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Posted at 3:00 PM ET, 03/ 3/2011

Be specific: Producer Chris Coady on making Smith Westerns (and other bands) sound exquisite

By Chris Richards

Chris CoadyIf you're an indie rock band making an album, please hire this man. (Courtesy Wikipedia commons)

Chicago trio Smith Westerns perform at the Rock & Roll Hotel Friday night, surfing a wave of excitement around its totally excellent new album "Dye It Blonde." A whole lot of that total excellence can be chalked up to producer Chris Coady, who helped the band graduate from the lo-fi indie-rock ghetto to Artist Whose Album We've Already Listened To One-Hundred Times In 2011 status.

Turns out, Coady has had a hand in numerous exquisite-sounding rock albums in recent years, including Beach House's "Teen Dream," TV on the Radio's "Dear Science," Gang Gang Dance's "Saint Dymphna" and many others.

Last month, Click Track spoke with Coady about how home recording is changing rock-n-roll and how a record producer makes a living in the 21st century.


With so many bands recording their own music on laptops at home right now, do you think the art of producing a band is in danger of going extinct?

I really like records that people record themselves at home... I'm not one that's going to say that [working in a studio] is definitely better, but a lot of the bands I've worked with have already recorded their own albums and this time, they've decided to do it with a producer.

I think a lot of times when a band records their own album, there's an intimacy you get in the recording that you can't get in a big studio with a producer. But I think there's also a quality that you can't get when you record it yourself. So it goes both ways.

What are those bands who have already recorded their own albums trying to get when they come to you?

That's not always discussed, but if they have demos of all the songs, they sometimes want it to sound really big. A lot of the writing has been mapped out in demos. One thing about GarageBand is that it's a really great writing tool. A lot of bands will work in Garage Band or Logic and do all the writing for the album and take it as far as they can. Then we take that to the studio and things come from there.

What was it like working on the Smith Westerns album? That thing sounds so great.

Thanks. It just came out so I'm just starting to hear people's reactions to it. It was really fun working with them. I had never met them before, until day one of working. A lot of times, the bands I work with are friends, or friends of friends. So it was cool... When we went into the studio it just really worked out.

Do you have your own studio or places you prefer to go?

Over the years, I've worked in a bunch of different studios... It's enabled me to be more dynamic and move around. Right now, I don't have my own studio. I often work out of Electric Lady.

Are there any principles to your work that make your records sound different?

I've listened to a couple masters in a row from a couple different bands, and listening to the similarities in the mixing and the mastering, I was trying to put my finger on it. And I'm not entirely sure what it is. But I always feel like I'm changing the technical side of what I'm recording to or what I'm mixing on. But I really can't put my finger on what the similarities are. Maybe the reverbs? I always use the same vocal mike. Maybe it's that.

Of all the albums you've worked on, do you have favorites? Or any that you're particularly proud of?

I really like all of them, but the Beach House album was a big favorite. The Grizzly Bear and the Blonde Redhead albums were favorites from back in the day. Lately, I've really like the Cold Cave and the Smith Westerns albums.

You used to live in Baltimore. Did you have connections to Beach House back in those days?

No, I had just met them. When they were looking for a producer they had talked to like five people or something. And we had friends in common from Baltimore, but before that we had never met.

Indie rock bands aren't making a ton of money off their albums in 2011. The profits are made through touring and licensing. How has that changed your career?

Well, if I was doing the same job in the '90s I might have had a different income. If this was the golden age of the music business, I'd have a significantly different lifestyle.

[These days], if you want to do something... you have to do it really fast. I think rushing a lot of these things and having to record, produce, mix -- every step is handled by just one person, now. Since the records don't sell, there's a smaller budget for the making of the record. Luckily, we have technology now that makes it faster to make a record, easier to make a record than it was. Rewinding when recording on a tape machine would take hours of time, just rewinding the tape every time you play it. Things are faster now.

So I guess I try to work within that and try to leave time for experimentation. If you're working in a rush and there's not enough money, it's easy to leave out the time for experimentation and I think that that can be trouble.

By Chris Richards  | March 3, 2011; 3:00 PM ET
Categories:  Be specific  | Tags:  Beach House, Blonde Redhead, Chris Coady, Cold Cave, Grizzly Bear, Smith Westerns, TV on the Radio  
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