Chris Coady is the engineer responsible for some of the most emblematic and critically acclaimed indie rock records of the early 21st century. Teaming up with producer David Sitek to build Stay Gold Studios in the early 2000s, he's worked with countless breakout artists and critics' darlings including: TV On The Radio, Blonde Redhead, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, !!!, Grizzly Bear, Architecture in Helsinki, Beach House, and many more. More recently, Coady has moved from New York to L.A., where he continues attracting artists who are looking to cultivate a distinctive and forward-looking sound. We spoke to him shortly before he made his final move west.
Even though you're a relatively young guy, you started out working on tape, and you're still surrounded by so much incredible analog gear in here. How much of a role does the computer play in the way you work these days?
Well, it plays more and more of a role. Once or twice a year I will try to do an album entirely on analog. But even when I try to do that, eventually somebody in the band will have an idea, and that idea is better than staying all on tape. In those cases, if we stayed on tape, we couldn't do what the band wanted, so we always embrace the idea. Once it ends up in Pro Tools, the album sort of takes control and starts steering things. And the computer makes it possible for someone with a wild imagination to turn those ideas into something real. When you stay on tape, there definitely is this magic when you hear a single, great, long performance. It's something I'd like to get more into this year, but I also love the computer. With the computer, you can make music that sounds like it has never been played — like you can't imagine it having ever been recorded in the real world, or played by a person. It's a sound that just exists. In a lot of ways, I think that's something magical. When you get these recordings that sound more analog and "true," it sounds just like a bunch of people in a recording studio. That's a different kind of magic. I feel like the computer is definitely useful for making things sound super natural. Also, it used to be that doing things on tape was the "punk" thing to do, and doing things on a digital machine, or the computer, was something for the more successful or pop-style groups. Now that digital is what's accessible for everyone, tape is what the rich bands use, and digital is now the punk thing. I do demonize the computer from time to time myself, because all you have to do is listen to the first verse of any song that was recorded in the '60s, '70s, or '80s, and there's this thing that's there. Then you listen to almost all music now, and that "thing" is kind of missing. I'm always asking how we can get it back. I don't want to say that it's impossible to make those kinds of ecstatic performances with masterful playing now, but it's far less common. The good thing is that I feel like when a band actually does perform that way, it's instantly heralded.
Weren't some of the first records of yours that really took off back in the early 2000's tape-based projects? I'm thinking of things like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV On The Radio, and Blonde Redhead.
They were all tape-based, to some degree. With TV On The Radio's first two albums, both tape and Pro Tools were used, and the version of Pro Tools that existed back then was far more primitive than it is now. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs' first LP [Fever to Tell] was all tape. That one I had a bit less to do with. Their second LP [Show Your Bones] was both tape and Pro Tools. I'd say that the same working method that I have now is similar to what we were doing then, but tape machines are far harder to come by now. Every studio had a tape machine in the corner then, and right now we're sitting in a studio that doesn't have a tape machine at all.
One of the first records you mixed that got a lot of critical traction was Grizzly Bear's Yellow House. It's a pretty unusual and incredible sounding record. Their bass player, Chris Taylor, produced and recorded most of it himself. What was it like mixing a project where one of the band members is so invested on the production side?
By the time we started, Chris already knew what he wanted everything to sound like. It was a very quick mixing session, and he requested a tape mixdown, because he had recorded it all on his laptop....