PropertyOfZack Producer’s Corner : : Zack & Kenneth

by Zack Zarrillo - May 18, 2011

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In our third Producer’s Corner feature we welcome Zack Odom and Kenneth Mount, the tag-team duo that has worked with All Time Low, Mayday Parade, Cartel, and We Are The In Crowd, among many others. Zack and Kenneth took the time to answer questions about the records they’ve produced, music industry ideals, their techniques, the new Mayday Parade record, and a lot more in great depth. Enjoy and be sure to read the whole thing!

“Zack and Kenneth” are two names that are only getting heard of more and more each year, tracing all the way back to Cartel’s Chroma and Mayday Parade’s A Lesson In Romantics. You guys have only continued to help create impressive work over the past decade, but would you call this your stride? What are some of your projects that you would call your absolute best?
First off, thanks Zack of PropertyOfZack.com for all of your support you’ve shown so many of the bands we produce, record and /or mix and thanks again for asking us for an interview, we are flattered. To answer your first question about have we reached our stride: I feel like we got a good set of techniques that we use that we have mastered, but we like to break out of that box as much as we can. For example, we recently got to work with Austin Tofte on his project called “Swimming With Dolphins.” He is signed on to tooth & nail records. We were so excited to work on that album, not only because Austin is one of the most fun and positive people we’ve worked with, but the direction he wanted to take his album was unlike anything we’ve done before. Its like Daft Punk meets Phoenix. Most of the instrumentation was vintage keyboards like a 1960’s Wurlitzer and an old Rhodes, along with this 1980’s Roland Juno 106. It was a cool album to work on because it was just the 3 of us doing it; Zack, Austin and I. One day I brought in my saxophone and I ended up playing saxophone on some of the Swimming With Dolphins songs, we’ve never done that before. Most of the drum sounds were us playing the drums with only 4 mics and making it really close and tight sounding, we were going for a vintage “old” sound. On most of our drums we go for the biggest sound we can get, so it was awesome to do something that called for these older production styles and sounds.  

What are your favorite Projects you’ve ever worked on?
There are so many songs and bands we’ve worked with its hard to say what’s our absolute best and or favorite. For me Cartel’s Chroma will always hold a very high spot in my book. That was the album that got us to where we are today, and it was the first album Zack and I did as a team together after I got out of college. I think Cartel’s self-titled is the best sounding album we’ve done to date sonically speaking. That was the album that MTV did the “band in a bubble show,” which we got to live in New York City for free for 2 months, that ruled. The “band in a bubble show” was very fun and at the same time, weirdest experience I’ve done. We got to mix that album (Cartel/Self-Titled) at Legacy studios in Manhattan New York on an SSL 9000. Also Mayday Parade’s Lesson in Romantics is a good one. That album has a lot of my favorite songs on it we’ve worked on. Every Avenue’s “Shh Just Get With it” also was a blast to make. One night we all went with Every Avenue to play laser tag and it was us verses about 20 little kids, it was hilarious. Recording Holiday Parade’s “Slam Crunk” was one of the hardest times I have ever laughed in the studio. We needed a sample of someone saying “me so horny” in the song for the Sir Mix Alot part, so we resorted calling up Chinese restaurants trying to get someone to say it while we were recording the phone calls. My two personal favorite songs that we’ve produced has been Go Radio’s “Goodnight Moon” and Cartel’s “Wasted”. With “Goodnight Moon,” there was something so epic about that song, and Jason’s vocals on that song are amazing. Doing “Wasted” with Cartel was awesome because we got to record an 8 piece string section, an 8 piece horn section, and a 30 person choir and all the drums were a real life marching drum line with about 12 people from Flowery Branch High School in Georgia. There are no samples on that song, its all the real deal. So in that sense, that song was one of my personal favorites to do because of all the people involved in making it. Before we did Cartel Chroma, Zack and I worked with a lot of hip hop and R&B artists. Zack got to work with Outkast, Cee-Lo, Whitney Houston, Puff Daddy, Usher, and Nappy Roots. While I got to work with Ludacris and record his rap on a Jamie Foxx song, that was really cool. That dude is really talented. Working with huge artists like that was cool, but we’d both rather work with rock artists, its just more of what we are passionate about. One day, Zack should tell his P-Diddy story to the world, its hilarious.
 
In more recent times, you guys recorded the original version of The Ready Set’s “Love Like Woe.” Since then Jordan has obviously blown up with a record deal with Decaydance/Sire as well as reaching platinum sales for the same song. What’s it like seeing smaller artists you work with turn into brand names?
Jordan’s a great guy, that kid is super talented and he can do it all. It’s always amazing to see artist grow in their career and to be apart of that success is very rewarding. We have been given the opportunity several times to work with new artists who soon blow up and have a successful career. We’ve worked with a lot of artist who come to us independently meaning they are paying the bill solely on their own. We will do an EP or an album and they go shop it and then it gets picked up by a label and released. Young and Divine was like that when they recorded with us and then got signed to RCA. Go Radio , we did 5 songs with them and they got signed to Fearless and came back to finish a 7 song EP that was Do Overs And Second Chances. Cartel was like that also, we demoed out “Honestly” before they were signed to militia group, then they came back in and we did Chroma which later upstreamed to Epic Records. Also The Ready Set was like that. We met Jordan from The Ready Set and did a 12 song album with him that he did with us independently. He and his management shopped it around and it fell into the hands of Pete Wentz, next thing you know he’s headlining the Glamour Kills Tours, playing all of Warped Tour and selling a million copies of “Love Like Woe.” I love being apart of that in some way. It’s really been awesome seeing All Time Low’s career take off. We mixed their Put up or shut up EP when those guys were in high school and no one really knew them at all. Fast forward a few years, the next thing we are mixing for them is their MTV Unplugged DVD. It’s been awesome to see those dudes really take on the music scene by storm. I am very excited to see what happens with this new album of theirs that comes out on Interscope. We are very stoked for them and Keith and Nano, their management. I feel like We Are The In crowd and Go Radio could be that next band to really blow up, I forsee good things for them both if the right steps are taken.

We Are The In Crowd recorded their debut EP with you in early 2010, and they have since gathered extreme attention and are poised to only further grow. How was it working with the band when they had such little experience at the time?
Those guys and gal are a ton of fun to work with and have great attitudes. When they came into work with us on the EP in 2010, I think they adapted pretty quickly to how we did things and our production style. They are a younger band, but they are pro at what they do. They are all really talented and they all can play their instruments very well, so they are a dream to work with. It is important for us as the producer(s) to make them feel comfortable and at ease in order for them to perform their best. I felt they actually were very comfortable in the studio, and we had a great time making their EP. I am very proud of that EP we did with them Guaranteed To Disagree. I am really honored to be working with them on this full length. We actually just started on their full length this week. We have been busy finishing song ideas and have about 25 songs on the table for possible songs for the album. It’s going to be a great album, so much good material to choose from. 

We Are The In Crowd are also returning back to your studio to do their debut full-length sometime in May or June. How would you compare what you’re hearing with the current demos to the material on Guaranteed To Disagree?
All I’ve got to say is they got this demo of a song called “Kiss me Again.” I heard literally one minute of it and I stopped it, went and got Zack and said “Dude you got to hear this, holy crap dude this is a smash.” They have been working hard writing a lot of songs, I’m feeling very good about what I’ve heard so far, and they are going to continue to write till the day of tracking. I love being in the position of having too many good songs. They are going in a great direction with their song writing. I think fans of their EP will really love this new stuff they are working on.
 
Is it always a pleasure to do work with a band again for the second time? What would you guys say are some benefits about working with the same producers repeatedly?
Well I’m a big fan of  “if its not broke, don’t fix it.”  I think as producers your job is to guide a band to help them find their sound and capture that in the best way possible. You’re supposed to help them bring out that unique identifier. This could be a number of things that are taken into account when working with a band. For example the band We are the in crowd, they got the guy and girl back and forth vocals, they got the poppy hooks but still an aggressive edge, they got the big guitars but have the piano with bells, organ and loops on a lot of songs, that is kinda their sound. It is what makes them unique and it helps them stand apart. Also, I feel that the comfort level is there when you work with the same artists repeatedly. You don’t have to worry about holding back what you really think and you can be real upfront with someone like “hey man that bridge is tight, but the verses suck, what if we looked at that?” Every artist should grow and do new things with every new album, but you can’t stray too far from what made your music loved by fans in the first place. Don’t put out a pop punk album and then follow it up with an ambient Radiohead album.

Mayday Parade has been in and out of the studio as of late recording their third LP and follow-up to Anywhere But Here. Was there a specific reason they sought to work with you guys again?
Zack and I produced Lesson In Romantics, and in doing that album we let Mayday Parade be Mayday Parade. Lesson in Romantics did very well for them, selling close to 200,000 albums. Honestly I think the Mayday dude’s and us get a long really well, so it’s a good comfort level and also a good professional level as well. We can hang as pals but at the end of the day they respect our opinion and we respect theirs. We are all moving toward the same goal, which is to make the best album possible. We just finished mixing their album, and it came out great. Mayday fans should be into it.

It’s no secret that Anywhere But Here wasn’t met with the same reception as A Lesson In Romantics, for many reasons. Can you discuss how you think the new album is turning out in terms of sounds and comparisons to both of their previous records?
Well this new Mayday Parade album is leaning more towards A Lesson In Romantics and not Anywhere But Here. There’s more heart and soul on these new songs. Zack and I weren’t involved at all with Anywhere But Here, from what I’ve heard, there was too many cooks in the kitchen on that album. This time around it’s just like it was when we did A Lesson in Romantics. Its just Zack and I and Mayday Parade in the studio making the album they want to make for their them and their fans. I think on their last album, they were pushed in a direction that wasn’t what they wanted to end up as, and I feel like you can hear that on that album.

How are you guys approaching creating this record in terms of equipment, styles, and techniques?
Well a couple of things we are focusing on sonically for this record is a consistent sound from song to song. For example for the guitar player Brooks, we set out to find his unique Rhythm tone that will be the same consistent tone for the entire album. We tried out over 10 different top of the line amps using his modified Fender telecaster that Brooks used on A Lesson in Romantics and even on Mayday’s first EP. We ended up loving his Fender Tele through the modified Marshall JCM800 head combined with the Matchless HC30 into a Mesa boogie 4x12 cab and a Bogner 4x12 cab. We even tried out different stings on his guitar and decided to use the thickest strings Ernie Ball makes called “Not Even Slinky.” So that will be his tone for the entire album. Also, Brooks is layering certain parts with a Baritone guitar to get that really thick, deep tone. The guitar tones are massive sounding. 
 
Kenneth, you mentioned to me that the album is sounding very “raw” compared to prior work that the band has done. Was this a conscious decision made before production began?
Yes, we want this album to be raw in the sense that we aren’t copying and pasting every part, that the drums you hear is exactly what the drummer sounds like. We want to capture the energy and passion the band has when they play live and put that on this record. They are a live rock band, and we wanted to capture that energy in this album.
 
It’s well known that you two love to focus on drums and hone in on getting the perfect sound. What have you guys been doing for Jake’s drums?
We used Jake’s SJC kit, with 4 different Snare drums that we switched out for the songs. We also spent a lot of time tuning the drums to the keys of the songs. We’ve talked about that in other interviews, but it really does make a huge difference. Leading up to Mayday Parade coming back in, we were very picky on where we wanted to do drums at for this album. We really wanted to capture a real, live, roomy, huge open sound for Jake’s drums. For this album, part of the “rawness” we are setting out to do is to not use any samples whatsoever on this album, we want to keep it real organic. So many albums are so sampled based that it sounds like a robot playing the drums, that sucks all the emotion and feeling out of it.
Just listen to the drums on A Lesson In Romantics and the drums on Anywhere But Here, Great example of real drums vs sample drums. It’s the same drummer, different producers. Jake is hands down one of, if not the best drummer I’ve ever worked with. He hits super hard, has great control, and has great character when he plays drums. We really wanted Jake’s drums to shine on this album. We set out to make that come through in how we recorded the drums. We had miked the top and bottom on the snare, and toms. We had 3 kick mics on the kick and we built a huge kick drum tunnel to minimize cymbal bleed into the mics. We also had 3 pairs of room mics and every cymbal was miked. I think it was about 22 mics on the drums all running through Neve 1073 preamps and Neve 1081 preamps. We tracked the drums in Studio A at Tree Sound, which is a huge live room. So we really wanted to capture the performance of Jake and the room sound of that studio and I am really happy with how it came out.
 
When do you hope to complete the record by?
Mayday’s album, we finished mixing about 2 weeks ago. Now we are in the studio with We Are The In Crowd.
 
Holiday Parade, an unsigned band, is one notable project that you guys have undertaken in the past, but what other unsigned bands have you worked with recently or are gearing up to work with?
Wow there are a ton of unsigned bands we’ve worked with just in 2010 I am pretty stoked on. The band Yearling from North Carolina is the first that comes to mind. Sid the singer is Amazing. The band The After Party is kinda a mix of Justin Timberlake joining Maroon 5. They got some sick jams, people should check them out. Also the band Junior Doctor has got a lot of things going right now, check out their song “Uh OH”, its getting some radio spins. A new band called Young Hollywood from Connecticut is an undiscovered gem that people should check out. Also the band called The Well Reds are amazing musicians from Atlanta, Georgia that we worked with, they got a Fray/Coldplay vibe going on. The band Paradise Fears is another band people can check out.

Can you reveal any other projects that are coming up after We Are The In Crowd finish up their LP?
We have a mountain of things lined up for potential projects to work on. It’s too early to know what happens this summer for sure after we finish We Are The In Crowd’s LP. But if anyone is interested in working with us, just hit up our manager Mike Kato with BK Entertainment Group. Mike@bkentertainmentgroup.com is his email and the number is (818) 728-8200. You can also follow us and our progress on albums on our twitter accounts which are @kennethmount and @therealzackodom. Also our website is www.zkproductions.com, and we are also on facebook, just look us up. We got pictures of our drum session with Mayday Parade on my Facebook. Thanks again for the interview Zack!

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Ernie Ball