Sunday, August 17, 2008

Mitch Easter: After the Drive-In (Part 2)

This is part two of Mitch Easter talking to me about new, hard times in the rock music industry and the road toward his new recording studio, The Fidelitorium. Mitch and Don Dixon recorded the earliest R.E.M. sessions at The Drive-In (i.e., Mitch's parents' garage), and Mitch's early band Let's Active was among the best and most influential "jangly pop" bands of the early-'80s. Mitch recently released a stellar new solo record, Dynamico, which he recorded and performed (mostly, himself) at The Fidelitorium.
This is Mitch on Mitch, as told to me:


Now, the guys at the labels are screaming, “You can do it yourself in your bedroom and it will sound as good or even better than if you do it in a studio!” When you record stuff on a computer, it can sound really good. There is no tape hiss. It can still sound good. It can also sound hollow and unsatisfying. And you can mix your record in a box, but you lose a huge chunk of the sound quality.

If it were not for low-end studios, I would never have gotten started. And we’re not going to compete with mainstream studios. It’s a humble studio. It’s hard to separate it from me, personally. By the time it was built, I was no longer "the fashionable guy." You can’t stay in that position unless you’re aggressive about being THE producer. And I don’t dig it; I’d rather be a guy in a band. I don’t have a huge drive to drum up business.

The studio was still needed. And, once we built it, I figured we would get more people to come in and use it. Three or four would be enough to keep it going. But those three or four guys are using it a lot less than I would have thought. And that’s totally because of the screwy notions people have about money.

In my day, the band would drive up in this battered old Dodge Dart and put all of their heart and soul – and money – into the recording. Now, they drive up in a $40,000 SUV, and they won’t even buy a hard drive to back up their record! They should be strangled! But these people are setting the economic tone of the industry. My friends (those four or five guys) can’t use the studio as much as they would like because they have to make music with cheapskates.

It’s kind of gross. The indie guys are really getting squeezed financially. Money has gotten crazy. And what annoys me is it’s just a matter of priority. I hate this new false poverty. “I can’t afford tape.” You can so afford tape! But once the idea gets out there … Or the guys who won’t buy a backup drive. It leaves me speechless. To have only a few DVDs as the total backup of your project – it leaves me speechless.

When I started out, I used to be really proud to do a band’s first record. Now, it really suits me to work with bands with more experience. You’re likely to do better. If you start with people who have been doing it awhile, you’ll probably end up with something more interesting.

My approach now, compared to when I started out – to when I first recorded R.E.M. – it just wouldn’t be any different. I still try to get the band in a room and try to get them to play together. For a long time now, sessions have been not terribly live, and I do record overdubs, but still the best starting point is a band playing together. It really doesn’t change at all. I am still using some of the same mics I have always used, that I used on the early R.E.M. sessions.

There is nothing new about music, ever. Music has always been just making noise about life. It’s about people getting together to have fun. That was true about cavemen, and it’s true about the techno club. It’s still just making noise about life with your friends.

Music hasn’t changed, and recording hasn’t changed. With the computer, the level of manipulation has changed; it’s easier to manipulate sounds with the computer.

But, then, I record rock bands. Now, that’s like the Delta blues – it’s just an old niche genre. It’s no big deal. A lot of people know how to do it. It’s the same thing, over and over. It’s just that some people can write great songs, and some people can’t. Still, what they’re trying to achieve with a recording and the methods used are not that different.

And that’s all secondary to the essential piece of information: either the song is interesting or it’s not interesting.


More Mitch interviews on here:

The picture above is an exterior of The Fidelitorium, in Kernersville, N.C., snapped while Mitch was running into the house to get me a copy of the excellent rock record he made with his wife, Shalini Chatterjee.

1 comment:

zombiewrangler said...

I love Mitch and I hope the Let's Active cover band makes it to St. Lou. Got to see MItch, Chris Stamey, and Anton Fier in New Orleans a couple months ago. If he comes to town, people do not stay home. Thanks for the updates, Chris.