"Wait until you hear this Black Dahlia album, man, it'll blow your face off," raves a fully caffeinated Jason Suecof. "It's their Rust in Peace."
It's high noon in Central Florida, but studio-don Suecof is still waiting for yet another crew of late-rising musicians to arrive at his studio. It's a scenario the producer/mixing engineer has repeated many times since establishing Audio Hammer Studios in 1998—especially since hitting producer-paydirt with Trivium, from nearby Tampa.
Jason spent his teenage years recording local bands in his native Connecticut, but began befriending a new breed of metal bands, Trivium included, after moving to warmer climes. Suecof soon built a solid reputation as the genre's resident studio wizard, recording Trivium's landmark Ascendancy and subsequent releases from Chimaira, God Forbid and Monstrosity.
The ultimate nod came from Roadrunner Records, though, which commissioned his work on Roadrunner United: The Allstar Sessions, the label's 25th Anniversary artist mashup. Production work on MTV2 Headbanger's Ball: The Revenge and the Underworld: Evolution soundtrack followed, and since then the tone tastemaker hasn't stopped working.
The common denominator among all of Suecof's projects is a stable of Peavey amplifiers that somehow finds its way onto nearly every project he touches, whether in the recording stage or through re-amping in the mixing phase.
Producer Jason Suecof talks with the Monitor about producing metal's young masters.
How did you get involved in recording so early?
I've been messing around with recording since I was probably 5, even before I played guitar. My dad used to jam with these dudes, and he had a studio in the basement. I didn't really have a studio, per se, until I was about 14. Before then I always recorded my own stuff on a four-track, and when I was 14 I decided to start recording bands in my basement in Connecticut.
Then you moved down to Florida, which has a strong metal scene.
Yeah, that was the idea. I was 18 when I came down here. I thought, "Man, there's going to be so much metal." It's funny, but now I'm more about songs than just "metal," as a style. It's weird.
Did playing guitar in a band prepare you for producing other bands?
I think that knowing songs personally, or at least having an idea of how something should sound in your head, helps you make someone's song better. If you're a musician and a songwriter on top of being a producer, I think you can make better judgment calls.
What is your process in the studio?
Well, if there is time for pre-production then that comes first. Two weeks of pre-pro would be terrific, but it doesn't always happen that way. (laughs) First, I'll get together with the main songwriter and we'll go over the songs and set up a click track. That way, when we go into the studio we'll have everything ready with a click and a scratch track, so all the drummer has to do is punch in and we don't have to worry about guitars.
A lot of people don't like using a click, but I think that if you can learn to play with it, then it makes you a better player. If you're not scared of the click, you know what I mean? As long as you can groove with it and understand it, it won't make your playing sound stale. Everyone's like, "Ah, when you play to a click, your drumming and this-and-that become stale." But I think it depends on how you use the click. It's just a matter of being comfortable. If you're not comfortable with it 100%, you'll focus on it too much and not be yourself.
When you're called in to mix, how do you decide what gear to use?
It depends on if we get a good guitar tone from the recording sessions, but usually we ask for a DI [direct-input] tone just because you never know. When I'm producing I don't even care about gear at all. Especially during pre-pro, I'll just use whatever happens to be there because I don't want to spend any time on the tones. Because I'll get obsessed, dude. (laughs) I'll sit there and say, "This doesn't sound good," and I'll forget it's pre-pro and I'll waste a bunch of time. And when I'm mixing I'll waste even more time and get obsessed because it's time to be obsessed.
Having more experience helps, though. I can look past it now. I know how good it's going to end up sounding. I'll even use DI tracks, anyway, when we're doing pre-pro because I'll be going straight into Pro Tools. But if we get a keeper I'll re-amp it, so it works out either way.
You and Andy Sneap often work on projects together, with you producing and him mixing. How does that process happen?
He's mixed four projects of mine: Chimaira, Trivium, Devildriver and Roadrunner Allstars. It's funny, cause we'll be talking to Andy and he'll say, "I'm sorry"—which means he re-amped my tones. But you know, it's his mix. He has to work with what's best for him, whether it's the same amp or whatever. If he sent us something to mix and we can't get the tone right, then we re-amp, too. You have to respect the mixer. Sometimes we get a mix and it's like, "Yo. What the are you talking about at 3:43?"
Are you guys ever in opposite roles, with him producing and you mixing?
He's usually saving the day for me. (laughs) I know for a fact that I know a ton more than when I did Ascendancy. Every project is a new learning process, and working with Andy on that album was a cool experience because I was such a fan of everything he had done previously, especially Nevermore. Working with him was cool even if he did re-amp everything I did. (laughs) You know you're doing better when he only re-amps half your tones. I think on the Devildriver he used half ours and half his. It's all very personal to who's mixing. Of course, he uses Peavey amps all the time, too, so it's mostly just variations on our original tones!
Trivium: "Pull Harder on the Strings of Your Martyr" from Ascendancy