Monday, October 8, 2012

Interview With Chris French (Ex-Joie De Vivre)

Today, we have a very special interview for everyone. Chris French used to play guitar in Joie De Vivre, but now he spends the majority of his time mixing, mastering, and tracking releases for many bands associated with the new emo scene. Along with Joie De Vivre, French also has worked with Emo Side Project, The Reptilian, Dowsing, Warren Franklin, and many more fantastic groups. French answered some questions from us regarding topics such as getting into recording music, the in depth recording process of Joie De Vivre, working with The Island of Misfit Toys, It's Just Vanity's new record, upcoming Warren Franklin material, and much more which you can read below.

Firstly, can you describe what you do?

I work with bands to track, mix and/or master their records. Sometimes doing all three, and sometimes only one, depending on the project.

Let's get a little history down. How did you get into the more technical area of recording music in studio?

I more or less got started in college, but before that I guess I was always the one in high school that happened to have a little bit of recording gear. Then in college I took a few classes and got more heavily involved, eventually interning at a studio in Rockford, IL where I was first introduced to how bigger studios work. I've always been more interested in recording than playing music I guess. It’s just a lot more fun for me.

You actually used to play in Joie De Vivre. How involved were you in the recording of your own band's material?

Brandon and I actually started Joie as just a studio project. We had written a few songs and didn't really intend to do anything with them other than put them on Myspace, but then we got some more friends involved and I guess it turned into something a lot more. I've recorded everything Joie has done so far. The North End and We’re All Better Than This (and a few other random songs) were also produced and engineered with our friend Mark Gustafson. We tag teamed both of those records and he was definitely an enormous part of how those records got finished and helped us achieve what we were trying to do musically. He also played organ on the new record. I'd say recording your own band has always been a difficult thing to do for me so having a helping hand was amazing.

What was it like recording for Joie? What did you guys do in the studio to make the albums unique and special to the band?

Let me break it down by album:

Summer Months: About half of the songs on summer months were songs that Brandon and I were just messing around with when we "started" Joie. We had our friend Steve come over and jam with us and he recorded some drum parts to the songs we had. We knew we wanted to add another guitar player and after just having a few friends come to the studio and lay down "solos" over “Handshakes” we called our friend Pat up and that's how Joie came about. At the time I had free reign over the studio I was working at so we would go in later at night after class/work and drink beer and jam and record whatever came out. That's how Summer Months was recorded. We never thought anything would come of it. We just wanted to record some songs. When Keith wanted to release it the studio had shut down and all we had were rough mixes where we autotuned Brandon's voice out of humor and that's what ended up getting released.

The North End was recorded about 3 times. We started it at the Fuse (the studio I had worked at) then we started over at an apartment I was living at before finally recording everything over with Mark and I at Mark's studio (M.I.A. Studios). At that point the songs were pretty old and we just wanted to get them out. Between work and school and playing shows it took us about a year but we finally finished it. It was actually a pretty stressful record to make because we were all so sick of the songs at the time and it took way longer than expected. I can't speak for the others but I'm pretty happy with how it turned out.

We’re All Better Than This was a lot more planned out. When we got back from out tour with Annabel we knew we wanted to start writing another record. We demoed everything out as we wrote the songs at our practice space. At the time we really wanted to knock the record out fast. I think Steve tracked all his drums with Mark and I in about 3 or 4 days. The rest wasn't quite as fast. We worked on it as much as we could, then we had decided to break up but we definitely still wanted to finish the record. Once we started working on it again I think that's about the time we decided to give the band another shot. I think what took the most time finishing it was Brandon writing lyrics and melodies and all the extra stuff (horn, backing vocals etc). Brandon wanted to make sure what he had was good and I'm glad we took our time with it because I'm really happy with how it turned out. Mark and I mixed it in about 2 weeks I think. We gave ourselves a deadline because of mastering and although we worked some really late nights I think we are both happy with the results.

The Joie records were pretty much mixed completely by myself and Mark, no one else was really interested in hearing 100 mixes of the same song. I guess they trusted us enough.

Has the reaction to the latest record been what you had hoped for?

I think so, the other guys would know more than me since it wasn't out yet when I moved but everyone has only said good things to me about it

To get back to the recording and off of Joie for a bit, do you kind of have a set style for bands when you're in the studio, or are you very particular for each and every one of them?

I guess I do have a way I like to do things but I definitely don't force it upon any band. I think it's more important to work in a way that makes the band most comfortable. Unfortunately time and budget plays a large role. I prefer to go in and track drums to a click with either a scratch guitar or with a keeper bass track if time is an issue. Then we'll go back and do bass, then guitar, then vocals and any extra things such as keys, tambourine etc. That's the typical way I work. But I've also tracked a lot of bands live. The Reptilian's Full Health was done mostly live except vocals and a few overdubs. I think we knocked that whole record out in a weekend

I was actually going to ask about The Reptilian. They’re a tad bit "heavier" than some of the other bands you work with, especially in the vocal range. Do you work differently in the vocal area with bands such as The Reptilian than bands such as like Emo Side Project or Dowsing?

Not really, I think every singer is different to track. Different mics fit different voices and whatnot, but I'm still trying to get the best vocal sound that sits right with the rest of the song. If anything I'd say heavier vocals are a little easier to track and get to sit right in the mix but I don't work with too many heavy bands.

The Island Of Misfit Toys is another one of the more "unique" bands that you have worked with. How was working with them? How different was it working with them than other bands?

Oh man, working with them was a blast and a lot of work. Those guys are all good friends of mine and I was really stoked when they asked about working with me. It was definitely a record that was both fun and stressful to make. The studio isn't really big enough to hold all 11 or 12 of them at one time but they all managed to come and squeeze in the control room with me. Time was a bit of an issue with them so we worked incredibly fast on it which made it a bit stressful. I think initially we tracked drums and bass and some of the guitar live. Then I think I just set up 3 or 4 mics around the room and they would literally pick up an instrument, work out the part, record the part then we would move on to the next instrument. I just kept all the mics up so we could move quickly from one to the next and not waste time setting up and tearing down. It was definitely fun working with them and hopefully I'll get the chance to again sometime.

You just recently finished tracking It's Just Vanity's new record. What can you tell us about that? How would you compare it to their earlier work?

I flew back to Illinois in July to work with them and Mountains for Clouds and a band called Bloom. We spent 3 days tracking the It’s Just Vanity record in Rockford at M.I.A. I tracked them with my typical set up...drums first with scratch guitar, then we did guitars then vocals and we actually did bass last, mostly due to scheduling. I love tracking guitars so working with them is always fun because they have so many effects and little guitar parts you don't really focus on when listening but would notice if they weren't there, if that makes sense. I think their new stuff is a lot more precise and is really well thought out. I'm almost done mixing it so it should be released hopefully by the end of the year.

You work with some more "well known" bands (Joie, Dowsing, Warren Franklin, Merchant Ships), but out of some of the more obscure bands you've worked with, which should we keep our eyes out for?

Bloom. Definitely Bloom. They're a group of younger guys (around 18) from Rockford, IL. They're been around for a while but haven't really gotten a lot of attention. A lot of people compare them to Green Day meets Superchunk meets Archers of Loaf...weird I know but it works. Mark and I are working on their first full length right now which is a lot different than their older stuff and I hope its well received. Other than that I really like The Please and Thank Yous (Chicago's best band), Mountains for Clouds, Parker and Two Knights...all bands I've worked with at one point or another. And Emo SIde Project, Andrew is the man.

Do you have any other projects you're working on right now that we'll hear in the near future?

The Mountains for Clouds full length should be finished up soon. I also just finished up mastering a few songs for a band called Foxing from St. Louis. Not sure what they're getting released on but the songs are really cool, not your typical emo revival band which I see as a good thing. I also worked with Warren Franklin earlier this year on his upcoming full band E.P. and a split he's doing. It's one of my favorite projects I've worked on so far and I think either the split or the E.P. or both should be coming out this year...don't quote me on that though. There are other projects coming up soon but I'm not sure if I should talk about them quite yet.

Anything else you have to say?

I'm always looking for new bands to work with so if anyone is interested don't hesitate to call or email. My website is for anyone that is interested or wants to check out some work I've done.

I'd like to thank Chris again for taking time out of his night to take some questions from us. He's worked on many records that I really love, including Warren Franklin's full length, Emo Side Project's full length, and all of Joie De Vivre's material. You can see his entire discography here. Check out all the bands, you'll absolutely find some new things you love. He's also taking new clients, so check out his website and see if he's someone you might want to work with.

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