Want to take Scientist with you on the go, but hate walking into lamp posts? Like words, but think reading is for four-eyes? We have you covered. This month we’re happy to announce that Trust Me, I’m a Scientist is launching an all-new podcast series in conjunction with SonicScoop.
When the editors at SonicScoop asked me to sign on as producer for the new InputOutput Podcast, I was skeptical at first. Sure, I love podcasts – I listen to them nearly every time I cook or clean up my house. I catch up with them on long commutes, and they help me get through those simple everyday chores like washing the dishes at night or doing situps in the morning. But how big could the market for a music production podcast possibly be? I’ve surveyed what’s out there so far, and with one exception or two, most of it ain’t pretty.
I think that what changed my mind was the hosts. Namely, who they are, how they talk, and what they do.
Eli Janney comes from the cult indie rock band Girls Against Boys, longtime stars of the groundbreaking Touch & Go label. He cut his teeth in Inner Ear Studios, making albums for Dischord Records under the tutelage of Fugazi and Nation of Ulysses producer Don Zientara. He has kids now, but he’s still a youthful prankster at heart and in appearance, always ready to laugh at the everyday absurdities that dominate our lives.
And then there’s Geoff Sanoff. Smart, snarky, skeptical. A discerning workingman’s engineer with clients from Nada Surf and Beirut to Michael Stipe and Stephen Colbert. He currently works out of Stratosphere Sound, a world-class studio in Chelsea owned by Adam Schlesinger, Andy Chase and James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins.
Together, these two D.C. transplants are like Oil and Vinegar. They’re also well-read, witty, insightful, sometimes childish, and often, funny as hell. To help you get to know them, we conducted a brief interview this week.
TMimaS: How did you two get started working in studios?
Geoff: The first time I was ever in a recording studio, ironically enough, was a studio that Eli was working at. It was called Inner Ear, in Washington DC. All the Dischord stuff was done there, and that’s how I met him. Washington is a small music scene, so he was also in the band I eventually joined, called Edsel.
Eli: My brother played in bands in DC growing up, and was friends with Ian MacKaye and Henry Rollins, so making your own records and playing underground shows was part of my life from an early age.
I probably started recording bands in the basement when I was 16 or so, but my big break came when I called up Don Zientara, who owned Inner Ear Studio, and asked about working there.
He was totally down with it. I think things had been getting very busy for him and he wanted some help. The studio was still in his basement and it had a Tascam eight-track recorder and a 16-track board. It was a great place to learn. He is an amazing teacher and always up for talking about how things work.
Geoff: I was much more interested in being a musician at the time, to be honest. I loved listening to my own stuff, but I just couldn’t imagine listening to someone else’s kick drum for an hour.
But then, when Edsel started making records we got to a point where we were recording at a really nice studio in Liverpool called Par Street Studios. It was a fairly big budget for a band of our stature and we were working with a producer who had worked with My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain. I just remember stepping into this state-of-the-art 48-track, Neve and SSL studio and thinking: “This is the thing I want to do.”
I had been trained to be a video editor before that, but once I got into that studio it was like “This is it. This is what I want. I can deal with never playing on a stage again, I can’t deal with never being in a recording studio again. I have to do this.” Bam. That was it. It was just so inspiring.
I hear you. And what was it that inspired you two to start a podcast together?
Eli: Whiskey, mostly. [Laughs]
Actually, we have been talking about studio gear and trends in the business for years, boring everyone around us to tears. Finally we learned to go to a bar with just the two of us so no one else has to constantly roll their eyes. So it seemed like a good idea to record a podcast and drive the rest of the world to drink instead.
Geoff: Yeah, Eli would hang out pretty often, once or twice a month maybe. And even if we were in a group of other people we’d end up in the corner talking shop and just geeking out. And you know, we’ve worked on so many projects together, so I think we have a good back and forth and we’re open to learning from eachother.
Well, what is it about your personalities that makes you two get along so well?
Geoff: I think it’s because we’re both good at being obnoxious in totally different ways. [Laughs] I think Eli is very funny, but he can be cutting in a very different way. He’s more of rapier wit, and I’m more of a cranky cudgel.
[Laughs] I think it works though. So why a podcast? Why not videos or articles or anything else?
Geoff: Well first of all, we both like listening to them. Radiolab and This American Life are probably the two podcasts I listen to the most often.
Econ Talk is another that I’m into. That’s a super nerd-ball one. The host is a kind of conservative economist, like a libertarian, which is not necessarily where I come from, but he’s very open and respectful. I mean, how often do you get to hear smart people talk about stuff where they don’t always agree, but they don’t sound like idiots, you know what I mean?
Eli: I am a faithful Science Friday listener, and I also listen to This American Life, Radiolab, and other random things that catch my ear.
Yeah, there’s a lot of great stuff out there. I’ve loved Radiolab since they started in 2003, and On The Media since about the same time. Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me is definitely a guilty pleasure. What do you think the strengths are of the medium?
Geoff: For the way I live, I take the subway and I walk a lot, and podcasts are a really easy thing to digest and to use in your spare time, and you can just absorb them while you’re traveling or walking around. I think a lot of people are that way.
I know what you mean. If it wasn’t for podcasts, I would never be able to face up to washing the dishes.
Geoff: Also, there’s some things you don’t get from an article, I think. An article is great when you want information, but sometimes I think it’s a little harder to make them fun and entertaining. A podcast by its nature is just a little more informal.
What kind of niche would you guys like to end up filling? How do you see InputOutput as being different from anything else out there?
Eli: Well, we have the world’s angriest engineer, Geoff! Plus we are actually working engineers, and have a lot of experience doing many different jobs in this industry. We’ve also had to buy pretty much everything with our own money. Honestly, this was just a ploy to get free stuff. It’s not working. [Laughs]
Geoff: The main inspiration I think, was Car Talk. My wife, who does not have a driver’s license and hasn’t driven a car since 1986, listens to Car Talk. The fact that these two guys can be entertaining enough that my wife who doesn’t drive wants to listen to their show about fixing up cars for an hour… We have a ways to go to get to that point, but I think it’s possible.
Also, given the complete obliteration of the studio system, the online world is the place where the new community is being formed. We want to be part of that. We’ve doing this long enough that I think we have something to contribute. We know enough people that we can do something like bring in Nick Launay off the cuff, or say “Hey Chris Shaw, come do an episode!” and all of a sudden we’re talking about a Bob Dylan record or an INXS record with the guys who made them.
What would your ideal episode be like? Do you either of you have any fantasy guests, living or dead?
Eli: Probably George Martin from 1969, and the NASA scientists who recorded the sound of the Termination Shock where the sound of the solar winds from our sun get drowned out by the solar winds from the rest of the universe.
Geoff: I’d love to have a show where we have a Brian Eno or a Steve Lilywhite come on, but then also have people in the real world with varying levels of knowledge be able to participate and ask questions and get advice and answers from them and from us.
If you’re new to the podcast, I’d recommend starting out with our most recent full-length episode, The Kevin Killen Interview. In it, Killen talks about recording U2 in a 18th-century castle in the Irish countryside, and an epic 10-month mixing session for Peter Gabriel’s instant classic, now 30-year old crown-jewel, So. Killen has produced and engineered for artists like Elvis Costello, Tori Amos and Kate Bush and has now become a well-known proponent of “In-The-Box” mixing. He sets fears to rest and gives a few great tips on making the most of digital mixing.
Also worthwhile is The Chris Shaw Interview, produced shortly before I signed on. Geoff and Eli talk to Shaw about making records for ground-breaking Rap artists like Public Enemy and De La Soul, as well as classic albums for alt-rockers Weezer and Nada Surf, and even Bob Dylan’s smash 21st-century tour de force, Modern Times.
For those of you who like to keep up with technology, you can listen to Geoff and Eli’s in-depth review of Avid Pro Tools 10, which includes an interview about the future of the company with Avid’s marketing manager Tony Cariddi. In the interview portion, Tony laughs: “we’re not going to tell anyone at Avid about this interview.”
Out today is a brand new short, where you can hear Geoff and Eli talk about inventive control surfaces, new software for mixing music on iPads, and programs that allow you to conduct remote mix sessions, whether the artist and engineer live right down the block or are halfway around the world.
Stay tuned for new full-length episodes coming the second Wednesday of every month, with bite-sized “shorts” in between. We’re developing and releasing the new season now, and working hard to schedule great guests like Nick Launay [Arcade Fire, Talking Heads, Gang of Four], Ian MacKaye [Fugazi, Minor Threat, Dischord Records] and David Lowery [Cracker, Camper Van Beethoven, An Open Letter To NPR’s Emily White].
So please, enjoy and don’t forget to send in your questions and requests!