Peter Katis

INTERPOL – THE NATIONAL – FRIGHTENED RABBIT - The Swell Season - Jónsi

 

“Mix With The Masters is unique in almost every aspect. The setting is spectacular, from the beautiful French countryside to the catered meals to the casual but intensely intimate studio environment. And I can’t imagine another situation that provides such direct access to someone whose work you respect, with the time for them to speak at great length, respond to specific questions and really dig into heavy-duty studio concepts.”

Peter Katis knows what he is talking about, because he conducted a MWTM seminar in 2011. The class was a highlight for all involved, with Katis elaborating at length on his work with the multitude of bands and artists he has been involved with. As a rule, Katis doesn’t work with household names—his long-term involvement with the band The National being the main exception: he’s worked with them since their debut 2003 Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers, and on their most recent album Trouble Will Find Me, which was a big international hit and nominated for a Grammy Award. Illustrating his close connection with the band, the cover of Boxer (2007) features a photo of The National playing at Katis’ wedding.

In addition to his work with The National, Katis’ focus is on engineering, mixing, and producing alternative and indie rock acts, such as Interpol, Frightened Rabbit, Jónsi Birgisson (of Sigur Rós), Local Natives, Augustines, The Head and the Heart, Trey Anastasio, The Swell Season, Mercury Rev, The Twilight Sad, We Were Promised Jetpacks, Shearwater, Mates Of State, Tokyo Police Club, The Kissaway Trail and many many more. At the time of writing, Katis’ credits page at Allmusic.com listed an impressive 358 entries over a 20-year long career, indicating that Katis is extremely in demand, and that working outside of the mainstream is a choice for him, informed by his own musical preferences.

Growing up in New York City, Katis started his musical career playing guitar in the band The Philistines Jr., with his brother Tarquin on bass. His interest in recording and production was first stirred in 1987, when he bought a 4-track compact cassette Tascam Portastudio. His obvious talent soon led to many musicians asking him to record them. In 1989, after studying at the University of Vermont, Katis attended a studio production course at S.U.N.Y. Purchase, during which he further developed his recording skills and also recorded The Philistines Jr.’s first album.

Following this, Katis worked as an intern and assistant in various studios in New York, and built a studio in the basement of his parent’s house in Connecticut. Eventually, his studio work was successful enough for him to leave his jobs in New York and to acquire, together with his brother, a large Victorian house in Bridgeport, Connecticut. They set up a studio called Tarquin Studios inside the house, where Katis still works today. The studio’s homey feel, with a huge control room and large recording areas, plus an extensive collection of analogue gear and instruments, all remain crucial to his way of working.

The analogue gear at Tarquin includes Studer 961 and 962 consoles, Studer A827 24-track and A820 1/2″ 2-track tape machines, and outboard by the likes of API, Neve, Telefunken, Neumann, Chandler, Thermionic Culture, Universal Audio, Teletronix, Urei, and much more. But, like virtually everyone today, Katis also makes extensive use of digital equipment. Regardless of the equipment he uses, Katis focus is on playing around with sound until he gets something that’s interesting and original. He has remarked, “In general, I think my recordings err on the side of being too clean. That’s just sort of naturally the way I record. I tend to make things too pristine, unless I really try to mess things up. And I really do try to mess things up all the time.”

Katis’ messing around often involves vibrant, hard-hitting productions driven by very live and in-your-face sounding drums. It’s a sound that also characterizes the albums of the band that he continues to play in, with his brother, The Philistines Jr., whose material is released on the brothers’ own Tarquin Records label.

In the course of his twenty years of writing, playing, engineering, mixing and producing music Katis has influenced many producers, engineers, mixers and musicians that work in the alternative and indie rock worlds. A small selection of them was lucky enough to attend Katis’ MWTM seminar in 2011. During the week Katis shared many aspects of his knowledge and wisdom and dug deep into many “heavy-duty studio concepts.”

“The most important thing that I try to communicate to people/bands working in the studio is that making records is never easy,” he recalls. “Everyone struggles no matter how successful they are or how easy they make it look. And I hope that knowledge helps motivate them to push through all the frustration and stress that comes along with process of making music.”

With one successful MWTM seminar under his belt, Katis hopes to be back for another in the future, because, as he says, “who wouldn’t want to hang out in a beautiful studio all day with cool people and talk about recording?”

Text by Paul Tingen.

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2011 Session