Ending up in Nashville after growing up in Pennsylvania, Justin Cortelyou has carved out a solid career as an engineer working under studio legends like Bob Ezrin Tape Op #31], Mike Shipley [#118], Chuck Ainlay [#97], and Bil VornDick. In sessions, he's engineered, edited, and mixed artists like Phish, Taylor Swift, Paul McCartney, Deep Purple, Hollywood Vampires (Alice Cooper, Joe Perry, Johnny Depp), Ke$ha, Jerrod Niemann, Meghan Linsey, and KISS. We met up at Bob Ezrin's Anarchy Studio in Nashville's Berry Hill neighborhood for a post-session chat.
How did you enter the recording world?
I played trombone and guitar in a band in high school, but I didn't like practicing that much. If you've ever seen a trombone symphonic score, it's 191 bars of rests, then a whole note, and 120 bars of rests. It wasn't for me, but I loved getting those Guitar Center, Sam Ash, and Musician's Friend catalogs! One day I got a copy of Mix. I had no idea what an engineer did. I saw an SSL console with a computer in it. I thought, "That guy's got a cool job." I ended up going to MTSU [Middle Tennessee State University]. I got an internship with Bil VornDick, an amazing bluegrass producer and engineer. The first day that I did my internship with him, we were transferring some Jerry Douglas files. Chuck Ainlay was going to mix it. I got to meet Chuck.
Another nice guy.
An amazing engineer and mixer. Later, just being young and dumb, I called Sound Stage Studios, asked for Chuck, and said, "Hey, you want an intern?" He thought I was Justin Niebank. He's like, "Hey Justin, how's it going?" I said, "Oh, you remember me?" Luckily I still did an internship with Chuck after that. I worked as hard as I could. He put in a good word with the studio manager, and they hired me on as the night manager. I worked a couple of years at Sound Stage. I ended up covering one day when Crystal Bernard was doing vocals. She was struggling with some lines. I was supposed to punch in and out, and not to do anything, but I helped her out on some lines; we got a good chemistry and flow together. We worked through the night. She helped me take out the trash! We finished her demo, and it turned out that she was dating Mike Shipley at the time. She flew back to L.A. I talked to Mike a couple of times and he gave me some pointers. He got busy and said, "Hey, do you want a gig?" I said, "Yes, I do!" They actually moved me out to L.A. He paid first and last month's rent, and then I started working with Mike. That was unbelievable.
After working for Mike Shipley for several years [see Justin's excerpt in on page 20], what did you do?
I went and worked with another producer and songwriter, Tommy Henriksen, who now plays guitar for Alice Cooper. I worked with Tommy for a little while, and convinced him to move to Nashville after a couple of years. We worked with this band, Runner Runner, trying to shop them for a deal. The first week we were here we met Bob Ezrin. He wanted to sign them; it didn't work out, but Bob and I created this relationship. I'm not working solely with Bob, but he has so much work, so I do a lot with Bob. Bob has a school in Vancouver [Nimbus School of Recording Arts] with Garth [Richardson, Tape Op #28]. He lives here, and he lives in Toronto. Where he lives is dependent on what day it is.
How long have you been working with Bob?
I think it's been about eight years. We've done Alice Cooper's Welcome 2 My Nightmare. Alice Cooper calls it the "shriekquel." We did the Hollywood Vampires' [self-titled] record. We did Phish's Fuego, Deep Purple's Now What?!, and a Kristin Chenoweth record. She's amazing.
She's the sister in Four Christmases.
Yeah! We did 2CELLOS. That was a crazy record, but cool to do.
It was a different kind of challenge?
Yeah. Johnny Reid is one of the biggest artists in Canada. His voice is like Joe Cocker, meets Rod Stewart, meets Bryan Adams. He's such an amazing singer, and a great guy. Those have been a lot of fun to record.
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