Many of us would love to have worked on 1 percent of Matt Bayles' discography.
Since the late '90s, Matt has engineered and produced dozens of influential records for groups such as Botch, Burnt by the Sun, Murder City Devils, Harkonen, These Arms Are Snakes, The Blood Brothers, Minus the Bear (with whom he played keyboards for four years), Planes Mistaken for Stars, Helms Alee, and multiple records by Isis and Mastodon, including Mastodon's Grammy-nominated Blood Mountain. For this interview, Matt and I sat down twice — first over burritos in San Francisco and later in Seattle at Matt's home base, Red Room Recording, which he co-owns with drummer/producer Chris Common.
You came up in the traditional way, assisting in Nashville.
Well, I was primarily an intern in Nashville. I did a semester of proper interning and then engineered country demo sessions, all on tape. When you're recording Nashville session musicians, even the third- call guys are machines. That's been a blessing and curse, because when your introduction to doing sessions is people who are really phenomenal at their instruments...
I guess there are certain skills you don't foster in Nashville sessions.
You have five or six people playing — drums, bass, lap steel, acoustic and whatever. At the end of a take the drummer's played it perfectly and the rest of the guys are yelling out where their mistakes were. You have to read the chart and know whose voice it is.
"Back me up to bar 24!"
Exactly. "Go in at 36 for two." Fifteen minutes after you've done the room track, everyone's fixed their stuff and you've moved on. But I definitely didn't want to stay in Nashville. I had some experiences there that were indicative of the type of place it is, such as telling an engineer his wife was on the phone and getting yelled at — weird things like that.
After you moved to Seattle, you assisted Brendan O'Brien on a few records.
I assisted him on [Pearl Jam's] No Code and Yield, and then worked with him as an engineer here and there when he'd come out for quick things.
Can you pick a couple of good lessons from the experience?
The thing I learned from Brendan most is that he just wants to capture that moment. If he spends five extra minutes getting the snare perfect, and that's five minutes where the band would be standing around waiting, he'll sacrifice [the snare sound]. I always felt that the thing he tried to do most was not let technology bog down inspiration. He's also a freak of a guitar player — one of the best musicians I have ever seen. He has perfect pitch. He tells great stories. He's one of those dudes where you're like, "Yeah, I understand why you're successful."
You also assisted Terry Date.
I assisted on [Deftones'] Around the Fur. I have the utmost respect for Terry and I definitely learned from him.
I remember the first five seconds of that record being like, "What the fuck is with that kick drum? How is that even sonically possible?"
He does things differently than Brendan. Brendan will use samples when he needs to as a last resort. But Terry uses samples as he goes. I had never really seen that. He pushes the boundaries of EQ'ing kick drums and snare drums.
Were Seattle rock sessions different than country sessions in Nashville?
Absolutely. I got to see the ebb and flow and learn how to kick back a little bit. [On Soundgarden's Down on the Upside] Kim Thayil wouldn't play guitar until he got the crossword done [laughs]. So he, Ben Shepherd and I would sit around for the first three hours of the day — like on a Saturday, when the New York Times crossword is really hard. They'd end up calling friends to get it done before we started tracking. Adam [Kasper], the producer, rolled with it. He knew that's the way Kim liked to work. Seeing that record was a good education, even in contrast to Brendan. Brendan's about keeping momentum going. "Hey man, let's do something! We're here. We're making a record!" Brendan has tremendous enthusiasm — I wish I had that kind of personality. I'm excited about what I do, but I'm also a "sit down and get in focus" guy. Plus Brendan also has an engineer and I only have me.
Do you usually work with an assistant?
No. We have an intern who helps out at Red Room, but I'm faster than most assistants. I've wired three or four studios, including my own. It's easier for me to do it than explain. With budgets, I can't afford to pay somebody. I'd love to teach someone and have them be useful, but I don't have the resources financially.
Okay. Botch's We Are the Romans — great...
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