Steve and I interviewed Mike McCarthy in 2009. Somehow four years went by before our Austin issue came together. So here's our chat from 2009, and realize that Mike has gone on to do even more records. -LC

Mike McCarthy first came to my attention when he started working with the band Spoon [Tape Op #27], for whom he has produced four albums. Mike's produced five albums with ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, plus albums with artists such as Patty Griffin, Heartless Bastards, Dead Confederate, Wild Sweet Orange, Alberta Cross, The Sun, White Rabbits, Crooked Bangs, Girl in a Coma, and AM Taxi. His career began many years ago, as we shall see below, and it might not be a very typical path that led him to Austin, Texas...

<This article has some additional bonus content read it here.>

Mike, where in the hell did you come from?

I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. I always wanted to be involved in the making of rock records. I was a huge Beatles fan - a fan of rock records in general. I had some friends that were moving to Nashville. I didn't really think about it being the country music capitol at all. I was ignorant. I was like, "I can go to school, try to get some kind of normal degree and be in music." But I really had no intention of going to school, ultimately. That would have been my parent's wish. They were not necessarily thrilled with the idea of a career in music for me. I went to Belmont [University, in Nashville] for one year. A lot of the people that are executives at Nashville record labels and publishing companies went there. Famous country singers went there. All of these born again Christians that were in the dorm where I stayed were convinced I was the devil and that I had a poltergeist in my room. I was in a metal phase at the time. Iron Maiden was my favorite band.

Nashville is its own world.

It was so weird for me. The South was major culture shock to begin with, along with the Belmont weirdoes. I got lucky and was hired by an upstart [publishing] company as an in-house engineer and tape copy person. They also decided that they were going to have a record label. They had a simple 8-track studio with a Soundcraft board and a Tascam tape machine. They had a couple of groups they had signed to the label as "college rock bands," and Vanderbilt had a killer radio station there, so I started to learn about R.E.M., The Replacements, Jesus and Mary Chain, Kate Bush, Sonic Youth, Jesus Lizard and all the 4AD groups, etc. This situation was attributable to my long-term connection to what many now call indie rock. I had bands come in and do country demos during the day, and at night I would record friends of mine. I got hired there when I was 19, and it was over when I was 23. They then sold the company to BMG and let everyone go. I think I pretty much stayed there from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. every day. This was 25 years ago.

You learned a lot though, right?

Yeah. I thought, "This chance is never going to happen again. I have to take full advantage of it." They wanted me to make demos. I was being paid a salary to learn all this. I'd be hiring who I thought were the cool players, who are now the top session guys in Nashville. I had an 8-track and had to get it all submixed on the fly - you'd have to record five songs in three hours. I didn't know how to record drums or anything. I just learned all this stuff on the job. That's when I first got into compressing the overheads on drums and really compressing vocals. These were things that I came upon by experimenting and liking the result. I had to have the drum mix set on the fly. So if you wanted reverb or gates - and that shit was big in the '80s - you had to do it while the performance went down - no going back and adding it. I learned how to program drums (on the LinnDrum) and record live bands. We eventually got a 16-track, and were allowed to hire Fairlight operators for sequencing. After that gig was over, I became independent and worked on any session I could do there.

Some people might not know that session lengths are dictated by the unions in Nashville.

I had to deal with union cards, which you don't have to deal with too much now. I had probably two union sessions last year. Big string sessions in Nashville were weird too. They're always taking breaks. So much setup and so much tear down - so expensive, and they're there for very short periods. I got to see all this stuff that was pretty beneficial for me. I think a lot of the studio owners that I met were into helping me out with my producing projects. Ultimately I left Nashville because I wasn't making music (for the most part) that I wanted to work on. Adding to that, if there was a cool band that I produced, they would get a major record deal and then I'd be out of the picture. "Mike who? No, how about so and so..." I did engineer a few big-selling, Grammy-winning records, but that meant nothing to me because it wasn ...

 

The rest of this article is only available to our subscribers!

Tape Op is a free magazine devoted exclusively to recording music.

Read It Digital!

Log in or subscribe to purchase download and/or viewing access for this and all our issues.

Buy Tape Op magazine!
 

Current and back issues of Tape Op can be ordered online through our distributor, Hal Leonard.

Buy Tape Op magazine!
 

We've been publishing articles about creative music recording since 1996. Check out all of our issues here.

 
 More Interviews 
Larry Crane · March 15, 2000
Grant Showbiz. His name pops up on records by The Fall, The Smiths, Billy Bragg, Alternative TV, Mood Swings and more. The name alone conjures up some flamboyant character, which he is! He got his...
Larry Crane · Jan. 15, 1998
Fuck.  Okay, here's the story.  I saw Fuck play a show a while before this interview.  I was unimpressed, but several people said they loved their records and that the show was great...
Joanna Bolme · May 15, 2000
So what do you do when the band you're interviewing asks you to chop up the tape, splice it back together and print it just like that. You do it of course! Well, if you have gleaned anything from...
Larry Crane · March 15, 1997
Hillary first came to Tape Op's attention when she e-mailed us, from New York, with some hot "snapple-micing" tips (see the letters in issue #3).  I was impressed with her rockin'...
Larry Crane · Jan. 15, 2000
Macha are a different band. Their use of Indonesian and other "ethnic" instrumentation within the format of what you would call a "rock" band is rather unique. The instruments add a texture not...
When I first started recording music, my first purchase was a trusty and reliable TEAC 3340 4-track reel to reel recorder. That deck worked great for many years. I later upgraded to a Fostex 8-track,...
Larry Crane · Jan. 15, 2000
We hear about a lot of great studios here at Tape Op but not very many are run by 75 year old grandmothers. Elsie Childers runs her Trusty Tuneshop studio on her farm in Nebo, Kentucky. The big room...
Scott Bennett, Kevin Coral · July 15, 1998
We ran part one of this interview in Tape Op #8. In case you missed it, Don discussed all the events in his life that led him into the recording studio and left us hanging at the point where he was...
Brian McTear · Jan. 15, 1998
When Larry first mentioned the possibility of interviewing my friend Jason Cox, former Studio Red producer/engineer for bands like Bardo Pond, Varnaline,  Space Needle,  and others,  I...
  • Start A Discussion

Thu, Nov 27, 2014 - 6:58AM
Get a dialogue going below:
:
:
:
:
: