Continued from Part One…
In the second part of my conversation with Jon Auer, we discuss his perspectives on in-person vs. remote recording. – bk
BILL KOPP: Especially during the pandemic, a lot of people started working remotely. Are you doing a lot of that, or do you tend to still work in person?
JON AUER: No, I’ve done a lot of remote work; I’ve even made whole records remotely. Great example, even pre-pandemic: I made a couple records with a guy from Tasmania and this band called the Soul Stickers, and then he became a solo act called Jr Youngtown. I believe he got grants from the Tasmanian government.
These countries that actually support music!
What a concept, right? Yeah. America? “I’ll take that bullshit for 400, Alex.”
But I never met him or spoke to him on the phone, never heard his speaking voice. We made two whole records completely remotely, and they’re really cool. And through some of my connections I got Steve McDonald from Redd Kross to play some on it. Another band I worked with: You Am I’s Hi Fi Way, Lee Ronaldo from Sonic Youth produced and I got to mix, and I got to be really close with those guys. I still write with Tim Rogers. If you tell an Australian that you worked on Hi Fi Way, they will invite you into their home, let you stay for months! I’ve only met one Australian who didn’t know about that record.
The access to people now, because of the Internet, makes it easy to eliminate the people in the middle, which is an awesome idea. My experience has been that you do get good people to work with, but often it’s best to be direct. And you could tell somebody to do something on your behalf, or you could just talk to the person that you need to talk to and there’s less to get in the way and less chances for something to go wrong in communication. That’s changed, too.
It used to be conventional wisdom that if you made an album or made a recording virtually, it had an inauthentic vibe and it didn’t feel real as opposed to “Let’s all be in the studio together with the bleed and the whole thing with no baffles or anything.” That’s not the case anymore. Now, the best remotely-made recordings involve Rick Wakeman or somebody recording their keyboard part and sending the FLAC file or whatever over. You can’t tell; it does feel organic. Why do you think that is the case?
I think it’s changed partly out of necessity, for sure, but I also think it’s because people do things because they know. You have to wonder, would the Beatles have worked remotely? That’s a question. Or how about, would Jimi Hendrix have worked remotely? If they had the technologies, maybe they would have utilized them. Because they were actually very cutting edge. I think, honestly, in the end, the proof is in the proverbial pudding: Is the music is good or not? Is the vibe there? That’s the most important thing.
That said, one of the cool ways I got to kind of re-enter the musical atmosphere over the last year or so: there was a group I started working with in Memphis, the Sonny Wilsons. And really it was just a project with these two guys who had never made a record before but always wanted to do. One guy’s a judge in “John Grisham land,” Mississippi, and the other guy is a commercial airline pilot. But they’ve always done music. And I was tentatively like, “Okay, I’ll check some of this out.” And then it was, “Wow, these are really good songs! Yeah, I’d love to work on this.” There were a couple of songs they didn’t finish, and I said, “I’ve got some ideas, so would you mind if I finish these?” I ended up singing a couple of them, and we finished up this record. It’s about 75% mixed, I would say. We did a listening party at the listening lab at the Crosstown Concourse in Memphis when I was there.
But the point I was getting at is that they actually wanted to spring for doing a recording, some of it in person, which is unusual these days. We spent three days at Ardent in the big Studio A. I was like, “We could do this all remote. We could do this in our respective home studios, and no one would never know. You’d think, ‘Wow, this sounds like you recorded this in Abbey Road.’”
So these guys had formed this group. They also decided they wanted to start a festival, and that’s where the Baseball Project played this year. It’s actually becoming something, and they’re doing it not to get rich but because they love it. They find people that want to support them. But we spent three days laying down some drum tracks. We went to another studio in Memphis called Hilo, run by a former Ardent employee, and it’s the best studio at its price point I’ve ever seen, perhaps, in the world. It’s incredible.
The point being that suddenly I was back in the room with people making music and looking in their eyes, not looking in their eyes through a screen or responding with my comments on what I thought about them via text or mixed notes. We were actually back in the room again. Wow. And it was a really profound experience.
When you have those chances to go do something or go someplace or get together with some people, take the opportunity, do it. Because life is short. For example, we don’t have the opportunity to go back to Ardent now. We could, but it wouldn’t be the same experience: Ardent’s being remodeled. It’s going to be great; Jody [Stephens] told me it’s going to be fantastic; he says “wow” a lot when he describes it, and it was no slouch before.
I like the hybrid of the two things. I like getting everybody together, and then I like a period where you can get into your own space and reflect and assess and play around with what you’ve done and maybe do a little editing. There’s something about that initial burst, of getting some kind of a clubhouse vibe that I think can translate. But I do think that really good musicians can make that seem like that’s happening remotely, too, because I’ve done whole records that you’d never would think done like that.
Ultimately, if it’s good, and it works, it works. But I just think it’s fun to get together with people. Even like the show last night: Yeah, you could turn into a live stream, or I could do a Facebook or Instagram live, but it’s not the same.
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