Between touring as their FOH engineer and co-producing their latest record, The Orchard (released yesterday!), Maury has become that indispensable “fifth Beatle” kind of co-producer for Ra Ra Riot — an “in-house engineer” that can be accountable for the band’s sound on and now off the stage.
In the barely three years since he joined Ra Ra Riot on the road to tour ’08’s The Rhumb Line, Maury has pinballed through his own personal crash course in remixing, sound reinforcement, recording and production. On tour in ’08, he buddied up to Death Cab For Cutie guitarist and producer Chris Walla and landed his first recording gig on Tegan and Sara’s Sainthood, then bounced to his first record production with The Static Jacks, remixes with RAC (Remix Artist Collective) and onward to his latest work on the beautifully-rendered The Orchard.
We caught up with Maury earlier this month while he was out in Los Angeles recording with Princeton, and talked…EVERYTHING, including specifics on recording The Orchard. Check it out:
Man, in a short amount of time, you’ve moved pretty quickly from remixer to FOH engineer to recording engineer and producer. Let’s start with mixing FOH for Ra Ra Riot since this is kind of what led to everything else. How did you land this gig?
There was some luck involved! I’m a musician and played in bands and my college band in Syracuse played the same local venues as Ra Ra Riot. We became friends. When they left school, they’d come back through town to play shows and they’d stay with me. At that point, I was doing some remixes and taking audio classes at school. I was really into all that, plus I was a real cheerleader of the band. I just loved them.
They saw an opportunity to take me out on the road and have a sound guy a little earlier than they might have been able to given their budget at the time. So I went out with them and started learning FOH sound as I went.
So it was total trial by fire?
At the beginning I would go and make friends with the FOH guy at the venue and tell them I was just learning how to mix FOH — that they should feel free to give me some tips, and if they had any ideas how to improve the mix, I would dive into it. I picked it up pretty quickly. The concepts weren’t new to me, but it was a matter of getting to where I felt I knew how to handle the PA, which is like this big beast. You have to know how to cut frequencies and when you’re riding the PA at the right level — these are just visceral things you only know after doing it over and over again.
And how did this process prepare you for working with the band in the studio? Does being a band’s FOH engineer help or influence the studio work at all?
I don’t think the live work influences the studio work other than that it enhances the communication. You just get to know the band really well. We’re all comfortable with each other and we all have the same goals in mind and we all know what the band’s about.
I think the reason they went with me for engineering the new record was because they felt that comfort with me. They could have picked a producer, someone they didn’t really know, to come in and handle the album. But I think they got really into the idea of making it their own with me and that’s exactly what we did. It was just the band and myself at the studio tracking the album.
Makes a lot of sense, especially since you were able to get your engineering and production stripes so fast. Seems like one of the milestones was probably working with Chris Walla on Tegan and Sara’s record, Sainthood. Tell us about that!
Yeah, that experience was really cool. I met Chris when Ra Ra Riot was opening for Death Cab For Cutie on tour in April of ‘09. I’ve been a huge Death Cab fan for a long time. So getting to meet them and hang out was exciting. Chris and I got to be buddies on the subject of recording and he asked me to come out to LA and help with that Tegan and Sara record.
He was producing and playing bass on it while Howard Redekopp (New Pornographers, A.C. Newman) was the producer who was actually running the console. That album was tracked live “off the floor” to tape and Logic simultaneously — so they needed an extra person in the control room to run Logic.
It was cool because I got to see Chris and Howard making all these decisions — as far as placing mics and setting compressors, etc. The record was made at Sound City, which has unbelievable equipment and an incredible history. It was a great experience.
Sounds amazing, and quite a workflow and crew to be rolling with. What was the takeaway for you? Is this the ideal way to work if you can pull it off?
I think about it often. I really have to hand it to Chris for really pushing that method because I think it’s so easy for bands to fall back on their own space and time to think about things and make decisions later. It was really inspiring to see them do it this way, where they’re all under the gun — it’s now or never — and I think the record sounds really cool as a result.
I’ve read Chris say that he can count on his own 10 fingers how many times something was digitally manipulated on that record, deviating from what was recorded to tape. It was definitely inspiring but not something every band could do.
You did go into your first producing/engineering gig straight from there though, with The Static Jacks and their EP, Laces. So what were you able to apply from the Tegan and Sara sessions to your next gig?
Yeah, I’d known I was going to be working on The Static Jacks even before I got the gig to work on Tegan and Sara, so it was great to be able to experience this super-pro session and then dive into this next project myself.
We recorded The Static Jacks in Westfield, NJ, the band’s hometown, in a cavernous church Sunday School room. This was my first real recording session with a band where I was fully responsible for making something happen and making it good. And, if anything I learned from the Tegan and Sara record, it’s that even though we were in this incredible studio, with an amazing history and all this amazing gear and musicians, it’s still just a group of people problem-solving. That was inspiring and made the process less daunting. I learned to just push through and in the end, everyone’s talented, so it will work itself out. We did not have exceptional gear for the Static Jacks record though…