“Doing The Mix With The Masters seminars was a great experience. It was a very dense program, for seven days straight, and at first I was wondering what I was going to talk about for all that time. But the conversations with the participants were so open and rich that we never ran out of things to discuss. Obviously the people that attended were specifically looking to pick my brains as to why the records that I have mixed sound the way they do. And they all were very skilled and able in their own right, which meant that the exchange of information was a two-way street.”
Andy Wallace is talking about the two seminars he conducted at La Fabrique in April 2011.
Participants had travelled from all over the world to discover the ins and outs of Wallace’s role in the making of classic records by Nirvana, Bruce Springsteen, Jeff Buckley, Slayer, Alice Cooper, Prince, The Cult, Aerosmith, Guns N’ Roses, Sheryl Crow, Sonic Youth, Foo Fighters, Paul McCartney, Rush, Rage Against The Machine, and many, many more. Most would have had a particular interest in Wallace’s trademark aggressive, almost brutal approach to mixing rock music, characterized by larger-than-life guitars and a huge and tight, well-defined low-end. At the same time, Wallace can also be exceptionally lyrical and delicate in his approach, the most famous example being his production and mix of Jeff Buckley’s Grace (1994).
One thing that would certainly have drawn in many participants is that Wallace, during a career spanning nearly half a century, has only given two significant interviews, one appearing in Tape Op magazine in 2001 and one in Mix magazine in 2005—only the latter is available on-line in its entirety. For this reason a certain mystique has grown up around Wallace, with his views and working methods largely shrouded in mystery, and even biographical information hard to come by. Wallace explains that he grew up in New Jersey, and studied chemical engineering at The University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. During his studies, in the late 1960, Wallace played bass and occasional keyboards in a band called First Friday. He elaborates…
“I decided in 1980 to go back to New York, where I began working in commercial studios, engineering club records for the likes of Arthur Baker and John Robie. Club remixes became very popular at the time, so I did many for major artists. Doing club remixes usually involved quite a bit of additional production, and for this reason I started getting a name as both a mixer and a producer. One thing led to another, and I began to work with Rick Rubin, and ended up doing many records with him. After Hit City West I’ve never owned my own studio again. Today I still predominantly work in New York, mostly in Studio G at Soundtrack. On a side note, 25 years ago we decided to get First Friday back together for an annual gig, so for the last 25 years we have played one gig a year, all over the US.”
It was when working with Rick Rubin that Wallace enjoyed some of his biggest breaks, as both were involved in the making of the Aerosmith/Run DMC collaboration “Walk this Way,” released in 1986. Later that year saw the release of Slayer’s breakthrough album Reign in Blood, which again was produced by Rubin and engineered by Wallace. The same was the case on the band’s next two albums, South Of Heaven (1988), and Seasons In The Abyss (1990), with Wallace also co-producing the latter. Wallace’s career has since continued its upward curve, some of the highlights being eight Grammy Award nominations and one Grammy Award, in 1999, for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical (shared with Tchad Blake and Trina Shoemaker) for Sheryl Crow’s The Globe Sessions. During the last fifteen years Wallace has focused almost exclusively on mixing.
The few descriptions of Wallace’s working methods that exist reveal that he mixes almost exclusively on SSL desks, and prefers to extensively ride the faders, rather than rely on lots of compression or other processing. The meeting of Wallace’s unique approach, which is informed by 40 years of experience in the studio world, and two groups of participants who all have grown up during the digital age, made for particularly interesting MWTM seminars.
“The participants were by and large a fairly young group,” recalls Wallace, “and very much oriented towards today’s digital recording and digital mixing. Many of them hadn’t really had much experience mixing on analogue consoles, which is pretty much all I do. As a result they were very interested in my approach, but I found that I also learned a lot from them about their approach to digital mixing. It wasn’t just a one-way street, it was a fascinating interchange of information.”
“The other thing that really stood out for me of the seminars was how well the programme was put together. It was a very well-organised, and there were no difficult moments. The organisers took great care of my wife and I, and also of the participants. Having said that, because the seminars involved seven days of non-stop working and talking, they were very intense and very exhausting. Each one of them was like running a marathon! But it was a very pleasant exhaustion. It was such a good experience, and I intend to be back again in the near future.”
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