Death Cab For Cutie attacked me when I heard their first album, Something About Airplanes. I was floored by the melodies, and the overall sound of the entire album. Their first album was constantly in my CD player for five months; I was afraid of wearing it out. The best part about the album was that it was recorded by band member, and all around nice guy, Chris Walla. When their latest album, We Have The Facts and We're Voting Yes, came out I sacrificed food for a couple of days to be able to get it ASAP. Through an almost constant bugging through email I was able to get to meet the band and from there I arranged for Chris and I to sit down in a Seattle coffeehouse and talk shop. Afterwards I gave him an old Revox I had and he gave me a TEAC M-2A mixing board. I picked Chris' brain and realized that the mysterious sounds I heard on the new album weren't so mysterious.
When did your interest in recording start?
I remember being six years old and listening to Sgt. Pepper's with a pair of headphones going, "Oh there's something over here and something on this side. Why is that?" It used to drive my mom crazy 'cause I would balance everything to the left and listen to just the horns like in "Good Morning Good Morning" or something. I didn't know it at that time, but that's when I got interested in recording. Then in high school I got a little further into it. I've always have been putting together Radio Shack adapters with crappy microphones. When Nathan and I met we just wrote songs and recorded them together. I did a lot of crazy shit. Like those three dollar Radio Shack microphones, we used to stick them inside the hi-hat and then close the hi-hat and hit it and get this awful noise — it was great.
Was there a distinct point where you bought a piece of equipment and said, "Now I'm committed. Now I know this is something that I want to go into."
Not really. I got a 4-track either my senior year of high school or first year of college. I don't remember. It wasn't really a conscious thing. I guess I've always been interested in recording, but I never knew that I was interested until I started doing 4-track stuff. So I guess maybe the 4-track, yeah. And I was also making mix tapes for people.
Once you got the 4-track did you start accumulating different outboard gear, mics and stuff like that? Was it a snowball effect?
Kind of. For a long time all I had was a 4-track and a [Shure SM] 58, and I guess my parents bought an Alesis Micro-Verb for Christmas one year. I didn't even have a guitar amp for a long time. I had a guitar and a Rat pedal and that was it. So I went direct on all my guitars, like maybe a little bit of delay from the Micro-Verb. But I didn't even put a mic in front of a guitar amp until like three years ago. I didn't really start amassing stuff until I was out of school, out of Shoreline [University].
Did you take any classes in recording? Read a lot of manuals? Or was it just a matter of getting the equipment and fiddling around until you got something good?
I went to Shoreline for two years and did the recording thing there. Failed both of my recording classes there. Most of the reason for that was that there was fifty people in the class and one studio, so getting any time in the room was a total miracle. The instructor was great and it's a good class and I learned a lot on the book side of it, but I figured out really quick that the only way I was going to get any time in the studio was to not go to recording class. So I would not go to class and screw around in the studio instead. Record direct guitar and drum machines and crazy stuff. Like write songs just to be able to record them.
So when did your Hall of Justice recording studio start up?
Funny, it's not actually a studio. It's just a bunch of half broken stuff that roves around from place to place under my direction. It's wherever you want it to be.
It's portable? It's mobile?
It's not really mobile — that's the thing. It's all this big cranky, clunky, old, old state of the art mid-'70s analog stuff. It's all temperamental — like knocking on wood all the time to make sure it works. After I got out of Shoreline and when I first met Ben [Gibbard] he had some songs he wanted to record, and I had some songs I wanted to record. For a long time it was just a matter of renting stuff and driving up to Bellingham, because I was still...