CASSADAGA, NY: On Saturday, October 22, the Editors of SonicScoop and I will be hosting the flagship AES presentation “Platinum Engineers Panel: The Studio As An Instrument“. In preparing for our talk, I wound up asking each of our panelists about the records and the producers that influenced the most.
When I posed this question to panelist Peter Katis, among his answers he quickly mentioned fellow panelist Dave Fridmann, the iconoclast producer who has created startling and uncompromising sounds for The Flaming Lips, Elf Power, Mercury Rev, Sparklehorse, MGMT, Sleater-Kinney, Mogwai, and Weezer’s Pinkerton.
“I remember hearing one of those Flaming Lips records in the early nineties and marveling at how blown-out a lot of those sounds were,” said Katis. “At the time, I was working at some “proper” studios, and they would have thought I was a crazy person if I tried anything like that. But hearing those Dave Fridmann records made me realize ‘Wow! You are allowed to do that.’”
Like Katis (and myself) a large part of Fridmann’s early education came from New York’s State University system, a public institution that’s become known for churning out unconventional and forward-thinking musicians.
Although he never graduated from SUNY Fredonia (“I guess I was too busy making records,” he says) Fridmann launched his career there. In 1990, he and a then-floundering indie band called The Flaming Lips even rented the music department’s studios for an entire summer to record In A Priest Driven Ambulance. It would be the band’s first critically acclaimed album – and the one that would earn them a contract with Warner Bros.
Fridmann, who is plain-spoken, professional, and unexpectedly reserved for a man best-known for radical sonic treatments, becomes momentarily excited when I ask him about this experience: “It was great,” he beams. “It definitely turned out better than their past records.” It was his second credit as an engineer, but Fridmann already showed remarkable confidence.
In addition to his fearlessness in chasing after unprecedented sounds, Fridmann remembers that he also had the courage to ask the band for a credit as co-producer. “Having done basically nothing that was commercially available at the time, I think [asking for that credit] may have been the most audacious thing I did on the record. I was too stupid to even know what I was asking, but I guess that worked out for me. It often seems to.”