Count, a member of the dreamy pop band Halou, is becoming well-known for his production, engineering and remix work. A lucky break (right place, right time) and a distinct sense of doing things his own way has led him down a multitude of paths, culminating last year with engineering and mixing duties on DJ Shadow's [Tape Op #11] The Outsider. Count's innate musical direction, drumming skills and band experience have informed his work in many ways, and the variety of work he's completed points at an open mind and a talented individual.
Who are you? Where did you come from?
Well about twelve years ago, coming into San Francisco, I was interning at Toast Studios, where the Breeders [Last Splash], R.E.M. and Neil Young did records. It was this really dumpy, small studio south of Market, but it just had the cool vintage gear. Young, cool guys owned it and worked there, and because of that they got good projects. The indie bands came there because they were cheap and then the major label bands found out about it. I interned there and learned all the gear — I had no intention of producing or recording other bands. I literally only did it because the band that I was in, and still am in now [Halou], truly had a very unusual sound and it was very frustrating to try and convey something you're hearing in your head to somebody else who's trying to help technically. Even sometimes when you'll bring in a reference, and be like, "No, no. I actually do want the guitars that high" and the guy looks at you like you're wrong, like they're not supposed to be that loud. "No, I want the vocals distorted." "But it sounds wrong! People will think I'm a bad engineer! I can't put my name on this."
Those are usually the engineers that don't have projects coming to them. They just kind of work in a place and get projects.
Exactly. I had no intention of ever doing it for other people, but after a few sessions where I clearly wasn't able to get the sound that I was trying to get with another engineer at the helm, I realized I was going to have to learn how to do this. It's the only way around it. It was a studio with a really long hallway and everybody worked with the doors open. You could hear everybody else's stuff, which was kind of odd. Whenever anybody walked from the big room they would walk by me and hear my stuff in there. I guess I fooled them into thinking that I knew what I was doing. People would walk by and they'd always ask, "Hey, what are you working on?" There were a lot of other people that knew far more than I did technically, but the studio would give projects to me even though I probably didn't deserve it, knowledge- wise or years of interning or any of that.
Well, you could make it sound good.
They were getting interns there that tell you every component of the microphone and why it's supposed to be better than this other one and I would just pick up one, pick up another and whichever one sounded good, I would use. Sometimes it would be the cheap, shitty one and I didn't know! It looked like some old, fucked up, garage microphone — turns out that's a Telefunken. I didn't realize those are supposed to be good. That's kind of how I started and then I ended up very quickly getting some good projects. Before this I had an ADAT, but I never really spent time in a real studio. I was working for Polygram at the time doing a part internship/part assistant for Verve (the jazz label). I was doing stuff for the alternative new music, but I was also an assistant for the guy in charge of Verve. I just got turned on to a lot of music during that period and got to work on some really amazing stuff at Toast. Really quickly that turned into mixing and producing and engineering stuff — I started getting offers. It would start with one guy — the normal guy who would be mixing was busy or out of town, so I'd sub in and do a good job and then quickly was getting to work with bands like Blackalicious and doing a lot of cool remix stuff for New Order or No Doubt.
How do projects like that end up in front of you?
Well, I worked really hard for that period of time. I would stay there overnight and read this stuff so that I could leapfrog above the other guys that...