The Calcutta

Peter Katis Inteview Part Two

May 14, 2009 · No Comments

Colin: What are your thoughts on remix artists?

Peter: I’m a remix artist as of last week.

Mike: Yeah?

Peter: I’m working on a remix for Mates of State, whose album I actually did but they’re doing a couple of remix EPs, and they asked me to remix one of the songs. So I’m dipping my toe in. I have mixed feelings on remix artists. In a way, I’m really impressed sometimes when I hear remixes because they can be incredibly musical. I’ve even heard remixes that are better than the original song.

Mike: Agreed.

Peter: Because the remix artist did all the, actually…

Colin: Played the instruments.

Peter: Right and added really musical things. I don’t know if they necessarily changed the chord progressions but they will add all sorts of things or add loops that add a lot of harmony, more harmony than was there originally. And I think that’s great. But then again it’s always, to me, held back by being sort of cartoony, dancy sounds all the time. But if you’re okay with that, you’re okay with that.

Mike: I’m okay with that.

All: (Laughs)

Peter's arsenal of guitar and basses. Photo by Colin Kerrigan

Peter's arsenal of guitar and basses. Photo by Colin Kerrigan

Mike: Do you know RAC? The Remix Artist Collective.

Peter: I know almost nothing about them. Did he do a Tokyo Police Club mix?

Colin: Yeah.
Mike: Yeah, they did a bunch of Tokyo Police Club’s.

Peter: Well, that’s what I… I thought the remix of Sixties is better than Sixties. I thought Sixties was the weakest song on the record. So I thought the remix was more musical than the actual song.

Mike: Yeah, I know they were great.

Peter: And the remix was done before the mix was done, which was kind of weird.

Colin: It is weird.

Mike: Yeah, my friend Andrew, he’s apart of RAC, and he’s the one who actually told me about you.  He’s like oh Peter, he’s great you know.

Peter: Well you can tell him, hey man, right back at you!

All: (Laughs)

Peter: You can’t record tone of voice. But, yeah, like I said to you guys, the remix is better than the song so that’s a tough one sometimes.

Mike: Yeah.

Colin: That’s pretty cool
Mike: So are there any albums out there that are like a reference bible to you as a producer and not as a listener?

Peter: That’s a good question. You know we’ll reference albums. Do you mean like a sonic reference when you’re mixing a record?

Mike: Yeah, yeah totally. You know something where, say there’s an album and you’re like man this album is just solid all around, mixing, recording, and maybe you’re like, something you just listen to maybe as a sonic reference but also as a reference, like I’d like to record or master like that.  I mean everybody has their own style respectively.

Peter: Right, right. Well it’s hard to say. I almost don’t want to list any records but it’s… There’s certainly records we like. It’s easy to lose touch with the outside world if you don’t A/B the records in the studio. The one thing I’ve learned in the last couple of years, I definitely used to have certain records that I’d do that with a bunch, but one thing I’ve learned is that it’s really kind of bizarre how different records can sound from one another but still all sound pretty good. So I try not to get to heavy into A/B’ing. But, I don’t know Greg (Peter’s assistant sound engineer). I don’t know if I want to start listing records.

Greg: I wouldn’t. I mean every time we do it, it never applies. You think something is similar and then you’re like let’s check it out. And like, even though the sonics might be technically similar enough to even make a judgment call.
Peter: It helps sometimes.
Greg: Like if seeing if something is bright enough or loud enough.
Peter: Right. But it’s like, how can I even explain it…..what was I going to say? I mean sometimes you think of a certain record and say well that record sounds amazing, but then you’ll A/B it next to something else and you’ll go oh it doesn’t sound that good. But then you’ll A/B it against something else and you’ll go yes it does sound that good. Not because it’s better just things are different you know?

Mike: Yeah

Peter: It’s also weird now because records have gotten louder and louder, technically. Which can be fine, it can be cool. A loud record can be exciting but it can also be a dangerous game. You can end up really beating your music to death in a bad way.

Mike: Right

Peter: That’s a game we play all the time. That’s a game we’re playing right now with The Swell Season. This is a largely acoustic record, but some of the songs are almost full on rock songs, too. So how do you make a record without any sonic compromises that still holds up to modern rock records volume wise.

Mike: Right

Peter: But that’s the reason I have this giant wall of compressors and stuff. Playing with compression and peak limiting in the right ways is the key to a record that sounds like it was made recently but doesn’t sound ridiculously loud or artificially loud.

Mike: Yeah, so I guess going off that, I had some help with this question because it’s kind of techie. And you know, I know a little bit about recording, done some self recording for some songs, but um, so I’m just going to read this and hopefully you’ll understand what I mean.

All: (Laughs)

Mike: So, how detrimental is a 256 kbps mp3 to a consumer’s interpretation of the audio quality?  In actuality, do you agree with the tenacity with which much of the music industry scoffs at mp3?

Peter: Well, it’s a tough call. I mean, I think a 256 mp3 is actually pretty good sound, you know, I mean to be honest. But most mp3’s you get aren’t 256.

Mike: Right

Peter: I mean I think a lot of times when you download stuff, I’ve never downloaded anything off of iTunes. That may sound pretty funny but I haven’t. What are they?
Greg: I’ve gotten a lot of 128s and they sound miserable.
Peter: See, right 128, that’s not cool. 256..

Mike: Cool

Peter: It’s pretty good. See I guess the real objection a lot of people have, that I would have, is it’s kind of depressing that as technology moves forward, the most common way of giving music to the consumers, is that the quality is actually going backwards. Just that in itself even if it’s still pretty good, why would you make it worse? You know, a few years ago everyone talked about oh in a few years everything will be 24bit 96k for the consumer.  No.  We’re going backwards quality wise.

Mike: Digressing

Peter: Which is a little depressing.
Greg: I also have a thought on the mp3 too. Like, I guess it’s not really the same question.

Mike: No, go ahead.

Greg: Also, I’ve recently gotten into listening to vinyl more often, which is a totally different experience than having the iTunes open where you can jump around to all different things. Like being able to hear something as an album, you know, even something modern, you know, totally brand new record, it’s so much more enjoyable, it’s so much more deliberate, you know, to sit down and actually listen to the whole thing rather than have it on in the background while you’re cleaning or whatever.
Peter: And that’s the reason really honestly I think for the volume wars in music. In the old days, you put on a record and it didn’t matter if the record was quiet or loud. You just adjusted your volume knob to suit it. But with iTunes and everything or even with playlists, if you’re jumping from band to band to band to record to record to record, and if your music is quieter, it doesn’t sound as good.  So, yeah, and I don’t even have a functioning turntable right now I’m embarrassed to say.  But its something I miss about the days of vinyl because of that.  Also, I like active listening, I like sometimes to just sit down and listen to the music instead of having it just be background.

Mike: Cool
Colin: What are you working on now, The Swell Season? And how is the recording process?

Peter: Uh, Swell Season. Yeah.  We’re almost done, well we’re just starting mixing, but the truth is we’ve got a lot of the mixing done already.  Recording The Swell Season was in a certain way one of the easiest things I’ve ever done in my life because they’re so good.  There’s something about when a singer walks in a room and just sort of… Is someone at the door? It could be Glen…speak of the devil. Speak of the Irish devil!

All: (Laughs)

Peter: Um, but both Glen and Marketa sing so well that it’s almost kind of freaky.

Mike: Right.

Peter: And the musicians in the band, all the guys from The Frames, they’re so good it was was incredibly easy.  They’re all really good musicians, and they’re really fun people.  I only have a handful of experiences in my life that were truly miserable, which I won’t talk about.

Mike: Yeah, no we don’t have to go there. So uh, if there were a next step for Peter Katis, what would it be? You know, you’re working with some of the coolest indie acts out there in this beautiful home and studio.  Do you see yourself growing old at Tarquin or might you ever entertain relocating or starting a new studio somewhere?

Peter: Well I daydream about that all the time because I have a secret master plan in the back of my head of building a studio (Laughs). Not that far from here but sort of more rural Connecticut…in the woods.

Mike: Right.

Colin: More isolated.

Peter: Yeah, a piece of land that I actually would have access to.  The problem is, if you were to be totally realistic, you would need the kind of money that indie rock producers don’t really make.
Mike: Right.

Peter: So maybe some day, maybe not. You know, especially now after George Bush has destroyed the world..

All: (Laughs)

Peter: I’m not going to try anything too ambitious right now.

Mike: So secret masterplan studio in the woods.

Peter: Secret master plan. Well one plan is to maybe not work so hard, but that plan never works, it never works. And now I have a seven-month-old baby so I thought I had no time before, who was I kidding?

All: (Laughs)

Mike: So if you could be any kind of professional athlete what would you be? A downhill skier?

Peter: Mmm..

Mike: You might switch it up a bit?

Peter: No, I’d probably be a hockey player.

Mike: Hockey player?

Peter: Although, I wouldn’t look forward to getting into fights. Grown men getting into fights to me is a little…

Mike: Caveman-ish?

Peter: A little caveman-ish.

Mike: And we’ve asked this question before but I find it pretty interesting. Would you rather, inevitably you’re going to get eaten or you’re going to die, would you rather get eaten by a bear or a shark?

Peter: Hmm.
Greg: I feel like we’ve had this conversation before.

All: (Laughs)

Peter: I don’t think so.
Greg: I’ve asked this question to people before.  I’ve got an opinion but I want to know what you think.
Peter: Well you know in another world where you’re allowed to try that, I’d love to see what it’d be like to fight a bear.

All: (Laughs)

Peter: So I mean, odds are a bear, is you’re not going to beat the bear. But a shark, sharks are much scarier and grosser, so I might pick the bear. On the other hand, I’ve imagined being attacked by a shark, and I imagined poking its eyes out and maybe getting away.

All: (Laughs)

Peter: But the question is not which one could you get away from but which would you rather be eaten by. That’s a bad question.

All: (Laughs)

Peter: I didn’t mean it’s not a good question, I mean, there’s no fun answer to that. I guess, uh, I don’t know.
Greg: So your answer is I refuse to be eaten.
Peter: I would just run. Run faster then the other guy with me right? That’s the old joke right? You don’t have to run faster than the bear, just faster than you.

Colin: Yeah.

Greg: I’ve got a thought on it, I’ve always heard that bears are not efficient killers so it’d be a more long drawn out process.  He might gnaw on your leg for a while.

Mike: That’s what I’m saying. Shark.

Greg: You know a shark knows what he’s doing.

Mike: At least you’re drowning while you’re being eaten.

Peter: And then if you get away from shark A, I’m sure shark B would be there in a few seconds.

Mike: Oh yeah. Well either way you’re going down so I guess..

Peter: Right

All: (Laughs)

Mike: I guess to sort of wrap things up a little bit, is there any sound or technique or audio phenomenon that you still can’t wrap your hands around? Like any sounds on records that boggle your minds? On how they got that?

Peter: That’s a good question. I definitely will hear records sometimes where there is this absolutely massive low end, you know, massive bass. Yet still the bass isn’t too much.  Sometimes I just think, wow, how did that just happen, how did they do that? But I mean that’s one of the fun parts of this job: to try to figure out how to do that. But it can be a little unfair too, for example, when you hear some sort of metal or techno type of music where the low end blows away indie rock sounds, but it’s a different game, it’s a different approach. You know if I had that sort of sound on an indie rock record, people might go whoa whoa whoa take it easy. You know?

Mike: Yeah.

Peter: But big sounds are very gratifying. And in fact, we’ve been accused of that a lot more recently with bands that have said, hey, take the drum sounds down a notch, you know this isn’t you know…

All: (Laughs)

Peter: Because we love to go for the big heavy kick and snare and a lot of times people may think it’s too much stylistically. But yeah, I think that’s the most impressive thing when people can get a massive low end on a record, and it’s still never muddy or boomy or inappropriate. Or when records achieve a natural loudness…not like a guy just pulled down a slider on a digital limiter. Oh yeah, and good music.

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