Saturday, March 5, 2011

EXCLUSIVE Land of Broken Hearts/We're Awakening/Footsoldiers interview with Neal Avron [Transcript]

My friend Jeanna and I got an amazing opportunity to exclusively interview Neal Avron, the current producer working with Switchfoot on "Vice Verses." He had a ton of insight for us, and if you want to listen to our rough audio recording of the interview, head over to LOBH.

For the word-for-word transcript, read on!

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Jeanna: what is the musical direction of this album?

Neal Avron: The musical direction of this album I think is several. I think the main thing is its gonna be much more of a rhythm section and bass record; not as densely packed on the guitar front, and it's much more assertive from the drums, bass, and percussion setting, and it really advanced where these guys have been before as far as all the grooves that are on the record. That's been one of the main driving forces. I think the other is also just the space, and not feeling like every moment has to be filled with something so there's these really great breaths in the music. And the other thing is there's this incredible variety of different sonic signatures that the guys were totally willing to go for. So each song really has its own voice on the record, not just from a lyrical standpoint.

Job: How far along is the recording process? Are the guys getting ready to do mixing?

NA: We are very far along, conceptually. Next week will be pretty much the last week of recording. There might be a few things to tidy up before that but we should be mixing shortly after that.

Jeanna: What has been the most difficult thing about the album process so far?

NA: Well it's been a very smooth record. I think the most difficult thing though would be choosing which songs work for this record. Jon is a super prolific songwriter, and I think he wrote 50-60 songs prior to the beginning of the idea of making this record, which were whittled down to 20 or so that got sent to me, which we whittled down to a core group for the record, which we then even whittled down further. And Jon even wrote a couple new songs; I believe there were three more written during the making of the record that were not only great songs, but important to the record, and they fit really well into the record. I think going in, it was very important for us to find a core group of songs that really represented a similar… I don't want to say feeling but… they all felt like they belonged. It doesn't matter that one was fast, one was slow, one was singing soft or singing loud or whatever, they still feel like they had the same matter that kind of joins them together. Choosing which songs were the right ones was the hardest job.

Jeanna: Along those lines, what are the guys trying to say with this album? What are the themes and what are they trying to convey?

NA: I think based on what we talked about early on, I think they want to come off in a positive light. I think there are some songs that can definitely be taken in any way, but I think ultimately they're looking for a positive message or finding a way to move forward on something. I think ultimately that's where it's at. There's not a lot of negativity just coming through in the lyrics; I think it's just finding a good place in your life or finding a way to get to that good place in your life.

Job: You're coming off two straight No. 1 Billboard albums with Sara Bareilles and Distrubed. Has that changed your philosophy in the studio any or has it just given you a confirmation as to your skills as a producer?

NA: First of all, I didn't produce the Disturbed record, I mixed that record. But I think that it's always great to get that kind of validation. And I think more importantly for me is to find a way to take whatever artist I'm working with, whether that's Linkin Park, Sara Bareilles, or Switchfoot, any of those bands, and get to the core of what they're trying to say both lyrically and sonically, and help them achieve and express that, whether that's producing or mixing or both. And that just comes from a lot of discussions about how we want to achieve what kind of sonics or what kind of density or production we want to achieve, and then we go after achieving it. Sometimes we nail it on the head right away, sometimes it's a matter of finding our way through the song and letting our guts decide where to go ultimately. But I think that having a No. 1 doesn't really change or validate what I'm doing. I think more than that is bands the I've been able to work on multiple record with. I mean Fall Out Boy I've done three records with, Linkin Park I've done a couple records with now; I continue to have bands that want to come back, and that's the biggest validation for me.

Jeanna: What's your favorite song on the album and why?

NA: Wow! That is really hard. It changes daily for me. Part of that is because the way we cut this record, we decided to group the songs into small bunches. Sometimes you'll do a record where you'll cut the drum tracks for all the songs, then you'll do the bass tracks, then you'll do the guitar tracks. So you're constantly having to rope in 12-14 songs of material and keep track of everything that's going on with each one.

What we've done with this record is we've said, "ok, let's pick three or four songs. Let's record those songs and get them sounding like we want them to sound. Then we're going to put them away, put them on the shelf, start with another three or four, so we can give the song a lot of attention, spend a lot of time with it, get it to a place where we feels it's good, and really just be able to take each song as far as it can go." Then we move on; and when we come back to it, we'll come back and see "oh yeah we put too much of this, we need a little more of that," and I think it's really helped us with the album.

As far as a favorite song, there's a song called "Afterlife" which I think is amazing. Just a beautiful song, it's got a really great mood to it, and I think it takes a nice step up for Switchfoot.

Job: Are there any specific instruments, certain guitars or pedals that the band has gone back to a lot on this record, or has it been more of a wide open experimental plane where you're just using all sorts of instruments?

NA: That's a good question. It's definitely been a wide open plane. This band has their own studio which really is a great luxury so they can really find time to explore a lot of different avenues, sonically. They have a ton of different amplifiers and guitars, they have a bunch of mics, and I brought some mics, and we've really been able to just try anything we want. We've been using multiple guitar amps at the same time, combining them sometimes, separating them into stereo, having a lot of small old amps. With guitars, a large portion of the sound that they drive is from a small combo of amps, and not large Marshall stacks or 4x12's, which has really given the record a big personality that isn't as much on other records, especially rock records. And I'd say drum-wise, again, we've really explored a lot of different avenues, not only in ways for Chad to play his parts and the grooves that he plays, but sonically.

So I can't say there's one core group of things that we've done. Every song since the beginning has had its own voice and a lot of that is based on taking chances sonically and giving it a completely different set signature.

Jeanna: What's it like working with Switchfoot, the pros and the cons?

NA: Well once again, I don't have a lot of bad to say - pretty much nothing. These guys are super sweet guys; they walk in every morning with a smile on their faces, high-fiving each other because they know they're making music and it's the greatest thing ever. They're doing exactly what they love to do, and really there's nothing bad that seems to come with them. I think the good things though is they are so willing to go for and try anything; they're open to any new idea despite the fact they've made a bunch of records and there's no one way for them to do things. And the other thing is they're great musicians, so when I ask for them to try a different part or a different sound, it's just a matter of minutes to kind of bring it up and try it. It's just great to have that kind of versatility and have the guys be such great musicians.

Job: But is there one member that is really stubborn about pursuing a song or an idea?

NA: Well, I mean Jon is the main songwriter. He's the driving force in that regard. Tim and he have this incredible simpatico as brothers. It's actually kind of amusing. There will be several times where Jon is done singing, and Tim will say something, and two seconds later Jon will say an exact thing. Or a guitar part is about to happen, and the two of them will literally spit out the same sentence when they're talking to each other. They kind of have this "brother" thing. And each person brings his own thing. Drew's got his own thing where he'll be in the back of the room playing his guitar as we're doing a vocal, and as soon as we're done doing the vocal, he'll come to me and say, "what do you think? Here's a guitar idea I had." And we'll listen to it and go, "that's great!" And he'll just jump in there and put some guitar down on it and everything kind of feeds off each other. That's kind of the way the whole thing has been.

And when it's time to do bass, Tim plugs in… when [people] start hearing the bass lines on this album, it will open people's eyes. And people who are bass players are going to be smiling from ear-to-ear because it's pretty amazing.


Job: What are you or the guys most excited about when the record comes out?

NA: I think for me, the thing I'm most excited about at this point is that this is a real, honest, true, front-to-back album. It's not a concept record, but it's a [record] chock full of great songs from top to bottom. It's not going to be one of those albums where you're going to find two songs that you like, and the rest you're not going to want to be part of. It's really going to be an album listener, and I think there's going to be days where you go, "wow, I really want to listen to these five songs." And another day where you go, "I want to listen to these other five songs; they make me feel a certain way." There's going to be days where you're going to need to listen to the whole thing top to bottom. I think there's going to be plenty of songs that will feel like singles, but ultimately, it's just a great core group of songs that I think fans and other people are going to want to listen to top to bottom.

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There you have it. What do you all think?

2 comments:

Abbie said...

Awesome!!! Thanks so much you guys!

Anonymous said...

This is great, thanks!

-Ender