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Episode 66:

Chris Koltay's Rock and Roll Fantasy

Transcript + Show Notes

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Show Notes

In this week's music interview podcast, I talked with legendary sound engineer Chris Koltay of High Bias Recordings!

 

Here's Chris Koltay's bio:

 

Born in Toledo Ohio in 1971 Chris Koltay developed and affinity for rock and roll and sonics at an early age. A rogue captain in the sea of sound, he ended up at the venerable Ultrasuede Studios after a brief stint at the University Of Cincinnati. Koltay soon became the house engineer at Ultrasuede after training under the likes of John Curley, Dave Davis, Steve Girton, and Gary Shell. Many great records were made in this space. Koltay started High Bias Recordings at 4731 Chase Avenue in Cincinnati and in 2001 Koltay made the move to Detroit and opened High Bias at its current Michigan Ave address where it exists today. Somewhere in the late 90s live sound entered the picture and Mr Koltay still tours to this day. Clients include: Deerhunter, The War On Drugs, No Age, Shigeto, Liars, Women, METZ, Protomartyr, Slasher Flicks, etc. Continuing along these lines Koltay has added writing to the mix, writing Gear reviews for Tape Op. In addition he is a part time employee of EarthQuaker Devices doing trade shows and mild product development. Koltay is also the occasional DJ for hire. Lastly he makes your typical harmonically rich drone music via modular synth under the pseudonym KOLTAY.

Chris reached out to me after my conversation with Brian Case of FACS and of course I jumped at the chance to have him on the show.  He was overall pretty hilarious and very easy to talk to and it was really interesting to hear him discuss the forced break of the pandemic, how he views his role in the studio, and his biggest fears.  I have a lot more to ask him about and he promised to be on another episode so stay tuned for a future part 2 episode with Chris Koltay!

And here's a few links to some things we talked about.  Listen to our full conversation here or read the transcript below!

 

Subscribe to the podcast!

 

Transcript

Conversation has been lightly edited for clarity

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Screenshot from our Instagram Live chat

Jessica Risker:

Hey everybody, welcome to Music Therapy podcast! I'm Jessica Risker and I am a musician based here in Chicago, Illinois, and I'm also a licensed clinical professional counselor.

 

Today I am talking with recording engineer, Chris Koltay of High Bias Recordings.

Chris Koltay:

Thanks for having me. 

 

Jessica Risker:

How are you doing? 

 

Chris Koltay:

Okay. It's super hot here specifically. Our house is very hot too. It's very warm. 

 

Jessica Risker:

You're at home right now. 

 

Chris Koltay:

Yeah.

Jessica Risker:

So I start off with the same question. What does a typical week look like for you these days?

Chris Koltay:

These days? I spend most of my time trying to figure out what day it is usually. A typical week here. I do a lot of gardening and, sorta like a handyman kind of work around our house. We just - my wife and I moved into a house. And so it's been kind of intense doing a lot of that stuff and the studio has been closed. We're getting ready to reopen at the beginning of August, like August nights. So preparing for that. But I spent like a day over there mixing, and then I'll be back home here doing things. we’re both self-employed. So for a long time, it's been a long list of things that needed to get done that, you know, those things where you're like, oh, I finally got my shit together.

Chris Koltay:

I would do this or that, or I feel like we haven't really had very much time off since the pandemic. And I know that seems crazy, but we've been super busy moving you know, all of that. And so I'm kind of splitting my time between stick, like stay at home dad with no kids kind of and, and then getting the studio ready to reopen. And I did take advantage of the time off to kind of fix a lot of problems that I saw with the studio. You know, typically that kind of stuff takes days or weeks, it takes a long time to fix a studio. And so having the downtime has helped that way. We'll see if the industry in which I work exists by the time I get the studio back open, but it's, it seems creepily, like everything's sort of going back to normal. I don't see how that's possible, like, we're all just going to start going to gigs and everything's gonna be fine, but I hope, I hope that happens. 

Jessica Risker:

Have you been to any shows recently?

Chris Koltay:

I played a couple of shows recently and I've been to see some outdoor shows. I have not been to an indoor gig.

Jessica Risker:

I have a lot of things I want to ask you about, but I am curious to know how this past year impacted you and impacted the studio. You shut it down. When did you shut it down?

Chris Koltay:

I don't know. I, well, I do know, I guess I've recorded this band from here called VVISIONSS. And I don't know how to spell it's like VVISIONSS they have a lot of consonants in their name that don't belong. But they're amazing. And that was March 14th and it was like Gould see in a couple of weeks. And I just met with those guys like a couple of weeks ago and we kind of traded some files and that kind of stuff. So yeah, I shut it down then when the governor said to, or whatever, not to get political about it. And I'd been on the road. I was out with this guy from here called Shigeto, he does a bunch of stuff. But he has a live jazz band with some other people from here Marcus Elliott, Ian Finkelstein, Dez and the band.

Sometimes I play on the stuff, so it's like a collective jazz thing. And yeah, so we were out on the road, while this was all happening at the end of February and early March. And I flew back from LA and the guy next to me was like, man, I'm so glad we made this flight. They just cleared our cruise ship today. And it was just really hectic. So by the time we got home and the shutdown happened, I was kinda like, you know, it's, I mean, I don't like to get sick either way. You know, I have friends who are like, they could get the flu hardcore the next day. They're they're fine. I just, I don't know. I've just taken it seriously and yeah, and then it got crazy and out of hand and I was like, well and that's a weird thing.

I feel like being an audio engineer is kind of like you're in the service industry. And the fact of the matter is that for me, it's about performing the service and I'm happy to do that. I don't have a lot of weird ego or envy. I feel kind of, maybe not as austere or whatever is the Albini approach, but like you know, I felt like it was the one. So anyway, my professional life has been making that happen, whether I'm on the road with people or in the studio is, you know, like I've been performing the service for most of my adult life. And it was weird to have this be where I drew the line.  I mean, I've carried amps or...that's not true. I've never carried any amps. I've been on tour and been injured and had back problems and all that kind of stuff. And you know I've never really turned down a gig or anything. 

 

Jessica Risker:

How was that for you to have to do something that was so different and unusual?
 

Chris Koltay:

I mean, I haven't had a day off, like any real significant time off in a long time. And I think being self-employed and carrying a lot of the financial, whatever, it's, I don't make a lot of money making records and touring. I make okay money, but I spend tons of money because I like to buy synthesizers for people to use and things like that. And for me, I wouldn't have picked that break, but I, I, it took a while before I felt any kind of, like, I don't want to get back to work. Cause it was, it felt weird though, for sure. I mean, it was weird, like it was for everybody, but like, you know, there's a global pandemic.

It's like, I care about every band's record that I work on, but like, not that much, you know what I mean? It's like, everybody's record can wait. Like we don't have to.  I don't know, man. It was weird though, because I've never really, I've, I'm not saying I've never not done a gig, but I've kind of never not done a gig, you know, like it was weird to draw that line and then also like going forward after that to feel kind of like there's no insane deadlines stressful to me, it doesn't matter if a band has a record release party at The Lager House, or if the record’s coming out on Third Man, or, you know, if it's Kurt Vile or like some band down the street that nobody knows about. It's still stressful to have like five plates in the air all the time. And that's just part of the job. 

Jessica Risker:

Generally, when you're working, do you take Sundays off or do you work every day?

Chris Koltay:

Recently? Not recently, like pre-pandemic recently, like 2018, 2019, even 2017. I kind of started trying to take weekends off and sort of start a little earlier in the day and maybe finish a little earlier. You know I'm married and my wife and we've lived in the studio until recently. And I don't know. I just started to feel like I wanted to do have a life that wasn't somebody else's rock and roll fantasy, you know or mine really like, so I started working a little bit less, trying to not work weekends and trying to be done working by nine, you know, but then it's like I cook in our house for the most part. So then it's like, we're eating at 11.

And so, yeah, I've tried to sort of step it back, but it's a new thing. Like, and I know that's only been the last couple of years really. And you know, before the pandemic and before that, I'd be somewhere with some crazy band in Australia, like with The War on Drugs or somebody like that. And I would land and then, you know, that's like a gnarly day of travel and then the next day I'd be recording guitars for somebody, some metal band from downriver or whatever. And I just didn't stop. Maybe there'd be 25 or 50 days out of the year that I didn't bill, you know. 

Jessica Risker:

Was that drive to work so much and so hard, you know, just out of demand?  Was it out of a fear that if I don't do this, you know, or I just need to keep making money?  What drives you to have that pace?

Chris Koltay:

I don't know. I guess I like to feel useful and I care about music. Like I genuinely care about music and I feel like, I don't know, I feel like a dentist or something. Like if you know how to fix somebody's cavity and their tooth hurts, you would be like a shitty person to not do that. Kind of. And yeah, also running a studio, it's no different than people that have coffee shops or whatever. You gotta sell a lot of coffee to make crazy money. And my day rate hasn't changed since 2013 or something. And so it's like a combination of,I was just raised in this business by some guys in Cincinnati, this their thing was like, if, if there's recording or sound or whatever, there's like [inaudible].

No, that's good. I got it. My savior. I would show you guys Julie, but she would probably be really pissed off. She doesn't like to be on TV. He likes to be on TV. She does not like it, she’d be very mad at me. But yeah, I think it's a combination of, you know, like there is a certain amount of like music, if that's your thing, you know, it's like a Valiant thing I think, you know, and and also like the whole self-employed strike while the iron is hot. Like the music business is constantly dying. You know, that, that kind of. It's not like I just don't turn down work. I don't really care who the band is. And like, there'll be people that come by the studio and they're like, what are you doing? And I'm like, I don't care. I don't care if it's some Ska band from Milford.  If people want to make a record, I'm down to do it, you know?

Jessica Risker:

That's awesome.  So you were kind of grateful to be forced into a break. It almost sounds like that was the only way you were going to get a break. But were you nervous about the business aspect of the forced break on that level?

Chris Koltay:

I mean, to be honest, I feel like I was more relieved, and I was surprised by that and I mean, I was certainly not relieved to be in the middle of a pandemic or to see all that crazy stuff or what was going on in our country or any of that stuff. But, I feel just being self-employed and running a studio and doing all that stuff, you know, it's just me and my wife and she has a full-time job. So, any audio engineer will tell you that it's not necessarily a family affair, but my lady helps out all the time and she's amazing and super patient and all that stuff, but I was kinda like I don't know. I kind of started talking about Julie and got distracted. This happens to me often. Ask me that question again, maybe I'll answer it a little bit. 

Jessica Risker:

Well, were you nervous about the business side or the financial side of things when you had to shut down the st-

 

Chris Koltay:

Oh, no, I lost it again. That thing I don't, I don't know about that. Wasn't my phone falling this time. It just keeps going black. 

Jessica Risker:

I don’t know why, but I had a really bad feeling earlier that there was going to be some technical difficulty and we will lose the interview. 

Chris Koltay:

Right Well, let me, let me just let me, I'll just, I'll keep a better eye on it, but anyway, go ahead, go ahead and ask me the question.

Jessica Risker:

Were you nervous about your money? 

Chris Koltay:

I was worried about money and and but it was strange to feel that sense of relief, but it just because I constantly live with this, the building where the studio is in is at this point worth more money than I can justify having, like, clearly I have a career, you know, for better or for worse to doing this for a living and I've been doing it for a while and it's like, people still want to do it. And that's cool. And I'm really, really grateful to do that. And again, the place where the studio is I could lease it out and make probably more money doing that than I do making records.

 

And so I guess I didn't realize how much stress I carried, you know, in regards to that like, oh, what if I'm just riding out this rock and roll fantasy, like, I'm going to do one more record.  And then the economy tanks, and now this building isn't worth anything. And I've just been in here listening to Black Sabbath for 30 years or whatever, and, you know, like that's kind of what it felt like. And so when I was like, oh, everything's just gonna fall apart anyway. And it's not my fault, you know, like I kind of felt relieved, I guess, in that way. But, yeah, and then immediately was terrified about the money and my wife got some PPE money for her thing. I got my unemployment and it was enough to get us through. And then, you know I was able to take out a couple loans and then we'll see how it all turns out, you know? But compared to what a lot of people have gone through in this pandemic, I feel really lucky and super grateful, you know?

Jessica Risker:

Yeah, sure.

 

Chris Koltay:

 I mean, it sucked, but I'm still here. I still have the place for now. And, and it's really not that much different than it was. I'm not Albini or, or Dave Fridmann or any of those guys. I, you know, I I've yet to, I just, for whatever reason I haven't done the new team and Paula or whatever the new new team in Paula band is. I haven't, you know I hope that happens, but, you know, it's, It's just kind of a hand to mouth thing, you know.

 

Jessica Risker:

What is your rock and roll fantasy?

Chris Koltay:

Well, right now, I just really I've been growing a lot of food, which I know doesn't seem very rock and roll. Lots of hot peppers and lots of tomatoes. I've been gardening a lot. My fantasy now would be if we could get somewhere Julie and I, where we could grow enough food for us to live and maybe for other people and have a studio there, maybe like more of a destination thing where people can come like once a month and spend a week and we all do the thing or a month, however long. And, but something a little bit more self-sufficient.  That is the one thing that the pandemic shook some sense into me about stuff like that. And especially being here in Detroit and there's been lots of flooding and it just kinda made me feel like maybe we should live somewhere where we have an aquifer and grow a bunch of food and like stockpile. I'm not a prepper. I guess what I'm talking about is prepping basically. But I don't feel like a prepper, you know?

Jessica Risker:

Yeah. Do you have a, what's it called? Do you have a bunker? Is there a bunker in the studio?

Chris Koltay:

Okay. I mean, the studio is a bunker. It's just like a concrete cinder block box, you know, surrounded by like a pizza place in a salon fake, safe place to be in where they felt, it felt weird. I mean, the neighborhood that it's in, it's  a place where lots of people from the suburbs come and hang and I'm like, oh, I'm downtown. It's one of those kind of neighborhoods. Eh, are you in Chicago? Is that where you are?

 

Jessica Risker:

 Yep. 

 

Chris Koltay:

Yeah. So it's kind of like Wicker park in the nineties, basically where I live, you know? 

 

Jessica Risker:

Like High Fidelity?

 

Chris Koltay:

Yeah. Maybe. I mean, maybe not that cool. There wasn't a record store, but it's like a lot of people from the suburbs come down and party and go to Tigers games. And there's the idiots pedaling the bar, listening to terrible music. That kind of thing. 

 

Jessica Risker:

Is there any bleed? 

 

Chris Koltay:

Any bleed? I mean, most of the time I'm doing stuff that would have bleed on it. It's like at night, usually anyway, and like nine out of 10 times, that is cool. You know?

Jessica Risker:

Yeah. Atmosphere, let's see a couple of comments [ in the Instagram feed]. I want to make sure to say such a good shift and they're the best host you and your wife and best coffee. You had mentioned coffee to me. And then someone says what happened to Andrew WK??  I'm not sure what that question is about. Do you know what that question is about?

Chris Koltay:

Andrew WK, Andrew WK. I don't know. Oh, they think that I look like Andrew WK.

Jessica Risker:

Oh, okay. Okay. I see it.

Chris Koltay:

But apparently I look like Andrew WK. Who's like, let himself go. Which is fine. I feel more like, I look like if, you know, Stephen King was in sleep or something, I don't know. I don't care. I don't care what I look like anymore. I've completely given up on, you know, I brushed my teeth and stuff, but like I have dreadlocks, like by just, just from neglect, no statement, no, no reggae. I mean, I love reggae, but you know, like, that's funny. Somebody said, well, who said that?

Jessica Risker:

Let's see, where is it? Where's baby man. John Doans Don Jones.

Chris Koltay:

Okay. Oh yeah. I can't wait to touch that on the internet. Excuse me. Should I not be swearing on here yet? You can

Jessica Risker:

Swear all you want. Totally. This is, this is a safe space to swear. 

Chris Koltay:

I can't wait to go after John on his next, my G feed. So you can say what he wants about me. He's a good friend. He's a good guy.

Jessica Risker:

All right.  Let's see here. I have, I know this is going to feel like too short of an interview for all the things that I want to ask you, but one question I have is you earlier referred to yourself as being in service of people.  I feel like engineers can play different roles for bands when they're coming into a studio and sometimes they may want an opinion. Sometimes they may not. How do you figure out - or  do you already kind of know what your role is? Have you predetermined that for yourself or do you work to figure out what the band's hoping for, from you?

Chris Koltay:

It kind of depends on if I know them or not, you know,  like The Dirtbombs, I know what that's going to be like. 

 

Jessica Risker:

What role do you play there?  

 

Chris Koltay:

I make a lot of snacks and wait to write songs like everybody else. And then to make sure that you're ready when he says go, that's basically how you'd make a Dirtbombs album. Cause you'll be like, man, we're never going to do this. And then he's just like playing and if you're not rolling, no Dirtbombs, but there's other bands from here that I just know how it's like dark red. There are some good friends of mine they're from here. Like I've known those guys for 20 some years, you know, like, I'm, we don't have to talk about that.

 

But if they're just people that are like, Hey, you did this record. I like it. I want to come in, we have 10 songs.  I always get together with people and have a meeting and sort of talk about how heavily they want me to get into their music and, and how there's a certain amount. I mean, Albini can say what he wants and other guys like that, but, and maybe he, he actually probably can, but  I feel like there's a certain amount of just a little bit of production. Even if you're just engineering a record, somebody's got to be there to tell the drummer that he's like losing six beats a minute. And the chorus can't really nail the 16th note, high hat thing or whatever, somebody has to be like, bro, just lock it in with the eighth notes and we'll put a tambourine on it.

 

Just let it go.  Somebody's got to do damage control usually, you know? And so there's some of that, but I try to get that stuff hammered out in great detail ahead of time. And most of what I do, you know, especially with bands from around here it's like in the middle somewhere, I'm doing some production, I'm like, yo, we should put Hammond on this. Or, you know I'm picking out the pedals and getting tones for everybody and doing all that stuff, but I'm not like, Hey, maybe go to G major on the bridge. Like I'm not really one of those Nashville producer kind of type dudes.

Jessica Risker:

So you may have thoughts on the sound and how to arrive at a sound, but to me that's sound versus songwriting.

Chris Koltay:

I mean, I might, if somebody asks me I'm down to do that, and I'm down to push songs in different directions, but I'm not like a sit down with the main person on an acoustic guitar and try to rewrite their tunes. Like I just didn't want to gravitate towards that.  I just kind of came up with a lot of older dudes yelling at me and telling me to shut the fuck up in the studio and to get coffee and, you know, do that kind of stuff. And also I work with a lot of incredibly talented, very gifted - I'm super lucky, you know work with a lot of people that like, my job is to stay out of their way, you know, like with Zach and Ian and Marcus and, and then those Dez and those guys you know, it's, it's just about having the shit ready when they're ready to go. You know, when it's 1:30 in the afternoon and then it's like the second blunt's gone around and everybody's had their coffee, you know, make sure that I'm not blowing it basically. And then I've got a good mix and good sounds. And then, you kind of can't mess up a good band or a good song. I don't think, you know.

Jessica Risker:

Yeah. Although I am, you know, always amazed at how much even a small mixing tweak can change the feel of a song or the feel of sound. And I guess I'm wondering, I guess I want to, do you feel like you have a S what do you feel? Do you feel like you have a sound that follows maybe some of the albums you've worked on, or are you really letting the bands take the lead on the sound? How much, if that question makes sense, how much input are you having? How much influence are you having on the sound of an album?

Chris Koltay:

I feel like mostly like 98% or something. There's people that have a lot of ideas about sound, but typically I feel like that it's a couple of different sides of the brain, you know? And typically, I feel like the people that are kind of good at thinking about both, maybe they would benefit even from having somebody handle one or the other for them, you know? But I feel like most of the time with the folks that I work with, they might be like, whoa, that guitar is way too distorted or something.  But that's most of what I'm doing, I'm sculpting that kind of stuff. And I hear you on the mix thing too, you know, it's like one little thing can really change it and open something up, but you can't mix a good, you know, like you can't make a song into a Dock of the Bay or something with a little reverb on the snare or in involved.

Chris Koltay:

That happens sometimes where I have to. I'm like, we should just rerecord it. You know, if you're like, this is the fifth mix you keep having me do all this weird. You had me mix it. Like Echo and the Bunnymen b even though your band sounds like Guns N’ Roses or whatever, you know.  That's the other thing is a lot of times I'll have bands come in and they're like, I want it to sound like The Piper at the Gates of Dawn or something. And I'm like, do you really? Cause there's like a mic or two on the drums. You know what I mean? So like, you hit your cymbals really hard. I always want to do that when I want to do that. Maybe that'll be my new post pandemic businesses that I'll give bands what they ask for when they come in, they're like I want to sound like Echo and the Bunnymen. And I'm like, but your band doesn't sound like that. You want me to like, mix your record, like super coked out and bright with like a lot of chorus on everything. Cause I can do that, but you're still going to sound like your band, you know?

Jessica Risker:

Okay. Okay. Well, I mean, I think that's good. It sounds like you're letting them know your thoughts.  Do they find that helpful? Do you think people fight with you when you say stuff like that? As soon as you say it, you know, I assume you don't say it exactly like that, but

Chris Koltay:

No. I mean, I try to be diplomatic and the bottom line is recording and I don't even know if anybody's this old, but like when you come home and you hear your voice on an answering machine, it's like, oh, like I'll never, if I don't like to watch video of myself, I don't like to hear my voice talking. You know, most people don't like that, you know, only really crazy, super ego'd out people are like, oh, look at me, I'm beautiful. You know? It's just nerve wracking enough. Like nobody needs to be told anything other than like, I just try to focus on the positive and if somebody comes in and they're like, no, I want it to sound like Echo and the Bunnymen and their band sounds like the Stones, I'll say, you know, I don't think your band really sounds like Echo and the Bunnymen, you know? Yeah. But what do you want? Like, I'll try to figure it out and have them tell me what they actually want. And so I can give that to them. It's also really hard to be objective about your own art. I feel like, you know, there's a few people, some of the great ones I feel like are that way, like Brian Case is a great example. He kind of defies everything. I've just said really, he's like a perfect human being and an amazing musician.

Chris Koltay:

And he could probably record your band super good too. I don't know that, but you know, he's like, oh, I just got into modular. I'm killing that too. But really there's only a few of those types of folks around, you know, most people need a hand. To me, it's about trying to decode what they're saying and  what they actually want and then giving that to them. And a lot of times I feel like the scope of a record is too big for somebody to just be able to look at it.  It takes a while, a couple of records sometimes, to be able to zoom in and zoom out on details. And then also think about the sequence of the thing. Or do I really want to use the same fuzz pedal for the entire record because it's gonna maybe get old, you know, that kind of stuff.

And I feel like most, most people aren’t that objective. And to me, it's about trying to find that place where I can help people  get out ahead of it a little bit and just bat some of those things down, you know, to be more like, oh, Hey, maybe we should try a different guitar on this song or let's change the snare drum since this tune is slower or, you know, let's maybe go for this kind of vibe just to kind of change stuff up. So you don't have the same thing happening for the entire record, you know? And like things that are fatiguing or potentially fatiguing, I'm trying to move those around a little bit, stuff like that.  

Jessica Risker:

You know, you were saying that it may take an artist  a couple of albums to really be able to grasp the bigger picture and the arc of an album and how it's gonna play out. How about for yourself? You know, do you feel like that was something that was more difficult for you starting out and now, do you feel like you have a pretty good sense of that?

Chris Koltay:

Yeah. I feel like now I do. And then also it depends on the record. There's some people I work with like, lik Lockett from Deerhunter.  We don't really even talk sometimes about stuff, you know, he's like, oh, I'm gonna use the Gemini. Cool. And plug it in. And then I'm walking downstairs and he's like, it's too basic. And I'm like, yeah, I know I'm going to move the mic. You know, we don't need to communicate like that. And then there's other, sometimes I don't even do any of that stuff. I'm just in the zone, in the moment reacting to what's going on. And I know that it's kind of about what it ends, like what at the end, what it's going to be. And also with Lockett, he more than likely has the sequence done before he shows up.

 

And he has everything plotted out and organized.  I mean, I've been doing this now  since 1995, you know, that is a long time. And so I feel like a lot of it is second nature, ike maybe I'm not thinking like, oh, I gotta try to get a bass player to play less notes, or the whole record is going to be a mess. Like I'm maybe not consciously thinking that. 

 

Jessica Risker:

Yeah. 

 

Chris Koltay:

You know, but I'm trying to get the band to do another take and maybe asking everybody to play a little bit less and maybe slowing the tempo down five beats a minute, you know, cause everybody sounds a little nervous and there's a lot of that stuff, but I feel like at this point if somebody brings songs to me, I can kind of see the arc of the whole thing.

And pretty quickly I start having ideas that are common ones and some that aren't, but mostly what I'm trying to do now, and I guess what I mean is in the last five years of recording, I kind of feel like the studio and me would probably turned a corner somewhere in like 2014 or something just from doing so many gigs and making a bunch of records, like where things kind of seem to, I was like, oh, wow. I don't hate how this sounds.

 

You know, a lot of what I do is very fast. And then I'm like,  I wish I had another day to mix that or whatever, and where I started to be like, oh, this is actually a good studio. And I'm actually a decent engineer. And that took, I don't know, 17 years or something to get to that.  Maybe I'm wrong, but once I noticed that happening I started thinking about records differently and thinking about how to make sounds that aren't totally - I think like sample packs and all that stuff, that's all great and everything, but everybody gets all bummed out about that stuff and sound replacing and if that's how you want to make music, that's fine.

 

I have no problem with that. But, my reaction to that has been that I'm trying to go in the other direction. Just because I'm trying to draw listeners to the material. In other words,  if you've heard the first Cars album, you've probably heard most -I mean, somebody is going to light me up for this in the comments. But if I feel like you've heard most popular synthesizers, you know, you've heard of Juno, a Moog and all that stuff. Like all that stuff is woven into the fabric of our subconscious, whether you're a music fan or not, like if you've heard Lucky Man on the radio, you've heard a Moog or whatever. And so for the last five years, I started to worry less about the sonics and like, am I going to be able to make this sound good?

I started worrying more about how can I make this product stand out. And  just simply everybody is making music now and there's just a sea of it. And it's super easy to get lost in. The one way that I felt like was a pretty safe bet is to do something, you know, if everybody's using a Strat through a Marshall you know, I I'll try to pick out something that's a little different, we have a lot of trainer amps at the studio, for that reason. Cause they kind of don't sound so much like anything else. So I, for the last,  I guess maybe eight to 10 years now, my main concern has been trying to, to sculpt that part of the record, you know and trying to evoke that kind of response you would have  if you're in a record store, that feeling we've all had where you're like, oh, and you just need to pick up the new  Radiohead or whatever.

And you're like, what is this? Like, this is killing it. Well, a good example of that would be that Blur Song 2 you know, everybody was like, what is this? And it's not even really a song necessarily.  They talk about making that and they're like, they were just totally around laughing about how bad it was and how it sounded. We're trying to make the weirdest sounds. And that song was so huge for them because those sounds were, you know, I guess relatively new in terms of the radio. And so I guess in other words, if somebody is like, oh, I want to use this  Juno for a pad, I'll try to use a Prophet or something or use the Moog one and do something a little different.

So it's not something that everybody knows or if they want to put down a lead line rather than just pulling out a regular Moog, I'll patch something in the modular. And you know, especially with the modular stuff any time I use that, you know, if somebody's like, oh, I want space wind for the breakdown or whatever, which actually that does happen, I patch it and I do that stuff or we use it for a melody. So many people ask me when I play that, oh yeah, check out this mix. I just did. They're like, what is that? You know, people can be in the room having a conversation. They're like, yo, what's that? You know? And I think that that's the way to get people to like your band, you know? And that's the way to get your stuff to stand out is to not just stick with what everybody else is doing, maybe to try to do something that isn't so woven into the fabric of our subconscious, do something that stands out a little bit.

And I think that it's an old impulse, it's the same thing that if you're out in the woods with the four other people that live in your cave or whatever, and you hear a footstep on some twigs and you're like, oh, that broke like 14 twigs. And human feet only break for like, that's a bear, you know, like our ear trained to do that for survival for way longer than people have been compressing drum sets and recording room mics and all the other stuff. And I feel like if you can, like, if you can get back here, you can get back in the, you know, do some stuff that pulls from back here. Like people pay attention. You know, my mom would be like, oh, that's cool. And then I'd be playing some folk song I worked on and then there's a simple line. And she would be like, what's that? And I'm like, oh, it's the modular thing. And she would, she kind of hated cause, cause she knew I spent all my money by module. Yeah. Like, yeah. I don't know that. That's what I've been focused on. That's a super long. 

Jessica Risker:

No, that was great. That was great.

Chris Koltay:

I've been focusing on trying to... I don't know. I feel like you put out a record, people don't typically lose fans. If somebody likes your band, most of the bands I work for, they have an audience. If they're able to afford coming to me and you know, people are already people that come to your shows, they already paid money. You know, people that bought your record, they already are invested and they already like your band. I'm trying to to do stuff that will pull other listeners. You know, if you do enough of that in a record, you can get somebody who's like, man, you guys are kind of like a jam band or whatever, and I hate jam bands, but I really love your record. And it's like Sonic Youth bands that do a lot of that kind of thing where you're like, I don't really like this kind of music, but I really liked that. I feel like if you earn somebody's attention in that way, it kind of sticks around a lot longer, I think, than just being like, oh, I love peanut butter and jelly, you know, like, oh, I love the thing that a million times, you know, and then somebody like sprinkled a little chili powder on the peanut butter and you're like, you know, like what happened the first time somebody put, you know, crushed red pepper in a chocolate bar you know?

 

Jessica Risker:

Yeah.  No, that was great. That was really interesting.  Instagram cuts off after an hour, so there's like six minutes. I want to make sure that I, you know, maybe I'll ask you to come back on if you want to do some time, but because I have so many questions, but let's see. I'm trying to figure out what I want to ask you.

 

Chris Koltay:

Shorter answers for the next six minutes. Okay. Let's do lightning round.

Jessica Risker:

What would you tell yourself,  when you're starting out, what advice would you give your freshman self?

Chris Koltay:

Oh, wow. That's a really good question.  Actually finish college. No, I would never say that. 

 

I don't know, Maybe slow down and listen a little bit more, you know like the music.  I was really, really focused on just engineering as quickly as I could in the early days, you know? And it took a couple of years before I started to feel guilty. If I let somebody, somebody who's like, how was that take? And I'm like, oh, not good, you know, but we have four more songs. It's 10 30. And then I got to mix all these, you know, and there were so many, so many times I would go in at noon when I worked at Ultrasuede in Cincinnati  on  a Sunday and it would be 9:00 AM, Monday morning and the guys would be coming in to do mastering and I'd be like coiling up cables, you know?

And that's cool. A lot of that music needed to happen and all that, but I just feel there's a lot to be said for patience in the studio and just slowing, just taking a deep breath and seeing what is actually happening. It's funny cause there's people watching this probably that I've worked with and they're like, you're trying to slow down. Like, I probably have a reputation for like, that's why people are like, oh, he makes coffee and, you know, guacamole and stuff like that. Cause I try to make it really laid back. But I think in the early days that a lot of the reason that I run the studio that way now is because working in a commercial studio back then  was so hectic. You know? So maybe back then I would have, I would tell myself to just kind of chill out and listen a little more, you know.

Jessica Risker:

Do you have any fears about your work? 

Chris Koltay:

Yeah, so many.  I'm afraid that at some point I'll be like, that's good enough. You know, I have a lot of friends who make not a lot. I have some friends who make, make records and stuff just for the business part of it, you know? And I'm afraid of that. I'm terrified of listening to stuff and being like, oh, I can't believe I did that. Oh my God. Like that's a fear of mine. 

 

And I guess really the biggest fear that I have in terms of work is that something is going to happen that's brilliant or mindblowing and I'm not going to get it. You know, my biggest fear is that  I'm going to be around something brilliant or like some band will be like, Hey, we're just going to, which I'd never do this obviously, but you know, they're like, oh, we're just going to hit it real quick. Don't record this. Like, I'm always recording that, you know? That's what I'm mostly afraid of is missing brilliance, you know, that the lightning happens and I'm nowhere nearby with the bottle. 

Jessica Risker:

I want to shoutout to my bandmate. He's been a longtime fan of Tape Op  - he wanted me to mention Tape Op and your participation in that. He's a huge fan of the magazine. I want listeners to know about Tape Op If they don't know about Tape Op.

Chris Koltay:

Yeah. It's quite simply the best magazine that's ever been written in the history of mankind, to be honest, I feel like it's kind of like the AA book of recording. Like if you just sent somebody all those Tape Ops, yeah. They'd be able to figure out how to record without any other people, you know, and those dudes are the best. Those are the best humans that are alive today. Those guys they're the best people, you know.

Jessica Risker:

Is there anything that you want to, you know, promote or share now, before we close out today?

Chris Koltay:

I mean, not really, man. I'm stoked to be on your show. It was fun. I was nervous, you know, I was like, yeah. You know? But you know, I don't really have that much to promote, if you want to record in Detroit, you know, DM me,

Jessica Risker:

That's at highbiasrecordings.com

Chris Koltay:

Yeah. Or [DM me] on [Instagram]

Jessica Risker:

Thank you guys for joining us. And thank you so much, Chris. I really, I honestly have more questions for you prepared. 

 

Chris Koltay:

Yeah. I'll see you tomorrow night for part two. 

 

Jessica Risker:

But yeah. Thank you. Thank you so much for your time. It was really great talking to you.

Chris Koltay:

Yeah, you too. Nice talking to you. Have a good one. Thanks for asking. And I'll come back anytime.

Jessica Risker:

All right. All right. Thank you. And thank you everyone for watching. Good night. Take care.

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