Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Prairie Sun Interview

What follows is an interview I recently gave for the Prairie Sun newsletter.  The photo is by John Baccigaluppi and the graphic courtesy of TapeOp magazine.  The interview was conducted and assembled by Andrew Mastroni for Prairie Sun Recording.

Oz Fritz Tone Master and Spiritual Pilgrim

Prairie Sun has been reading Oz's blog and realized that one of our regular engineers has unusual reasons for working with music compared to most in the industry. Oz attributes to music the power to heal on a large scale and instigate significant changes in the world.  Fritz believes that every artist who has something to say changes the world to some degree. Here is how Oz ended up beginning his relationship with Prairie Sun:

"Tom Waits called me up, introduced himself and said that he needed an engineer for his next record.  I believe this was in  the spring of 1998.  He told me to meet him at Prairie Sun for an interview.  I hadn't heard of it before.  I got there before Tom and met Mooka for the first time who showed me around.  I remember Mooka mentioning that Waits' last record, done at Prairie Sun, had won a Grammy.  I thought to myself, 'great, no pressure here...' and silently laughed."

Oz's credit list is very impressive and his full discography can not be viewed here. To name a few noteworthy credits, he has worked with Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Herbie Hancock, The Ramones, Meat Loaf, Paris ComboGinger Baker, Bob Marley, Bill Laswell, Primus, Nataly Dawn, Oysterhead, Tom WaitsRupa & the April Fishes, Iggy Pop, John Hammond JR., Praxis / Buckethead, Kanaga System Krush. Some noteworthy artists Oz has worked with at Prairie Sun include Nataly Dawn, Tom Waits, Primus, Eric McFadden, Mike Sopko, Thomas Pridgen, KSK, BABX, and Too Noisy FishWe always knew Oz was a tone master, but didn't realize the regard he holds for music as a powerful humanistic and spiritual force to affect change in the world.
How does spirituality and your world views play into your approach to a project and more specifically a mix?

"Besides organizing all the technical requirements for a session, I will set up a space in the studio that resonates with the mood of the music's spirit to be recorded or mixed.  Music has its own spirit, its own particular mood that you feel when its really working.  It's alive in a nonhuman way.  I view the recording studio as a special kind of chamber or a 'landing pad' for the descent of this spirit into a musical expression.  The same holds true for a mix, you set up a space in the control room that resonates with something higher, the life force of the music.  This invocational approach is known as sympathetic magic.  The music is viewed as sacred.  The recording or mixing session is a special case ritual designed to translate the virtual musical vision of the artist into the material actuality of a reproducible musical form." 

Over the years we have noticed you request when possible for the artist to provide some visual art for you to reference while you mix we would like to know how this method affects the production. 

"It contributes to the mood of the space and affects the aesthetics of hearing.  It's been demonstrated that what you see affects how you hear so I offer artists the chance to customize the space of the studio environment making it conducive to their musical vision with art, artifacts or whatever.  One artist took my suggestion to the extreme and brought in a bedraggled chicken in a cage that looked like it had been wrung through an old fashioned washing machine.." 

Do you find that your approach is compatible with all artists and genres or does it best suit certain people or styles of music?

"It's compatible with all genres of music, but not necessarily all artists, I've found out.  My aim is the effective translation of the artist's vision as opposed to putting any kind of signature stylistic stamp on a production.  As a result my approach is compatible with almost all artists.  I once worked with a group of people with fundamentalist beliefs who kept complaining about a previous producer they had worked with.  I told them that incense could be used to banish all past influence from a space.  The next morning they let me know my approach was incompatible with theirs so I voluntarily left the project on good terms.  Later, they hired me to do some overdubs and mixing."

Why do you choose to mix some projects in studio B as apposed to studio A? We have noticed you choose to mix some projects on the Neve with flying faders in studio B as opposed to other projects mixed in studio A on the SSL. What is the criteria for these decisions? 

"Part of the criteria is how big the projects are, how many tracks in the session files.  If it's much more than 24, then I prefer to mix it on the larger desk in Studio A.  Also, some projects go for that old school, audiophile sound.  Usually the music is more acoustic.  Often it will have been tracked on analog and/or they want it mixed down to analog.  Studio B has consistently given me outstanding results with those types of projects.  Studio A is great for music with a harder edge - rock, punk, even reggae and dub.  The SSL provides a more contemporary sound if that's what's wanted.  Studio A, with the board and ouboard, has greater resources for refining and sculpting the sound as desired."

When you travel out to Prairie Sun to work on a project you usually stay on the property. How does staying in the same location as the artist you are working with affect the project and is there any part of the property of the Prairie Sun staff that influences the production?

"Staying on the property has several advantages, for one, you stay more focused on the work.  The state of a person's body and mind obviously plays a critical role in how good you can do your job.  I always remind my students that the human biological machine is the most complex piece of equipment in the studio.  Time normally spent commuting to work can be spent preparing and fine tuning my machine for optimum studio performance.  I'm able to get up every morning and go for a jog in the exquisitely beautiful rural countryside around the property to clear my head and get ready for the day.  The vibe of the staff and generally of all the other characters that come and go on the property always feels supportive.  The staff seems genuinely interested in the music and eager to help or contribute in any way.  Everyone seems aligned to a clandestine conspiracy to create great music and thus make the world a better place."

The Prairie Sun echo chambers in studio C have been a part of your process for mixing here for years. What about the spaces and the setup helps your productions? Does the Prairie Room or the Waits room have any special characteristics your would like to mention?

"Those echo chambers give my productions a unique sound.  I know definitely that projects have worked at Prairie Sun specifically due to the sound of those rooms.  It's impossible to recreate their sound with any digital reverb, that partially accounts for their uniqueness.  They give the mixes a depth that can't be manufactured in any other way.  The Prairie Room has a bigger sound and is ideal for drums.  The size of that room is adjustable using baffles.  The Waits room is probably the ideal small to mid room size acoustic space.  It's live, but not huge; great for anything acoustic - strings, acoustic guitars, vocals etc.  Also can work well for a snare reverb as well as percussion instruments." 

You have been using Prairie Sun for 17 years. We would like to know what about this studio keeps you coming back? Why does it work for you and your unique approach? 

"I've been working at Prairie Sun since 1998 - 17 years.  I keep coming back because it has everything I need to record and mix the way I want to.  Prairie Sun has all the right audio tools.  It has a great combination of vintage and contemporary technology that gives many options for different kinds of productions.  The mic selection is outstanding, all the food groups are amply covered.  You can't beat a good mic, mic pre combination.  The vintage Neve and API mic pres give two excellent choices to make distinctive recordings.  There is also something intangible about why I keep returning to Prairie Sun that has to do with the atmosphere and energy of the place.  It's always been very comfortable to work there even in high stress situations.  And then there's the track record.  Every project I do there works, the client's usually happier than their expectations.  When the late, great Doug Sax mastered the Jack and the Bear project recorded and mixed at Prairie Sun about 18 months ago he personally emailed to let me know how much he liked the sound of the production.  Prairie Sun delivers those kinds of results."

When we listen to your mixes there is a certain depth that is hard to pin point where exactly it comes from. Can you speak for a moment on your use of distortion, panning and reverbs, and do these techniques tie into your unique spiritual approach to audio production?

The depth comes from the deep end.  The reason for using distortion is to introduce nonlinear harmonics and acoustic texture into the sound.  The use of error correction in digital recordings tends to make the sound a little artificially smooth to my ear so I try to counter that using analog  equipment such as tape delays, plate and spring reverbs, reamping, guitar pedals, overdriven tube equipment etc.  For me, it makes the sound more authentic taking it out of the flatness of the mathematically precise digital world by introducing microtonalities and textures.  That's part of what gives my mixes added dimension. The depth also seems a result of my approach which uses high attention to detail regarding every moment of the mix like a frame in film.  I approach the creation of the soundscape in a mix like an architect aiming to maximize the use of space.  When you walk into a cathedral you experience a sense of majesty whether you're religious or not because of the way the space was built, the architecture of it.  When you listen to a track I've mixed hopefully you experience the mood of the song in the same way due to the space of the mix  you've entered."

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