Working out of New York City, Mario J. McNulty is a talented producer, mixer, and engineer with an enviable list of credits. He’s been in the studio with David Bowie, Laurie Anderson, Angelique Kidjo, Lou Reed, Earl Slick, Anti-Flag, The Raveonettes, Manic Street Preachers, and Alejandro Escovedo, along with mixing projects for Harry Nilsson, Badfinger, Prince, and Nine Inch Nails. I dropped by his downtown NYC condo/private mix suite to chat, where we hit it off and talked for hours about the craft of making records, and, in some cases, “re-making” them.
How did you end up working in studios in New York?
I started my career at Looking Glass Studios in New York City through an internship at the Conservatory of Recording Arts [and Sciences]. They said, “Make a list of five studios that you would like to intern at.” I got lucky because that was my first choice of studios. That was Philip Glass’s studio. Looking Glass happened to be the number one studio on the list, and I chose that really because David [Bowie] had worked there. The fact that I was able to get that and then eventually meet David and have this history is beyond lucky. After a couple of months as an intern, I was hired as an assistant at Looking Glass. They had a great crew there. I was mainly working on Philip Glass related projects, assisting their main engineer, Hector Castillo. I learned a lot from him. He was working for composer/producer Michael Riesman; an extremely talented guy. He was Philip’s maestro, in a way. I was involved in Philip’s projects, but also the commercial work that would come through the studio with outside engineers and producers.
That’s some good experience, right?
It was great. Being an assistant is a hard job and it hasn’t gotten easier, in any way. The hours are rough, and you have to have all these great combinations of etiquette, knowledge, and work ethic.
How to do a sandwich run!
Yeah, getting a coffee order right, too. I got lucky again, because I went freelance after not quite a year of assisting.
Yeah. Part of it was necessity; the studio had been pretty busy, but they were hitting a point where they were slowing way down. The studio manager at the time said to me, “I don’t know that we need you for 40 hours a week. We’ll call you when we need an assistant.” I’d just come off a run of working over 100 hours a week. All of a sudden they weren’t having any Philip sessions, or booking outside sessions. I said, “Well, I have to become a freelance engineer now.” I told the studio manager right away, and she said, “Can we still call you?” I said, “Absolutely, but I have to be proactive.” At that point, David Bowie and Tony Visconti [Tape Op #29] were wrapping up Bowie’s Heathen record in Studio A. I had done a little bit of assisting on some of the mix sessions, and I had gotten to know David and Tony a little bit. They knew I was a drummer, and I even played some for Tony on an album he was working on with Kristeen Young.
I like her music.
David was playing the Tibet House US Benefit Concert; an annual fundraiser for Tibet that they do at Carnegie Hall. They were playing a show in February, but their drummer, Sterling Campbell, was in China and he couldn’t get back in time. They needed somebody to play the rehearsal, so Tony asked me about filling in – for the rehearsal, not the show. Tony and David were there, and Adam Yauch [RIP] from the Beastie Boys was in the band too. He was playing guitar. There was the Scorchio Quartet strings, and Philip Glass playing piano. It was quite an intimidating rehearsal. David was funny. He was in the room looking at me and going, “Don’t fuck up, Mario!” But that was totally his sense of humor. He had the best sense of humor. That’s how I got to know him even more. The day I went freelance I walked right over to Tony’s Studio B – he had become a recent resident in that room – and I told him, “I went freelance. If you need an engineer, let me know.” He said, “I’m doing a session tomorrow night. You want to do it?” It was with Daphne Rubin-Vega, who was in Rent. She was doing a couple tracks. Anyway, we went to Studio A and I recorded all of that, and that was it; I was working with him at that point. We did a record [L’Avventura] with Dean & Britta from Luna. That...