Rocket Queen: Meet the Producer

Believe it or not, some knob-twisters lack a Y chromosome.

When the subject of legendary record producers arises, a stock set of iconic, distinctly masculine anecdotes come to mind: "Wall of Sound" mastermind/psychopath Phil Spector locking Leonard Cohen out of his own mixing sessions for Death of a Ladies' Man or brandishing a gun while the Ramones tracked End of the Century; artist-resurrection specialist Rick Rubin spiritually bonding with Johnny Cash or pushing the Dixie Chicks out of their comfort zone. There aren't a lot of stories about women behind the boards helping to shape great art. The role of the producer seems to be one of the areas of the music industry that women have yet to break into.This is certainly not to say it doesn't happen. Kathleen Brennan, wife and longtime producer of Tom Waits, is frequently credited by critics and the man himself as being the force that transformed him in the late '70s from whiskey-soaked piano crooner to the adventurous, experimental artist he is now. "She doesn't like the limelight, but she's an incandescent presence on all songs we work on together," he told journalist Rip Rense of her influence and critical role in their collaborations on breakthrough albums like 1992's Bone Machine.On the local tip, Mell Dettmer has made a name for herself with a knack for dark, doom-tinged recordings by working with Sunn O))) and Boris on their critically acclaimed opus Altar; she's currently working with Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter on their next record.Another woman who's made a major mark in her field will visit Seattle on Saturday, April 10, as part of the 11th annual PNW Studio Summit, hosted by the Pacific Northwest chapter of the Recording Academy. Sylvia Massy got her start in the Bay Area during the mid-'80s as a producer on the compilation Rat Music for Rat People, volume 3, which featured a diverse range of artists, from the Adolescents to Mojo Nixon. She eventually forged a connection with Rubin, and went on to work with several of his big-name clients, including Cash, Slayer, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. She currently owns and operates RadioStar Studios in Weed, Calif., and has earned a reputation as the go-to producer for modern metal bands in search of arena-sized sound, having helmed top-selling recordings by Tool, Sevendust, and System of a Down. Admission to the summit (and Massy's keynote speech) is free for Academy members; nonmembers can put the $100 admission fee toward Recording Academy membership (e-mail pacificnw@grammy.com for more information).Though Born Anchors frontman Jason Parker is working with a male producer for his band's forthcoming sophomore effort, he can certainly appreciate the feminine perspective—so much so that he cites it as a driving force behind the sound of the new record. While his vocals on 2009's Sprezzatura were distinctly of the angry-young-man variety, his goal the second time around was to get as far away from that as possible."Even if it felt natural for me to scream on a particular vocal part, I'd go in the opposite direction," explains Parker while listening to producer Chris Common play back tracks during mixing sessions at Red Room studios last weekend. "I tried my hardest to make it sound like a girl was singing it. The other two guys in the band were, like, 'What the fuck are you doing?' It was way easier to [do] vocals this time. I think I just have a naturally femmy voice.""To tell you the truth, I thought it was way more fitting," says Common, leaning back in his chair and turning away from his computer for a moment. "It sounds like they had really figured out what they wanted to do, especially in the vocal department. I felt like the vocals matched the music much better this time around."Indeed, the handful of tracks Common plays back are solidly soaring pop compositions sweetened by what is clearly an artist in a more optimistic place, regardless of which gender he's channeling. "Before the last record even came out, we started writing this one," continues Parker. "I was in such a happier place in life. It was such an evolution from where we were, the way I sang the first record didn't fit at all. It changed the vocal direction completely." Parker hopes to release the first single from Born Anchors' yet-to-be-titled release next month.rocketqueen@seattleweekly.com

 
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