Formerly chief engineer at Sear Sound [Tape Op #41], Tom Schick proved his skills in the studio with artists like Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Sean Lennon, and Rufus Wainwright. As a freelance engineer in New York City, he worked on projects for M. Ward, Norah Jones, She & Him, Willie Nelson, and Iron & Wine. Now, as the house engineer at
The Loft in Chicago, he runs multitudes of sessions for Jeff Tweedy [see Jeff's interview this issue], including Jeff's band Wilco, as well as the various artists Jeff produces, like Low, Mavis Staples, and Richard Thompson.
Did you go to school at Berklee College of Music?
Yeah. I got an internship at Sear Sound the summer of my last year at Berklee. [The late] Walter Sear hired me. You knew Walter, and Roberta [Findlay], right?
Steve Masucci [Tape Op #124] took me over there once, and we sat with them for hours while they were chain smoking and telling stories.
They're amazing people. Walter hired me, and Roberta was pissed that he hired me. They needed an intern because they would get a beach house every summer, so they needed somebody to answer the phones and such. I was going back to school before they were done with their vacation, so Roberta was pissed. She's like, "He's useless!" For the whole summer, she would refer to me as, "That fucking moron kid." I'd be standing about five feet away, and she'd say to Walter, "Tell that fucking moron kid to clean the bathroom. It's filthy!" I'd do it, but at the same time I was in on every single session, running the tape machines and taking notes. I would show up early, and Walter would be there vacuuming and busting his ass. He'd be staying there even after I was leaving. By the end of the summer Roberta saw that I was useful to the studio, and then she was nice to me. But it took me a whole summer to win her over. She was a pretty good read of someone who would be a good worker, whereas Walter would hire whoever walked in the door. He'd like one thing on their resume. Walter hired me because I'd worked for my brother who had a commercial cleaning business. I mentioned that, and that they did record records the way that I liked. But he saw the cleaning aspect of it, and was like, "I want to hire him!"
That must have been a really intense learning ground.
Oh, yeah. Aside from hooking up with Jeff Tweedy and Wilco, getting that internship at Sear Sound was the best thing that's ever happened to me, career-wise or music-wise. He was an amazing person to work for and to listen to. Such a great mentor.
So, did you go back to school, finish up, and then come work for him?
Yeah. I went back to school, came back on winter break, went to New York, and then right back to the studio. I wanted to drop out. "This is what I want to do." But Walter insisted, "No, you're going to finish school, and we'll see if there's a place for you." He really valued an education. Walter and Roberta became my New York parents.
What was your learning growth like there, and when did you start engineering as a first engineer?
He put me in the studio right away. My first day there, I was there until about ten o'clock at night. There was a house engineer doing a session, so it was "watch and learn." I hadn't even been hired yet, and there I was, running the 1/2-inch machine and documenting it.
Were they mixing down?
No, it was a live to 2-track jazz session. I'm like, "This is amazing!" Walter's thing at the studio was that everybody did everything. I got to do a lot right away. There were two other guys who worked there as engineers. Fred Kevorkian ended up building a mastering room in the back of Sear Sound, so he wasn't doing as much in the main room. The other guy went freelance. Then it was just me and Fred, and the studio was booked nonstop. By default, the first record I engineered there was for Sean Lennon. He booked the studio based on the reputation and wanted to use the house engineer. By default, that was me.
Was that his album on Grand Royal Records?
Yeah, Into the Sun. It's a great album, and it was really fun. Sean walked in, and the way he liked to work was to record a song, mix it, and then record the next song and mix it. It was a really fun way to work. It was great. Yuka Honda was producing it....