I mean, I’ve been fans of the DeLeo brothers and Stone Temple Pilots for a long time, since the ’90s, and I’ve known those guys since that time. Specifically, I really like the DeLeo brothers as musicians. They’re incredible guitar and bass players. And Dean has been an inspiration to me as a guitar player, for sure, since the ’90s. So it’s a real treat to work with those guys.
What do you think it was that was different that they brought? Why did they get people’s attention, and then keep it?
Because they were good songwriters. They had really good songs and really good guitar parts and sounds and lyrics, and they were the full package. Part of that is they had a lot of experience. They’d been in bands before, and they were seasoned musicians even by the time Stone Temple Pilots had started. Dean and Robert are real aficionados of rock history, and they know how to get everything from vintage guitars to vintage amps and parts. They just know everything about recording rock, basically. So they bring a lot of skills to bear on their projects.
And me, from my drummer perspective, I’ll throw in for Eric Kretz because he’s definitely one of my favorite drummers of all time.
Oh, yeah. They all are. They’re a really good band. And you know what the other thing is? They know what they like. And once you achieve that, you’re there, basically. It’s not a big mystery as to what you’re shooting for. Sometimes the younger bands know they like something, but they might waffle a little bit more, whereas these guys know what they’re looking for.
On that note, I’m going to ask you to speak immodestly: This is a band that knows what they’re looking for, and they’ve sold tens of millions of albums, they chose you as a mixer. What do you think it is about you as a mixer that makes you a good match for them?
It’s a combination of I just get what they’re going for, and I understand where they’re coming from on a lot of different levels. Getting their parts to speak so that you can really hear what everyone’s doing all the time is a real basic thing that you have to achieve with them. But that’s not too difficult to do.
Then, the other thing is a little blurrier, which is just making the song sound exciting and fun and like you just want to hear it again, which is a little hard to put your finger on, and it’s more of a taste thing.
When I sent them my first mix of “Meadow” they loved it. They were just like, “You captured the vibe we were going for. And we were a little worried because the rough mixes didn’t really have the thing we were looking for, and we were wondering if it was there in the recording. But now that we’ve heard your mix, we know it’s there.”
Mixing Tips & Tricks from Red Swan
Is there something you can point to, technically, that you did to help pull that mix together that our readers can execute in Pro Tools while they’re mixing? What’s a tip you can give them?
Wow, there’s so many little tiny decisions you’re making throughout the mix, it’s hard to pinpoint one thing. I definitely think if you know that the band was around when the rough mixes were made, even if they don’t like them, it’s good to just still have those because there were probably some preliminary decisions made from the band’s point of view that you want to know about.
For a lot of bands, the inclination is, “Oh, don’t even send them that mix because we don’t like it.” But I always ask for it. I’ll be able to hear things that I don’t like right away, but it’s more of the things that they decided, like, how featured did they want the vocal to be in the bridge? Because a lot of times bands maybe want to make it more of a background thing, and you’ll be able to hear that intent in the rough. So getting the rough mix and living with that for a little while, at least, is always a good idea.
That’s fabulous advice. You also talked about doing the mix in a way that you can hear everything — is there a technique you can point to that allows you to create space between the sound sources? What are any tips you have for making sure everyone can hear everything that’s going on?
One thing that I do all the time in Pro Tools that is maybe not so easy to do on an analog console – depending on how many channels you have available — but I often break out, say, a given bass track or a guitar track or even drums onto their own tracks for different sections of the song.
Even if they were delivered as one continuous track for the whole song, I’ll go through and cut them all up and put them on different tracks for the different sections, because a bass player may be playing the lower strings in the verses or higher strings or whatever, and then either go high or low in the chorus. You may need to not just change the level, but you might want to attack the whole processing chain a little differently to get that part to really speak because it’s a different part.
I do it with vocals all the time, fine-tuning the mix based on the sections of the song or the parts that the instrument plays. And it’s convenient in Pro Tools because you can – instead of automating all those different things which can be arduous and time-consuming – just duplicate the track, pull the bass in the chorus into its own track, and now you’ve got control of the bass for the chorus part without affecting the verse part.
This is the first album with STP’s new vocals Jeff Gutt. How would you say the band is different with Jeff? And what might you be doing differently on this seventh album with him there as the vocalist, than if it were Scott [Weiland] on vocals?
I don’t think I’d be doing anything different from a mix standpoint, really. He’s got to be there. He’s got to have a light on him. But he’s a good singer, so that’s half the battle. He cuts through naturally, the way he sings.
With STP, though, it is definitely the whole package. That’s especially because all their parts are pretty interesting, and they’ve really thought about their parts, and there’s not a ton of tracks, which is really cool. It’s really about the performance. I’m making sure that what they put into it dynamically performance-wise is still coming out the other end. That’s my main goal.
That’s very well-put as the mixer’s mission. Last question: We’ve talked about so many different ways that you’ve been involved in music, creating and producing it. I’m curious what you, as a listener, would like to get out of the end product, whether it’s a song you’ve produced, mixed, composed, or you’re just turning on Apple Music, a CD or vinyl. What does a great song do for you?
It’s one basic thing: It creates a feeling. And that’s something that, as a mixer, you really have to focus on because the technical stuff doesn’t really get you to a great mix. It can help you, as a tool, get to a great mix, but if you don’t understand the emotional content of the song, you’re not going to be able to accentuate it with the mix.