Erik Wofford owns and operates Cacophony Recorders in Austin, Texas, and has worked with artists such as the Black Angels, Explosions in the Sky, My Morning Jacket, Bill Callahan, The Octopus Project, and Grupo Fantasma. Eschewing formal music training, he's developed an intuitive approach that draws from his early years recording bands live to radio, as well as his own restless drive to experiment. His recordings tend to share an immediacy and warmth that comes as much from the engaged performances he coaxes out of artists as the tape and outboard gear he tends to use to record them. Still, he remains first and foremost a guide - as committed to the bands' vision for their songs as the bands themselves.
How did you first get interested in recording?
When I was about eight years old I heard a Beach Boys song at the end of some movie, and I went to go grab a cassette recorder, the sort of thing you'd use to take notes. I put it up against the TV and thought, "I want to save this for later." It was either my first recording, or my first copyright infringement. Shortly after that I asked for this keyboard for Christmas. You could sample into it and then play that on the keyboard. It had manipulators and effects, and you could pitch things up and down. I would spend hours working with that thing. I don't even know how to play the keyboard; but I own 20 now, and that's still one of them. I love pulling it out and using it on a record, knowing that this little toy keyboard was the beginning of my career.
Eight years old? You got an early start. How did you not wind up a keyboard virtuoso?
Well, the keyboard went in a closet for a lot of my teenage years. I discovered guitar and started playing in high school bands.
Rhythm or lead?
I was always kind of a sound guy in my bands. I would create these textures, never playing anything too flashy. I was also the guy who would record everything. It started out with a Walkman that had a microphone on it. But then I got a 4-track and started to experiment with overdubbing and manipulating tape speeds. I began creating soundscapes without much of a thought at all about what I was doing, just seeing where it took me.
And where did it take you?
The very last year I was in high school, it became the arts magnet school. They started offering more artsy courses and one of them was a sound recording technology class. It was mostly based around music theory. I didn't like doing the composition work though; it didn't speak to the way I saw things at that time. Once I got an assignment done, a friend of mine and I would go in one of the back rooms where there was this old Ensoniq synthesizer. We would crank all the parameters out and make these very scary sounds. This was right as I was discovering Brian Eno and ambient music. I could tell that my teacher understood the value of us going back there and experimenting with the equipment that was essentially ambient, amorphous noise. He accepted that there was this atonal universe that he didn't get. He didn't go back there and tell us to stop screwing around, and I really respect him for that.
Did you continue to study sound recording in college?
From being able to go in that back room and mess around, I saw the value in finding my own way toward something that I knew a classroom environment wouldn't allow. I thought I could learn by experimenting on my own. I found my own path and gave it a shot.
So what did you do instead?
I hung out a lot with the guys from [the band] Sixteen Deluxe. I grew up listening to them. They were always kind enough to let me and my friends be a part of their group, even though we were a whole lot younger. I hung out at their studio they had built at the time called The Bubble. I learned a lot about making records, as well as what it was like to be in that environment. It was a whole lot of fun, but I did want to go to college so I could have a backup plan. That [plan] was geology. There are a lot of elements of geology that are similar to making a record, other than the cheap pun that it's all about rock. Still, I probably spent more time at [the student-run radio station at University of Texas at Austin] KVRX doing their Local Live program being a DJ than studying geology.
Can you explain what the Local Live program is all about?
Bands would play live on air, and I would mix it...