Interview with Mat Mitchell of Puscifer
Mat Mitchell is one seriously busy dude! Over the years he has been a Programmer, Engineer, Producer and Technician…sometimes wearing several of these hats at the same time. Mat has worked with some of the biggest acts out there including TOOL, Nine Inch Nails, Katy Perry, Queens of the Stone Age, Ministry and Emily Osment. We would like to thank Mat for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about what he does for a living.
One Louder Magazine: Hi Mat! One of your main gigs is programming, engineering and producing the band Puscifer, featuring TOOL front man Maynard James Keenan. Puscifer has a new album – Conditions of My Parole – coming out on October 18, 2011. What can we expect this release to sound like?
Mat Mitchell: This album feels very Italian to me…think Ennio Morricone meets Giorgio Moroder.
OLM: Any tour plans for Puscifer or is this more of a “studio-only” project? If a tour will ensue, what can one expect from the live show?
MM: We have a U.S. tour in the works starting in early November. Live shows are really exciting for us and I feel this is where the spirit of the project really comes out. Expect a very untraditional rock show.
OLM: You play the role of programmer, engineer and producer with Puscifer. Do you feel that any area may be compromised with so many jobs? In other words, do you ever feel like there’s too much on your plate and the end result may suffer?
MM: I think with this project the roles are so tied together that there isn’t enough of a separation to feel there’s too much on my plate. Also, I find it much quicker to make changes on the fly without having to explain these changes to an engineer.
OLM: The album was recorded at Caduceus Cellars in Jerome, Arizona, the site of Merkin Vineyards owned by Maynard. I imagine you’ve tried some of these wines, right? Any favorites?
MM: Without trying to sound too corny, I feel like Maynard is creating something special out there and being able to create music in that environment was amazing. My favorite right now is the Lei Li Rose Nebbiolo.
OLM: Some of the artists you have worked with are quite diverse: TOOL, Nine Inch Nails, Ministry and Queens of the Stone Age all deliver more “aggressive” music while Katy Perry and Emily Osment are more pop-rock oriented. Why the wildly various acts? Is it a matter of taking a gig that’s available? Or do you want to switch things around so the work isn’t so monotonous on your part? Or something else entirely?
MM: The antics change, but they are more similar than you think. I work with people that have strong work ethic and are serious about what they do whether it’s industrial madness or super-sweet pop.
OLM: How important is it to like the material of the bands you work with?
MM: It’s very important to me, but my palate is pretty diverse. Sometimes I’m not necessarily in the mood for what I might have to listen to, but I will only work with bands I enjoy and am comfortable working with.
OLM: You’ve programmed for multiple acts. What exactly does that mean and how do you do it?
MM: The programming role in a touring and recording scenario are very different. In a recording scenario you are building sounds, beats, and structures to fit a specific feel or mood, where in a live situation it’s typically more about capturing the sound or feel that has already been created. For any given project I might build drum sounds, guitar sounds, synth patches, vocal effects, intro/outro music, or even remix live arrangements for a different feel.
OLM: Do the artists you program for have specific requests or do they know your style and want you to create programs based on that style? If the answer is both, which do you prefer and why?
MM: Certainly both. Sometimes an artist will have a clear idea as to a direction where sometimes they are looking for some direction or options for direction. If I feel there is a weakness somewhere that I feel an artist might have overlooked I try to offer suggestions, as well.
OLM: What motivates you to create something new? Where does the inspiration come from?
MM: I am constantly recording little melodies or drum ideas into my phone. Every few months I’ll transfer them to my computer and build sessions from them. Occasionally, like with the Puscifer song ‘Humbling River’ Maynard came to me with a vocal melody and we worked out the music and programming in an evening.
OLM: What about leftover material? Will Mat Mitchell release a solo album? Why or why not?
MM: I consider re-mix work my solo project. I really enjoy breaking songs and trying to give artists something back that I am really proud of and completely different than what they might have been expecting.
OLM: If you had to choose one of your gigs – programmer, engineer, producer or technician – as a full-time career, which would it be and why?
MM: Production and programming are my favorite things to do; I’ll cheat the question a bit and call them the same gig. I love being able to make a living being creative and would go crazy if I couldn’t grind on gear.
OLM: Let’s talk gear. What gear do you rely on as a programmer? Engineer? Producer? Technician?
MM: Apple Computers, Logic, Mainstage, Ableton Live, Apogee Hardware, Buchla 200e Modular, Serge Modular, Moog Voyager and more. These are my go-to devices and I don’t know what I’d do without them.
OLM: What piece of gear is on your wish list?
MM: Hmmm…for some time it’s been the Oberheim Xpander and Roland Jupiter 6.
OLM: As a producer, what elements of an artist’s “in studio” performance do you tend to correct, want to change or nurture?
MM: It’s all about unique sounds and feel for me. I’m fortunate to work with amazing musicians so we don’t have to worry much on “correcting” things. Changes are usually made to modify the feel or sound of a performance.
OLM: Now a couple of questions about you…what’s your musical history? What did you listen to growing up?
MM: My biggest influences were probably dark wave, industrial, and electronic pop. I played in mostly punk bands growing up primarily because we couldn’t afford the instruments to do anything else.
OLM: At what age did your interest in music as a career occur? When and how did that transition take place?
MM: I started learning to play guitar when I was 10, but didn’t play in a band until high school. We all loved what we were doing so much that we started playing clubs and touring regionally in high school. I was probably 15 or 16.
OLM: What advice do you have for someone who wants to “work in the industry”?
MM: Don’t wait, do it. Wheels in motion stay in motion. If you are working and around other people working, it will only be a matter of time before something develops.
OLM: What are some of your hobbies? What do you like to do when not working?
MM: My hobby is old British motorcycles. I’m obsessed with them. The first vehicle I purchased was a ’71 Triumph motorcycle when I was in my mid-20s. That one ended its life under the front wheel of a Toyota truck at a stop light.
OLM: The desert island question: if you were stranded on a desert island and could take the collected works of five artists, who would the five be?
MM: Ennio Morricone, Johnny Cash, David Bowie, Trent Reznor, Peter Gabriel
OLM: Who is your guilty listening pleasure?
MM: Robyn! She owns it like no other!
OLM: How can people find out more information about you and/or the bands you work with?
MM: For more info on what I’m up to check www.puscifer.com
OLM: Last question! Having worked with some of the biggest acts out there, you must have some great stories to share. Before we let you go, is there a story or two that you can share with the One Louder Magazine audience?
MM: Here’s a few anonymous real events… “nameless” shart’s on the way to the stage, “nameless” ends up in boat jail on a ferry ride from Oslo to Copenhagen, “nameless” misses sound check because they are sitting in a police car outside the venue for trying to buy weed on the street…