James Beaudreau is a New York City guitarist & composer. Since ’06 he has released 3 albums of experimental music on Workbench Recordings. From ’98 to ’03 James was with The Billy Nayer Show, a band described as “like co-productions of Kurt Weill and Neil Young” by The Village Voice. His albums have been reviewed in WIRE, AMG (by Eugene Chadbourne) & other publications. Not only an accomplished musician and a great friend but now Producer.
James when did we meet? 1997?
I think that’s about right.
Did working on your albums inform production decisions of the pfl project and how?
Hm, I don’t think so… except for that fact that the more I’ve worked on recording the more able I’ve been able to attempt creative stuff. The Java St Bagatelles album was recorded on cassettes and mindiscs — I got Pro Tools only at the end of that process — in late 2005 maybe — so I haven’t been at it that long. Music and recording studios, yes. But recording beyond the 4-track cassette model, not long. I’m actually not naturally technically minded… that is, I don’t geek out on gear or recording technique or mic placement like every good engineer I know does. It frazzles my brain a little. I do really love the recording process though — what to me feels like the ‘creative’ part of it — though that’s not to say that for other people mic placement isn’t a very creative art. My own first three albums were experimental in many ways, including the way they were recorded. For your stuff, I really wanted to hear things a certain way. Over the course of the years we’ve been working on this, it has always been important to me to present the songs in the best light possible. But over time, as my “technique” and abilities have increased, I’ve also been raising my standards. And although many of the earlier tunes are still some of my favorites, I think your writing has gone up a few notches too… so it’s been a long process of both of us raising the bar as we’ve gone along. The bar is at a good height now — meaning, we’ve got the tunes, and I THINK I am able to present them in a way that will do them some justice.
Are there particular producers you’ve taken cues from? Which contemporary producer intrigues you and which old school producer fascinates you?
Since I was a kid, the album sleeve text that meant the most to me — the magical seal of approval — was ‘PRODUCED BY JIMMY PAGE.’ In my own attempts to produce music, I don’t pretend to emulate the SOUNDS of those old recordings. As I said, I don’t have the gear, the space, the technique or the patience to approach that. But in terms of the way that music is mixed, and the arrangements and orchestration; and the chaotic elements (ambient noise, count-offs, weird tape effects, choppy edits) sitting alongside pristine craft… all that is magic to me.
It’s a hard question to answer in any kind of depth because when looking at record producers over time it’s clear that there are different kinds of producers, and that the role has changed over time, too. Before the classic rock era, producers were more like line producers in the film industry. Getting things organized, booked, done on time and on budget. Then by the 70s they became more like movie editors; getting their hands dirty, cutting film, cutting tape, mixing the music, recording it, even. Then, in the 80s and 90s, they’re more like movie directors or producers; responsible for an overarching vision or concept, but further distanced from the hands-on approach of the 60s and 70s, and also from the practical parts of the job, which now belong to the “Executive Producer”.
There are still those auteur types of music producers out there, but in today’s music business the role is more like the 60s / 70s model. I have favorites from each type, and they occupy my thinking for lots of different reasons. When I think of ‘producers’ the first names that come to mind, aside from Jimmy Page, are Teo Macero (Miles Davis) and Holger Czukay (of Can, though he technically wasn’t listed as the producer on their records).
In terms of current guys… I think more about mix engineers that I like rather than producers for the most part. It’s funny though, the names that come to mind all have a “thing” they do. Like a very particular sound, — a specific SOUND more than a sensibility. A strong thumbprint. So there are mix engineers I like as a fan, but I can’t think about their work in the same way I think about the older guys. It’s still a kind of inspiration, but you can’t get up too close to it without falling into their “thing.”
Here’s another two-parter, do you think people care about production nowadays and do you think they even know what “production” is? What is production to you?
People definitely care about production, but they don’t know it. In terms of what production IS to me… the way I think about it is that the producer is responsible for presenting the music in the best possible light. It can mean a lot of different things, and a lot depends on resources. You use all the tools at your disposal to pull it off. It helps, I think, if you can have an overall vision in mind, some kind of sense of where the music could go.
Have you enjoyed working on this pfl project?
Yeah man, I’ve enjoyed it a ton! It’s also pushed me to the absolute limits of my ability, especially lately as we’ve been approaching the finish line. We both want to do everything we possibly can to get this stuff right.
Is pfl difficult to work with?
Not at all, except that it was a challenge to get the rare Moroccan incense, brass whale oil-burning lamps, tapestries, oxygen tanks and the troupe of contortionists necessary to get a “keeper” vocal take.
hahahahaha What do you hope happens with Workbench Recordings and the 3 albums of your own you’ve written, recorded, and produced?
I’d like to do something more with the Workbench Recordings site — it’s been just sitting there for a while. Don’t have the time or the idea yet though. In terms of my three albums — I hope people listen to them.
Do you plan to jump back into your material after the pfl project?
I do, but I don’t know what precisely yet. It’s nice not knowing; I’m collecting ideas.
Would you produce other artists and would it be dependent upon liking their material?
I would — I enjoy the process. It would probably only work if I had some kind of connection to the music. Though I will entertain all inquiries 🙂
I’ve been enjoying the A/B listens (cousins) on your tumblr, have you been using particular A/B listen touchstones on the pfl project?
That’s totally just letting my obsessive music brain goof off!
and lastly, which came first the chicken or the egg?
If you want it to be any good, either way I’d recommend butter or olive oil first.
My thanks to James, he’s been as intuitive, tireless and careful on this project as he is on his own excellent recordings, highly recommended listens!
Have a great week humans and thanks for checking in! -p