Interview with Multi-Platinum
Producer, John Kurzweg
speaks with multi-platinum Producer John Kurzweg. .
Hi John…I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to speak with me today.
JOHN: Hi Rob
Where did you first hear about Puddle of Mudd ?
Flawless contacted my manager, Matthew Freeman. I was in L.A. mixing DoubleDrive
and Matthew handed me three cds by different bands. I called him before Control
was even over. At that point I hadn't heard enough to know whether I should
commit to the project, but I told him "this is really cool…tell me about it".
Mathew said "they are in town you can go see them if you want" and then he
made a call. Danny Wimmer (Flawless/A&R) said come see them. They showcased
for me in a rehearsal studio. Danny Wimmer and I were the only ones in the
audience and they did great, which is a hard thing to do.
What is it about Puddle of Mudd that made you want to work with them?
The songs. I got a demo disc and Control [the first POM single - ed.] was
the first song on it. That was really the thing -- I loved Wes's voice and
I liked the songs. Those are the two main things I look for when people are
sending me stuff. Do I like the songs, and do I like the singer's voice? Does
the singer's voice sell me on the song?
Was the demo well produced ?
JOHN: It was pretty good for a rough demo. For as quickly as it was
probably mixed, it sounded good. It sounded pretty big. It was raw. You could
tell the guy had a cool voice and cool ideas right from the beginning. It
didn't have all the little finesse things that we put in it; it was much more
a "here's the song" type of thing but right away you got the vocal, the basic
elements and general arrangement.
Did the band track the album primarily "live" in the studio or was the album
built track by track ?
JOHN: With Puddle of Mudd, we tracked the drums "live" with the entire
band and then re-tracked most of the bass and guitars afterwards. I was talking
to another successful producer and I asked how much stuff he keeps from the
basic tracking. He said that he has rarely been in a situation where the bass
or guitar parts are not better after redoing it [after the drums are done].
But that's not always the case. On the Eagle Eye Cherry stuff, I ended up
using all the "live" bass and the two main guitars. We did a lot of pre-production
and they were also a band that had been playing together a while. You do whatever
works. If the "live" stuff is great, then hey -- keep it!
Where was the P.O.M project recorded and mixed ?
Most of the drums and basic tracking were done at NRG in L.A. The bulk of
the record and the overdubs were done at Third Stone in LA. Andy Wallace mixed
it at Sound Tracks in New York.
How was it working with Fred Durst?
JOHN: We really only worked together at the very end. He would come
in and listen to rough mixes and make suggestions. Sometimes we would try
further arrangement changes, because we could experiment in Pro Tools. Most
of it was at the very end of the project so I only worked with him maybe two
or three days. He's very creative and very intuitive.
There is a considerable buzz on the band and the album. There has been quite
a bit of talk and comparison of Wes Scantlin with Kurt Cobain in the industry.
Any thoughts on those comparisons?
I think Wes has his own thing. Given time and listening, people will see that
there's a decent amount of distance between their voices. Wes's voice is a
little bit more "America Down Home". There are certainly similarities. I mentioned
in an interview for MTV News that I was drawn to the voice because it was
reminiscent of Cobain. I thought of it as a positive thing, a compliment,
because I haven't heard anybody doing that kind of writing and singing. The
influence is there. I think with time a good artist falls into his or her
own voice. The more you do it, the more you are discovering yourself. Sometimes
I think I'm watching - and hopefully, helping -- the artist discover him or
As a Producer, do you rely primarily on your management for potential artists
or do your sources vary?
JOHN: Varied sources. A lot comes from my manager. Sometimes I can
get two or three cd's a day just from him. I get stuff sent directly from
bands, from friends, labels send me stuff direct, radio guys send me stuff,
managers. It's very much all over the place.
ROB: I think some
people don't realize that producers, like artists, have managers, because
often these managers are unknown outside of close-knit industry circles. How
does an up and coming producer attract a manager of this sort?
I think it's hard for up and coming producers to get associated with a manager.
When Creed had gone gold, I sent out letters and called all the managers.
There were probably about eight different companies that I knew of that handled
"name" producers. Not one of them wanted to talk to me, because they had their
rosters filled. They didn't need any new producers. Matthew at Lippman [Entertainment]
was the only one that kept calling me back. He liked the record and he wanted
to work with me. So based on my experience, I would say it's hard to get a
manger. I think producers have to manage themselves until they get a big break.
ROB: Can you tell
us a bit about what goes on in pre-production? Did you and the band hit it
off in pre-production or was there a certain proving time to build trust ?
I think there is a proving time for the producer. Usually a band doesn't have
to prove anything to me - I've already heard their potential in the demos.
The band comes in with all kinds of ideas and I'm going to work with their
ideas. The hard part as a producer is persuading a band to trying the song
the way you are hearing it, like "what if we shorten that bridge" …"what if
this part here was three times instead of four"…and so forth. Bands can be
very attached to their ideas; the song is their baby. I've noticed that bands
who have made records and are a little more seasoned, like Eagle Eye Cherry,
expect the producer to get very involved and want me to work with them on
the songs. Eagle Eye wanted to get right down to business and start trying
ideas to make the songs as strong as possible.
think new bands often don't understand the distinction between a producer
and an engineer. A band might think of a producer as a guy who just makes
it all sound great, like an engineer. Many producers are really good engineers,
and great sounds are part of a producer's overall job. But the producer also
has a responsibility to make sure that the arrangements are tight and the
songs as strong as possible. When a song is exactly as it should be, I'll
just leave it alone or maybe make small changes. A lot of bands are used to
playing the songs live and aren't thinking about the subtleties that can make
it interesting to get it from one section of the song to another. The producer
brings an independent ear to the arrangement process. A good producer can
really enhance a record if the band is open and willing to work.
any band, it might take a while to develop trust. It was an ongoing process
with Puddle of Mudd, but by the last month of the project we had built some
pretty solid trust. They were new to the recording process, and initially
some of my ideas were alien to the band. That's normal to a degree. The key
is to get everybody open to trying ideas that will enhance or improve the
songs. A suggestion that I make on an arrangement might spark someone else
in the band to think of a new idea. That's how the whole thing should work.
It's not about the producer being a dictator or "the" genius. It's always
a collaborative process.
Some producers are known for having a specific sound, which they then apply
to each artist they produce. Do you think you have a signature sound, or do
you adapt the sound of an album to the specific artist?
JOHN: I like to think of myself as adaptable. I've worked with and
I like so many types of music. I hope I am not imprinting a John Kurzweg sound.
In listening to the stuff I have done in the past ten or so years, I have
noticed an organic quality that is similar throughout. Even with stuff that
I have produced that is more electronic based, I still hear an organic quality
ROB: What's the
toughest part of dealing with an emerging band recording their first "real"
album? Is it easier to work with a more established band that understands
a producer's role?
JOHN: It really evens out probably to about the same amount of difficulty.
A new band that hasn't recorded before, or done a record, usually doesn't
have quite the studio chops yet and doesn't understand exactly how the process
goes, so it can be really alien to them. The good part of it is, a young band
can often come to the process with a pretty open mind about how things could
It can be difficult as a producer to persuade bands to try ideas that might
improve the songs. For example, I might hear a shorter bridge, or I might
think the song will be more appealing to listeners if the band repeats part
of the chorus. When suggestions like that come from an outside guy, it's really
hard on a band. They can be very attached to things the way they are.
noticed that musicians who are a little more seasoned and have made records,
like Eagle Eye Cherry, expect and even want me to work with them on the songs.
Eagle Eye wanted to get right down to business and start trying ideas to make
the songs as strong as possible.
You started out as a musician, got into engineering recordings, and then agreed
to record Creed only if you were able to produce the album. Why were you so
insistent on producing them as well as recording them? Does your multi-faceted
background help you as a producer?
I hope that I can answer this without making it three chapters long. I
have been producing all along, beginning with the first project I ever worked
on for a band. I was producing myself well before then. I can remember the
first thing I ever did - a band called Apopka Vineyard -- on my eight track
back in '88 or '89. With the exception of the few times I was hired as an
engineer for another producer, I always produced the projects I worked on.
I was always putting in my two cents about what I thought about the guitar
solo, what I thought about the harmony vocal and whether it took too long
to get to the chorus …things like that. Some bands listened and some didn't.
With exception of the few times when I was hired to engineer by another producer,
I don't know that I've ever simply engineered a record.
started to insist on the "producer" role because I went through this period
from '91 to '95 where some of the bands I worked with didn't give me credit,
even though I had produced their records. Often I had no control of what these
people did with their tapes after they left. It was expensive to put out a
CD back then. Sometimes they released cassettes and wouldn't credit me anywhere.
These local and regional bands would call me as if I were running a studio,
wanting me to book them in open time like a studio would. I told them "I don't
do that… send me your tape, I'll listen to it, and if I decide to work with
you, then we talk". Some bands were offended by that.
Creed came to me, I wanted to be clear up front so that there were no questions
it when it came time to do whatever. Nobody was thinking in terms of an international
release at the time - I just didn't want another CD coming out without my
name on it. I didn't really start to think about getting producer credit until
my other engineer/producer friends yelled at me. They would call me and say
"hey, we just got a cd from a band that used to record over here… we know
you produced this, so why isn't your name on it?" So the insistence on getting
"producer" credit started as me trying to get a little smarter about the whole
business side of things.
ROB: Any thoughts
of ever returning to the opposite side of the glass as a musician and doing
another album? Do you have time to write or record ?
All the time. I'm kind of having to ride my fifteen minutes right now because
I'm actually still starting my career in a way, but I would really love to
take some time off and just work on my own stuff. Part of what's holding me
back is the fact that no one will pay me to do that right now, and part of
it is the fear that my phone would stop ringing if I pulled out of producing
for too long. I would literally be taking six months with no income coming
in. [but] I have been really thinking about this stuff lately.
recently just purchased a nice sampling keyboard so that I could start writing
again. I want to buy a really nice acoustic guitar. I want to get my equipment
set up so I can quickly just walk in anywhere that I've got it, hook it up,
and go, even if it meant just having a four track and a good acoustic guitar
(which I don't have!). I would like to get back into that.
Has the success of Creed's Human Clay album created unfair levels of expectation
concerning the success of subsequent bands? Is there now a pressure for commercial
success you didn't feel with Creed?
I wouldn't put it on Creed necessarily. I would just say the moment you are
working with an artist that's on a major label, or a major independent, and
the label is spending money - there is pressure!
I feel those pressures, and I'm sure the bands do as well, what is great is
once we start working, all that matters to me is whether something is interesting,
if we are feeling it, and if it's sounding cool. I thank God when I actually
get to work, and all that industry stuff flies out the window. It can all
come back at dinner or later in the day, but fortunately when somebody's singing
or playing guitar, at least for me, it's kind of nice. In a way it takes me
out of that frame of mind and it's all about what's going on in that moment.
Creed -- when they are working, recording, playing and singing they are not
thinking about that stuff. When they are writing, they are not thinking about
that stuff. When you write something really good you don't know where it comes
from, anyway. It's certainly not coming from a place that says "I need to
sell five million copies" -- those songs usually get thrown away! What's sad
is when I hear industry people talk, it often deteriorates down to units sold.
a good A&R friend of mine, who I think really has a great ear. We were talking
about this issue recently and I was telling him that I like a strong, cohesive
album where every song is great -- the type of album that makes you love to
listen to it from beginning to end. He told me that those are his favorite
records too, but you know what he said? His label would rather have a bad
record with one smash hit than a cohesive great record with no smash hit on
it. I've even worked on a few projects where we've turned in a very strong
record and the label didn't release it. You need that smash hit.
A friend of mine said to me fifteen years ago "it's the music business, not
the music charity". A lot of good music gets made, then falls through the
cracks of the business. But that's not to say that music that sells is bad
music. I think that some of the music being offered up by the industry today
is really good stuff. Some musicians think the world is upside down - they
think the music that's selling today is bad music, while all the good music
is languishing somewhere, ignored by the record industry. I don't always agree
with that thinking, because there's plenty of great music that has broken
through and sold really well. Thank God for the U2's of the world and lot
of other great artists. I think time may prove that Creed is one of those
ROB: As you have
become more successful, you've been able to upgrade your equipment. Do you
still use analog and tube gear to retain certain sonic warmth?
I am really particular about what I use to record with. Back in '92 or '93
I got my hands on my first couple of API and NEVE preamps, even though it
almost killed me to buy them at the time. It was just about every penny I
could scrape together. When I compared those pre's to economy mixer preamps,
I couldn't go back… but I had to! It was terrible. The economy pre's never
sounded right to me again. Even on the first creed record I had to go the
economy route on the tom-toms and high hats because I didn't have enough pre-amps
to record everything with class A stuff. Once you have a few good pre's, it
is really hard to tolerate recording a guitar overdub or a vocal overdub with
just any preamp.
Now I have Neve 1066's and API Mic Preamps and Eq's that I absolutely love.
I use those all the time. They are not tube technology, but they are almost
more important than tubes. It's important to have great preamps and EQs like
that. I will also run stuff through tubes, especially if I'm using Pro-tools.
What has been the biggest impact of your success with Creed?
Looking back on the whole experience, from meeting with them, to doing
the album, and all that followed, one thing I can say I learned is it's good
to walk into a situation and not assume that you know everything, or have
preconceived ideas about things. I think Creed was really open to possibilities,
and I think it helped them. Some of the bands I have worked with have been
stuck in jaded, know-it-all-thinking. They had too many negative, preconceived
ideas. That kind of thinking holds you back creatively, it holds you back
in your human relationships, and it limits the possibilities that are available
to you. It's so important to be open to possibility. Creed's success has really
had an impact on my thinking in that regard. I mean, five years ago I was
making records in my house. Who would have thought we'd be where we are today?
a day-to-day level, Creed's success has blasted me off into this realm of
big label projects. It's been awesome. But I have to say, I wasn't really
prepared for the business aspects of all of it! I didn't know you had to deal
with all this craziness and the record company and radio stuff. Even the musicians
and the management can get pretty crazy at this level. When they get wacky,
I get stuck in all the craziness myself! I'm sure there are moments when the
musicians think I'm being difficult. When you are just recording out of your
house and there's no label involved, things are really very simple. There
is no fear. In the music industry, there is a lot of fear. Fear is the great
destroyer. I have had to grow up and confront a lot of this inside myself.
With Creed…they do their records usually in private homes in secluded locations.
Do you find it more comfortable to work in a major studio situation or in
a private setting?
JOHN: The pressure part of it is a lot better in a [private] house.
Studio time is generally $200 an hour so when you're trying out ideas, or
stuck creatively, the cost factor can compound the situation and increase
the frustration level. I am pretty patient but I know a band can get freaked
out by the fact that it's costing so much money. When you are in this famous
studio where all these big records were made, you feel like the spotlight
is on you and you have to perform. From that perspective, there is less pressure
in private house.
the other hand, I love working in studios because I can walk in and the gear
is top notch, and it's all working. Studios have tech staff and assistant
engineers who know the room. If something goes down it's fixed within the
hour. Personally, it's a lot more stressful and more work for me to record
in a house, but it's easier on the band.
On the production side, for those aspiring engineers out there, did you guys
go direct to the tape ? Did you use Pro-Tools or a console to mix ?
Every project I've done is different. Creed's Human Clay was tracked straight
to hard disc. It never hit tape. It was mixed on an SSL9000. With Puddle of
Mudd all of the drums went to tape and then everything after the drums went
right into Pro-Tools. We wanted to get that tape sound on the drums. I think
Andy mixed on an SSL G+. As of yet, I haven't done any major releases that
were mixed in Pro Tools. I did recently mix a song for Jewel in Pro Tools
that I thought sounded as good as what I've done on SSL's. If I can put my
two cents in on it, personally, I think if you've recorded the stuff beefy
enough, you've done a good job, and you are careful about what you do to it
in Pro Tools, I think a Pro Tools mix can sound as good as any SSL mix. I
don't think any of the SSL consoles actually add any wonderful character to
anything. I think if you really want to add an amazing character to the record
then you have to mix through a vintage NEVE or a really good API console.
Then you are doing something to the sound that can't be done yet in Pro Tools.
I would like to do more Pro Tools mixing because I think the sound quality
is pretty good now.
There has been a recent influx of 5.1 surround
rooms … do you think you would enjoy or do you want get into any 5.1 surround
JOHN: I am going to take my time moving into that. So far the only
thing I've done in 5.1 is "What If" and "This is the end" for Creed. I am
not in any hurry to go there [5.1 surround mixes]. A lot of my job is to make
all these parts fit into two speakers. In a way, I'm still into the challenge
of stereo. It's always a challenge to get it to work right in stereo.
ROB: What are your
thoughts on what makes a good song ?
What makes music affect human beings is a very mysterious thing. Why do
certain melodies and certain words affect us the way they do? We could sit
here and come up with a computer program to analyze hit songs, but at the
end of the day we don't know what it is. At some level there has to be an
emotional connection. I use the word "essence". I remember my wife and I were
having an argument about what made some bands real and some bands not real
and I was saying some bands have no "essence". I could hear the band's brain
but I don't hear their soul. She said "give me an example of something that
has essence" and at that moment one of the ballads from Radio Head's album
[the Bends] came on MTV. I had never heard the song before, and it was like
magic that the song came on at that moment. I wasn't even sure who the band
was at a time. I said, "THAT has essence -- that's what I'm talking about!
is essence? I would guess it has to come from a place of real human joy or
pain or suffering. It can't come from the brain. If it comes from the brain,
it's not going to connect. It can't just be the analytical. Usually there
is some type of imagery; something in the lyric is evocative.
also think that repetition is important. Many bands put too many melodies
and chord changes in their songs. They mistake complexity for good songwriting,
when in fact a single idea is more powerful and beautiful than a mash of ideas.
I sometimes think that musicians react negatively to repetition because they
are afraid of what other musicians will think if a song simply repeats the
same two chords in the verse, or whatever. But repetition is a beautiful,
powerful thing -- you can see it everywhere in life and nature.
I imagine that you tire of hearing rock music all of the time…what are some
of the other types of artists, bands, that you are into on a personal level…when
you are at home?
JOHN: It changes. I tend to wander around the store and buy whatever
strikes my interest or curiosity. Two artists that I like a lot are Robert
Rich and Gabriel Roth, sort of meditative--world music-dance type artists,
mainly instrumental stuff. Another artist I've been listening to is Ben Harper
-- I'm crazy about him. I often pull his records out.
commercial mainstream stuff that's out right now, I think the strongest record
that I've heard in a long time is the new Train Record, produced by Brendan
O'brien. From beginning to end, everything is where it should be. It's a great
Would you ever consider doing a blues record or something outside of rock
Totally. I would love to do a blues record with the right artist. Also, I
would love to work with an artist that wanted to an acoustic type of thing.
I'm totally comfortable working in the instrumental jazz/fusion realm. It's
rare that I've done anything musically that didn't interest me. I like so
much different stuff. New Artist Advice
ROB: If you could
give one piece of advice to a quality unsigned band with no manager, no lawyer,
no contacts, and a solid rough demo, what would it be?
Pray! [laughter]. No, really… whatever your spiritual notions may be --
because no matter how hard you try, there is so much stuff that you'll never
be able to control. Life is crazy enough without trying to have a music career,
and it's only going to get crazier with a music career. It's an insane business.
than that, I would say you've got to be heard. You can't sit at home and wonder
why the world doesn't discover you. You don't necessarily have to go on the
road. I spent years doing that and it didn't benefit me nearly as much as
cutting really good demos and getting them out to the record labels. I do
see a lot of people get lost at home trying to produce their stuff instead
of working on the lyric, song, and emotional content. You have to make the
decision whether you want to be an artist or a producer. What I hear people
do a lot of times is write songs that are just ok and then start producing
the demo themselves rather than making sure the song is great or writing another
Thanks again for the chance to talk with you. Congratulations on the success
and I wish you the best for the future!!!
Thanks Rob …… I enjoy talking with you.
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