Producer extraordinaire Matt Malpass recently took some time via email to answer a couple questions. Matt Malpass runs the Atlanta based Marigolds and Monsters Productions, and has helped produced excellent records by Lydia, Copeland, Decoder, Rory, and many others. Matt talked about what the real job of a producer is, dramatic incidents in the studio, his upcoming project with Leighton Antelman (ex Lydia), upcoming Cute Is What We Aim For and Cartel releases, and many more things, all of which can be seen after the jump.
Most people don’t know what the main job of a producer is. Can you briefly explain what you do?
My perception of what a producer does has morphed a little over the years because there's this line between a producer and an engineer. I like to think that an engineer is the dude who does a great job getting the guitar to sound sick--getting good tones, whatever. But a producer, his job is to say "wait a minute, this part shouldn't even be played on a guitar".... You know? The producer has the overall vision for the song, he kind of steers the song along and sails it to where it should go. The producer can hear the song as a demo and envision the final product in his head, and then do what needs to be done to get that final product to come out of the speakers.
So pretty much, you do the fine tuning.
I wouldn't necessarily say that. In some cases the song may be perfect so you just tweak it a little. Other times, honestly, I'll hear a song that I'm producing and I'll make them re-write the chorus because it doesn't hit hard enough, or it could be stronger or whatever. I think it's all about using your taste and meshing with the band to come up with the best possible song, whether that means just barely touching it or giving it a complete overhaul. I've been getting a lot into co-writing lately, where we'll dig into the song together and re-write what we need until we feel like it's great.
Why did you decide to become a producer?
I think it's because I wasn't good at anything else except for music. As a kid, instead of playing basketball or whatever, I'd have pretend bands with my friends until finally I had a real band. And eventually I got married and realized I couldn't support her on tour, so I settled down and got into the studio scene first as an engineer, then it kind of morphed into a producer.
Are there any common myths about producing that just aren’t true?
Man I'm scratching my head but I can't think of any myths I mean, I do wear sunglasses in doors and snort coke off my mixing board. But you know....kidding. I mean, I put my pants on one leg at a time just like anyone else. Except when they're on, I make HIT RECORDS!
Does the way you work on production vary on genre? I know you’ve done Holiday Parade, Lydia, and Decoder, which all have a very distinct sound from each other. How does the band’s sound change your process?
Oh totally, it completely changes. That's one thing I love, changing gears from record to record. Lydia was really experimental, we just kind of tried to go for big floaty sounds and mess around as much as possible. Holiday Parade wanted a big organic 90's rock feel so we tried to stay true to that without many overdubs and different parts. Decoder wanted something.... Actually I'm not sure what they wanted but we had the freedom to chase down different ideas. I think that record is the first time I've ever used a mellotron on the same song as a hardcore screaming breakdown. But yeah, you just sit with the band in the beginning and have a talk, and that talk determines what your direction is going to be, how to approach the process. I would be doing the band a disservice if I approached every record the same way. That's the fun of it! Doing it different each time, trying to set it apart
What’s your favorite and least favorite part about producing?
My favorite part is the pay off at the end where you get to listen to the record, all the hard work you've put in, and just realize that you were a part of it, that you’ve created something great. Least favorite part is the tedious day-to-day stuff. At this point I don't really use additional engineers to do my records (on occasion I'll have one of my guys fill in for a minute) but for the most part I'm right there for every single take. I'm the guy who says "yo that was sloppy, you can do it better" or "that was great but it was out of tune, lets do it again"... I feel like I should have a shirt made that says "that was cool, but lets do that take one more time." That's probably the hardest part, staying sane while you're tracking the same part over and over until you get it right. But it's worth it in the end!
Have there ever been any incidents in the studio where you felt you couldn’t work with the band? Such as bands just fighting over every little detail? No need to name names, but do you have any stories?
I can't name names but there's been a ton of that sort of thing. I've ended up stopping the project and sending the band home because they couldn't get the job done. I've seen people quit bands during recording. One dude broke his hand punching the outside of the studio he was so mad. I should write a book about some of the stuff that happens in here sometimes!
You’re working with Leighton from Lydia on his new material. How is that turning out?
Actually right now I'm working with Leighton on a collaboration that we both started. It's a 50/50 thing where we're both writing the songs and putting them down. Leighton has a solo record he wrote himself that we're probably going to start tracking in June. I don't think many people realize yet that what we're working on now is a band with just him and I, kind of like The Postal Service. It's pretty fun actually--it's all mostly electronic. I'll come up with the beats and the initial track, maybe put down some vocal ideas and then send it to him and he messes around with it and writes most of the lyrics and then comes up with some guitar or key parts to put on top of it. After he's come up with enough stuff he'll fly down to Atlanta and we start tracking. We've done that four times so far. We just finished up session four, wrapping up ten songs total.
Do you have any plans for a release for the album yet?
At this point with the music industry like it is, I think we're going to release it ourselves with the help of our management company. Lydia made more money self-releasing their last EP than they did from Universal releasing Illuminate, and I think we're going to stay away from any sort of label release on this so we can make the most of it. Our management team has a lot of good ideas, I think we're going to just stir up some stuff online and see what happens. I'm super excited about it though, it's the first project in a long time that I've co-written every song, I feel like it's my baby. But yeah, at this point I think we're trying to get it out within the next few months, before summer.
You worked with Holiday Parade on their upcoming EP. How has it been working with Andy and the rest of the guys?
Andy is one of the nicest dudes I know! He was so great to work with, he's a super super talented songwriter. They got pretty much the original band together to record the EP and it was so much fun, everyone in the band is super talented and really had a good time. It was honestly probably one of the most stress free good-time sessions I've had in forever---everyone was on the same page and willing to listen to everyone else's ideas and I think it turned out great because of that. I only wish it could have been a full length! They got Kevin from Cartel to come in and play drums on the EP as well, he killed it! It's gonna be really good, can't wait for everyone to hear it.
You recently decided to begin releasing solo material. Why did you start doing so?
Well I've always written songs, ever since I was a kid. Actually the new collaboration between Leighton and myself began with me playing Leighton some of the songs I'd been writing/singing myself and those kind of morphed into the project we're doing now. After we release that stuff I'll probably keep writing/recording my own stuff. I know I don't have the greatest voice but it's really just the action of getting the songs out, the release of it, that I love. I was about to release a 2nd song on iTunes but we decided to put it in the record Leighton and I are doing instead. I have a bunch more in the works that I need to finish though! Hopefully I'll get a chance to finish them soon.
What is your schedule for the rest of the year? Anything we should keep our eye out for?
Well after I finish mixing the record that Leighton and I just did I'm going to be working with The New Crystal Dolls on a new EP. If you haven't heard of these guys yet, it's members of Rookie of the Year and Making April. The stuff is super catchy, I think it's going to get really big. They've been talking to a few labels already and I think it's set to blow up. After that I'm going to be working with Cute is What We Aim For on their new record. That's going to be really cool--they're moving in a new direction and I think it's pretty fresh. I've been co-writing with Shaant for it and I really like what we've been coming up with. After that it looks like Cartel is going to be in the studio, rumor has it that we're going to be putting a new EP together. After that we're going to get Leighton's new solo record out and then see what happens from there. I'm excited though, lots of good stuff on the horizon!
I'd like to thank Matt again for taking time to answer all of these questions. He has plenty of excellent releases coming up this year, and knowing Matt's production, there is no doubt that they will be superb. If you want to contact Matt for production, you can reach him on his Myspace page here or his website here.