I first met Justin Meldal-Johnsen via our mutual friend, Lyle Workman, at a NAMM show. He was a Tape Op reader and seemed like a cool dude. He's also got a big fro, so when I saw him on some TV show playing bass with Beck, I recognized him right away and was like, "Hey that's Lyle's buddy!" Well, Mr. Meldal-Johnsen has done much more than play bass with Beck. He's been Mr. Hansen's musical director as well, a role he's also filled for Charlotte Gainsbourg and Nine Inch Nails. More recently, he's moved into production. So, when I was in L.A. on a recent surf trip and the opportunity came up to interview him about making records, I said, "Sure, why not. He seems like a nice guy and he's been involved in some great records." And as I suspected, I had a great time chatting with Justin at Sunset Sound's Studio C while he was there producing a new Paramore album.
You obviously do a ton of synth recording, do you tend to run those through an amp or go DI?
I tend to go DI. Well, I'd say it's about 70% DI, 30% amp. A lot of times when I'm doing synths, it's a process of being fast, because when I do synths, I like to do lots and lots of layers that I sort of make a design out of, like pad 1, pad 2, pad 3, countermelody, countermelody, arpeggio, arpeggio, and then I take those and make a composite, which I'll sum, and then I'll re-amp. A lot of times I'm not down to fuck around with mics or DIs or amps and stuff like that. I want to get something... you get what I'm saying.
Yeah, totally. So then you tend to re-amp more often than not?
No, I'm just saying like a lot of the synth programming I do, I like super-clean icy sounds, especially when it comes to pads and arpeggios. The kinds of times when I re-amp or do things that are dirty, it tends to be in the bassier registers, or sometimes when something's really dancy and current, you want some kind of synth hook that's going to be filthy-sounding. I'll re-amp those sorts of things. On a lot of my pads and arpeggios, I want those icy-clean, as pristine as I can possibly get them. I will go through lots and lots of DI choices to get the right sound.
So you are picky about the DIs then?
Is there any one that you tend to favor more often than not?
I like the DIs on my A-Designs Pacificas the best for keyboards. They're my favorite, but now I'm also discovering the joys of a simple old API 512c (or new, I should say). I have a weird no-name Jensen transformer stereo DI, I think from Capitol or something like that, that's some old thing that's really big-sounding — sorry, there's two of them, so I use them as a pair too. It just depends. Sometimes I want lots and lots of air in it, and sometimes I want something warmer and more vintagey.
Do you go with tube stuff very often or lean more toward solid state?
For keyboards I lean more toward solid-state, except for my REDDI. I use that a lot on bass synths or mono arpeggios with some of my crustier, older synths. I actually don't own a stereo pair of tube DIs, or anything that I could use in stereo. A lot of that stuff has to be stereo, and I don't own anything (yet) that has tubes in it like that.
I like those UA 2-610 dual channels. I use those a lot on stuff.
Oh yeah! Someone brought one of those in and it's in my rack. I heard one of those on bass once and loved it.
I like that for keyboards a lot.
I'm going to try it. That'd be really cool to try it. It's just always sitting there, and I never pull it out. I'm always using the ones I've used for a long time.