Tucker Martine is a Grammy-nominated American record producer and composer who has worked with artists such as The Decemberists, R.E.M., My Morning Jacket, Beth Orton, Neko Case, Mudhoney, Bill Frisell, Sufjan Stevens, Spoon, Camera Obscura and Laura Veirs. In 2010, Paste Magazine included Martine in their list of the 10 Best Producers of the Decade.
1. So why make records?
For me it all traces back to those early memories of listening to the radio or being huddled around a boom box or record player. I was drawn deep into the world of recorded music and have never returned. Music is the place I turn to when things are rough and it’s the place I turn to when things are feeling good. It’s where I can bond with other humans by collaborating, trying to bring out the best in them and letting them do the same for me, to be a part of something much bigger than ourselves. It’s where I can start in the morning with nothing and leave that night with something beautiful. The adrenalin rush of that never gets old. It’s where I can try to overcome my fears and insecurities. It’s where I can surprise myself and others. If I’m falling into a rut or a predictable formula in my life it will be reflected in my work so in that way it keeps me honest. It’s where I’m reminded that crazy ideas are often the best ones. No matter how long I’ve done it, every day still feels in many ways like the first time. It’s wildly elusive to me – I can never quite grasp it in the sense that whatever I discovered that worked great for one record will likely have little relevance to the next. That mystery intrigues me. It does feel like I’m chasing something and enjoying the chase. Hopefully there’s some cumulative wisdom being gathered but many days I’m not so sure! I hope to come to the studio each day as a fan first and foremost, to never lose that sense of wonder.
2. Can recordmaking be a politically and/or socially significant art form?
Sure. It’s no less powerful than it’s ever been – it’s just that people’s attention spans for listening seem to be getting shorter and of course we are barraged with more music to filter through than we could possibly have time to digest thoroughly, but I’m still interested in making records for people with attention spans even if there are far fewer of them. It seems less likely that a single artist will make a huge political or social impact in this current climate but more artists are reaching smaller audiences and I think people are still being profoundly moved by music, whatever it may be communicating. The day I stop believing that it can profoundly move people is probably the day I start looking for a real job.
3. Why do you think so few women are recordmakers and audioworkers?
It’s a fascinating question. Maybe women are smart enough to see that you’ll end up spending your life withering away in a chair working ridiculous hours, not seeing your family enough and developing back problems and they envision a higher quality of life for themselves. Hah. I haven’t directly seen a lot sexism directly from inside the industry personally but I live in my own little bubble and I’m sure there’s a lot of that out there that has contributed to the shortage. I won’t pretend to have the answer but I’m sensing a gradual increase in the amount of women in audio and I think that’s great. Probably more than half of the artists I work with are women and everyone of them is a force of nature. Many of my favorite musicians are women. If they are being shut out of the engineering/production side of things by sexists then we are all really missing out.
4. What do you imagine recordmaking will be like in 100 years?
There will probably be a bunch of prevalent instruments that we can yet imagine of some electronic nature. Likely something that interprets your thoughts and impulses instantly and allows you to manipulate them. The recording medium will be water or plasma or something like that. Then there will be a small faction of retro fetishists that insist that Protools 7 with the original Mbox has a sound that just can’t be beat.
5. If you could change one thing about the field of recordmaking, what would you change?
I feel like one of the beauties of record making is that in many ways it can be whatever you want it to be. Especially today. If anything I feel like there are too many options and I like to reduce options as early in the process as possible. I feel like people are more creative with fewer options and you can gather more momentum, which is something that really important to me. So I’m not sure I’d change anything about the field other than to improve myself as a producer, engineer and a person.
6. What was the last record you heard that truly blew your mind or touched your heart? How so?
Oh man, there are so many – I feel like it’s our job to continually connect deeply with music. Sometimes you have to work to get to that place and other times it smacks you upside the head. I’ve rediscovered this old Link Wray record, it’s self-titled. It was recorded to a three track recorder in his brothers shack. The recording is sloppy in all of the right ways. I love when great records sound like they didn’t quite know what they were doing but they had a real vision and made something truly unique as a result.
7. What is your greatest fear when making a record?
I’m always working to eliminate fears in the studio as much as possible but they still tend lurk nearby. My greatest fear when making a record would be that I trust my instincts completely and then later learn I made a bunch of horrible decisions…. because if we come to doubt our instincts we pretty much have nothing to bring to a creative situation. The irony is, the less fear you have the more confidence you gain because when you hear fearless record making, it’s exciting stuff!
8. What is your greatest joy when making a record?
It’s a group of people putting their egos aside to make something bigger than ourselves. When everybody really does that it’s astounding what we are capable of. The end result of our work is a record, but as audio professionals or whatever we are – our days are made up of the experience of making these records and I think the quality of that experience is easily as important as the record itself.