Independent Industry Figures is a weekly column at IMP where we do a feature on a different music industry figure every week and try to better understand what they’re all about. With each installment we try and get a better sense of what it means to make a living in the music industry and how people can get involved. After all – what can we do but work hard and try to help each other live the dream?
Andy Patterson is one of the most accomplished producers in metal right now, with bands like Call of the Void, Eagle Twin, Visigoth and Gallowbraid to his credit. Beyond that he also plays drums in what I’ve long regarded as the third best band of all time, SubRosa and has had stints with all manner of acts, including the legendary Inside Out. What I’m trying to say is that Patterson has his shit together, despite his convoluted path to getting here.Obviously getting to pick his brains about his work at Boar’s Nest studio was a true honor and gave me a long sought after glimpse into the mind of a man who can only be described as an understated genius, or perhaps more accurate would he is own definition: “A blue collar producer”
What a lot of people don’t understand about Patterson is that he is perhaps the single most decent human being I have ever met. He’s been through a lot, having lived in LA as well as Salt Lake and spent the last twenty odd years touring the world and helping to craft legendary recordings. A fixture in the Salt Lake City scene Patterson always has a story, be it how he used to live across the street from where they shot Punk SLC! to the time he spent in legendary Utah band The Red Bennies, a massive influence on his current main group, SubRosa. In the words of SubRosa singer Rebecca Vernon “Andy sure has gotten a lot out of life!”
A self described “sound photographer” Patterson delves into how he models his career after Steve Albini and relies predominantly on word of mouth to get more work. The kind of dude who relies on being in the scene to make his money, Patterson has come to terms with handling all the trials and tribulations that this kind of work can hand you and has instead found a way to look beyond and create epic, transcendent sounds that will ring out all across the globe for generations to come. If you’re looking for a top notch producer to make your record sound grand, you’ve come to the right place.
So Andy, the last time I saw you was back in May and I was super fucking high. What’s been up with you since then?
Just recording. Subrosa played in Portland for that thing Nate Carson put on. Now we’ve been laying low a little bit and writing and we’ve got that Cult of Luna tour coming up in a couple week and all the while I’ve been making records.
Can you explain to me your background as a producer and how you got to where you are today?
Well, I’ve always been a drummer and I’ve always been at the mercy of whoever is writing the songs and that generally wasn’t me. I had the urge to branch out and do my own thing. So I got a sampler and started making beats back in the 90s. That evolved into a computer and software and mixers and all that shit that comes with it. Then I moved to LA in ’98 and lived there for a couple years. I put out an ad in The Recycler which was their local mag and said “I’m a drummer and I also make beats” and this girl calls me to start a band together. That didn’t work out because her band was wack. It was 90’s LA electro metal a la Marilyn Manson.
In meeting her I met her roommate Jeff who goes by the name Critter and he worked on the Ministry stuff back in the day and at that point he was working on the Chinese Democracy record. I was like “Dude, teach me the ways”
I had some money saved up and I was thinking about going to school to learn how to record and he was like “Don’t do that, buy gear and get to it” So I bought a Pro-Tools rig and he taught me how to negotiate that operating system. I met a dude that ran a studio that needed a Pro-Tools rig and I needed a place to put it and we came up with an agreement. I dicked around for a few years in LA. I recorded some of my friends bands and made a lot of mistakes and figured out how to do it as I went along. Then I moved back to Salt Lake and decided to pull the trigger and get a dedicated space and charge for my time. I built it up slowly and moved into a place and started recording my friends for super cheap. Then I just never stopped.
I got kicked out of the first place because I was too loud. I was recording a doom band and it shook the building. It shared the space with a storage facility and the ladies who ran that were freaked out and didn’t like my vibe. About a year after that I found the place that I’m in now that I’ve been in for ten or eleven years. I just kept doing it, building up the equipment and experience and people kept calling now here I am. I’m a terrible businessman, I don’t advertise I just rely on word of mouth.
So even in this day and age word of mouth works?
Yeah. But now after ten or so years I have enough material out there that people can draw on that. They can be like “Oh, he recorded so and so” and they’re looking for the same sort of treatment. It’s the same way that Kurt Ballou or Billy Anderson get work. It’s based off their resume.
Is their anyone you modeled your career after?
Steve Albini. Not sonically so much as morally. I always say that I consider myself to be a blue collar engineer. I’m not really into producing so much as engineering and capturing the sound and being helpful along the way. I’m not one to be likely to tell a band “We need to re-write that chorus” I’m more of a utility guy like “Oh you’re looking for that kind of sound, well I have an amp that does that” and I don’t have my own vision of what a record should sound like. I consider myself to be more of an audio photographer than an audio photoshop.
At this point can you choose your clients?
I don’t have that luxury yet, but I can say no to people, which I do. I basically book whoever calls me unless I have an issue with the band. By that I mean, am I the right guy for it? Sometimes I’ll have people call me who are in metalcore bands and I’ll pass it on to another guy in town who actually works with those kinds of bands. He’s the guy that will do that. I don’t care for the music, but I also wouldn’t be the right guy because my instincts wouldn’t be where this band would want to go. They could tell me to do something that I would never want to do. I’m just not the guy for that, they need someone in that wheelhouse.
What percent of bands your work with are really in your wheelhouse?
The bands I like the most are the ones who know what they are doing and have their own vision put together. My job is to capture and help them out along the way. That leans towards doom bands. They’ve taken the time to write the songs and play their instruments. They know their tone and what they’re going for. I like recording adults who have spent the time and have their shit together. I’m not a producer and I’m not super interested in mentoring or teaching bands how to be bands although I do stuff like that and that has its place. But really I just like being part of the capturing of awesome stuff. I don’t want to have to worry about explaining why you need new heads on the drums or cymbals that aren’t cracked. That’s not stuff younger kids consider because they don’t have the experience, but I do work with some kids. My preference though is to work with people who have done this for years.
Eagle Twin are a great example. They just do their thing and I do my best to capture it and make sure that nothing gets fucked up in the process. There would be no occasion for me to question them when they record. I trust them implicitly. That’s what I prefer. To work with people I trust and whose music I can enjoy. Some of my favorite sessions are just seeing those bands play just for me.
How do you handle the live setup? How long does it take you to record their stuff?
Setup time is always a little different but for the last Eagle Twin stuff it took two or three hours. Then we recorded eleven hours worth of material over the course of a week. Then Gentry the guitar player and singer takes those files home and edits together concise performances. He just cuts it all down and then he brings it back so we can do overdubs, vocals and then mix. There’s a lot of improv with those guys and they feed off each other so we have to do it live. There is no other way to do it. They will play the same song like twenty times or play it in a different key and change it up or whatever. I capture and then we cut it all up and put it together to a reasonable sized record and then their it is.
Do you do stuff to click tracks too?
I would say it’s about 50/50. About 80 to 90 percent of the time that I’m playing drums I play to a click. It makes it easier for editing just because I know everything is sort of locked in but I don’t cut drums up or put them to a grid or anything like that. I just use it as a tempo fence to keep me in the ballpark of where I’m supposed to be. Almost anything I play drums on I use a click track too.
Do you think that 50/50 split is just you? Or is that an overarching rule?
Any producer who specializes in a genre will have a different split. If you’re doing pop type stuff you obviously will need a click all the time. I record all sorts of music so it just depends on what they’re going for. If someone comes in and wants a click track my question is “Have you played to a click track before?” and not a lot of people have, they just think that it’s something you have to do. If that’s the scenario and they haven’t then I either suggest we do it without the click or… in one instance I had a drummer who couldn’t play to a click but really wanted to. He was having trouble acclimating to it though because it was new. I made a CD for him with a bunch of click tracks and told him to go home and play on practice pad and get it in his brain. When you use a click track and first start doing it it’s like a task master on you and then after a while it turns into more of a safety net that you can dance around. You know that you’re in the right ballpark. A lot of people get freaked out by that. If people insist on using one I’ll usually stop the session and let the drummer take time to get acquainted with it so it’s not freaking them out. Doom bands use click tracks too. Subrosa is done to a click.
But there’s a different between a doom band like Subrosa and Sabbath, Black Sabbath don’t need a click…
Or another example is Earthless. I guarantee they don’t use a click because they’re a jam band and their stuff is kind of ebbing and flowing. They keep a solid groove but I would bet money that they don’t use a click track when they record.
Or Elder… they don’t use a click
Some bands will use a click on certain parts but not on other parts. It’s sometimes nice to have spontaneity. Especially with a doom band when you have long hits and space. You may want to extend that out or do it whenever it feels right. At that point I’ll use basically click count-ins. There are some spots where I just dictate where the hit goes and feel it out. When it comes to overdubs I put a count in before the hit so they can hit it without having to punch it in. It functions as a little conductor.
What I wanted to get back too before wrapping up is how you said you’re a bad businessman… how do you reconcile that with using this to make your living?
I don’t know man. It sounds like a stupid answer but I’ve just been doing it and people keep calling me so I keep doing it. I put an ad out in 2001 in a local magazine and made business cards and I literally gave out zero business cards and no one called me about the ad. I do advertise but I do it in kind of a backwards way. If I look ahead in the schedule and see that there’s a lot of open dates then I will go to a show. Every time I go to a show or play a show I have a conversation where someone says “We’re looking to get back in the studio!” I do more hands on stuff than any sort of social media stuff.
So being part of the scene is a crucial part to how you sustain your income?
That’s both encouraging and terrifying at the same time…
A little bit, yeah! But it does a couple things. One, I can be seen. I’m visible at shows and you can come talk to me or I can go talk to you. Because of the shows I go too and play it kind of narrows the field of potential clients. If I’m going to see High On Fire I’m not likely to find a dude who wants to sound like Jimmy Eat World asking me about recording. It keeps me in a zone of what I’m interested and what I excel at.
It’s basically like going door to door but I don’t actively knock on doors. I just go out and see people. I strike up conversations and ask when bands will be ready to do stuff. Every time I go out to a show I have a couple conversations about booking time if not actually booking time.
How long did it take you to build up that kind of reliability with going to shows and then generating income from that?
That’s how I’ve always done it. I’m terrible at business I don’t know how to advertise myself. I don’t want to come off as douchey. I don’t want to post like “I have open time next month, give me a call!” That just seems a little desperate and I’m uncomfortable with that kind of vibe.
It’s interesting because I share the studio with another dude and he’s great. He’s gone to school, he’s done internships, he’s way more business oriented in the old school sense. He has interns and I don’t. I can’t have an intern because I wouldn’t feel comfortable with that. I feel like it has kind of a schmarmy vibe to it. I don’t hold anything against people who do that but it’s just not for me.
It’s the blue collar thing you mentioned earlier…
That happened today even. Someone posted on one of the local music pages “who does everyone record with?” and the usual suspects got listed and my name got listed a couple times. That’s also advertising. That’s a tangible word of mouth thing. You can actually see it happening at that point. I’m just like “Thanks man for helping out my name!” When I charge people at the end of the session and they’re like “Is there anything we can do for you?” I just say “Tell people about me, if you had a good time, tell your friends!” I’m like any good drug dealer.
So you’re the music drug dealer?