In issue 81 of Tape Op, in January 2011, we interviewed John Congleton for the first time. John and Tape Op have stayed in touch ever since. And as his career has taken off, he’s produced records for St. Vincent, Kimbra, Angel Olsen, Blondie, Goldfrapp, Swans, Nelly Furtado, and Chelsea Wolfe. John and I met up at my studio, Jackpot! Recording, while he was in town producing The Decemberists’ upcoming album I’ll Be Your Girl. It’s always great to hang and chat with John, and his endless quest for creativity in the studio is certainly infectious.
I printed out your AllMusic. This is great. This is since 2011, right? I look at some of these years, and I know everything’s always cascaded from the time before a release comes out, but there have been some years here where you’ve just been like nonstop, right?
I don’t feel like I’ve ever stopped since I was 19 or something.
It’s kind of crazy. That’s a lot of sessions. That’s a lot of production.
Yeah! I don’t have much else to do. I don’t have any other hobbies.
You have no children?
I have no children.
Do you have a relationship?
I have a girlfriend, yeah, and she’s very understanding.
Yeah, apparently. I know, because I have to spend part of my time doing the magazine and part of the time doing this. This kind of output is just a lot of constant work.
Well yeah, I do work all the time, but also I work really fast, I think, comparatively to a lot of other dudes and dudettes. I make records a little quicker.
Because of our roots, when we had no money?
Absolutely. I made records in basically a vacuum for almost ten years that almost nobody heard for no money, and I really am grateful for that, personally. I was able to make a billion bad records that nobody heard.
A few good ones in there.
Maybe a few good ones in there. But by the time I actually started to work with bands with immense talent, I kind of knew what I was doing pretty well. Also, I’m grateful that I had real chops, real legit engineering chops, before I really was in a situation where people were really counting on me, you know what I mean? I was, I’d go and say a fairly accomplished engineer, long before I was ever asked to produce anything. So I didn’t even really want to be a producer. I just wanted to record records. People just sort of started asking me to produce. Strangely enough, that’s actually when my career really started, when I was actually starting to feel like I was getting steady work.
What would you say the first batch of records or artists who helped make that happen for you were?
There’s a distinct line I can draw. I did a record for this band that very few people remember called 90 Day Men. They were an incredibly unique band from Chicago. It was one of the only bands I’d ever worked with, or ever heard even... obviously there are famous bands that are this way, but each member of the band had such a unique personality. You could pick them out. Every single person was doing something so specific that when they played together it was like something you’d never heard before. Anyway, I was lucky enough to do one of their records, and a lot of other bands liked that record. Bands like Explosions in the Sky started coming from that record. I was lucky enough to make Explosions in the Sky’s most popular record. It was all just timing. I should say that I did that record in three days.
Explosions in the Sky? Jesus!
Yeah. I recorded and mixed it in three days. So don’t tell me that you can’t make a successful record in a few days.
And the band was ready to make that record.
Yeah. They had been touring the record. I was just the lucky jackass who was there.
I always feel like that when things go right. "Anyone could have made that happen!" I just happened to be the guy.
Yeah, I’ve told them that many times. I feel that way. But I was happy to be there.
I was looking back at our interview we did with you whenever that was...
In Tape Op?
Yeah. The one in Tape Op.
That was a while ago. It was probably a good seven years ago. Actually maybe more, now that I think about it.
It was a while back. It’s funny, because I looked at it and it was, a lot of questions, I’m not going to bash on Shane who wrote it, because I don’t...
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