Column 62 — Mogis Speaks (but not to me)

Category: Blog — @ 1:12 pm February 1, 2006

Tape Op magazine is indeed free. Just go to the Tape Op website, click on the “Free Subscriptions” link on the left nav and fill out the form. The guy who runs the publication must make so much money off of advertising that he doesn’t need to charge, though I have no doubt that he could get plenty of paid subscribers (me among them). The Reader had asked me recently to pursue an interview with the Mogis brothers, but after reading this interview, I can’t imagine what I’d ask them that hasn’t already been covered. And I doubt that Mike and AJ would have time for little ol’ me. So with that in mind and the fact that Tape Op isn’t exactly a staple on local magazine shelves, I thought I’d share some of the more meaty comments in my column. If you can track down a copy somewhere, pick it up. The Mogis interview is extensive and a good read.

Column 62: Presto! Change-o!
The Legendary studio is headed to Omaha
Though I listen to a lot of records, I know virtually nothing about the process of recording one. So a couple years ago in a vain attempt to understand the science and art of mastering, I interviewed Doug Van Sloun, the sound engineer/wizard at Studio B who mastered all of Saddle Creek Records’ classic albums. That’s when I was introduced to Tape Op magazine. Doug had suggested I check it out as an easy way to glean some information about what goes on in a recording studio. What could it hurt? The magazine is free, after all.

He didn’t tell me that reading Tape Op can be about as much fun as flipping through a tech manual. Tucked between ads for microphone pre-amps and mixing consoles are meaty reviews of the latest electronic gear. It’s here that you can read about the benefits of, say, a Rupert Neve Designs Portico 5042 “True Tape” Emulation and Line Driver (“The coloration of the box is good enough on its own, but add in the two Neve-designed line transformers, and this is one formidable unit …”) or a TFPRO P38 Stereo Compressor/Limiter (“I found the P38 to have no perceivable noise or unwanted coloration, which is extremely rare for a compressor whose street price is only $1,700.”).

Thanks, Doug. I’ve learned a lot.

Actually, at the core of the magazine are long, detailed interviews with famous and up-and-coming sound engineers and producers. Sure, there’s the occasional drawn-out discussion about microphone placement, but mostly the talks center around how a specific record was made or what motivates a producer or engineer. Being mentioned in Tape Op is recognition that you’re a serious player in the recording game.

So it was no surprise to find in the January/February issue among interviews with Nick Mason (Pink Floyd), Martin Bisi (Eno, Sonic Youth, Iggy Pop) and Ana Da Silva (The Raincoats) a 6-page interview with Presto! Studio’s Mike Mogis. Conducted last fall before going onstage to perform at a sold-out Bright Eyes show at UC Davis, Mogis talked about his humble beginnings, all the way back to the pre-teen years in North Platte when he and brother AJ played around with a Radio Shack mixer and a Tascam PortaStudio.

Mogis talked about being the guy behind a lot of instrumentation heard on the albums he produces. But is that producing? “People kept persuading me to play on their records,” he said in the interview. “Just little things here and there, and I don’t consider that producing, either. But where I started to be recognized as a producer, especially when it comes to the Saddle Creek bands, is where I get involved with the band in a really intimate way, where you almost feel as another member in a creative way. I guess that is taking it a little far.”

An example, he said, is his work on Bright Eyes’ Fever and Mirrors album back in 2000. “He (Oberst) had songs on his acoustic guitar, but they were kind of unfinished and he’d be like, ‘Here’s my song. Let’s make a rock song out of it.'” Mogis filled in the blanks.

He talked about how he and Conor Oberst are working on a score for Nik Fackler’s upcoming feature motion picture, Lovely Still. “It’s more of a local movie — it is being funded through a movie studio, but it’s still a pretty low budget film,” he said in the interview.

And he talked about the new Presto! Studios, to be located just north of Dodge St. at around 69th. “…I bought this house in Omaha and behind it is a full-size indoor basketball court – so it’s 5,000 square feet and the ceilings are thirty-something feet,” Mogis said in Tape Op. “We just got permission (to build) because it’s not zoned properly. Even though this is not going to be a commercial studio, it’s going to be a project-oriented place.”

The comment would seem to indicate that the new studios are not zoned commercial, though certainly most of Saddle Creek’s future releases will likely be recorded there. Oberst is Mogis’ partner in the project “because he wants a studio for personal use and I wanted a studio because mine is going to be torn down eventually,” Mogis said, referring to Lincoln’s plan to dismantle most of the streets around the facility in the distant future. And with new wife, Jessica, and daughter, Stella Marie, he also wants to live within walking distance of work.

So will long-time partner AJ have a role in the Omaha version of Presto? It’s amazing that the two see each other at all these days. Mike spends a tremendous amount of time on the road with Bright Eyes and recently traveled to Stockholm to produce an album for The Concretes. Meanwhile, AJ has been busy touring the country with Criteria.

“In the new venture there’s a little grey area,” Mogis said in the interview. “We’ll figure that out. I want him to be involved in it. I’ve mentioned it to him and left it out there, saying ‘Let me know what you want to do. I need to take some of this gear with me because I own some of it or you can start working in this other place in Omaha.’ I just don’t know where he wants to live and stuff, but we’ll figure it out.”

Tape Op interviewer John Baccigaluppi apparently could hear the doubt in Mogis’ answer, following up with “That’s still up in the air.”

“Yeah, as far as the logistics of that, but we work together well because we have very like-minded ways,” Mogis replied. Here’s hoping there’s space in Omaha for that old Radio Shack mixer.

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