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Gooding, Old Greg, and Matt Wallace

Gooding, Old Greg, and Matt Wallace.

On our upcoming record, Building The Sun, we were able to work with one of the finest producers (and human beings) on this planet, Matt Wallace. Matt has produced Maroon 5 (Songs About Jane), Faith No More, Train, O.A.R., John Hiatt, the Spin Doctors, and Blues Traveler. He has mixed for REM, the Rolling Stones, Blackberry Smoke and tons more.

Thanks to our close friends and sponsors The Women Who Rock, we were afforded a budget that allowed us to record with Matt at his place, Studio Deluxe in the famed Sound City complex, as well as track Jesse’s drums at NRG studios (Common/Jonas Brothers were next door—we had to constrain Erin from sneaking over). 🙂 I normally record and produce the band’s records myself on a shoestring budget. This was definitely a whole new experience than we have been used to. Just having someone ask you to take your food order so you can sit there in the studio and talk to one another was very, very strange. I usually sit in my studio eating food out of a can and mix till I turn green (and enjoy it).

Just pulling into Sound City was a thrill, to say the least. If you have seen the documentary Sound City, you know some of the greatest records ever were made here in the Deep Valley in this run-down industrial park. Wallace opens the door, gives me a bottle of water, and we sit down on a huge couch surrounded by weird guitars in weird tunings. I notice a few things right off. First, there are fabrics hung everywhere, and it looks like he has built the iso booths by hand. It’s not fancy, and there are no assistants. But it feels safe, like a cocoon you could get lost in creating, a place you could make a musical home for a while.

First thing Matt does is ask me specific questions about lyrics from a song of ours called “I’m Not Listening.” He went directly to trying to understand what makes us tick and what we wanted out of the band’s next moves. We talked about our favorite records/artists/producers, trust and art, optimism and pragmatism, the state of the world, income inequality, our work with the charity Funding The Future, why so few people make records that are ABOUT something… It was two hours that felt like two minutes. Exactly what you want when you meet an old soul. Wallace puts up on the mixing console the original multitrack tapes of old Zeppelin, Marvin Gaye, and Van Halen records. Isolates Bonham’s drums, Pagey’s guitars. Love and lust and tube compressors, hopes and heartbreak, soul and fire, and it all screaming out of the speakers in the stripped-back layers that I would have KILLED to listen to as a child growing up with these artists. Felt like I had known the dude in another life.

Needless to say, we lost track of time, and we were both late for our next meetings. I left and called my band and then management, begging them to get Matt locked in.

A few months later, we were living back in LA and making the record that we will finally give to you fine people here on September 21—Building The Sun. Eleven tracks of pain and imagination, funkiness and melody, guitars that shine clean and also break up into static, my rusty vocals, and Eon’s singing like an angel, all together in Wallace-shaped harmony and warmth.

Here’s some of what we learned from El Magu, “The Little Wizard” (Jesse’s nickname for Wallace):

1. THE SONG IS KING. I sent him about 35 songs before we went out to LA and he made notes on ALL of them. ALL of them. He whittled those down to about 20, and we fought it out as a band from there once we got to LA. We did a week of rehearsing every song over and over as a band in a rehearsal space in North Hollywood before we ever hit the first drum tracks.

2. GEAR DOESN’T MATTER. Or at least it matters much less than the vibe and the performance. I know this is laughable since you may have seen three racks of compressors and tube heads full of magic, but the point is the gear is only a part of it. The real tools are always heart and mind. Instinct and optimism that something can be created. It’s so easy to get into minutia and tech talk. Wallace cut the lead vocal of O.A.R.’s “Shattered” on a $90 mic to keep the flow and not lose the performance.

3. “JUST DO SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL!” When we were trying to nail a track—Jesse get a drum fill, Eon a harmony, or me some overdub on guitar—we would ask very specific questions. We have all been in the studio before, and it was easy to overthink and second-guess. All knowledge comes with a price. He threw out that line, “Just do something beautiful,” several times. And it may seem simple, but they are words to live by. We get so caught up in genre or chasing what someone else wants. His point was to FEEL things, not overplay. Heart, not mind. Always.

4. GET IT DOWN TO TAPE AND DON’T LOOK BACK. We had guitar pedals scattered all over his floor. He was down on his knees, connecting things, trying anything, being fearless and working fast (though calm). Handing me guitars in weird tunings, telling me to change pickups on every overdub. WE HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE. I would always ask, can we save that setting? Can we get back there? “No, just get it to tape.” This reminds me of another hero, Daniel Lanois, who prints everything to tape. Reverb, DLY, all of it. You don’t fix it in the mix. You don’t print a clean guitar and then choose 1,000 sounds later. Everything happens, puts paint on the palette, and you need to know what you are working with as you are putting the layers down. This being said, the record actually sounds a lot CLEANER than I expected it to—and a lot more clean then the records I make—but Wallace had a vision of that final sound, and when you play the record LOUD on a big system, it hits like no tomorrow.

5. TUNE ALL THE TIME. You stop recording? You tune. I hated this at first, but I get it. Matt’s assistant is a wonderful cat named Will Kennedy (Will brought the amazing studio dog Prince over, and Prince kept all the vibes lovely and homey—the whole band are all dog lovers). 🙂 But tuning matters. I get too loose with it in my studio because I like a little chaos, and I hate stopping when I’m rolling. But when you are doing layer after layer, you have to know it’s gonna be there when it stacks up.

6. GOLDEN RULE. He never called it this—he never spoke of it—but Wallace treats everyone how he wants to be treated. I have heard this can sometimes be rare with very successful music biz gurus. At one point over at the rehearsal studio, a young man who plays with Paul McCartney came over and was thrilled to see Wallace. As it turns out, when the guy was starting out, he was struggling. Wallace, after struggling for years, had finally hit the big time with his first major records, and HE HAD GIVEN THE KID HIS CAR. For good. Yup. Just gave him a car to help him out. (There are many other things Wallace does in his personal life to take care of others that blew my mind, but I’m not trying to put his personal life out here on front street. Suffice to say, he WALKS THE WALK in a way I have rarely seen.)

7. KEEP IT LIGHT. As Willie Nelson says, a sense of humor will get you through hard times better than good times will get you through no sense of humor. Wallace has a great sense of humor. He is killer with call-back jokes, and we spent many late nights doing our bad Old Greg impressions. “Do you think ya could love me?” “How about some Baileys?” 🙂

8. LESS IS MORE. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. As Eon has said before, Jesse and I are both “noodlers.” We love jazz and blues and a lot of improv music, and we played that way for a decade growing up together. Eon can ad lib for days, but when she is on stage or in the studio, it’s silence until it’s her time to fly. Jesse and I noodle and jam out and get hard to keep quiet. Wallace cut out a lot of drum fills and scaled back A LOT of guitar playing in making this record. This is song-based music, not jams, so let the song do the work. Cohesion and hooks and melody can bring more people into the fold. So, cut, cut, snip, snip. Less is more. As he said many times as Jesse and I argued to keep a certain lick or fill alive, “You guys can do that all day LIVE and it will work there on the road just fine.” Or my personal fave—and this will sound hard-core, but it was awesome when he said it—“No for sure. Play it your way, and I’ll take it out when I mix.” Ha ha.

9. LUCK IS INVOLVED. No matter what you make, doesn’t mean it will get there. This is a brutal truth no artist wants to face, especially me with my epic doses of optimism that I give myself in order to NEVER EVER EVER QUIT GOING. But there is so much luck at play. Of course, hard work helps, but there are so many people involved in getting a band from A to Z—some things just fall apart. There is timing. There is unforeseen change. Just like life. The only thing you can do is keep putting your best foot forward every time and keep doing the work. One night after a session, I was bragging about our 50-state tour—six months, a ton of shows, Jesse and I almost lost our ladies by not being able to get home often enough, we weren’t making money, blah, blah—and he said, “I’ve had guys whose wives were having babies while they were on the road, and they were in snowstorms because they were breaking a record, and there was no way the label would stick with them if they canceled.” (This is why many musicians are thrilled to find a way to their fanbase without the normal label system.) This business at the top levels—brutal—and you should know what you are in for when you get in it. Basically, if you want the prize, you have to give up a lot. More than most people can stand. It was a great elixir for my bragging about how hard we work. Get over yourself, dude. 🙂

10. PLAY FOR THE VOCAL. Get out of your own way. Let the song and lyrics do the work. As a songwriter, I of course wanted to hold him in my arms when I saw his love and respect for the craft. But when I play, I tend to start thinking as a band member and guitar player, and some of my protection for the soul of the song goes out the window. Again, cut things back, strip away. AGAIN, less is more. He paid extremely close attention to the tiniest details in lyrics, and we made changes as we went along. He even had me writing some extra third verses last minute.

We learned a ton, and we welcome the next chapter. Our live show improved immediately by all the fat that was cut out around the heart of the songs. Thanks to Matt for teaching us a ton about songs, recording, and mixing, but also that you can be at the top of your game and not for a second have to stop treating everyone around you like they are every bit as important as you are. ’Cause they are.

We just released another track from the upcoming record. It gets to the heart of our love for working with students and working toward a country and a world where everyone gets a fair shake.

Building The Sun will be out September 21. We hope you love what you hear. Thanks for stopping by!


For more on Wallace—and if you are an engineer, producer, or player, this interview is killer—check out http://www.pensadosplace.tv/producermixer-matt-wallace/.

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