… well ok maybe I’ll move this around, maybe I should change something, maybe I should try EQing something,” but not a lot of “I should look into how this works first.” If I had one flaw it’s that I didn’t pay enough attention to things upfront, but relentlessly smashing into things until they worked worked out for me.
When did you move to the Twin Cities?
Uhhhhhhhhh I have to do math. Nine years ago? When did I graduate? I don’t remember. About nine years ago. So I’ve been here a decent while. I came to town and immediately got an internship at Winterland studios. Apparently I lucked out, because what I didn’t realize moving up here is that there’s a ton of recording schools and everyone is trying to do what I’m doing, so I got in at the right time to get a pretty good one-on-one relationship with a pretty large, fairly traditional old-school style studio. Big rooms, lots of iso space, a big fat consol, gold records on the wall- that kind of thing. That was a really good place to start with, because that’s gradually not happening anymore, so it was good to see how that works, before I went off on my own to do my thing.
In terms of heavy music what was the scene like when you first moved here, and how do you think it’s changed?
It’s different, but good. Amphetamine Reptile and bands who were on that label definitely influenced a shitload of bands in the mid-to-late 90s, and that was still around when I first came up here. There was a lot of angular stuff going on, like bands who really liked Unsane or bands who sounded like the Melvins. That went away for a bit in the early 2000s but now it’s making a comeback. There were a lot of heavy bands, but it seems like the scene has become more communicative. There are more bands from different genres that are talking to each other and setting shows up. People are playing less genre-specific music that isn’t just trying to play to 14-year-old kids. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s nice to see bands saying “well your genre sounds like this and my genre sounds like this but we both like things about each other so let’s have a show.” That’s where I think Minneapolis is kicking ass right now. Lots of bands know each other and are setting up really interesting bills where you can come see metal of all varieties.
How did Signaturetone come about?
Well I was doing basement work, which I didn’t put out under the Signaturetone name. I made some good records, the first two Tonnage records and this kickass band called Twenty Dollar Love, but my earlier stuff was all done in basements. I was buying gear online and I came across someone selling a piece of gear locally on ebay, so I figured we’d just meet up. About five hours after we sat down to talk we realized “wow we just talked for a long time, perhaps we should explore the potentials of this relationship further.” His name was Dave Hale and he had a ton of gear- a ton of REALLY GOOD gear. He was in the process of setting up another studio, but that was kind of on the rocks, and I was in the right place at the right time to say, “hey I’ve got projects I can bring in, and I’m willing to put in all the work in to physically build, and move, and wire, and set up a space. So we set this space up and that was six or seven years ago now.
What do you think makes Signaturetone, or your approach unique?
Well I try not to tell bands what to do. If someone comes down and says, “I have to use my crate solid state amp,” I go “ok let’s listen to it.” That’s not a hard concept to grasp, but you can fuck a record up by saying, “you’re a band that sounds like this, well I’m going to make you sound like that.” You can lose the intent of the music. One thing I think I’m good at is figuring out what a band is going for, and then getting a good representation of them. That leaves a lot of bands saying, “whoa this sounds like us!” and I say “yep, that is what you sound like; I’m just putting mics up and capturing what you’re doing.”
I try to stay musically open and have a good grasp of genres to the point where I can have anyone come in, do their thing, and I can say, “sweet! I know what you’re going for, let’s augment that.” A lot of studios just say, “plug into my head and use thing and you’ll sound good.” If something doesn’t work then I’ll tell you use my stuff, but it’s all about context. If that crate solid-state amp sounds fucking amazing in the middle of a mix then that’s why they’re using it.
What portion of the music that you record here would you describe as “heavy?”
A lot. That’s where I got my start, so I have a lot of records under my belt, and that’s what I’m most known for in the area. I did just finish up a really good pop jazz record, and this afternoon I’m heading over to the Artists’ Quarter where I’ll help a pianist friend of mine record some audition tapes, which should be some really awesome jazz. I’ve done a decent amount of electronic stuff, both written and recorded my own stuff, and worked on stuff for other people. I’ve done a decent amount of stuff that still has electric guitar, but is lighter, with singing- indie rock stuff or whatever you want to call it. But a good portion of what I record could be termed “heavy.” It’s not specifically any one genre, but it’s people turning their amps up and maybe yelling.
When you first hear a band what makes you want to work with them?
If they make me move my body. If I’m tapping my foot that’s usually a good sign. If the music grabs me, and I can tell while they’re playing it that they give a shit, and they sound like they’re playing together, and actually have a goal for what they’re doing. I can hear when you’re playing that chord if you hear someone else in your band playing their chord. If I see your band really giving a shit I probably want to work with them. Fortunately that’s a lot of the bands I end up seeing. I don’t go to many shows where bands are just going through the motions. Bands should be passionate first and foremost. Being perfect… I’d rather work with a band that really cares and then try and make them better, but being good helps *laughs*. It makes everything easier.
Out of all the heavy records that you’ve made, have any stood out as something really special or challenging?
I have a hard time answering that without seeming like I’m playing favorites. I will say that the record that I probably put most of my personal time into with extra production and stuff was the second Blue Ox record. I do not understand why that band and that record did not get bigger, cause that’s a fucking monster. That record is really good.
It took a long time and I did a lot of weird shit, and… I dunno I have a soft spot for that band. But I don’t think there’s any record I’ve done where I get away from it thinking, “that was easy!” I just torture the shit out of myself until I’m vaguely happy with what I’ve done. It’s never quite good enough, but I can get it close enough to feel ok.
Doing the tracking for the Crinn record that came out on Nuclear Blast was cool cause that was my first time doing a major label thing, but it was also one of the first times I’ve had to hand off a record, which was weird. It was weird to not have total control over it.
The last Nerves record pushed me really hard, cause that band really knows what they want and make you work for it. That made it better, but during the process it was stressful, because that shit had to be right. In the end we got it right.
But for any record I’ve done if you played me a track I could talk your ear off about why it’s awesome, or this little thing that we did. They’re all my little babies, so I have a hard time picking and choosing.
Last question what are you working on right now that people should look out for?
The new Atrocity Solution record is really fucking good. Those guys play their asses off. The new Nomia record is gonna be really fucking good and I’m just finishing that. Those dudes took a long hiatus to get their shit together, and it paid off, cause they’re playing like sons-of-bitches, and their record shows that.
If you aren’t sold on the sonic genius of Adam Tucker, check out what he can record, mix, and master in one hour with the help of Steve Henningsgard of Iron Thrones. It’s called SHIT!japan.
Boone Ipstenu lies about his last name for fun. He’s also in a band like every other jackoff you know.