An In-Depth Interview with Producer, Engineer, Recording Artist and Much More, ERIC LILAVOIS!
Posted On 02 Apr 2015
Tag: Allison Krauss, AM Bushe, American Restoration, Andrew Dewitt, Atlantic, Atlas Genius, Blind Melon, Blunderbus, Cajun Pawn Stars, CAPITOL, Cat Power, Cate Le Bon, Courtney Barnett, Crown City Studios, Dinosaur Jr., Elliot Smith, Eric Lilavois, Fiona Apple, Fleet Foxes, Geoff Ott, Glen Hansard, God In Our Glass, Grammy, Jack White, Jonathan Plum, London Bridge Studio, Make Music Pasadena, My Chemical Romance, Neil Young, Patti Smith, Pawn Stars, Pearl Jam, Pearl Jam Ten, RCA Studio B, Robert Plant, Ryan Hoherd, Saint Motel, Sea, Sleater Kinney, Soundgarden, Surfer Blood, SXSW, Teenage Fanclub, Ten, The Journey, The Pixies, The Ramones, The Runaways, The Shins, The Velvet Underground, Universal, Warner Brothers, Warpaint
Eric Lilavois is one of the most influential record producers, engineers and all around music taste-makers in the industry today.
He has worked with some big name bands and up and comers including Atlas Genius, Surfer Blood, My Chemical Romance and Saint Motel. He owns two recording studios including the famous London Bridge Studio where Pearl Jam, Blind Melon and Soundgarden have recorded and the 4,000 square foot recording studio Crown City Studios studios in Los Angeles.
He has been extremely influential in the professional music scene being a member of the Grammy’s and a top SXSW panelist. Eric has also produced and composed over 70 original cues for television and independent films including Pawn Stars, American Restoration and Cajun Pawn Stars. He is also the current talent buyer for Make Music Pasadena, that yearly draws 40,000.
Finally there is a new documentary being made about him and his musical process in beautiful black and white- check out a the trailer here http://vimeo.com/110625471
Learn more about this fascinating man in the following exclusive interview:
Have you always wanted to work with musicians?
Collaboration has always been something fascinating to me. I genuinely believe that magic comes from it, and that having many minds, ears, and hearts, on a project does it the most justice. Every artist needs their space to ultimately express who they are and their own contributions, but yeah, the best stuff is when there is that spark, and you see everyone in the room turn into fireworks.
Can you remember your first producing job?
I can. Many, many late nights, playing far too many roles, I was maybe even the runner on the session too, haha. I’ve learned so much over the years, maybe most importantly how to not necessarily force what may feel like the right answer, but how to ask the right questions.
Take us through a typical for you from start to end.
On a typical project, I’m fairly heavy on pre-production, I like to get a good feel for the direction and talk that out, but depending on the artist sometimes we dive in a little quicker. It takes some time for everyone to be clear on the vision, the song structures and get it to a point where everyone is really exited. Once we hit record, the performance has to be there, and it just continues to be a process of refining. Of course sometimes it’s organic and vibe, but other times it’s a little more in depth. It’s all directly related to who the artist is at the core and what roads we go down together accordingly.
I recently watched the trailer for your documentary, The Journey. What made you decide to make it?
AM Bushe, the director, approached me and he had a number of reasons that felt compelling for me to jump right in. I think one of the things that stands out the most is that in a way, it’s a fairly ordinary story. Sometimes it’s hard to map out your own DNA, kind of like, it’s tough for me to imagine my path, my passions, any other way. I don’t view my experiences in relationship to other things I could or would be doing. I’m humbled that someone else wants to take a look. There’s a number of reasons I felt AM was the right choice, but ultimately, he also understood that for me, it’s just about the moment, and especially in relationship to making my own record. Just, capturing something, and his style brings such beauty to ordinary moments. I think we both see something extraordinary in the ordinary.
You’ve worked some incredibly talented bands like Atlas Genius, Surfer Blood, My Chemical Romance and Saint Motel. What bands have really left a lasting impression on you? And what bands have really surprised you in the studio?
My Chemical Romance was an experience I’ll never forget, because observing the work ethic that band had, the amount of stuff that was flying around in a short number of days in the studio, wow, it just left a huge impression on me and pushed me to get moving on every area of my own career. Also, the material was this very cool punk rock alter ego direction that really resonated, and I wasn’t even a blip on the radar in respect to their very, very successful career, so I just really enjoyed those sessions.
As far as work ethic and drive, the same goes for Saint Motel. It wasn’t just the studio, it’s the way they view their career, the amount of heart and work they’ve put into everything, it resonates so much with me. They are one of the hardest working bands I know, and such cool people to work with. Those types of attitudes and mantra’s are inspirational to me. It’s an attention to and love of your craft, a pushing forward, with humility and purpose, and I respect folks who understand it as a life and career path, and have harmony within that.
Your London Bridge Studio is famous for a multitude of reasons. Pearl Jam, Blind Melon and Soundgarden have recorded there. What’s it like to own a piece of history like that?
Well, Pearl Jam Ten was one of the most influential records in my life. It came at a that time where every nerve was exposed, and I was developing my compass for so many things… I think they call it a being teenager. Same goes for the Blind Melon record. London Bridge was this far off mecca of a place in liner notes, and boy was I fanatical over liner notes. There are so many records that were made there that hold a special place for me both personally, and that literally changed the scope and shape of not just the Seattle music scene, but the world. It’s not lost on me, I’m incredibly reverent of it and always striving to preserve it at the root, but help the branches and leaves continue to grow. There is an energy at London Bridge, an undeniable energy, and the Seattle music scene is alive and well. Even beyond Seattle, artists are hungry to come to a place like this and thrive. If you come to London Bridge, the board, the room, and the signal flow that those records you mentioned went through, they are here, preserved, in the process of being further restored, and better then ever. Then there is also a whole new palette of preamps, compressors, microphones, rooms, and frankly talent, here too. Jonathan Plum, Geoff Ott and I are more committed to this place then ever, and it’s a direct reflection of how much this music community, and the place mean to us, and how feverish we are about it.
Living or dead, what bands would you still love to work with and why?
I was in Nashville for a bit not too long ago and spent some time in RCA studio B, and started thinking about how insane and amazing it would have been to be an engineer there way back when. That’s another example of something just unexplainable all coming out of one building but.. I had a similar experience at Capitol recently too.
Hmmm. I’m awful in this category, theres just so many… I’d love to make a Cate Le Bon, or Courtney Barnett record. Glen Hansard would be pretty cool, I’m really inspired by raw unfiltered artists and increasingly interested in making records that just capture that essence. Oh and Warpaint, I would really love to work with that band.
What are some of your all time favorite bands?
The Pixies, Hazel, The Shins, Elliot Smith, Fleet Foxes, Neil Young, The Runaways,Teenage Fanclub, Dinosaur Jr, The Ramones, Patti Smith, Sleater Kinney, Pearl Jam, The Velvet Underground… Another long list. I loved Jack White’s Blunderbus record, The Allison Krauss and Robert Plant record is amazing, Cat Power, Fiona Apple, there’s just too many.
You also own Crown City Studios in Los Angeles. Which studio do you spend most of your time in? Do you feel more connected to one?
Previously I was spending most of my time at Crown City, the last year I spent a lot of time at London Bridge. It’s whatever best suits the project honestly, and I’ve even worked out of a number of other studios around Los Angeles, and across the country. It’s fair to say I have an undeniable connection to London Bridge, I really love working there, and sessions seem to have a very natural and energized spirit there, a good combination of relaxed and focused.
You have also worked with Warner Bros., Atlantic and Universal Records to develop artists for their respective rosters. What was that experience like?
Well, true artist development in a way is sort of a thing of the past as far as major labels are concerned. Even the things I’ve worked on in that capacity pale in comparison to what resources labels devoted to artist development in the past. What really goes into it, both financially and from a lot of perspectives, labels frankly aren’t often interested in anymore, so it’s become a lot of informal relationships instead. What artists can take away from that is that they have a huge opportunity to truly develop their craft and their vision before anyone else has their hands on it. I’ve said it a million times, but once you involve other people in your creative process, you have to choose people you trust, then trust them 100% and not look back. That goes for everything, label or no label, so it’s a big choice. There are a whole lot of talented bands whose progress was greatly delayed by getting into that world too early or with the wrong fit.
Along with everything else, you are the current talent buyer for Make Music Pasadena. What does this position entail?
It started out as suggestions and helping facilitating some of the booking, then evolved to a situation where last year, for the most part, I essentially hand picked and booked all of the talent for the three main stages. This year the scenario looks somewhat similar, and I’m excited about some of the new partnerships that we’ve formed and are continuing to form.
Thus far, what’s a favorite memory or something quirky that’s taken place (in-studio or elsewhere)?
There was pretty surreal moment working on one of my tunes at London Bridge, called “God in our Glass”. It was written in tribute of my best friend Ryan Hoherd who passed away. Ryan was a real prankster, and just an incredibly lively and energetic spirit. When we lived together we used to always try to out prank each other, and blast each other out of bed with fireworks, and other crazy shenanigans. His cousin Andrew DeWitt is also a good friend and collaborator, and Andrew flew up to work on the song with me. He was in the live room playing the organ in the middle of a take, and all of a sudden, the amplifier for the organ just caught on fire, filled the whole live room with smoke. We knew right then and there that Ryan was with us and we had his approval.
Can you tell me about the solo work you just released yourself?
I just released Sea it is an EP for the music in The Journey. You can hear the EP here https://soundcloud.com/ericlilavois/sets/sea and see the trailer of the documentary “The Journey” here: https://vimeo.com/110625471 it will be released in late April in theaters in Los Angeles and early May in theaters in Seattle. It will stream online at iTunes after the theaters release.