What do bands like Red Red Meat, Califone, Souled American, Fruit Bats, Drumhead, Orso, Cash Money, Chris Mills, Modest Mouse and Ugly Casanova have in common? Producer/engineer Brian Deck for one. Classically trained in percussion, Brian learned engineering by assisting at some of Chicago's landmark studios, as well as building a few of his own. We caught up with Brian coming off tour with Ugly Casanova and slammed with work at Engine Studios in Chicago.
So what have you been up to? What's happening at Engine Studios?
Well, what's happening here right now is that another studio in town got both of their music studios locked out for two months straight by Billy Corgan — so we're getting all their business. Which is totally awesome, we're having very solvent months. [laughs] Honestly, I'm doing a little bit of nothing right now because I spent a lot of the summer on tour with Ugly Casanova. I have been doing some work with John Cale, which is totally awesome and fun. I did a new record for the Fruit Bats. They used to be on Perishable Records in Chicago, now they're on Sub Pop. I also did another one for a band from Florida called Hollow Paw that's coming out on Sub Pop. I think they're fairly previously unheard of and the singer in that band is the other singer in Ugly Casanova.
How long have you been working out of Chicago?
Since about 1986. I moved here fresh out of college. I went to music school and got a degree in playing drumes, which is incredibly worthless. [laughs] [I] moved here and started looking for a job in a recording studio with no technical training at all. It took me a while to learn things since I did it without school.
Did you dial in at a certain studio?
I landed at Chicago Trax recording studios, which was sort of the birthplace of Chicago house. I worked there for a year and I think I saw real drums mic'ed up once. It was all really early house music with like [Emu] Drumulators, SP12s and CZ101s and, um, bad divas. It drove me insane, so I left there in a rage one day after about year of working and never went back. I ended up after that at CRC [Chicago Recording Company] where I was an assistant — which probably sounds like a drag, but I learned a ton doing that. I mic'ed up 30-piece orchestras made up of CSO players, every kind of woodwind and brass instrument you can think of, lots and lots of rock 'n' roll rhythm sections. It was really beneficial, but I'm not good at working for a boss, so that didn't last either. [laughs]
When did the whole Clava Studio thing figure in? [pronounced Clay-va]
A little bit later on. Brad Wood and I went to music school together and we both worked at CRC together and we left there to start Idful Music, which was our first studio. We recorded a lot of really good music, but we had to record a lot of not- so-good music as well and I just kind of burned out on that and left after four years to concentrate more on playing. I was in the band Red Red Meat, and we had just [signed] with Sub Pop. I spent the next five years doing that pretty intensely. Touring constantly. I'm trying to remember the chronology of how things went, but eventually RRM sort of disintegrated and a lot of the members re- assembled in another band called Califone. Me and the guys in Califone basically ended up getting a studio together and reactivating the label we had originally had for our first RRM single [Perishable] and we built the studio more or less to be the house studio for Perishable Records. We did most of the entire roster of records at Clava. Orso, Drumhead, Fireshow, Fruit Bats — a lot of good stuff was done there. And that's where the Modest Mouse record was done — almost 100 percent inside of Pro Tools too! [laughter] Very naughty.
Are you using Pro Tools now?
I use Pro Tools here at Engine and we also have 2" 24- track.
How long have you been at Engine and how did you get the gig?
Just about a year now. Engine was the studio that Brad built when he closed Idful Music. Then he moved to L.A. and Engine sort of felt they needed a house producer here to handle sessions and also to help sell the place. Brad wasn't able to do that, so they asked...