For years I had seen the name Tony Hoffer on album credits. In addition to producing Belle & Sebastian albums, he’s also mixed hits for M83, co-produced Beck's Midnite Vultures, mixed Metric [Tape Op #152] albums, plus he’s worked with Depeche Mode, Air, Ziggy Marley, The Fratellis, The Kooks, and so many others. But I knew very little about where he came from or how he operated. We chatted right after Tony had relocated to Austin, Texas, and was building his new studio, and I got to find out quite a bit about his career.

I don't know anything about your origins!

I was born in Memphis, but my younger years were in Miami. Then I moved to L.A. for junior high and high school. My teenage years in Los Angeles was when the music started happening for me. I got into guitar when I was ten. While I was in high school, I was in various bands. I always enjoyed the studio side when we had the opportunity to go in and make some recordings. That was my favorite part. I was inspired by Wire [Tape Op #88] and the Cocteau Twins [#50]. I play a bunch of instruments, but guitar's my main instrument. You can probably imagine the effects pedals and racks that I had for my guitar back then! [laughter]

Right. Looking for the sound.

Exactly. Trying to emulate all that. Going into the studio was always cool, because we had a little more space to experiment with and get interesting sounds. I always enjoyed that. I moved up to San Francisco when I was about 24, and I got an internship at a studio called Earwax Productions. I hassled those guys for months for an internship, and finally I called at the right time, and one of the owners, Barney Jones, answered the phone. He said, "We don't have any openings, but come down. I can show you the studio." He showed it to me and said, "There you go, that's the studio." That was it! A couple months later I kept hammering him, and he finally said, "All right, we'll give you an internship. It's unpaid. You'll be getting burritos, filing, and handing faxes to people." I was like, "Great, I'll do it!"

Did you pick that studio in particular for a reason?

Before I moved, I had heard about it. It seemed like a cool, cutting-edge studio. They were also doing a lot with tech at the time that was interesting to me, like video games, museum kiosks, as well as commercials. They rented several rooms in Hyde Street Studios. I was trying to figure out what to do at that time. I wanted to do music, but I didn't know how… "How do I make a living, pay rent, and all that, with music?" I thought maybe I could do music for video games. They were doing museum installations and interesting projects. With the internship, I was able to go in and use the rooms if no one was in. That was helpful and educational for me. It was helpful to see what it sounds like if you blow up the input of an [Eventide] H3000. It's cool! Run drums through that. I got to try these experiments. Some ended up being things that I still use to this day. Eventually, I became a staff engineer at Earwax, working on a lot of cool projects, and learning how to work fast. They were getting into things like [Digidesign] Sound Tools, Sound Designer, Pro Tools, and SampleCell; all the newer stuff at the time. I was up on all of that right as it was coming out. It was good timing for me.

A lot of it was being developed just south of San Francisco.

Exactly. These guys had connections with Digidesign (or, later, Avid), and with some of the early plug-in manufacturers. This was all new territory. Because it was a cutting-edge studio, these companies were giving the software to the studio to try it out. Beta testing it, in a way. Then I would go home and work on my own music, applying what I had been learning at the studio. A few years into that, my friend, Justin Meldal-Johnsen [Tape Op #93], who I was in a band with in L.A. for many years, was playing bass with Beck. He had played Beck some music that I was working on. It was some mangled bossa nova thing I had done with my five samplers [Roland S-550, E-mu e6400, E-mu e4XT, Kurzweil K2000, and E-mu SP 1200]. It was insanity what I had going on. Beck was like, "Tell Tony to come down and let's work on some tunes." I jumped in my car...

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