Interview with Producer/Engineer Jay Ruston
Jay Ruston’s resume reads like a who’s who of the most influential rock and metal records of the 21st century. Stone Sour. Anthrax. The Damned Things. Steel Panther. Avatar. Thin Lizzy spinoff Black Star Riders. Comedian Brian Posehn’s guest-filled Grandpa Metal album. Fall Out Boy. Sons Of Apollo Fozzy. The Winery Dogs. Viking-metal gods Amon Amarth. I could go on and on, but instead I’ll just let you dig into this chat!
Peter: Jay! It’s nice to finally talk properly after all these years of liking each other’s posts on social media! Let’s start at the beginning: why are you a Source user?
Jay: It was introduced to me by a producer named Jason Suecof, who does a lot of metal and things like that. I was working on a Steel Panther record and Satchel, the guitar player, had moved to Vegas while the singer lives two minutes away from me. We were trying to figure out the best way to do that because we like to have the guitarist in the room when we’re doing vocals, since he writes most of the music and the melodies and lyrics and everything. So Jason suggested Source-Connect. We had the guitar player on FaceTime on an iPad and then we had Source-Connect on the computer because I hadn’t quite figured out how to configure my console for talkback so it was just easier just to have him on FaceTime, but the latency with Facetime was an issue. Sometimes it’d be five or six or seven seconds. And then with Source-Connect, it’s instant! Hitting play here is hitting play there. And once we got that all figured out and down, I’m like, ‘This is genius.’
Peter: I love hearing that.
Jay: Like just absolutely brilliant! So then I started using it and we did the whole record that way, and we’ll most likely do their new record that way. Not only just because of COVID, but because the bass player lives in Colorado, the guitar player’s in Vegas, me and the singer and the drummer are here in Los Angeles.
Peter: What are some other projects you’ve used Source-Connect on?
Jay: I used it on a film called Thunder Force with Melissa McCarthy, which comes out next month. Her and the director were actually in Australia the whole time we were doing the score. So they were playing them things from the film through Source when we were tracking. We had Scott Ian [Anthrax] and Dave Lombardo [Slayer] play metal elements to the score.
Peter: That sounds badass!
Jay: The whole movie is full of heavy metal. It’s great! So we used it quite extensively on that film. And then for some of our guests, such as Corey Taylor singing on the theme song. And then we had Tina Guo, the amazing cellist, play on the song. And we did all that through Source-Connect as well, and the fidelity was perfect and I loved it. So that’s a couple of really good recording examples.
Peter: And you mix a lot of records too.
Jay: Yeah. Depending on who the client is and how their workflow is and what time it is on their end, I actually will do real-time mix tweaks where I’ll send them the link they hit play, and they’re just sitting at their laptop or wherever. I just did a mix tweak with a guy who was riding a train through London, listening to the mix on his phone and giving me notes on the fly. It was great.
Peter: That’s so cool. I guess a lot of people were doing kind of remote recording projects of some kind for years and years before COVID, but how has it changed things for you?
Jay: Well, I actually am very, very fortunate that a lot of my work is mixing. So I was fairly busy, I would say for about 50% of the year still mixing, bands still made records, a lot of bands were in the middle of records. I had finished an Avatar record basically right at the start of COVID and I had three more records lined up that were all LA-based. One of them canceled immediately because people just weren’t comfortable with with getting together, which was totally understandable. And then two more records moved forward, including Corey Taylor’s solo record, and I could move forward and a couple of other projects that aren’t out yet that will be released eventually.
Peter: Okay, so I want to talk about some of the records in your discography cause you’ve done so many things that I love. I’m buddies with Christian from Stone Sour and he always talks about how much he loves how Hydrograd sounds. What can you tell me about that one? Like for me that record, it sounds modern, but the playing sounds real and energetic. Sometimes it’s hard to get a modern-sounding record without trimming off some of those energetic bits, but it’s all there on that record.
Jay: That’s difficult to do because it really has a lot less to do with me and a lot more to do with the band. Like Stone Sour, Avatar, Black Star Riders those bands that can play and can record live in the studio. That’s where that energy is coming from. And so every record I make, I try and do live. Some bands can’t do it because they don’t live in the same city. They don’t play together when they’re not on the road. And some bands just don’t want to make records that way. They’d rather just focus on the drums, focus on the bass, that kind of thing, or they’re writing and recording as they go. With Anthrax, it’s a little more complicated because there’s five guys in five cities. But with Hydrograd, there was a long writing process, probably a year. Christian was new to the band, having joined on the previous tour. So that changed the band sound. And he’s a very classic guitar player. He’s schooled in the seventies and for his young age, that’s pretty impressive. And he’s a fantastic musician. And then the other guitar player, Josh Rand is a totally different type of guitar player. So you had the two of them complimenting each other and then probably one of the greatest drummers I’ve ever recorded, Roy Mayorga, who is a beast of a musician on every instrument, not just drums: phenomenal bass player, a songwriter keyboard player. He’s an engineer, he’s a mixer. I mean, he’s, the guy could literally do anything. And then Johnny Chow on bass was fantastic. And Corey speaks for himself. He plays every instrument. He’s a great singer and songwriter.
So when you put those five people together – and we did a fair amount of pre-production, I think we were over at a Mate’s Rehearsals in North Hollywood for about a week. But you know, they had put the homework in before I even stepped up. They were making demos, Roy’s got a home studio, recording, everything, demoing, everything. So everything I was getting with pretty fleshed-out demos. And when Corey Taylor writes a song and presents it to you, it’s done. Like I could have an idea, but if I can’t make it better, there’s just no point in even bringing it up. What he’s really open to is adding things to his songs. So me and Christian actually went a little crazy with the guitar overdubs and Josh too. We would just be like, Hey, I want to try this. Hey, I want to try that. You know? Um, and he was totally cool with that. Half the time he’d be like, ‘I’m going to go eat dinner. You guys go nuts, do whatever you want to do.’ Which was awesome. So we had this killer live tape of the band and then we augmented, doubled stuff and, you know, added energy here and there. So yeah, musicianship is what makes those records.
Peter: I also wanted to talk about the incredible new Mr. Bungle album. What a dream to be able to make that album for real, you know, after it existed as a demo for so long.
Jay: That was a real long shot and I never, in my wildest dreams ever thought I would be involved not only with Mr Bungle, but to get to meet and work with Mike Patton. They made that record with an engineer that Mike works with all the time and we did it at Dave Grohl’s Studio 606, So they were on the Sound City Neve console and everything. The engineer/producer that did it with them mixed a song or two, and I guess maybe it was a little too raw. They were trying to make it better than the original demo, and I think that they were just open to what else could it be: could it sound better? So Scott kind of let them hum and hah for about a week about different people they knew – and you know, he’s coming from the outside. He’s not a Mr Bungle member. He’s brought in for this special thrash version of Mr. Bungle. So he was very careful about stepping on toes and saying, ‘Oh, here, just use my guy.’ But eventually an opportunity arose where he could suggest, ‘Hey, if you’re open to it, send a song to my guy, Jay.’ So I mixed the song, they loved it. And I just took it from there to mixing the rest of the record. And it was really fun to work with all of them over email for initially, which was how we were, how we mix these days.
Peter: How do those guys communicate their creative intentions?
Jay: I’d send a mix and a bunch of mix notes, then Mike would send like an email that was like 20 paragraphs of Patton, motor-mouthing genius, and there was about three mix notes in there. I have to read through him just going on and on and finding what he’s trying to say. And it was really entertaining. The mix was challenging too, because they wanted it raw and dirty and ugly, but slick. So the guy did a great job recording it, but they made decisions that don’t necessarily mean it’s going to sound slick. So I had to like keep that rawness and that gnarliness, but the tones were there and the performances were obviously there.
Peter: So what’s next for you?
Jay: I’m actually working on a TV show right now called No Covers, which is like an American Idol but for bands with original songs. They’re filming as we speak, and I’m going to mix the audio of each band’s performance. The judges are Gavin Rossdale from Bush, Lizzy Hale from Halestorm, Alice Cooper, Tosin Abasi from Animals As Leaders, and Bishop Briggs. They’re really helpful with the bands: some constructive criticism, some positive stuff. So it’s going to be a good show!
Peter: Cool! Well, thanks so much for your time. It’s been cool to talk properly! I remember meeting you at NAMM a few years ago but you can’t talk at those things!
Jay: Yeah I remember meeting you! I really hope NAMM 2022 happens.
Peter: Yeah, I miss it. It’s like my entire social life! I’m an introvert and I stay at home and write or I go to gigs and then I come home and cocoon, so NAMM is where I catch up with all of my friends, get my fill and then go back into my cave.
Jay: NAMM is a great experience. I’ve been going since about 2004. It’s an hour away from me, but traffic is so bad that we usually just stay down there. I definitely missed it not happening this year. I think last year we barely squeezed it in before everything got closed.
Peter: Well hopefully I’ll see you at NAMM in 2022! Thanks for the chat.
Jay: Right on. It was really great to see you again and thank you. I appreciate it. See ya. Take care.
Jay Ruston’s website: http://jayruston.com
March 22, 2023
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