The Vanguard of Vancouver – An Interview with Matt Roach of Rain City Recorders
After hovering above the Toilet for some time, the first comment I made was on a Tech Death Thursday article featuring Vancouver’s The Hallowed Catharsis. This was wankless tech that demanded attention for both the songwriting skill on display and the sparse mix that defied the flat, brick-walled style endemic to the genre. Fast forward to the present, and I’m having a bit of a Pepe Silvia moment: first THC, then a slew of EPs and albums in the following years, all leading back to the studio at Rain City Recorders, with Matt Roach behind the boards. I swooped in and spoke with the man about his recent work with Gatekeeper, production faux pas and the metal scene in the frigid North.
You’ve been recording metal music in one form or another for around a decade now. How did you get into audio engineering? Were there any specific albums (metal or otherwise) that led you to this profession?
When I was a preteen my mom had bought me a dual deck cassette stereo with AM/FM radio and a built-in microphone. I would record anything I could; songs on TV, me talking to myself and making “skits”, songs off the radio. I was OBSESSED with making mix tapes, and would time each side nearly perfectly for that “album” feel. But I think my first foray into digital recording was trying to track myself playing bass so that I could work on “writing songs;” this was around 1999 when I was 16ish. Needless to say, I’m happy those embarrassing moments were lost to the passage of time. It did however ignite a passion for laying down as much as I possibly could music-wise, and when it came time to rock some demos for my bands, I’d happily do it. Unfortunately they sounded terrible. Around 2002, I was in a band with a few other guys in my city and the guitarist was very keen on digital recording. We setup a Cubase rig in his parent’s basement and set to work crafting what would become the first EP I recorded, A Lifetime and a Day. From this point, I was hooked and became absolutely obsessed with trying to learn everything I could. By 2009 I had moved to the biggest city in my province and was attending audio school. Three months into that I got a job at Vogville Recorders, then three months after that I was working as a runner at the Armoury Studios. The rest is another long story, but that’s about it. Metal albums that blew my mind, sonically, when I was a teenager:
Rage Against the Machine – Self Titled
Soundgarden – Superunknown
Pantera – Cowboys From Hell / Vulgar Display
Deftones – White Pony
Megadeth – Countdown to Extinction
Throughout your career, you’ve covered quite a few genres, from the technical death metal of The Hallowed Catharsis to Gatekeeper’s trad/power metal sound. Do you have any rules of thumb that apply to recording/producing specific genres? Do you have a favorite genre to work with?
Both bands I absolutely love, great people who are fanatically passionate about music. So, great choices. For me, the rule of thumb is DO YOUR RESEARCH. If you’re going to be recording music, you need to immerse yourself in the specific genre you’re going for so that you know the tropes of the scene and expectations of your artist. I can’t think of a worse feeling than delivering something someone has worked so hard on, but is ultimately unhappy with. So I try to craft a unique vision for each artist I work with. And like I stated before, that begins with research. I don’t have a favorite genre to record, as long as the music gets me moving and I can vibe to it. I love music, and I want that feeling to be evident in the productions I do.
Besides the Loudness War and its far-reaching impacts, are there any production pet peeves / annoying trends that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up? These could be old school or contemporary gripes.
The one thing I really hate is when people mix production techniques from one genre into a completely unrelated one. Like delay on snare on a rock record, as if it were a dub record. I can’t really think of any others, because music is art and production is subjective.
You’re from Vancouver, but you travel to the U.S. frequently from what I understand. Is there a difference in the general metal scene between countries? Are there any upcoming BC/Canada bands that we should be aware of (that you produced or otherwise)?
I’d say the major difference I see between Canadian and American metal scenes is that Canadian fans are ravenously devoted. They hit every festival, and there are a lot of them. In BC alone we have Armstrong Metal Fest, Vancouver Island Metal Fest, Metalocalypstickfest, Modified Ghost Fest, and a few more each year. Local shows rarely see less than 75-100 people, in Vancouver anyway, and there’s no shortage of bands who all appear very professional. That being said, the US West Coast is boiling over with amazing acts and growing scenes. Here’s my quick list of top Western Canadian/US bands to watch for.
How much intervention does a typical band require in the studio? Do you take the wheel often? Do you prefer a hands on or off approach when a band comes in?
It’s different every single time. With some bands, I rearrange one out of five songs. Some bands I write with. Some bands I perform with on their record. Some bands I’m just a project manager. Some bands I’m just the engineer/mixer implementing my sonic imprint. I definitely prefer hands on, but I want to work with any artist in the capacity they need. Although some artists don’t know what they need until they walk through the door…and some leave still not knowing what they want.
Do you have any trainwreck stories from the studio at Rain City Recorders (or elsewhere)? Have you ever had to tell a band “absolutely not,” or turned down a band because they didn’t have their shit together?
I always try to accommodate bands when they’re looking to capture their art. I do have some wild stories from over the years: the band that drank 64 beers and a 26oz of vodka during one session, although they did come back and make a killer album. Or the guy who threatened to kill me multiple times after I refunded his money and gave him files and told him I didn’t want to work with him anymore, he can go fuck himself. But for the most part, my clients are amazing, I’m very grateful for all the opportunities I’m given and even when we have a disagreement, I do my best to remain professional and give them good service because everyone deserves that.
How do you discover bands? Do you seek out promising artists you’ve heard of in the scene, or do they reach out to Rain City Recorders?
I go to a lot of shows, search in online groups, do “cold call” messages to bands I’m vibing or I’ll see posters for Vancouver bands in other cities and discover new Canadian bands that way. I also get a lot of recommendations from friends and other clients. And being a busy studio, we also have a steady flow of new clients who are reaching out by email or phone who found us online. I’ve also started promoting shows in the past year with Ryan from Pound and Parker from The Mountain Man through our company The Collective Agency, so I’m meeting a lot of new bands pretty regularly.
You recently worked with Gatekeeper on their new Grey Maiden EP, what was your experience like with them in the studio? Did they bring gifts of opulent furs and goblets carved from the skulls of their enemies?
We actually had to redo the entire studio in stone and put a drawbridge out front. But seriously, they were amazing to work with. Everything was ready to go when they showed up and it took them barely any takes. JP is one of my favorite vocalists I’ve ever worked with, it’s literally like that scene from The Never-Ending Story when Atreyu is cruising the planes of Fantastica with his horse Artex when you’re recording with him. Simply epic.
To send us off, can you toss some details my way on any current/future projects of yours that you’re excited about, from yourself or the other producers at RCR?
My partner, Jesse Gander, is starting work on the new Neck of the Woods, and that’ll be sick. I’m working with my first American band, and they’re REALLY GOOD. They’re called Izthmi and they’re from Seattle. Check them out if you like that blackened feel. Also the following killer Vancouver bands that I produced/mixed have new albums coming out soon:
Awesome, looking forward to checking out those records. Thanks for taking the time, anything else you’d like to say before you go?
Thanks to TovH, my favorite online metal blog. Support new music, go to shows, don’t talk to cops, tell everyone about your friend’s bands.