Of all the elements that make up a successful engineer/producer, I always find that a positive outlook, a love of many musical genres, and a quest to learn and to achieve more always form the core values of people I admire. Ronan Chris Murphy has all of these and more. He runs his Veneto West Studio in Santa Monica, California, works on many records a year there (as well as internationally), creates and hosts the fabulous online Ronan's Recording Show and runs a small school called Recording Boot Camp. But at the core, it's all about the music. Ronan has worked with great groups and players in his studio and all over the world including King Crimson, Ulver, Terry Bozzio, Steve Morse, Tony Levin, Martin Sexton, Pete Teo, Chucho Valdes y Grupo Irakere and Nels Cline.
When did you start recording? I know you were in the D.C. punk band Freak Baby.
Yeah. I started that when I was 15 — back in the early- '80s. The goofy little footnote in history is that my first band and Dave Grohl's first band were the same, but a couple of weeks apart. I quit to start a new group and took the guitar player with me. Dave was the replacement guitar player. It was an amazing time. Minor Threat played the local high school prom! You'd go to shows and see Bad Brains, Void, and Faith — some of the best hardcore. Then I moved to Richmond, Virginia in about 1985 and got involved in another amazing music scene.
I started touring a bit then. My bands were never super-famous, but we got to play with groups like the Flaming Lips, Dinosaur Jr., All, Henry Rollins, Beefeater, Iron Cross and other really cool groups. Towards the end of the eighties, the band I was in wasn't doing much. I got into recording, producing and arranging, and I never really looked back. I dove headlong into it. I taught myself and read every book ever written about recording. I was learning and doing stuff with a [Tascam] Portastudio. Then I moved to Boston for a couple of years.
Did you work at any studios there?
Honestly, the main studio I worked for there was so awful that I don't want to give them any credibility. They ran the whole business based on this certain religion they were into, and I would not fully participate. I think that eventually got me fired!
I've never heard of anything like that!
Yeah, it was an interesting situation! I had an opportunity to be an assistant at a studio that did a lot of dance stuff. I was the only one who knew how to record drums and I was the only guy who enjoyed working with the hip-hop clients. I went from being an assistant to being a first engineer in a few weeks. I've never looked back. It's a mixed blessing. There were still things I was learning ten years after the start of my career. It might have been better to assist longer, but I eventually got it figured out!
I think it happens that way for a lot of people in our field.
Yeah, probably now more than ever. But, at that same time, I was at Berklee [College of Music] for a couple of years in the synthesis department, which actually turned out to be kind of hip. Back then digital audio was this weird thing that the synthesis people did — the recording people weren't touching it at all. I used Pro Tools the day it came out. Because of getting early access to that technology, it opened a lot of doors. After I was in Boston for three years I got invited to be a producer in residence at the Banff Centre in Canada. It was awesome, and it's one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. I would wake up, go snowboarding for a few hours, take a shower, go to the studio, go dancing afterwards with my friends and repeat it all the next day. I was working with Norma Winstone, Kenny Wheeler, Robin Eubanks and all these chamber and jazz musicians. I worked with Los Muñequitos de Matanzas — one of the premiere rumba groups from Cuba, along with Chucho Valdés y Grupo Irakere. Banff really was a dream come true. It's such a beautiful place, and the work just came to me. There were other people lining the sessions up. Some of the times I didn't even realize what I was working on. Someone would say, "Hey, we have this guy from Finland coming to record. You're in charge." I'd hang out and get to know the music and then realize, "Hey, that's Anssi Karttunen." Just these monster players! I also got to do work composing music for some dance companies and Native American dance concerts — I love doing that stuff. But my real gig is recording.
What was the process of getting involved with Banff?
Well, I had...