Sally Browder is a producer/engineer working in Los Angeles. The path to her career was an odd one, paved with lots of luck along the way, but the results are impressive. Initially working with artists like Wayne Kramer, The Humpers, Rocket From The Crypt, Claw Hammer and labels like Epitaph, Interscope and Lookout!, then moving on to work with Pete Anderson [see interview this issue], Dwight Yoakam, Curt Kirkwood, Earl Scruggs, Willie Nelson, Flaco Jimenez, Dave Alvin, Joe Ely and the Young Dubliners, she's made an impression with her clean, clear yet full sounds and productions.
You did a lot of punk rock stuff early on.
I did a lot of punk rock stuff and a bit of folky, alt- country kind of stuff — The Silos, The Plimsouls, The Geraldine Fibbers. But I don't know — I felt kind of done. I wanted to branch out a bit.
Do you feel like you were being pigeonholed?
I was doing it to myself. I made great sounding punk records. Some I produced, some I just engineered. But I never wanted to be an engineer. I engineered because I wanted to produce and I didn't want to hire an engineer. I hear it all in my head and I know I can figure out how to make it sound.
So you really wanted to produce?
Yeah. [Initially] I got a job at a studio and they put me to work soldering. I was doing the bookkeeping there too. I left the east coast to get away from all of that. I thought, "Oh, recording is good. That's something different." I had studied music arranging and really enjoyed it, so I decided I wanted to work in the room. Assistant engineer is the worst job. I've had some crap jobs, but that was the worst job I've ever had in my entire life.
In what way?
Everything! The hours, the conditions — you never get breaks. I didn't eat most of the time — I weighed like ninety-five pounds when I quit after two and a half years. It was the happiest day. That was in '91.
Did you learn stuff in that time?
I learned a lot in that time because I didn't know anything. I went from knowing absolutely nothing — not knowing what a direct box was — and during those two and a half years of assisting I got four or five engineering credits. It was all such a mystery. I have really good ears. I have perfect relative pitch. I have a great ability for arranging. But I had no technical aptitude at all. I love sound and I hear all the tiny little nuances, but getting there — it was excruciating. Two years of fifteen, eighteen hours a day. I'd work thirty, forty days straight. I was the only person that worked there.
What studio was it?
It was a home studio called O'Henry [Sound Studio]. Amazing room, amazing gear — they had two 24- tracks and this monster, customized API which I helped build. My first assistant credit was with a band called Southern Pacific. It was Keith Knudsen and John McFee from The Doobie Brothers and Stu Cook from Creedence. Keith turned out to be a really good friend over the years. He was one of my first freelance clients when I left. I set up a little home studio for him in his garage and I did a lot of demos. But you know, when I went freelance I had not seen other studios, and it was a rude shock to find they were not all as plush as where I had trained! When I went independent somebody referred me to Doug Messenger's studio. I was looking for a low budget room and I went in and I looked at it — "No." Then I tried it and said, "This sounds amazing." I worked at Doug's quite a bit. One day I when I was working Doug got a call and he was trying to blow off a client and I said, "I'll do it. I'll cover for you for a few hours." It was a blues piano player making a solo record. The artist turned out to be Andy Kaulkin from Epitaph and we hit it off really well — he said, "Oh, you should meet my boss." I said, "I'm not ever working for anybody ever again. I work for the artist. That's it." But then I gave him a tape and they called me to produce a record, and after that I was a record producer.
Do you think your career path is a little bit unusual?
Yes, it is. Ironically it's exactly what I set out to do — produce independent, edgy records, but with...