Blog Archives

4 Questions with Producer Benjamin Hotchkiss

I’m starting a new segment called 4 Questions. I chose 4 in honor of my favorite time signature!

4 Questions with Benjamin Hotchkissbenjamin hotchkiss

Benjamin is a talented musician and producer, most famously known as the front man for Austin bands The Real Heroes and Skyrocket! He produced the third release for Sheboygan entitled Triple Fantasy.

1. What other projects have you contributed to as a producer?
Most recently I produced a 7″ single. It’s a cover of “She’s a Rainbow” by the Girls Rock Camp here in Austin.  All the proceeds go to benefit young girls who typically couldn’t afford to go to rock camp.  The  other albums I’ve produced were my own – The Real Heroes’ first three records.

2. You’ve known the members of Sheboygan for years as a fellow musician, but what did you feel you could contribute to their sound as producer of Triple Fantasy?
I think the first factor in my getting hired was that I responded in an enthusiastic way to some of the new songs when they played them live, “Needle Hits the Groove”  specifically.  I knew that I could produce that song well.  It sounded refreshing and had a complete lack of pretense with a sexy rock and roll message.  It reminded me of the Raspberries. I went on and on after a gig to them and I think I was speaking their language.  The previous record they had done was an “everything and  the kitchen sink” affair, and being smart artists, they decided that the next record should be different.  So what I’m good at is leaving more space,  figuring out what’s needed and  getting rid of what could become tiresome over time. I look for warmth if there is any to be found. Records are produced so “loud” these days that they literally tire your ears out.  I was hoping that when you heard this record you wouldn’t even know when it was made.  You can’t MAKE a record timeless.  But there are psychological things you can avoid in the recording and mixing process that to me seem trendy. Plus, I knew it would go smoothly to a certain extent as, like you said these guys are friends of mine and we drift in the same circles of musical taste.  So when somebody made a reference to a certain tone, like say the bass tone from Wings’ highly under-appreciated “Wild Life” album, I knew exactly what they meant.
3. What was the experience of producing Sheboygan, a band with multiple songwriters and rotating lead singers?
I have to admit it was a bit scary.  They really do have three distinct voices and songwriting styles. And when was the last time you heard a great band with three equal singers?  It’s a tall order for the general public to be able to latch on equally to three different leads on the same record.   Also, they don’t really write the songs together.  They throw in ideas for each other’s songs, but ultimately the writer gets his way. End result is a more distinct sound for each writer.  It does seem like they all tried to pull from the same playbook as far as the kinds of songs they brought forward.  Cory was pretty adamant about keeping the record to a limited palette using only stuff they could do live.  As the songs emerged in the studio I would constantly be looking for pairings.  One song to compliment another.  I had to do a huge amount of fake song orders to get it right.  Burned a lot of discs.  Because I have to listen to the whole thing before I can sign off on it.  I think when most people are doing the sequencing they just kind of play the end of one song, and then listen to the beginning of the next to see if it has a good feel. Not me I have to sit through the whole 45 minutes or whatever to make sure that I don’t get bored and that it has a cohesive flow.   If I get bored, then the audience will be.  Having said all that, I think it came out great.  I was actually excited by the challenge of making these three guys stand equally next to one another and not have the listener think about it too much.  Nobody that I have played the record for has had any comment whatsoever on the variances in style or voice.  They just like it.  Big Star did it.  Now Sheboygan has done it.
4. Do you feel limits to the musical advice you give a band during recording?
Great Question!  It seems that there are two different approaches to being a producer.  One approach is to take a band and try to make it your own,  to join the band in a way and guide them toward what you would like to hear.  Brian Eno would be a quality example of this kind of producer. He puts the band through all sorts of paces and experimentations, plays instruments, adds voices, edits it his way.  So that’s what you sign up for with him.  The other producer tries to find the best realization of what he or she thinks the band is all about. I think I’m in the latter camp. Todd Rundgren is a good example of this kind of producer. He’s worked on every pop album you’ve ever heard and you wouldn’t necessarily know it until you checked the credits. I’d like to be in that camp.  I prefer to get out of the way and let the band play.  Give them the best possible environment to get where they’re going.  Give them a thumbs up or down if they ask for it.  Always have an idea at the ready in case they can’t get the song from point A to point B. Tell them when it’s boring. I feel like I have more confidence, meaning I’m way more opinionated about  helping people vocally and lyrically.  I like to make the singer internalize the moment they wrote the song, if possible.  I’m looking for the chill on the back of my neck.  If the vocal doesn’t give me the chill, then I know it’s not truly great yet. I don’t want to waste anybody’s time with a technically perfect vocal.

Review of Sheboygan’s Triple Fantasy

Hello friends! This is my first review of an album and I’m close friends with this band, so it was hard to be subjective. But it’s a great record, so please buy it!

Sheboygan’s Triple Fantasy kicks it up a notch from their last release, 2008’s It’s Okay sheboygan triple fantasySay Yes. First of all, the three original members are contributing to the writing of the album, which consists of 14 tracks of all self-written music. Secondly, they’ve added a second guitarist, Paul English, of Real Heroes and Skyrocket! fame. Thirdly, they have released it on LP so that proves that they’re hard core music fans themselves.

Needle Hits the Groove, by Sheboygan, Wisconsin native Cory Glaeser, is the perfect launch to Triple Fantasy – it showcases the vocal harmonies the group is known for and will get you on your feet and dancing, possibly even to reenact a school dance scene from Happy Days. It has the retro vibe that the band has always evoked, being influenced by the Beatles and Beach Boys among others. Trap Doors by Gray Parsons keeps the rocking going and Come Back Around by Chris Gebhard leaves you in suspense.

My favorite song by Gray Parsons on this album is Crossbows at the Ready. His skills and experience as a percussionist really translates into the complexity of this song. It moves smoothly into the next track, 1000 Eyes, also written by Parsons.

I’m going to go with Fragile as my favorite track by Chris Gebhard. Gebhard’s pure vocals combined with Glaeser’s bass line give away the fact that the two have known each other for years.

It’s a toss-up between Minutes Last Forever and Things We Lost in the Fire for my favorite song by Cory Glaeser. Minutes Last Forever provides an element of mystery to the album and transitions perfectly into Gebhard’s Dying Sun. However, Things We Lost in the Fire is a great finale to this long-awaited third release (2nd full length) by Sheboygan.

Dreams Come True: Episode 1

Prologue: this is a flasback blog from a few years ago. However, I felt it was only right to publish this as my first post since it was, indeed, my first ever blog writing attempt.

Dreams Come True

by Sarah Rucker

Not only is it the name of a record by Lou Ann Barton, Marcia Ball and Angela Strehli (1990, Antone’s Records,) but it’s my motto these days. In the Fall of 2009 my dream of meeting the great blues and R&B artist Barbara Lynn came true.

As a bit of background information on why this was one of my dreams, I grew up listening to the music of my parents’ childhood and teenage years: Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave, the Ronettes, and many other greats of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Flash forward to 2004 when I was attending UT-Austin and decided to enroll in the one elective that didn’t count toward my degree plan: Blues and Social Change taught by the late blues club owner, Clifford Antone. It wasn’t until taking this class that I realized exactly what I wanted to do “when I grew up” – help promote musicians and artists that deserve to be known world wide. I went on to become an assistant to Mr. Antone, helping with his college courses and conducting research for a book project. These two years provided me with the knowledge and passion to begin my career in the arts.

However, this story begins when the American Folklife Center in Washington, D.C. called Texas Folklife for recommendations for their 2009 Homegrown Concert Series. At the top of my list was legendary guitarist and Texas native, Barbara Lynn. About a month later, we received another phone call to let us know that the American Folklife Center’s featured artist for Texas this year would be none other than Miss Barbara Lynn and that Texas Folklife would be the presenting organization. I was equally excited to be given the reigns to the production duties.

On September 21st, I traveled to Beaumont, photo by Sarah Rucker, 2009Texas to Ms. Lynn’s house to conduct an oral history interview.  I had the privilege of meeting Ms. Lynn, her mother, one of her daughters and one of her grandsons. Ms. Lynn welcomed me into her home and chatted with me for a couple hours. Her warm spirit was as amazing as her talent as a musician. I returned to Austin to continue preparations for our trip to D.C.

The staff of Texas Folklife was to meet Ms. Lynn and her band mates in D.C. for the program which was taking place on November 18. That morning we also were able to meet Thea Austen, Public Events Coordinator for the American Folklife Center, whom I’d talked on the phone with many times over the past few months. We were honored to met with some Texas political delagates and see the  U.S. Senate offices. We then traveled on to the Library of Congress where the Homegrown Concert would take place. The Coolidge Auditorium was beautiful and a crowd much larger than we expected for the D.C. lunch hour came out for Barbara Lynn’s show. Ms. Austen gave the band and our staff a private tour of the Library of Congress and on we went to prepare for Miss Lynn’s next show. As my co-workers and I entered the Kennedy Center to meet up with the band, I heard a docent say, “That must be her entourage.” What an honor!

The grandeur of the Kennedy Center added to the nervousness of speaking onstage, but I introduced “the Empress of Gulf Coast Soal” for the second time then joined the crowd of over 300 people to enjoy the show. As I sat back and listened to the songs I’d been listening to for years, I mentally checked off one of the things on my bucket list.