I went back down to the Mesa, AZ recording studio, Audioconfusion to visit with Jalipaz to talk about The Commandeer EP and his style as a sound engineer. Remember, there’s a one of a kind full size album art Commandeer vinyl up for grabs. All you have to do is share this post (or any other Commandeer post) on Twitter, Facebook or Google+ and tag me so I know you shared it. Then I’ll put your name in the running and use random.org to pick the winner during the first week of June!
Check out Audioconfusion’s Facebook page to learn more about Jalipaz.
Enjoy our conversation!
Jeremiah:The Commandeer anniversary is coming up. It was released at the end of this month last year so I wanted to go around and and talk to everybody who was apart of that project. The first one to respond to me was Jalipaz from Audioconfusion. I recorded The Commandeer here after a long search. A very long search. It was quite a process to end up here but I’m really glad that I did because your space is so unique that you have here. You have the room that’s actually right here that is a good room that has the natural reverb, which is exactly what I was looking for.
I know we’ve talked about this before but how did you come to that sort of style that you want to gather the natural reverb of a room?
Jalipaz: Let’s go back a little bit further. I don’t know where I heard about this or if I just thought of it but I used to stick microphones in containers. I would put those in the room and that would be kind of my echo chamber. So I would stick in a container and put it in a room and mix that in. It sounded pretty interesting. Sometimes it just didn’t work. Then I started sticking a microphone in my air conditioning duct. It was an old house so instead of insulation ductwork it was metal boxes. So I would stick it in a air condition duct and that got a little better. It sounded bigger, you know. I could stick it out in the hallway or something like that.
Fast Forward to 2003, I had this studio and it had a triangle room that went to a point at the end. It wasn’t “triangular”. It was a triangle. So what I did was I stuck my ribbon mic back there almost to the point and the door that was between that room and the live room was pretty crappy so I got a lot of bleed. So I would just stick that in there and crank it up and let the band play and I would start mixing that in. Everything just went “AHHHHH”. It was an “AH HA” moment. After that I went back to another studio and I didn’t have that. I really missed it. I was trying to duplicate it with artificial reverb. I was doing everything I could. I downloaded impulse reverb which is basically capturing the reverb time and tone of the room. Like if you went to a garage and shot a starter pistol and you had a microphone and it ran into this program, the sound after the starter pistol would be the impulse that it catches. There are all the algorithms and stuff. I’m not techy so I don’t know for sure but I get the gist. It just wasn’t the same. Having that real time effect of just being in a room. Engineers use room mics and I have those too, which are mics farther away from the source in the same room and i just took it a little further.
So this room I left pretty untreated. You can keep the doors open and shove a mic in there and its nice.
Jeremiah: Right, that’s what we did with The Commandeer. I was actually sitting in the more sound proof room with the door open and the mic was in this room.
You build this place from the ground up, right?
Jalipaz: Yeah I had that in mind. Absolutely.
Jeremiah: Yeah that’s really cool.
Jalipaz: Its very similar to the hall effect. That’s the whole idea. “Down the hall”. In that one studio I had with the triangle, I actually had a hall too. The problem was my hall was treated and there was stuff that was in the way sucking up sound waves and stuff so it didn’t work as well. If you look on reverb units, you’ll see a hall effect. So that is essentially the same thing. Picture a long hallway in some kind of office building with no carpet. An old long hallway. You have an amplifier at one end of the hallway and a mic at the other end. That is essentially what’s going on. That’s what they did echo chambers. The real true echo chambers and reverb chambers is the amplifier would be a signal sent from the mixer. So that’s your send. It would send the vocal to the amplifier then the microphone at the other end of the hallway would be the return. It would come back on the return signal of the mixer and then they would blend the two. That’s essentially what I’m doing but I’m doing it in real time.
So what they would do is, the closer the microphone was to the amplifier the tighter the sound and then they would move it back and that’s what made it longer. Then they started getting fancier, like, “Oh well let’s make it long but let’s treat the room so its a different kind of sound. You know tighter but distance sound or take everything away and make the decay last long like a gymnasium or something.” That’s essentially what I’m doing but a lot simpler. Its an echo chamber for the most part.
Jeremiah: That’s one of the reasons why I wanted record with you at Audioconfusion was because of this room. As far as I know and from what I was researching, this is the only one like this in the valley.
Jeremiah: I mean, I searched all over the place. You’re the only one I could find. But I thought it was really cool because we have the same ideas about trying to capture natural reverb. What is it that like about natural reverb as opposed to adding digital reverb?
Jalipaz: Well that’s a hard question because it’s like describing color to a blind person…
Jeremiah: Well just your personal opinion
Jalipaz: Yeah, well it just doesn’t sound right. I often get asked how I get certain sounds. I used to do this with engineers and they’d give me some bullshit answer like, “I don’t know, it just happened. That’s not what we were going for.” That happens with musicians too. Like Jerry Garcia, he’s missing that finger and plays a certain way because he’s missing that finger. So for musicians to come in and be like, “I want to sound like Jerry Garcia,” its like “Well, cut off your finger,” you know? Then take a bunch of acid, you know? You have to be in it to have that farm of mind. You have to be that person. So when people ask me how I get the sound that I get, I have a bullshit answer and its like, “I don’t know, that’s the only sound I can get.”
You don’t understand, I’ve tried to go a different direction just to be able to match up with the competition like anybody would but that’s not me. I hate going against the grain of my personal self but I just can’t do it. I have to hear things a certain way. Somebody sent me something last night to give them notes and there’s just certain things I hear that other people won’t hear because the way I’ve been programmed as a person. The way I hear music is different from the way you hear music. It’s like do we all see the red the same color. Does red look to me like it does to you? You can’t really answer that. So getting back to what I like about natural reverb is it just sounds right.
Now I do use artificial reverb sometimes because to get a good natural reverb sound you really have to excite the room and sometimes things are too quiet and it just doesn’t sound right. So I do use a little artificial reverb but I usually use it in a way where you know its there. I don’t use it as a sweetener trying to cover up something. You’ll know its there. Unless I took everybody to a gymnasium, there’s no way I could get that.
But yeah it just sounds right. Or maybe I should say that artificial reverb doesn’t sound right to me more that 90% of the time. I just haven’t found one that I like. There might be one out there, I haven’t tried every single one but as of now I haven’t found one. There’s just something about recording a whole band and listening to it without that lounge mic in there and then slowly bringing up that lounge mic and everything just comes to life. You can’t beat that.
Jeremiah: Right, I completely agree and what I was looking for with The Commandeer especially was to use a room like it was another instrument.
Jeremiah: To add in what it has to say. Just like what guitar tones are. One guitar tone is different from another. A Martin and a Gibson sound completely different. Just like different rooms are going to sound completely different.
Jeremiah: So I mean that’s what I was going for was using the room as another instrument. And using its reverb as the instrument too.
Jalipaz: Yeah and sometimes that room doesn’t sound good with bands. Its an empty room that’s all it is. Its not designed a certain way , its an empty room and I really lucked out. I put the mic over there one time and it didn’t sound right. I moved it all over the place and I found the spots, set it there and it works. But yeah, sometimes it doesn’t sound good.
Jeremiah: Yeah I think its a great room for sure and going back to what you were saying about how we may see colors differently and how hear something differently from the way I hear something differently, you don’t play any instruments right? So you’re coming at a completely different angle than the musicians that come in here.
Jalipaz: Yeah, 5 years into doing this full time I was wondering do I have an advantage or disadvantage? I just think its different. But not only not being a musician, I don’t even really look at it as music. Its more sounds to me. That’s why I think I mix the way I do because of sounds. What I’m trying to do is balance out the sound so nothing sticks out too much or too little. I’m just trying to make it nice and even. So, I personally will listen to a mix and if something jars my ears, that’s the thing I will address.
So I think that’s the difference. Not being a musician, but that’s the difference in the way I do things because I look at more as a sound. I love noise. You know driving down the road, driving down a brick road, the “ftt ftt fttt fttt fttt” you know. I think about those. I used to have this old car where the radio grounded and it was a stick shift so when you shifted the gears this high whining tone would go up in pitch. So I’d be driving according to the pitches because I like noise. The genre of music. I like noise like that. Its the soundscapes. I really do look at everything I record as a soundscape. Be it country or metal or pop or whatever, its all the same to me. It really is. Some people might get upset with me by saying that but its all the same to me because of the generalization of what I’m looking at which is sound. I think that’s why if I do have a sound that’s the way I look at music.
Jeremiah: I think it was interesting especially recording The Commandeer, and I’m sure you do it with the other bands you record, is that you come in and you say “well, what if you try this instead” and because you’re not coming from a musician’s perspective, you’re coming from a listener’s perspective it clicks and its like “I didn’t think about that, that’s a really good idea” and those sorts of things are incorporated into the music too. I think that its coming from an interesting perspective.
Jalipaz: I don’t produce a lot of bands but when I do produce bands that’s kind of it. I just kind of throw a wrench in it. I’’m not trying to rewrite the song, I’m just trying to you know, “how about if we don’t end with the chorus” or “how about we don’t have a bridge in this song” you know what I mean? Or “how about we just stop dead in the tracks” or “how about we extend this” you know. I’m just trying to mix things up a bit because I think that a lot musicians get stuck in a rut. Jeez, I’ve recorded so many bands that all start the same way and they all end the same way. You know, it’s like that Nickelback thing where two Nickelback songs next to each other and it sounds like the exact same thing. Oh it’s crazy. And its because their following a regiment. Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus or whatever. Then how many measures in that? And then their just kind of built to have this certain tempo so if you have the same tempo or close to it and then you have the same amount of measures, you’re gonna have the same length in songs and same parts. So many bands fall into that same standard. And there’s nothing wrong with that but if you’re going for a certain audience, and a lot of the bands I record are going for a certain kind of sound, you gotta break that monotony. Still not always.
Jeremiah: Right, and they’re in the song the whole time and to have an outsider’s perspective…
Jalipaz: Exactly, they’re so close to it. Too close to it and they can’t see that. It frustrates me when some bands don’t want a producer. Not even just me as a producer but just hiring somebody. i mean a producer in my opinion is just somebody like a fifth band member for a small period of time who’s kind of more of a band leader. They have a larger opinion. Their opinion matters more than most of the other band members. So it frustrates me when these bands don’t want to put out the money to hire a producer or just somebody with a different opinion. Yet, all the bands they listen to have producers. Even the most independent, noisy, edgy bands have producers. Most bands have a producer of some sort. Maybe they’re not like a Rick Rubin or whatever but of some sort, they have a producer. They have that person in the background telling them “hey why don’t you try this” or “don’t do that, what are you thinking there? Slow it down.” Yeah it frustrates me. I just see stuff differently. I get bored easily so I think I do things to break things up. That’s just the way I naturally go, just breaking things up.
Jeremiah: And it was definitely helpful for me when I was recording The Commandeer with you here throwing in your suggestions because I couldn’t afford a producer. But I hired the other musicians that came in and I sort of used everybody and that’s sort of what I like to do. Bring people in and use everybody’s opinion and it definitely help with everybody coming from a different perspective to make The Commandeer even more than I ever expected it to be.
Jalipaz: Yeah, I mean you hire those musicians because of their musicianship and so you gotta let them be that animal. That’s what they’re drawn to. Let them do their thing. That might not be what you were thinking, it might be completely different from what you were thinking but if you let them do their thing its gonna be way better. I think that’s what any good producer does. I mean you were the producer for Commandeer. Absolutely. You hired the musicians, you pick the engineer and that’s what a producer does normally.
Jeremiah: Yeah but I was in it so much I needed to relay to you guys.
Jalipaz: But making that decision of allowing them to do their thing that is, a lot of times, what a producer does. They kind of inspire you to get excited about something that might have been old. What I’ll do is, I’ll make suggestions. I’ll say, “do this, do this, do this” and then I’ll say, “these are just my suggestions but think about it and run with it.” This might sound demeaning, but I kind of look at it as training wheels. Like the band’s on training wheels for a little while. Then once I feel like they get over that hump, or the training wheels come off, then they can really understand how they should write. If They accomplish something they’re trying to do one time then everything relaxes and the monkey’s off their back, they’re less tense and they can look back their CD and are like “man, we can do this. We DID this! We can do this again and it wasn’t that hard.” That’s the thing. I find that the best written songs are the songs that people write 15 minutes before they come to the studio. Many times I’ve had bands come in and be like, “oh we wrote this last night, its not priority, lets just try it.” Then I’m like, “oh man! This is awesome! This is your best song.” Nine times out of ten, its always their best song.
I was running on a tangent. What was I talking about?
Jeremiah: You were talking about producers and stuff
Jalipaz: Yeah oh being on the training wheels. So yeah, they’ll find out that it was easy and they can do it and then they’re just relaxed and their off of their training wheels. Then you let them go and let them run free and let them do what they want. I really see that. I see that because I get a lot of young bands and they’re kind of in this band identity crisis. I talk about that a lot with colleagues or whatever is these band identity crisis. They don’t know what they should sound like. It’s like, “what kind of music do you play?” “I don’t know.” Or they’re so crossed genre because they want every band member to have their opinion and be a democracy but cross genre is a really hard to do. You lose focus. You show one song to an audience and they’re like, “Yeah!” and you get all the Queens of the Stone Age fans then you show them another song and they’re like, “Yeah!” and you get all the Apples in Stereo fans. They just go back and forth and the audience is confused. So that’s the identity crisis.
I look at a producer as more of a one shot thing. Let him or her guide you the way to what you’re going towards. Once you get there and you understand what you did and how to make it sound that way, then you let go. Then the producer lets go and the band can do its thing on their own and its awesome. It really is. Not to sound cliche but its like a butterfly.
Jeremiah: The caterpillar to the butterfly metaphor. I mean if it works, it works.
Jalipaz: I haven’t thought of it before until right now. In my mind that’s kind of how I picture it. I have kids and teaching them to ride their bikes, once their off the training wheels, its like. “Go. Go to the store.” you know?
Jeremiah: Yeah, “pick me up some milk!”
Jalipaz: Yeah exactly
It’s lots of fun. I’m so happy that people allow me to be apart of their art. If I just go back and think about before I got into recording and before I was known for recording, I was just a guy who listened to music. I knew that I listened to music differently but I didn’t think anything of it. Then I just started dabbling and forcing myself out there and stuff. Just to know who I was before that, for people to ask me to be apart of their art is just amazing. I’m thankful for it everybody. I get frustrated everyday but I get frustrated because I care so much. Its a love/hate relationship but I mostly love it.
Jeremiah: That’s awesome. I think you come at it from a really unique perspective from other engineers around. It was really good talking to you about The Commandeer and talking about your style and stuff. thanks for taking the time to talk to me.
This is Jalipaz from Audioconfusion. You can catch him online at audioconfusion.com and you also have a new sampler out, right? It has like 20 different bands on it?
Jalipaz: Yeah audioconfusion.bandcamp.com
Jeremiah: You can get a real good sense of his style that way. Thanks again Jalipaz.