Jack Endino is an underground legend in the world of recording. As of 2015, he’s been in the studio for 30 years, and the amount of bands he’s worked with is staggering: Soundgarden, Nirvana, Mudhoney, Screaming Trees, The Sonics, L7, The Dwarves, Blue Cheer, The Murder City Devils, Zeke, High On Fire, Therapy?, Valient Thorr, Supersuckers, The Mentors, Hot Hot Heat, Flipper, the list goes on and on.
His band Skin Yard formed in Seattle in 1985 and was an important influence on the developing “grunge” sound in the Pacific Northwest. Their original drummer, Matt Cameron, left to join Soundgarden, who would then tour with Skin Yard. After another tour with Nirvana, the joke became, “play with Skin Yard and get famous.” After Skin Yard ended in 1992, Jack has sporadically released albums as Endino’s Earthworm. In 2008 he joined Kandi Coded, a hard rock band fronted by snowboarding pro Jamie Lynn, where he got back in the groove of touring again.
After all the years and all the bands, he is still one of the most down-to-earth, hard-working and approachable people I’ve ever met. He encourages submissions from groups that would like to record with him, and has a website that details the criteria he looks for and how to contact him. The website, www.endino.com, is also a serious wealth of information for anyone thinking about recording bands or heading into the studio.
I talked with Jack about his recent trip to South America, recording Soundgarden again, and what else he’s working on.
Noisey: Let’s start at the beginning. Who and when was the first band you recorded?
Jack Endino: That would have clearly been my own band, Skin Yard, in 1985, via my home four-track studio. When I started working in a real studio in 1986, almost my very first clients were Soundgarden and Green River.
You worked with Soundgarden again last year. How did that come about?
I was doing some archival-related work for them, and I found a 16-track demo of this old song from March 1986, "Storm.” I had actually been there helping them mix it back then, but in the ensuing 28 years we all totally forgot about it. I sent around a new rough mix of the song to jog everyone's memories, just for the fun of it, and before you know it, they wanted to make a modern re-recording of it, and they asked me to do it, which was pretty cool, since the last time I recorded them was 1990.
You did a lot of work for other Sub Pop bands. How did that all start?
Well... how to sum this up? In 1986 I started working in a new studio called Reciprocal Recording, my first non-basement gig at a real studio. Word got around among my musician peers that I was making killer recordings for cheap, and my calendar started filling up with more and more bands coming to record with me. A couple guys heard the recordings I was doing, and decided to try and start a label to release some of it. That became Sub Pop. I was never a partner or employee of Sub Pop, I always worked directly for the bands, but quite a few of the early Sub Pop releases were recorded by me.
What bands have you recorded the most? Who are some of the most underated?
I made fice albums for Titas, and two more for their ex-bass-player Nando Reis; but the record has to be The Grannies from San Francisco, I think I just made my eigth record for those guys.
Underrated? I made four Black Halos records that are pretty great. I’ve always had a soft spot for Gas Huffer. Stag is my favorite Seattle band right now. Guillotina from Mexico was pretty good, and I wish more people outside Chile knew about the Ganjas!
You were just in South America recording them, right?
Yeah, the Ganjas, from Santiago, Chile. They've been around for years here; I really like them. Kinda heavy shoegaze grunge, or something, but it's good.
You’ve done a considerable amount of work in South America. When and how did that start?
It started in 1993 when Warner International contacted me about a Brazilian band, Titas, who wanted to work with me. At the time I knew nothing about Brazil, but Titas are like a national institution there. I spent two months down there with them and it was a total revelation, and the beginning of five-album relationship with the band. Two of those records went gold in Brazil, one went platinum, and that has led to a lot of other work. The refreshing thing for me is that these are not what anyone would call "grunge" records. In Brazil, I'm a "pop" guy. Since then, I've also worked in Chile and Argentina. I love working south of the equator while it's summer there and winter in Seattle.
I bet. After decades of recording, what are some of your most memorable experiences?
Over the course of making almost 500 records, hmm...
Hearing Mark Lanegan's life story while making The Winding Sheet, being treated like Rick Rubin in Brazil while recording Titas, flying with Bruce Dickinson in his little private plane when we were working on Skunkworks, the band Guillotina in Mexico taking me to see the pyramids at Teotihuacan, and of course, recording my own bands is always a joy. There were times of drama and stress too, of course, but my memory has blocked all those out.
You’ve definitely seen your share of drama and stress. Since you were at the epicenter of the grunge explosion, I’m sure you’re asked “what was it like” questions all the time. Do you have a prepared response that you give at this point?
Yes. How much time ya got? At first, it was exciting, then it got painful, and finally it became horrifying, because of the sheer greed and careerism I started seeing all around me. Everyone in Seattle smelled the money, and people started getting really weird. I started taking recording gigs in other countries during the 90s just to get away from the slime. I found that people in other places still had some innocence about their music, and also that major labels in other, smaller countries behaved a lot more like our indie labels in the US.
After everything that’s happened, what goes through your mind today when you hear Nirvana? I’m sure you imagined, when you were recording Bleach, that someday you'd be sitting with what's left of the band, listening to Bruce Springsteen at Nirvana’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, right?
[Laughs] Oh, sure, listening to the E Street Band's thank you speeches for an hour, I totally saw that coming in 1988. As for Nirvana, I like the songs but still don't care for the sound of Nevermind that much. I like In Utero a lot, and as for my own recording on Bleach, I just thank god it sounds as good as it does, considering how quickly we had to make it. Nirvana is kind of a wound in my life in some ways; Kurt's suicide was pretty hard to process.
What are you recording now?
The next band I’m heading into the studio with is Windhand, a great band from Richmond, Virginia. It’ll be out on Relapse Records.
Since you started recording, what have you seen change the most, for better and worse, from a technology standpoint?
More and more, people are drinking the click track Kool-Aid, which I think is absolute suicide for anyone who is pretending to be a "rock" band. It makes for a really sterile, safe performance, period. And its only advantage is added convenience for a certain kind of production methodology. Computers themselves are a massive net win however. As someone who made records on tape for 15 years, I don't miss tape at all, and I was particularly glad to say goodbye to cassettes with all their problems of head misalignment and speed fluctuations. The whole analog versus digital thing is a red herring, it's how you choose to use the technology that counts.
What advice do you have for bands going into the studio for the first time?
Buy new drum heads and new strings the day before the studio, not the day of. And I’ll say it again, no click track. Real rock bands don't need fucking training wheels in the studio.