As a member of the Talking Heads and forming The Modern Lovers with Jonathan Richman, Jerry Harrison would have a career of note if this was all he’d done. But as a successful producer over the last four decades, he’s helmed albums for Violent Femmes, Crash Test Dummies, The Verve Pipe, Live, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, No Doubt, Poi Dog Pondering, the BoDeans, The Von Bondies, The String Cheese Incident, Le Butcherettes, and so many more. Jerry has also owned recording studios, started the (original) GarageBand social platform, and has helmed several startups in the medical field. We dropped in at Jerry’s beautiful home in Marin County, California, and had a wonderful, wide-ranging chat about his life in music.

Where did you grow up?

I’m from Milwaukee [Wisconsin]. The guitar player, Bob Metzger, who was in my high school band, went on to be Leonard Cohen’s guitar player for 25 years. This other singer, Fred Bliffert, did an album with Al Kooper [Tape Op #73] producing. It was amazing. From my high school band, the bass player played bass for Johnny Winter for ten years, and the singer became the head of the American Institute of Architects.

Did you end up on the East Coast because of college?

I went to Harvard. I was making a film, and I met Jonathan Richman. He came in with these people – Ed Hood and Rene Ricard – who had been in Andy Warhol movies. There was a Cambridge, [Massachusetts], contingent. I didn’t ever meet Edie Sedgwick; I was there just after the period she was in Cambridge. Jonathan came into my apartment with this group of people, raving about the Velvet Underground and The Stooges. I was making a movie for a documentary film class, and I decided I’d put him in the movie. It was about alienation and the ascension of corporate symbols. He was obsessed by old signs, like he loved the Esso sign but hated Exxon. He liked the flying horse of Mobil, and he loved the Howard Johnson sign, but he hated it when it got changed to HoJo. The first thing I did was I filmed him driving down Route 9 outside of Boston, pointing out the signs that he loved and hated. Then I recorded some music of his, and I was using it as the soundtrack of the movie. Ernie Brooks was in my room, and he kept saying, “These songs are really insinuating themselves into my head.” Jonathan was coming over and hanging out. Suddenly, both Ernie and I ended up joining the band [on bass and keyboards].

That’s fortuitous!

Exactly, yeah.

How long were you guys playing before going to L.A. to work with John Cale?

I joined in January of 1971. I dropped out of Harvard the second semester of my senior year to join The Modern Lovers. Actually, Ernie and I were able to sneak in a semester while we were in The Modern Lovers the following fall, because we weren’t playing that many gigs at that point. I spent a year and a half on my thesis and got a summa cum laude, which I would never have done without all that extra time. In the spring of 1972, Lillian Roxon wrote an article in the New York Post that started bringing all these people to come and see us. That was when we started what became The Modern Lovers, recording with John Cale and also with Allan Mason. I don’t know if anyone else ever did this, but I got both Warner Bros. and A&M [Records] to share flying us to the West Coast. We said, “We don’t just want to meet an A&R person. We need to meet the people we’ll be working with.” We came up and played some shows in Berkeley, [California], because Allan Mason was close to Matthew Kaufman, who [later] formed Beserkley Records. Then we hemmed and hawed about it, because we had so many offers. Eventually we signed with Warner Bros. and went back out and worked with John Cale again. By that point, Jonathan had started to move to his “Hey There Little Insect” and “quieter” rock and roll phase.

Right. It was a whole shift in how he wanted to play shows.

It was frustrating, because we were still trying to record what would be the first record. Kim Fowley produced some tracks after John Cale got so frustrated – Jonathan’s world philosophy had changed. He had a philosophy, coming out of high school, of being confrontational with the audience and loving these bands like Iggy [Pop, The Stooges] and Lou Reed who would famously confront people in the audience. He introduced me to that way of looking at music. I had played in much more average bands, influenced by the [Rolling] Stones, The Beatles, James Brown, and Rufus Thomas. I never thought I was going to be a professional musician, but when I started playing with Jonathan, then it was like, “Well, nobody in the world is making music that sounds anything like this. I may not be the most technically proficient, but I know that the sounds I’m getting nobody else is getting.” We were using a fuzztone on electric piano.

Were those the first times you’d been in a recording studio?

I had been in a college band, Albatross, and we had rented some studio time once. The Modern Lovers did a couple of songs at Intermedia Sound, which became The Cars’ studio [Syncro Sound]. It had just been built on Newbury Street. We did the midnight to 7 a.m. shift.

Does anyone do those shifts anymore?

I don’t know! You’d have eight hours; you’d spend six hours getting the drum sound, and then you’d have two hours, and we’d do all the vocals in half an hour. It’s backwards.

John Baccigaluppi (JB): And get kicked out by the jingle session in the morning!

They had a Norwegian jazz band before us that went late. That’s where the recording of “Hospital” took place. Then we went out and worked with John in the [San Fernando] Valley at Whitney [Recording Studio] and at Clover [Studios] that Allan Mason had. I remember they had a little AM radio, and we could go out to the car to listen.

But this version of The Modern Lovers didn’t last.

That’s right; The Modern Lovers broke up [in February of 1974]. In 1975 I did an album with Elliott Murphy called Night Lights, and went on tour with him. He had been a big fan of The Modern Lovers. I was just entering architecture school as I met the Talking Heads. They let me wait until January [1977] to join. I’d already put it off a year because of playing with Elliott. I knew I couldn’t keep doing that. I knew that once I’d been in school then I could come back if it didn’t work out. To a degree, The Modern Lovers thing broke my heart, at that time. I was wary of putting all my hopes, once again, into rock ‘n’ roll.

That worked out, I guess!

It worked out great. I got there just in time to begin all the rehearsals for the first album [Talking Heads: 77].

They’d done a single before that.

They did “Love, Building on Fire.”

You went from one quirky, interesting songwriter to another.

Well, as I like to say, the only way you get to be in two of the most important underground bands of all time is that you fail so miserably the first time that you’re still in that same early stage of your career! [laughter]

Yeah, right? I made a mistake: We interviewed Tony Bongiovi [Tape Op #127] a few years back. We printed something that Tony had said about Tina Weymouth’s bass playing being replaced and all that crap. The engineer on that, Ed Stasium [#98], dropped me a line and said, “Chris Frantz and Tina are really upset.”

Yeah, that is bullshit. I just worked with Ed remixing all of the Talking Heads albums for Atmos.

You mixed everything in 5.1 before, right?

That was with Eric “ET” Thorngren. [See Eric’s interview this issue.] He did the bulk of the catalog. Ed did [Talking Heads:] 77, and he did about half of More Songs About Buildings and Food, and then Eric did the other half. Because Eric and I still had the sessions from the 5.1, we had a head start on thinking about this. When we were doing the 5.1, we listened to all of these different [surround] records. There were certain people who wanted to make mixes feel like you were on stage, with the musicians around you.

Yeah, some strange placement of the listener, as if you’d joined the band.

We felt that was not a very successful way to look at it. The other thing is that we realized that people would have these stereo systems, and then who knew what the rest of the speakers would be. We used the faux center of stereo, as long as it was then reinforced with the center speaker. By the time that we’ve now reached with Atmos, people have more sophisticated systems. I think that surround audio could be wonderful, but the majority of people who are going to be listening to Atmos will probably be listening to it on headphones, to begin with.

Where they hear the binaural version?

Yeah. It is a challenge, because the wrappers that Amazon and Apple are using are different. Those wrappers do slightly change the sound of the mix.

Like perspectives, or amounts of instruments?

Perspective, a little bit.

Where did you do the mixes?

Henszey Sound, in Los Angeles. David Henszey used to have a studio [AD Productions] in Milwaukee, that I’d worked at when he had just built it. It was in a high-rise and had a Neve V3, the one that came out before the VR. My wife, Carol, was pregnant with our son, Dylan, so we were going to be back in Milwaukee. We did [the solo record] Walk on Water there, and in Lake Geneva, [Wisconsin], at Royal Recorders. Playboy Records had built a studio [Shade Tree Recording Studio] there at the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa. Playboy had fallen on hard times, sold the place, and the hotel was now really funky, and a diamond dealer had bought the studio. It had two Studer A800s and two Mitsubishi [digital] 32-track [tape decks]. Millions of dollars in equipment. It had more equipment than any studio in London, New York, or L.A. in one place. For a single studio, no one came close to this. I could get great rates there. I brought Dave Jerden [Tape Op #86] there. Roy Thomas Baker came out and produced something, and then Frank Filipetti.

I’d never heard of this place!

Anyway, back to David Henszey. It was really funny. ET said, “I finally found an Atmos room where it seems like the guy knows what he’s talking about.” I said, “Who is it? Oh, I know him!” He was one of the first independent studios, outside of, say, Dolby’s own rooms, to become Atmos certified. It’s a smaller place, but he was good, and he was excited about the project. Then Ed built a studio, and I worked with Ed Stasium down at his house, as well as The Village before his room was built. The binaural experience in the headphones is great, in its own way. It is not the same as having speakers all around; you don’t have the front. When we do a mix for Atmos, we have the same philosophy as we did for 5.1 – more like you’re watching it from close to the stage. It’s still in front of you, but you’re hearing reflections and certain things. We did move sounds around the room for effects. Like the song “Drugs” from Fear of Music has all these sounds.

It’s a very trippy song.

And “The Great Curve” from Remain in Light – with the three contrapuntal vocal lines happening simultaneously – it was so great in surround to have them coming from different directions. It does not take away from loving stereo still, but it’s fun. When we were doing our mixes, I would compare a mix I could download on my phone and play and then go to Tidal or something, play the same song in stereo, and go back and forth. That was a good way to go, “Oh, what happened?” One of the things was that, with [Brian] Eno [producing, Tape Op #85], the drums and the bass are quieter than I had remembered. When we were remixing them, there was so much room in an Atmos mix that we were able to make the drums and the bass a little more present, without taking away from the feeling of the stereo mixes.

Right. The band is obviously very rhythmic.

Obviously, as we got later, Little Creatures and True Stories have the loudest drums, because we’d reached the ‘80s.

You need the giant snare and the tappy kick drum.

That’s right. Everyone, especially everybody in New York, was influenced by disco music. Claude Shannon, who was the inventor of information theory, said that the amount of information in a given message is the inverse to how expected it is. If it confirms your expectation, there’s very little information. People started using quantized drums when they got to disco music. I think what happens with quantized drums is that the brain knows they’re going to be there, and therefore your brain is tuning them out [in order] to listen to what else is there.

Oh, absolutely.

You can be at a dance or a rave, and you’re feeling the percussiveness and the feeling in your chest of the kick drum, but your brain is still looking for all the parts that are around it.

We tune out what we know is a constant element.

That’s right. But the second we try and take that off the grid, it’s, “Oh my god, is this loud!” We’ll also pay more attention to it, because I’ve got to know where to put my foot for the beat.

That’s so true for mixing. Elements that are repetitive get tuned out, even if they’re the loudest thing in the mix. It’s an interesting paradox.

We couldn’t drive a car without the way the brain works, which is to expect that we see the road, to expect that there’s going to be a line that we can look at to say, “Is it going straight, or starting to curve?” If we had to analyze everything we saw, de novo, at every microsecond, we couldn’t drive a car, catch a ball, or hit a baseball.

Right. We assimilate and take most input for granted.

It’s very interesting. I had taken a course in visual perception as part of my major at Harvard, and there was a guy named Rudolf Arnheim who wrote a book, Art and Visual Perception: [A Psychology of the Creative Eye]. It was a lot about Gestalt psychology. Gestalt psychology is the opposite of behaviorism. Behaviorism is there are a bunch of individual acts that add up and then will be predictive of what your response will be next time, and how you get conditioned to expect things. If you train a dog, it’s very important to be absolutely consistent so that the dog knows that every time you say, “Come,” it’s going to get rewarded. If you start to break that, then it becomes very hard to train the dog, because now the dog becomes confused. Well, it’s the same with us. The study of Gestalt psychology is talking about that. It’s talking about our completion of the whole. We know that rooms have a corner, but you know that if you look through a lens that it becomes softened, because the lens bends how you see the corner. But, because we know there’s a corner there, we perceive a corner, even though it’s going through the lens of our eye. If you knew what our eye was actually seeing, it would see like a camera.

How do you apply this to mixing and making music or producing?

In mixing, trends come. We talked about the loudness of the drums in the ‘80s. There was also this sense of a different approach that say L.A. bands, London bands, or New York bands had. New York bands were definitely influenced by disco. It was very prevalent in Philly and New York, and engineers were hearing it all the time. Talking Heads, being a rhythmic band, we liked aspects of that.

Talking Heads were never really a punk band, sonically. It became more rhythmic-oriented.

David [Byrne, Tape Op #79]’s an amazing rhythm guitar player, and Chris is an amazingly simple and straightforward drummer. I always say, “Do you believe the drummer?” If you believe the drummer, then you let the drummer take time and you play with that person. If you don’t believe it, you try to help the drummer stay in time. Sometimes, like in high school bands, the drummer might start dragging and then you’re pulling him along but then you start rushing. Then you have to learn to get to the point where you trust the drums. Often, it sounds better to play a little behind the drums. I got a lot better as a musician in the Talking Heads because of the quality of the other musicians. They had a great work ethic, too. They were very on-time. We made all of our rehearsals. We’d rehearse for a specific amount of time. When we made our albums, we didn’t waste money making them. We even went into the studio deliberately without having written any songs for Remain in Light. There was something about when we first played a song, there was an innocence to it, and we wanted to capture that.

The discovery.

Yeah. That was part of it. We tried to create a philosophy for each record. Working with Tony [Bongiovi], the idea there was, “Let’s find someone who does commercials and disco music. It’ll force us to do something different.” Then, after that, we met Brian [Eno] and said, “We really see eye-to-eye with Brian,” so we ended up doing three records with him. The first one was understanding how Brian used the studio as an extension of an instrument. Then we started to know about certain effects and thinking about that as we worked with him on the next two records. We were able to make suggestions. We recorded Fear of Music in our rehearsal studio, because we went, “Previously we’ve always felt slightly a little uncomfortable getting into the studio.” It doesn’t feel as comfortable than if you’ve been rehearsing in the same room for a long time. We had the Record Plant [Studios Remote] truck come out on alternate Sundays.

I didn’t realize that until recently.

Of course, that created some limitations, but it also created a vibe for the record. For Remain in Light, a lot of that was because we were so excited about “I Zimbra” on Fear of Music that we said, “This is the direction we want to go for the next album.”

Was there a worry about, “We’re turning into this other thing. How do we play it live?”

With Remain in Light we played so many parts that we couldn’t do this as a four-piece. The way the big band happened is we were playing a festival up in Canada called Heatwave, and then we were playing in [NYC’s] Central Park. We were getting paid more than we normally got, so we said, “Let’s do an experiment.” I sat down with David and said, “We’re going to need another keyboard player. We need another guitar player, and another bass player. We need percussion and background singers.” I had been hanging around in New York with Busta Jones.

The bass player.

I met Bernie Worrell [keyboards]. I went off and, in that afternoon, I hired Busta, Dolette [McDonald, vocals], Adrian [Belew, guitar], and Bernie. I came back and said, “We have the most amazing band!” Bernie knew Steve Scales [percussion], and that completed the picture. We were in such a hurry that we hadn’t finished mixing. Dave Jerden and David went out to L.A. and mixed two or three songs for Remain in Light. I stayed in New York, mixing with Brian and with [engineer] John Potoker. Then I started rehearsing with all these musicians in Long Island City at Britannia Row, which was owned by Pink Floyd. It was their American outpost where they had a rehearsal room. I think we had four days of rehearsal before our first show. I started rehearsing, and then David walked in and went, “Oh, we’ve been rehearsing without the lead singer. Wow!” We had this incredible show in Canada. Then we played Central Park and were like, “This is what we have to do.”

JB: That was after the record was mostly recorded?

Yes, totally. We were mixing at the time.

JB: Where did the My Life in the Bush of Ghosts record that David and Brian did fit in?

They did that between Fear of Music and Remain in Light. It also caused a dynamic in the studio that was challenging, because they had just freshly worked together. We took a longer time off between Fear of Music and Remain in Light than we had between More Songs About Buildings and Food and Fear of Music. We finished More Songs..., went on tour, came back and wrote songs for Fear of Music, and then he came back and recorded it. We finished and went back on tour. Now we’d taken a little break. Because there was an easy communication between them, Chris, Tina, and I felt a little less connected. I had a lot of patience, so I hung around and went to the studio every day. For almost every drummer, they finish in one week, and then we work three months on an album. A lot of times Chris would come in, and he would say things like, “This sounded better yesterday.”

He might be right!

Almost every single time he was right. “Oh my god, all the stuff we’ve been working on, we’re going to have to throw it out!”

I interviewed David Byrne years ago, and he said, “We’d make a rough mix of an instrumental, and I would maybe write some melodies over that. I would go away for a month and come back with words, which didn’t always work.”

That record was particularly hard. Also, we took a three week break because David had another commitment. We were on such a roll. We were in the Bahamas [Compass Point Studios]. AC/DC was over in the next studio doing Back in Black. I think that we recorded all the basic tracks, and they did one vocal and one guitar solo. I may be wrong about that; that’s what I heard. We’d invite them to go snorkeling and they’d go, “No, sharks!” [laughter] We were on a roll. Had we continued in the Bahamas, the record would probably have come out quite differently. When we got back to New York, David was struggling. It doesn’t have a lot of chord changes. It doesn’t have the dynamic of going to another chord for the chorus. He needed to get back into the music. He ended up picking up instruments and playing additional parts a lot of times, which ended up replacing, or being in addition to, a part that we had done in the Bahamas. There’s an extended release of Remain in Light that has some of those songs. One is called “Right Start,” which is what “Once in a Lifetime” became, and one was called “Double Groove,” which became something else.

Yeah, those are interesting.

I think it would have been a little closer to that had we continued, and if David had been able to slip into the “melody mode.” We went back to Sigma Sound in New York. I negotiated the deal to go there, and it was a very hot summer. Of course, the Bahamas, particularly at that time, were chill. Then we got back to New York, with everybody living in their own homes and not together, and it was a change. We were feeling stuck. One of the great things is Adrian [Belew] played the Mudd Club, and we went down and asked him if he wanted to come up. He played for one day, including all those incredible solos, like “The Great Curve.”

I saw him in 1981 with King Crimson when they did the Discipline tour. Holy shit!

I remember him talking to me about whether he should do that or not, and how much he liked playing with the Heads. I said, “I dunno, you’re going to be the lead singer in this band. This is an opportunity you shouldn’t turn down.” It’s sure been fun playing with him again and doing these shows. Did either of you come to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass? [Jerry and Adrian fronted the Remain in Light band.]

No. A friend of mine told me about your show.

It was unbelievable. There were more than 50,000 people there. And the amount of joy; it was as if everybody in the audience was singing along and dancing.

There are probably more Talking Heads fans now than there where when you guys were active.

It’s aged well. I would say our audience is quite a bit bigger than it was in even 2010.

That’s crazy for a band that didn’t really reunite.

I was very involved in any of the times that we did a greatest hits package. I’d taken on working with Bob Ludwig [Tape Op #105]. When we did the surround mixes, at least it kept something slightly new coming out. Then David started including more Talking Heads songs on his tour, with the culmination of that being American Utopia [Broadway show and film]. When he did that Songs of David Byrne and Brian Eno tour – where I was actually a co-writer of a lot of the songs he played – again, he deliberately stayed away from doing a lot of Talking Heads songs on the earlier tours. He did that, and then started playing bigger places and it was more successful. It ended up with him being able to reimagine something like American Utopia. All of this kept it somewhat alive. I also think that we relaxed about [having our music in] films or TV shows. There was a real feeling back in the ‘70s and ‘80s and even into the ‘90s [about that decision].

“Don’t sell out!”

Don’t sell out. I think that the turning point was when The Verve did “Bitter Sweet Symphony” and it was in that Super Bowl ad. Then Moby did that record, Play, and he had no airplay, but he had licenses, and it became a very successful record. We can’t count on the record industry to make money, so these sync fees and the stuff that we used to think of as “selling out,” it’s often the only way that we’re ever going to make any money. Things changed. We became far more open-minded about where we would have our songs. Stranger Things came on; I was watching the second episode, and they played “Psycho Killer” all the way through. I just saw this new Amazon thing called Upload, and the trailer is “Once in a Lifetime.” One of the interesting things is how “This Must be the Place” has gone. We tried to have it be the second single on Speaking in Tongues. Warner Bros. spent a lot of money on “Burning Down the House.” For the first time ever, they spent money on it.

To promote it?

I think what happened was Rod Stewart and Linda Ronstadt didn’t sell well [at that time], and they went, “Uh oh. We have to start spending some money on building these audiences.” They didn’t spend a lot of money on “This Must Be the Place.” It also didn’t happen by itself. I can’t tell you how many times people come up and say, “This is my favorite song,” or, “We played it at our wedding.” It’s one of our most streamed songs now.

Some of David’s best lyrics have something very “outsider” yet very personal at the same time.

As a general rule, he didn’t really write songs about relationships. He wrote songs about ideas, so to speak. Other people have tried that. Some are successful. People want to resonate with it. There’s a reason why most pop songs are talking about relationships.

It’s easier to sell!

“I just fell in love with someone, and someone left me!”

Exactly! During all this time you were building up your studio experience, and you did some solo records while the Talking Heads were going, but you also started producing. What were some of the first jobs?

Nona Hendryx was the first thing I did as an independent producer. I went, “Oh, I never even thought of that. Sure! I’ll try and do that.” We had the same hairdresser, and she dated Robert Fripp. She was very hip; she’d been in Toronto, San Francisco, and then moved to New York. I was really nervous about it. In fact, that was right when I was hanging around with Busta Jones. I had gone down to Philadelphia to Sigma Sound. He was making a solo record. We went there and used the same engineer, same studio, and some of the same backup band for Nona.

Great musicians down there.

Why we ended up going to Sigma Sound in New York is that I loved this attitude they had in Philadelphia. There was an element to some of the New York studios where I’d go into a studio, and they’d go, “Oh, the Stones were in here last week!” It’s like, “I don’t care what famous people were here. I’m here now.” It was all business. We forget how often studios had gear break down. There’d be a problem, and the techs would come in. One of the hardest things to do as a musician was to wait. The techs would come in and they would say, “This is a 10-minute problem. Why don’t you go in the lounge?” Then it would turn into, “This is an hour problem; why don’t you go get lunch?” By doing that, they stopped us from asking, “Is it ready? Is it ready? Is it ready?” If you thought, “Okay, it’s going to be a little over an hour, I’ll have lunch,” then you thought about lunch and would come back. Usually, they’d overestimate how long it would take, so that when you came back it was fixed. I thought that was great. That was how we ended up in Sigma in New York, after my experiences in Philadelphia. I recorded Nona, and then the next thing I did was [my solo album] The Red and the Black, which I was producing.

The Red and the Black is a wild record. It has so much percussion, and so much reverb. This must have been a difficult record to mix.

Rhino [Records] is coming out with a vinyl re-release of Remain in Light. They’re also coming out with [Chris and Tina’s] Tom Tom Club, [David Byrne’s] The Catherine Wheel, and The Red and the Black. There are going to be double vinyl releases for each one. Tom Tom Club had a lot of dance mixes. That’s going to be the second record. The Catherine Wheel, because it was for the Twyla Tharp dance project, there was music that didn’t make the album. With The Red and the Black, we didn’t have that, so they suggested I do instrumental mixes. Eric Thorngren and I did that before we went out to work with Kenny Wayne Shepherd. It’s going to come out as one red vinyl and one black vinyl.

That’s perfect!

The instrumental mixes are interesting, because we didn’t feel we had to stick to the originals. Rhino lost the instrumental mixes that we did back then. They also somehow lost one of the multitracks, so there are a couple of songs that I don’t have. Some of these mixes we made pretty long.

That can be fun to have the leeway.

I started that record with a 4-track cassette deck. I had a loft space in Long Island City, because that’s where Chris and Tina lived, and where we rehearsed. It was a brick space, and what I would record would be a mixture of the direct signal and reflections off these brick walls. I tried to recreate it when I went to Blank Tapes [Studios], and finally I said, “Let’s record the 4-track cassette to the 24-track,” and that’s the beginning. Some of them are pretty lo-fi recordings, but they have these weird sounds bouncing off the walls. Some of the songs are 5/4 and 7/4 time. I wanted to see about doing the syncopation we did on Remain in Light, and then adding additionally different time signatures. It was challenging, for me included. If you’re not used to playing in another time signature, you’re spending all this time counting. It’s hard.

There’s a weirdness to it, yeah. The waiting.

I also have this theory about it. There are two ways that we think about how fast a song is. One is the tempo where you’re tapping your foot. The other is the cycle time before something like the verse repeats or the chorus repeats. So, if you’re playing in 5/4 time, the cycle time is longer than in 4/4 time, but the beat could be exactly the same. If you’re playing in 7/4, the cycle time is faster than two bars of 4/4 time. Again, it’s a way of playing with your sense of a song.

What did you do after your first solo record?

After the solo record I produced a record [Milwaukee] by Elliott Murphy, who I had done a record with previously. The Violent Femmes [The Blind Leading the Naked] was the next record I produced. I did a single called “Driving Away from Home (Jim’s Tune)” by It’s Immaterial that I very stupidly took my name off of in a fit of heat. [I was upset because] they had put a drum machine on it, and I’d got these great drums. [Then it turns out] it was Top 20 in England.

Did you ever pull your name off a record after that?

No. Then I did Poi Dog Pondering [Volo Volo].

How did you see your role on a lot of these records? Poi Dog had been around a little bit. Violent Femmes were on their third record.

Partially it was because I’m from Milwaukee and they were from Milwaukee. By this point, I had met Carol and we started having children. She had our first child in Milwaukee. Also, I had inherited my parent’s house. They had died just before I met Carol. I found this studio there [DV Productions], which is where I recorded [the solo album] Casual Gods. After Casual Gods, I did Fine Young Cannibals’ “Ever Fallen in Love” [for a film soundtrack]. Jonathan Demme had put some of my songs in his film, Something Wild. I produced the Fine Young Cannibals, who had come out of the English Beat, and who had opened for Talking Heads on one tour. Jonathan had seen them playing this song, which, of course, was a cover of a Buzzcocks song. They were doing it like The English Beat would. By the time we started recording it, they said, “We want to sound like Madonna.” I was like, “Really? Okay!” We were in Los Angeles, and we didn’t have that much time. I was using [engineer] John Potoker, who had worked on Remain in Light. He was also a staff engineer and sometimes assistant at Sigma in New York. He had moved to L.A. and knew people who had played on the Madonna records, so we hired them to come in. This guitar player came in with this six-foot tall rack of effects for his guitar. The guy who brought the rack made more money than I normally pay the session musician in New York. I said, “This is ridiculous!” He said, “If you want me to make this sound I made on the Madonna record, then I need this effect.” We made this disco-sounding record that, in a way, set the tone for the rest of what they did for [the album] The Raw & the Cooked. That was done by David Z [Rivkin] up at ‎Paisley Park. Fortunately for me, they put “Ever Fallen in Love” on it because it fit. I was delighted to be a part of a very successful record.

Being a Buzzcocks fan, that version blew me away. It sounds nothing like the original.

Roland [Gift] has such a unique voice.


I had done that. Then I was in Milwaukee working on Casual Gods. One thing that was bad that happened is that Echo & the Bunnymen had asked me to produce them, and I said, “Yes,” but I had not finished The Red and the Black and I had to cancel. I really wish I’d done that. But if I’d done it, I don’t know if The Red and the Black would have ever come out, and we were on to Speaking in Tongues and touring again.

Sneaking in a solo record in between Talking Heads.

We had to do it. There were a lot of things I missed. I met the Red Hot Chili Peppers, sort of drunk, at a James Brown show, and they asked me to produce them, but I forgot about it. There was also one time I was supposed to go out to see R.E.M., and I had a fight with my girlfriend and felt I couldn’t go.

Are there any production jobs you passed on that you regret?

The Wallflowers. I really regret that.

Was it a timing issue?

The first time I met with them, I told them they needed a better drummer. They did get rid of their drummer and came back. I should have done that. It was a big mistake. I had a worry about Jakob Dylan. He was Bob Dylan’s son. He had plenty of money. I talked to them and said, “Filmmakers talk about the movie they’re going to make, but they have to get other peoples’ money to make it. Architects have to get other peoples’ money to build their buildings. Musicians at least get to play their music live.” He goes, “Yeah, but I don’t like touring.” I remember I was sitting with Tom Whalley [head of Warner Bros.] when he said this. I went, “Oh my god, are they not going to support this record?” Well, they really did support that record I was going to produce, because it had that great song “6th Avenue Heartache.” If you notice, they didn’t support, as much, the records following that. To a degree, I had the right worry. I regret that. The other one that was disappointing is I was supposed to do the first Dave Matthews Band album. I had gone down to Charlottesville, [Virginia], to see them. They loved the Crash Test Dummies album I had done [God Shuffled His Feet]. I was producing Black 47. I thought I was doing the record. Then, somehow, Steve Lillywhite [Tape Op #93], who wasn’t doing the record, kept calling them up and convinced them [to go with him] by his enthusiasm. He’s an enthusiastic guy, so they decided to go with Steve. It was funny, because they came out here and they were hanging out with Carol and, meanwhile, I would be back someplace else. I remember, finally we were at The Plant [Recording Studios; Sausalito, California], and I said, “This is where I wanted to bring you for the first album.” Dave said, “You hear that, Steve? We would have been out here earlier!” They loved cutting here. I just saw Dave. He and my wife are still close friends; and we’re friends as well. I felt disappointed, to say the least, because I did think I had that. The Wallflowers was just stupidity on my part. There were a number of times where what happened is that I’d gotten on this schedule where I was producing continuously. I’d be having a meeting, and it was hard to go spend the time to listen to all the records somebody had done beforehand. I was on a treadmill!

When you’re in the middle of a project, and you’re trying to put all your energy into that project; not look at your next one.

That’s right. When you’re producing a record, you’re listening eight to twelve hours a day, and you’re thinking about that music. Chris Frantz has an unlimited capacity to listen to music. I just don’t have that. I find that when I listen to music, I can’t think about other things. All my kids could listen to music and do their homework. I couldn’t do my homework and be listening to music, especially something hard. What I can do is carpentry and painting a house. It’s a different kind of attention; not trying to memorize it. And the physicality of it changes. When I’m working out, I sure don’t like to have headphones on.

I interviewed Eric Thorngren, and that was fun. He’s so ridiculously in depth as an engineer. It seems like you surround yourself on these projects with people like that.

I worked with Eric, and Karl Derfler, who lives over here, and who John knows really well. There was this guy, David Vartanian [DV Productions], who I found in Milwaukee, who was a really good engineer. Also, Ed Stasium and all the people I met through Talking Heads. Early on, I did a project out here. The first time I came to San Francisco, I produced a band called Psychefunkapus.

Oh, I remember them.

They had hired an engineer who had played in The Jim Carroll Band. I said, “I don’t get to choose the engineer?” They said, “This guy’s really good, and we’ve already paid him.” We went to Studio D [in Sausalito]; two days went by, and we didn’t have a drum sound. I’m going, “I don’t like the way the drums sound!” He says, “My main drum sound is the room sound.” I said, “Yeah, but what if I want a close mic’d sound?” Finally, I went to the manager of the band, and I said, “I want my own engineer.” He said, “But we already paid him.” I said, “Yeah, but we wasted two days of studio time.” He left, and I flew Jay Mark out from Sigma Sound. Also, the drummer had a friend of his who lived here come in, borrowed a new snare drum, and the guy tuned the drums. We had a drum sound in an hour and a half, and we cut three songs that day.


I told you about the session with The Modern Lovers where six hours went into getting the drum sound. My biggest thing is I don’t want to waste time on drum sounds. When I did my first solo record I had learned about Blank Tapes [Studios] in New York, which did disco records and commercials. They had a drum set nailed down in the corner with the mics already on it. When we did Speaking in Tongues, I suggested to David we go to Blank Tapes. I was kind of a co-producer on The Catherine Wheel for a long time, before I started working on The Red and the Black. I suggested he go to Blank Tapes [Studios]. I suggested he use [drummer] Yogi Horton. I suggested he use a lot of people who helped shape that record. When we made Speaking in Tongues, I said, “Let’s go to Blank Tapes.” I think Chris brought his own snare drum and cymbals. This was at the time of split sessions in New York, so we would have two eight or ten-hour sessions. We were doing the evening session. It was like, “I don’t want to spend time every day where it takes three or four hours to get the drum sound.” It was like, “Boom!” Have the drum sound in a half hour and let’s go. We were efficient. Out in California, they started pioneering the idea of lockouts, but you didn’t pay for lockouts. In New York when you paid for a lockout, you had to pay for both sessions!

Power Station would make them tear everything down and set everything back up.

That’s right. I was doing mixing on The BoDeans’ album [Outside Looking In], and it was a lockout at Sigma Sound. I hired two different engineers to mix songs so that we worked 24/7.

JB: We used to do that with Latin bands in a studio I worked at, three eight-hour shifts, non-stop. What do you look for in an engineer?

Well, the first thing is [to make sure] that I like the sounds they get. We have to be on the same page about sounds, and they have to be fast. I’m not saying that younger engineers don’t have this, but people like Karl, ET, and myself have gone through the entire history of going from analog to digital outboard equipment, then digital recording to workstations. That historical ability to even talk about the advantages or not. I have enough of a technical mind that I can sit down and talk to Karl or ET and talk about signal flow. In fact, when I was doing Live’s Throwing Copper, I came up with this idea: I’d noticed that overdubbing players to drummers, we would have these times in the beginning and at the end of the song where they might have the song slowing down, or ritard. When we tracked it, they were watching the drummer. I started filming the drummer while we recorded, and I would sync the 24-track to the code I put on the videotape. When we did overdubs, they could watch the drummer. What happened with Pro Tools is that now we put it on the large screen and watch the waveform coming as we record. That replaced it.

That’s my sheet music.

Exactly. I came up with all sorts of systems. There was a problem with MIDI sync for years. I bought a [TimeLine] Micro Lynx when it came out. Gerry Block was the tech at Sigma Sound. He started TimeLine, and then he came out with the Lynx [Time Code Module] and the Micro Lynx. I bought all the cables, and I would go into studios and take over the sync. I would have my own preamps. In general, I would go for the sound of the room. When [Opcode] Studio Vision came out I’d then start running off a black burst generator, and I’d have two computers. They’d be both syncing to a sample clock, so then I could get perfect sync between what was driving Studio Vision and what was driving the recording device. It was much tighter than any of the MIDI sync boxes that were there at that time.

Everything like that is working better these days.

Nowadays there’s such control over clocking. There’s never a thing about the quality of converting [sample rate] from 48 kHz to 44.1. You don’t hear the difference now. We used to have to pay a lot of attention to this.

That doesn’t seem to matter anymore.

No. ET introduced me to it; we were pioneers of using the [Sony PCM-]F1 [digital recorder], particularly the Nakamichi [DMP-100] version of it.

Right, for mixdown?

For mixdown. We thought it sounded better than the digital 2-tracks, like the expensive $50,000 Sony machine. The F1 was a consumer product.

The infancy of digital recording hardware, and it was crazy.

It was a fun period when we had these new devices, like a sampler that could be triggered, and we could replace a drum track. Sometimes we had to turn the tape over and record the track earlier and then have a delay [to sync up the trigger]. All this was exciting because we could do things that we had not really been able to do before. But sometimes, it would take all day long to do something that we can now do in a minute or two.

A couple of mouse moves...

I’m not as up to date on everything that I can do in Pro Tools or Logic as I once was. I used to be the expert about it. I had been one of the earliest people to get Pro Tools. I got one of the earliest versions right before I started recording the Crash Test Dummies. We were using it in this Milwaukee studio, DV Recording. I was one of the people who asked for [Digidesign] to do batch fades, if you can imagine. Do you remember? “Okay, I’m doing the fades. It’s going to take six hours.”

JB: I had Sound Tools. I had one of the very first versions.

I had Sound Tools too. Before that I had the version that interfaced with the [E-mu] Emulator. We had to trick SCSI into having both a Mac and the Emulator connected through SCSI, and it would take the sound file in and give a fast Fourier transform [FFT] picture of it, and I could edit it in there and send it back. It was after they were making the EPROMs for the [E-mu] Drumulator [drum sample editing]. With Sound Tools, the converters weren’t that great sounding, but the idea was that we could do our own edits, and experiment with edits.

As producers and musicians, we’re always looking to push something further than it was maybe even intended to be used.

Yes. I guess that’s still true. There is now this whole thing where we have all of these soft synths that are great, but people are coming back to classic synths.

I’ve got real Moogs, and they sound deeper to me.

Fatter and deeper. I was excited about the new Sequential reissue of the Prophet-5.

I remember when the original Prophet-5 came out. My friend got one and we were like, “It stores patches? It’s polyphonic!”

I know; the idea that it could store patches. I bought my first Prophet, Rev 1, out of Rod Argent’s [Tape Op #119] keyboard store in England. I’d stayed in England after a tour. It was when the RMI Keyboard Computer was out. That was an amazing instrument.

Yeah, there are not many of those out there.

The [Yamaha] CS-80 was out. Bob Styles, who then went on to work for Sequential, was running the store. He said, “You really want to wait. There’s this synth coming.” They got it before anybody in the United States. I bought the first one from them that I had, but it had such troubles that they let me trade it in for a Rev 2 version, which I still have.

JB: You had a studio in Sausalito for a while, right?

That’s right [Sausalito Sound].

JB: Matt Cohen was telling me about working with you there.

I had a room at The Plant before that. Then Arne [Frager, owner] decided I wasn’t paying enough rent. He made this small studio and Booker T. [Jones] rented it for a couple of years. Then I was renting it by the month. Arne knew that if I was there, I’d be more likely to do the rest of my recording there. He was going to build me a studio, but he always put in these conditions, like, “You’ve got to do this much here of tracking.” I said, “I can’t promise that, because I have to put together budgets. If the band lives in New York, I try to do it so it’s cheap enough for them to live here.” There had been a studio called Muther’s. Do you remember Richie Moore?

JB: Yeah.

He was good friends with Karl; he passed away. He was an engineer, but he was also a studio designer. He designed Studio D, taking the plans for what had been the back room at The Plant; the one that John Fogerty used to do Centerfield. That’s what became the control room at Studio D. I’m not sure if that’s what became the tracking room. He built Muther’s, which was an early use of the Euphonix [digitally-controlled analog console], when the Euphonix was a control surface to an analog tower.


It had a tiny control room. I remember going over there to stripe tapes with SMPTE. I was talking to Ren [Klyce], who worked with [producer/writer] Walter Afanasieff. He has a studio in San Rafael and does movie work. He goes, “Oh, Muther’s is for sale.” I went over there and [owner] Joe White said, “We just can’t make it work anymore. If you pay us $5,000 for fixtures, I’ll recommend you to the landlord.” I said, “I think that’s fair.” They’d put in soundproof doors and stuff like that. Then we reversed it; we made the control room a vocal booth, and we made what was the recording studio the control room. As it worked out, the control room sounded great. At first it was only an overdub studio, and then I was producing a band called Trailer Park Pam. We’d gone to New York to make a mix with Michael Brauer [Tape Op #131], and then the band wasn’t happy with it. ET had engineered the record. I said, “We’ll come back and mix it at my studio.” We rented gear from [engineer] Stephen Jarvis. He had this portable mixing rig that George Massenburg [Tape Op #54, #63] had developed. We mixed there, and it was successful. I was working on another project at The Site [Recording] with a band called The Juliana Theory, so I’d stop in after I got back from The Site to listen to what the mixes were doing. Unfortunately, the record never came out, but it’s a great record. We then transferred from being just overdubs to where we could mix there.

JB: Is that where you did the first Talking Heads surround mixes?

I had to buy more speakers, and I bought two more Dangerous Audio [2-BUS] summing buses, because I wanted to have the same sound all the way around. That worked.

JB: How long did you work with Matt?

A decade or so. I had first met him up at Laughing Tiger [Recording Studios], and then he came and became sort of my personal assistant at Sausalito Sound. Over time, the budgets started getting smaller. He wasn’t making enough money, so I got him a job at One Union [Recording Studios], which is a commercial studio in the city that my friend, John McGleenan, owns. He worked there for a couple of years. Then, after a while, his wife started becoming so successful as a photographer that they needed to start reversing the roles of sharing and taking care of the children.

It’s amazing how invasive this career can be, and even more so for engineers. A producer is likely to take a break between projects, hopefully. But engineers end up working back to back many times, and often 14-hour days as well.

I sure think about it. Griffin was our first child, so I did take off more time to be with him. We had a nanny by the time we moved here. With both Aishlin and Dylan, I was living here and working six days a week, 11 hours a day. It was in high school, and then when he ended up going to college here and lived at home for a while, that it completed what should have happened earlier in life with Dylan.

It’s hard.

It is hard. It’s also hard to turn down projects. We’ve got to make the money when we can. I think that my production career was hurt by my starting [an online community of independent musicians]. I produced two bands for that didn’t come out. We need to have hit records, and I was doing three or four records a year. So, four records, usually three months a record with a little time off. That’s rolling the dice four times. If they aren’t successes, suddenly you’re not getting the projects. On top of that, there was the rise of Napster and the leveraged buyouts of record companies. I was doing The Verve Pipe’s Villains. It was a $250,000 or $225,000 budget, and I remember begging to get $20,000 more to finish the record. Then they went on and spent two million dollars on their second [self-titled] record with Michael Beinhorn [Tape Op #84]. My record was a platinum record, and I don’t know if that next one sold 50,000 records. Steve Lillywhite [#93] told me that I pioneered having a mixer, like Tom Lord-Alge, mix the entire record. Up until then, the engineer who recorded the record would do the mix, and then they would hire these specialists for singles. I had gotten to know the specialists, and ET was one of those specialists. I was like, “No, I want my entire record to sound like that!” I would cut all these deals and corners so there was enough money to pay for it, but then I’d have a record something like Live’s Throwing Copper, where every song on it could be a single.

That’s probably one of the biggest-selling albums you’ve ever worked on?

It is the biggest-selling one.

Was that kind of a shock?

No. What was a shock was the Crash Test Dummies album [God Shuffled His Feet], which I had done just before it. On one single [“Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm”], it sold more than five million records. Gary Kurfirst, who had been Talking Heads’ manager and had Radioactive Records, somewhat stopped the momentum of Throwing Copper by not doing a video to “All Over You” – which was already in the Top10 – because he thought they were going to get “overexposed.” He believed that bands that got overexposed on one record sometimes had very short careers. If you look back, previous to that, it was true. Things started to change. Also, when the CD came along, all the records started getting longer, so it took longer to make records, which I thought was a big mistake. Bands also started trying to sell 10 million records. It meant going around the world twice while touring. It became at least two years, sometimes three years, between records. When the Talking Heads put out the first four records, we did it in four years. Before that, The Beatles would put out two albums in a year. When you were putting out an album every year, you didn’t want them to sound just like the last record. You were expecting them to change.


When it got to be three years between albums, the record companies wanted to sell ten million. They were putting pressure on to have it sound like the last record. Think about Live: Let’s say a large portion of the audience who bought Throwing Copper were sophomores in high school. If we wait two and a half years, they’re in college. Why would they want to buy the same thing? They’re trying to put high school behind them. If they’d have made a record every year, they’d have grown with the artist. It destroyed people building up an audience.

JB: You worked on the Creeper Lagoon record, [Take Back the Universe and Give Me Yesterday]. Everyone thought that band was going to take off.

That’s right. Unfortunately, I only did half of it. I signed up for something and then said, “Oh, I want to do it.” It sort of damaged my friendship with Karl for a while, because he was pissed off. He wanted to do that record. Then I said, “No,” and then I said, “Yes,” and he wasn’t available. I think he was working with No Doubt [by then]. I had produced a single with No Doubt and they asked me to do the album, but I was mixing [Live’s] The Distance to Here. I had to go after that mix, and then Karl could start with Glen Ballard finishing [No Doubt’s] Return of Saturn. Anyway, in that time period, I did half that record. What a talented band. ET had mixed most of it, then I did, and then Greg Wells [Tape Op #123] came along. They took so long making that record. This was the other problem about me not finishing it. We would have finished it, but they started getting into disagreements between each other.

What are your plans for the future right now?

I’m doing more shows with the band with Adrian [Belew]. It had been this band, Turkuaz, but they broke up. So, it was the members who had been in Turkuaz, along with [bassist] Julie Slick, who plays in Adrian’s trio. Seeing the excitement, we had playing at The Wiltern and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. We’re starting a tour in the middle of February and going to the middle of March [2023]. Then I still have these two companies I started. One is for an antidote for snake bites called Ophirex, and a company called RedCrow, that we sold to Alira Health. This weekend I have to fly out to a conference. Fortunately, because that’s been sold, it’s taking less of my time, but Ophirex is right in the middle of clinical trials.

How did these businesses come around to you?

Seeing the startup communities here in San Francisco, and seeing this guy, Peter Gotcher [Digidesign, Dolby], go from making Emulator chips to having this multi-billion dollar company. Basically, Talking Heads had stopped working. I was doing solo records, but it cost me more than $100,000 of my own money to go on the road, as well as tour support. I knew that there was going to be a collision between computers and musical instruments, and it was happening in San Francisco. Part of the reason I moved here is that there were friends of mine from college who were here. I always liked playing here. I liked the weather. I knew there were recording studios here. I was like, “If I’m going to be a producer, I do not want to raise my kids in L.A.” I didn’t want to move to the suburbs of New York. It started with Psychefunkapus. I started bringing projects here, and over time I decided Marin County would be a perfect place. The other thing was that I had no idea how much money I was going to be making anymore. With Talking Heads not touring, and a few years later disbanding, and being a producer, fortunately I got successful pretty quickly!

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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