We Interviewed Record Engineer John Siket
Mar 5 2013
Record engineer John Siket has been a part of the NYC music scene for over 30 years. Growing up, he lamented his inability to play music, stressing over trying to play Pink Floyd riffs. He discovered his talent for recording sounds in 1983 when his pizza-boy salary earned him enough money to buy a $250 Moog synthesizer at RadioShack and instantly fell in love with sound manipulation.
Siket is a quintessential NYC underground producer, having worked with some of the city’s most infamous bands like Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo, and Blonde Redhead. He’s also worked with mainstream bands and doesn’t see one style of music being better than the other. He is just as excited about his work with big-selling bands like Phish or Fountains of Wayne as he is with the likes of the Replacements and Helmet.
His work with radio-ready bands may alienate people whose lives were changed the first time they heard Yo la Tengo, but Siket has always used his good fortunes to help out the little guys.
His most recent work for the little guys is with Ex-Cops, whose “True Hallucinations” he engineered. I recently spoke with him in his midtown studio (where he seems to work, eat, and sleep) about his career, what he sees as a “renaissance” in Brooklyn’s music scene, why he wants in on it, and why it is sometimes imperative to make a Pokemon album to help out the little guy.
At that point, I knew I had to go to Manhattan, I got a job on 45th Street at a studio called Sound on Sound. It was an elite studio. I didn’t have seniority, but I had more recording experience than most guys there because I worked with Yo la Tengo and a lot of indie bands in Hoboken. The manager of the studio had a sense that I knew what I was doing.
One day in 1992, I saw on the calendar that Butch Vig and Andy Wallace with Sonic Youth were booked for this studio.
Meanwhile, I was working with a band called Cell. Their drummer played the rough mixes for Butch and Sonic Youth, and Thurston [of Sonic Youth] and Butch were impressed. I couldn’t believe that I had done something Butch was into.
Andy Wallace also had some buzz for the first Helmet record.
Was that when it clicked that you could make a decent living out of this?
Not only that, there was an excitement in the music industry. Pearl Jam came by the studio, the Beasties Boys, Soundgarden, and all of these bands started to come merely because Sonic Youth was at our studio.
It was like the old metal gods had died, and grunge was coming. It was hip and it was good-looking and the chicks liked it and the bands had something to say. It was a brief period when the underground had become the mainstream. That Cell record, which was done on a modest budget, got signed to Geffen. It was like bang, I was an indie producer turned mainstream.
Gentrification has hurt Manhattan’s rock club scene. It used to be that I would drive in, and there were so many places to see bands. Manhattan has unfortunately become an island of investment bankers and Starbucks.
He once said to me, “What’s the Steve Lilywhite sound? The sound of any artist at their best.”
Sonic Youth taught me to stop dressing the music up and just record the band how they sound. I learned a lot from Sonic Youth, to not make it too slick.
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