John Agnello is an American producer, recording engineer and mixer who has been involved with many albums throughout the last 25 years. Most recently, John has been involved with Kurt Vile, Sonic Youth, Sweet Apple, Dinosaur Jr., Thurston Moore and Jemina Pearl, to name a few.
1. So why make records?
Why not? I grew up as a kid who loved music and was fascinated by artists and the music they made that affected my childhood. I made a decision in college that academia was not for me. And creativity was. Granted, this was 1979, when there was more of a mystery of how records were made. There were few magazines and recording schools. In fact, not many people in my world really understood what I was doing. But the idea for me back then was to be able to help create something that would affect future kids the way music affected me.
2. Can recordmaking be a politically and/or socially significant art form?
I grew up when rock was more about escapism or tuning out to “the man.” I know there have been instances of movements, a la Fugazi and Dischord Records. I guess it can, but in practice, not usually.
3. Why do you think so few women are recordmakers and audioworkers?
I think women in general have more sense than wanting to spend 12 hours in a windowless room with a bunch of smelly band dudes. I wish there were more women in audio. I’m not sure if it’s the hours or male majority in bands and record companies or whatever it is. I just love the dynamic of a female presence as an artist or an engineer or an intern.
4. What do you imagine recordmaking will be like in 100 years?
I predict the wax cylinder will make a big comeback with the hipster nation that emerges in Detroit! hahahaha. I have no clue! I can predict that as we refine the recording process to make it easier for an artist, said artist’s ability to preform live will diminish. We’ve already seen that over the last 50 years. Technology improves, ability declines. Obviously there are exceptions to the rule.
5. If you could change one thing about the field of recordmaking, what would you change?
I would change the “loudness” wars to the “lowness” wars. I feel like somewhere along the line, the idea of taste got replaced by finite opinions. The loudness factor, for example. Most people can’t tell if a record is good, but they can tell if it is loud. Auto tuning is another one. “I can’t tell if that’s a good vocal, is it auto tuned?” And the grid. What makes a basic track on the grid better than a truly great feeling track? Don’t get me wrong, I have used auto tuning and the grid when necessary, but not as a common process.
6. What was the last record you heard that truly blew your mind or touched your heart? How so?
Sharon Van Etten’s “Epic” always gives me chills when I hear it.
7. What is your greatest fear when making a record?
I wouldn’t say “fear”, but I am concerned with getting the best out of the artist and finishing under or on budget. Along those lines, always trying to make the artist’s best record. In the case of an artist like Sonic Youth, obviously they’ve had some great records in their past, but I want the records I work on with them to be considered among some of the better ones. But in the cases of The Hold Steady and Kurt Vile, my concern was to make records to help break them to a wider audience, which thankfully was what happened.
8. What is your greatest joy when making a record?
Helping an artist make his best record to date is the biggest joy. And then if the record does well on top of that, well that’s a huge bonus. For me, it’s all about helping the artist realize his vision and potential. And then make it sound as slamming as possible helps. The other greatest joy is hearing my 8 year old daughter singing every lyric from the last Manchester Orchestra when it comes on in the car. That makes it all worth while!