The common: A guy enjoys fiddling with electronics and recording stuff, plays in some high- school bands and beyond, eventually ends up recording his stuff, then other people's music. The uncommon: The guy is John Croslin, his bands were The Rievers and Zeitgeist, and the other music he records has been made by Spoon, Guided By Voices, Pavement, Sixteen Deluxe, John Vanderslice, Old 97's, Waylon Jennings, John Doe, Kris Kristofferson, For Stars, Carlos, Beulah, Peglegasus, Subset, and many others. A couple of years ago John moved to San Francisco to work at Tiny Telephone. In June of 2001 he came back to Austin. It was a nice autumn night, we had a couple of pints (for future reference, he drinks Guinness), and talked about music and recording.
What took you to SF, and what brought you back to Austin?
Two years ago I was buying a studio here in Austin and the deal fell through. I had just been out in San Francisco to do John [Vanderslice]'s record. We hit it off and when I told him the deal was going south he invited me out to work at Tiny Telephone. I had also met my future wife, Angie, when I was out there and I wanted to be with her, too. It was hard for me 'cause I have a daughter here and I realized pretty early on that I didn't want to be living so far from her. I spent the last year trying to get back here and dragged Angie back with me. It's all worked out great so far. It's good to be back, I love Austin.
What do you bring to a session, what is your approach?
I like the band making the best record they can make but I also like very stylish records — records that turn your head. I think that it is more than great sounds and great performances. I think the producer has a lot to do with getting great performances but I'm not the kind of producer that has anything to do with writing. I write my own stuff and occasionally I have helped bands with a lyric or something, but as a rule I try and stay out of that. I like records that sound real distinctive and gutsy, that take chances. My view of that has changed over the years, but there are records I thought that of 20 years ago and I still think that of.
Bowie's Ziggy Stardust — most of The Beatles stuff, especially Revolver and Sgt. Pepper's — Sticky Fingers by The Rolling Stones. Those are some of the old ones. I like a lot of newer records, too.
Any you want to name?
Lately it's been Grandaddy — I've been totally diggin on them. I think mostly for the songwriting. Lucinda Williams, one of the best songwriters ever. Her Car Wheels on Gravel Road is a tremendous-sounding record.
Yeah, the sound of her voice with those songs is a really nice match.
Her voice had never been strong to me and it is totally strong on that record. You might even make a case that the songs on Lucinda Williams are better, but Car Wheels... you have to listen to it, you have to check out what she's doing.
Is there a format you prefer to record with?
Definitely analog. I've used workstations real often, but you really need to be careful with them. I don't know if you want to get into the debate. I like the example of Lynyrd Skynrd for some reason. If you listen to their records you hear a band playing together, they're playing great, and it totally invites you to come to the party and listen. I think a lot of the digital stuff — you can look at it and it's pretty but you don't have any emotional interaction with it. I think format has something to do with that and the way bands are being recorded has something to do with that. It really is more interesting to me if you hear people playing with each other — it's more like music.
I think there might be a generational learning curve. Perhaps it'll be the kids who grow up with the tools who really can make the most of them.
It's odd, I'm getting older and I'm always asking myself, "Is this just me getting older or are records really not as exciting as they used to be?" Then something will come along, like the Lucinda Williams record or the Grandaddy record, and I will get excited about it... so I know it's not just me. I think part of it, too, is that the manipulation of sound is taking the place of songwriting. That will definitely bug me. I am into songs. There are guys in that format who can write great, like Beck, and I really like that Gorillaz record, but a lot of times it sounds...