Jason Magnusson Interview
11 May, 2010
Jason Magnusson or 'Dr Crossfade' as he is also known has worked with The Juliana Theory on Understand This is a Dream, Emotion is Dead, Music From Another Room, Deadbeat Sweetheartbeat and the live recording. From engineering to mixing this guy worked tirelessly behind the scenes.
Brett played guitar in a metal band, Zao, and they came down to Little Rock from Pennsylvania to record the album 'Where Blood and Fire Bring Rest'. We tracked and mixed that beast in something like, 13 days. Ridiculous! That album is hands down the most influential thing I've ever worked on. It spawned dozens and dozens of rip-off acts. To this day Blood and Fire still gets name checked by heavy music titans worldwide. It's insane. Anyway, the entire time we were working I don't think I heard Brett say one word. Ha! He was a quiet kid. A polite young gentleman! Then, on the last day of mixing, he spoke up and told Barry and I he had this side project he wanted to bring down from Pennsylvania for us to record. We honestly never thought he'd be back. The rest is history.
Barry and I worked together for about seven years in his studio, pretty much every day, 70 hours a week. We certainly burned the candle at both ends, for years and years. It's probably not healthy for two human beings to spend that much time trapped in a room together, but miraculously we only got on each other's tits a handful of times in all those years. That's fairly astounding! We were like family. I'm thankful to have started my recording career working at Barry's as opposed to some huge commercial studio. He's a gifted musician turned self-taught recording guru. He knows what it's like to be the artist, and understands the psychology of making an album. Recording is all about serving the song, capturing the most meaningful performances, and getting the right sounds before you even set up a mic and press record. Technology should be the icing, not the crutch. Of course, I'm talking about the realm of recording we mainly worked in, people playing stringed instruments, live drums, etc. At the end of the day, Barry and I have a lot to be proud of.
Oh boy, I have enough trouble remembering what I did last week much less over a decade ago! Yikes! This record was another quickie. I might be wrong here, but I believe it was tracked and mixed in 15 days? Something like that. Off this album I've always liked 'For Evangeline' and 'P.S. We'll Call You When We Get There'. I remember us throwing loose change at Fiedler's guitar pick-ups while tracking 'Constellation'.
For the duration of this recording the boys stayed at this wretched hotel, The Economy Inn. When we finished tracking, everyone except Brett got in the van and drove back to Pennsylvania, Brett stuck around for mixing. Since he had no transportation, I would tote him around town, to and from the studio, etc. Every single day I would call the hotel and ask for his room to tell him I was on my way, and every single day they would tell me no one was staying in that particular room. Apparently, the boys payed for the room up front, in cash, and the clerk just pocketed the dough and gave them a room on the sly, off the books. It was sketchy to say the least, yet probably a fairly standard business practice for an establishment with 'special rooms' advertised on the marquee!
The mixing period of 'Understand' was when Brett and I really started to get to know one another and become friends, definitely my fondest memories from this time period. He's one of my oldest and dearest friends. I keep forgetting to tell him they tore down The Economy Inn and put up a Walgreens. Surely this news will incite some form of celebratory dance.
NOTHING about Emotion is Dead was easy... blood/sweat/tears shed by all. When Barry and I started hearing these songs for the first time we knew the boys had taken their ambitions and talents to the next level. We knew we were dealing with a dense, heavily multi-tracked pop/rock album, and we had under 30 days to track and mix... not a lot of time for this kind of monster. On top of that, we threw a HUGE monkey wrench into the mix by introducing Pro Tools. We'd never used this software before, and got our first system on day one of Emotion is Dead. We decided to give it a spin and learn as we went. Probably not the wisest decision, yet we wouldn't have been able to make this record without it. When I listen to EID now I can definitely hear the limitations this technology had at that time, coupled of course with our incompetence in using it! Somehow, we persevered and got the damn thing done.
Concerning label issues, Tooth & Nail was always pretty great with us. I know a lot of their bands bitch relentlessly about their contracts, etc., but the truth is that T&N basically lets their artists do whatever they want in the studio, and they never really interfere creatively. That's pretty much unheard of when you're dealing with any label that has more than 5 bands signed. During my years with Barry we were responsible for a good chunk of the T&N catalog, and rarely had any issues with them. They kept us busy and we cranked out high quality/low budget records for them. I think we kept each other in business for a while there.
I think we all knew we were working on something special, but as anyone who's spent any amount of time in the music industry understands, quality and success are elusive bedfellows. It's a complete crapshoot unless you've got millions of dollars backing you. Emotion is Dead has sold upwards of 100,000 copies, with basically no label support. That's certainly nothing to sneeze at. Every bit of this album's success can be credited directly to the tireless work ethic of the band. Probably the hardest working act I've ever encountered. When they weren't touring incessantly, they were rehearsing and writing, several hours a day, five days a week. They loved their job.
Vino's is a shitty pizza place/venue in Little Rock. It's been around forever, and it used to be the premier spot in town to catch your favorite touring indie bands. It's pretty rundown, and I don't think they've upgraded any of their equipment in the past 15 years. It's a total nightmare to put on a show there, especially if you're a semi-professional touring band with lots of gear, traveling with four other acts on the bill. There's no off-stage space to set up or store equipment, you pretty much have to keep everything outside. When TJT played there we always built a barricade in front of the stage out of tables, creating a trench we could set up additional equipment in. I've spent entire shows at Vino's with my back propped up against the stage and my legs holding the barricade up so our stuff didn't get crushed by the swelling crowd, and so they didn't crush each other. Despite all my bitching, Vino's shows were always amazing for the band. TJT broke the attendance record every time they played there, and there were always dozens of kids who couldn't get in listening outside. Since TJT did the majority of their recording in Little Rock, it became their home away from home, Vino's included.
Emotion is Dead. Of everything I've done recording-wise, it's probably what I'm most proud to have my name attached to. It was a turning point for all of us. We busted the entirety of our asses on that thing. Personal attachments aside, I just think it's a great record, full of killer pop/rock songs.
I just went back and listened to this because I had absolutely no recollection of aforementioned shout-out. I didn't even own a copy of this album till I snagged one from Brett last year. It sounds pretty good! You know, TJT never got enough credit for being such a solid live act. I toured with them for six months during the Love era and we hit the road with a vengeance, rockin' the roof off every joint, every single night.
Actually, if you listen again, it's just Barry credited as being in the truck. I was manning the stage, monitoring our set-up. Barry and I were studio rats, and had never done a live album before, so this was new territory for us. After weighing our options in the initial planning stages, we decided our best bet was to just fly in from Little Rock and rent a mobile recording unit in Pennsylvania. Logistically, the main hurdle we encountered on this adventure was cable length. The show was recorded at Club Laga in Pittsburgh, which at the time was considered TJT's home base venue. Club Laga was conveniently located on the 3rd or 4th floor up, so we had to get creative and park the truck in the alley behind the building, then run all the snakes up through the back stairwell. Thank goodness they had such long cabling. I believe we quite literally used every last inch and still barely made it to the stage.
Everything went down smoothly once things got underway. The only snag was Chad throwing his bass into the drum riser at the end of 'If I Told You This Was Killing Me...,' taking out both overhead drum mics. You can totally hear it happening on the album. Tooth & Nail got billed for a fresh pair, so no worries there.
I thought I was known for having the 2nd best ass in rock n' roll, eclipsed only by the guy from Mercury Rev?! In all honesty, that was just one Australian's opinion... and it was a dude. Ha! True story. In his defense, I did wear some tight-ass black slacks on stage every night while touring with TJT. I got a lot of inappropriate catcalls from 15-year-old girls. I heard "Take your pants off!" one night. I'm just thankful those bad boys never split open on me. Charges would have been filed.
From Emotion is Dead on, we tracked and mixed everything with Pro Tools. Any time you make an edit or punch in on a track in Pro Tools it separates that track into new regions, and if you don't put a crossfade over where this separation occurs, it will most likely cause an audible digital pop. Most people would never hear these pops, but I'm like a hawk when it comes to that kind of shit, and if I can hear edits and such on my work it drives me absolutely bonkers. I would always go through all of the tracks to make sure everything was faded properly. I guess the boys thought I was a little obsessive with it. What can I say, I'm a stickler for detail.
I'm currently back in Arkansas and they're only hitting the coasts, so I probably won't be able to make it out to any of the shows, which sucks because I haven't seen most of those guys since '05. I will certainly be there in spirit though, tight-ass slacks and all.