When Larry first mentioned the possibility of interviewing my friend Jason Cox, former Studio Red producer/engineer for bands like Bardo Pond, Varnaline, Space Needle, and others, I had to think long and hard about how I would ever come close to capturing this character in print. I've known Jason since I worked at Studio Red, and I could always do my impression of him if I needed to describe him to someone. I'd raise my eyebrows, squint a little, hold my head with both hands and say, "Oh my god, Bri, that is the sickest, most excellent thing I've ever heard, ever. You rule! That's all I can say, you rule like it's nobody's business! Don't change a thing!" (This would be if he were walking in while I was working in the studio or doing live sound somewhere.) So I guess the best way to describe him then would be in his own terms using his language That is, in one high pitch energetic blast, J Cox is the world's sickest, most killer fucking engineer, producer, and/or anything there ever was... ever!
And it's the truth. Since the demise of Studio Red, he has been working at Cycle Sound Studios across the street from my place (Miner Street) here in Manayunk, Philadelphia. I see him every few days either taking a break outside the studio, or riding to work. At a recent Varnaline show here, I couldn't help but notice that the first voice from the crowd after every song was a boisterous Marine's roar from J huddled up in the corner... manning the sound booth! (I have to say I was a little embarrassed for him) But it seems to be true that every single person who is around J, let alone records with him, has a great time. When you are working in the studio with him he exudes energy and this sort of "ultra-hyper positiveness" that could make three days of re-attempting the same guitar overdub seem like a few hours at the park... but playing Australian Rules Football, or something like that.
I spoke with J the first day he was back from a several week tour with Reservoir, the one-man ambient show featuring Jud Ehrbar of Varnaline and Space Needle. Each night's performance was taped to DAT, including one spontaneous night in Ann Arbor, MI when Jason busted out from behind the console to join Jud on stage with a rap performance. I haven't heard the tape, but I believe him when he says it is twisted. (The event was staged again in Philadelphia on the tour's final night.)
For my first interview ever, I am sorry to say I could only conjure up one question in advance of our meeting. So what follows is more like outtakes from a conversation than a formal interview. To start off, though, I wanted to hear his distinction between the words "producer" and "engineer". Luckily that was enough to get us rolling.
He began by quoting Steve Albini equating the word "Producer" with "Nigger" and "Faggot", derogatory terms Albini feels shouldn't be uttered, let alone used in reference to him (he prefers the title "Engineer"). Of course J's take is a little more sarcastically lighthearted.
The only reason the 'producer'/'engineer' thing is weird, Bri, is because fucking higher ups in the music industry made it weird. As this bunch of people gets paid more and more money, they trick up and coming bands into thinking that they absolutely need a producer. There's a very specific track for bands these days. A manager gets a band, gets them in the studio... lets them record, produce... whatever. You know, waste a few months on some label's money. Then they pick one song, knowing the whole time that the one they pick, they're going to send off to be remixed or even recut by a big name producer-guy and get on MTV. It's the 'one — hit wonder' thing. That's why you have a band like Weezer, who was huge as fuck last year, now opening for No Doubt, who is huge as fuck this year, who next year is gonna be opening for someone else. The 22 Brides thing Red and I did... They took the single and sent it off to this guy, Tim... Tim O'Heir I think his name is... I could be wrong, actually. I really don't know who it was... but they went into his studio, probably recut it on 48 tracks or something, quantized shit, double and triple tracked instruments... I don't know... and now the CD single that came out is that take. That's just how it seems to be now.
Does that bother you a lot?
Yeah, It does bother me, actually. I made no mistakes with that recording. It was done when it left the studio. The way it was, was the way we intended for it to be. The only reason it was redone is because somebody higher up in the music industry thought it should be redone... and you already know how much disdain we have for people like that.
So I guess that seems to set things off balance as far as the commercial weight that one song carries verses the value of the album as a whole.
Well, it's not even that. That song is actually not on the album. The album cut was called "Lullabye". But the version they redid was for radio only. It was on a CD single and it was named "Lullabye '97" or something like that. So it's not even about the album. It's about having a radio hit.
Do you think that's going to be a lasting trend? Or do you think that it's always been like that? Because I think that for the last few years this Lo-fi/DIY/Independent rock thing has made it possible for beginners like us to record someone and actually hear it played on the radio, no matter how crappy it sounds.
Well, I would like to say it could be like that again, but I think really what is happening is that our peers, who we were lucky enough record back then at that stage, are coming up and getting caught up in it all too. But hey, I might get caught up in it too. [he smiles and begins to pick up speed] If I were getting paid to take four months to make a record, I might just be an editing, cocaine-snorting fool — me and Billy Corgan sitting around doing nothing but wipe our asses a few weeks at a time." [He breaks out in a roar of laughter. A few seconds passes, he looks around] We're not being very technical are we... hmm
But I seem to think that lots of bands don't want to call us producers, they'd rather say 'recorded by...' or 'mixed by...' And I think that in a backward sort of way that it's because we're not getting paid a shitload of money.
I talk about how hypothetically I'd walk into Cycle Sound during the Bardo sessions and there'd be a bunch of people mostly on a couch reading, and one guy's saying they want another guitar in this or that song. From there J would go to work. He'd get really excited and say, "Yeeeeah, cool. Let's take the Marshall.... or something huuuuge like that... and," his eyes getting wider the whole time,...
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