Producer's Desk: Neil Kernon

Sep 9, 2010 1:28 PM, By Bryan Reesman

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With Degree Absolute’s Aaron Bell at Robert Lang Studios, Seattle, Wash.

With Degree Absolute’s Aaron Bell at Robert Lang Studios, Seattle, Wash.

You produced two of the first three releases for Queensrÿche, including Rage for Order, which was heavy on sound design. What did you learn from working with them?
Rage is still is one of my absolute favorites and might still be my favorite collaboration. The thing about that record was the timing of computers becoming really a part of music. I was really big into computers anyway and carried my own Mac around back in those days and was getting into the integration of MIDI with live stuff, and sequencing. With Rage for Order, we were really able to experiment and explore those lines by integrating all of that stuff into pre-pro. That whole album was heavily sequenced—not in terms of the way to do it these days because everything was played live—but we had underpinnings of sequencing.

That was the beginning of a very optimistic phase for me in the sense that I’d always wanted music and computers to somehow align or help each other. I wasn’t really a fan of using computers for mixing, just because they were really underpowered back in those days, and I wasn’t convinced that they were replaying all my moves correctly. I would rather have done it manually because I knew it would be right. Of course, slowly as systems became more powerful, it was obvious that it was doing exactly what I’d put in. It was a very exciting time in that we were able to embrace the new technology.

When we met before working together, Queensrÿche had wanted to make a record that was essentially cold sounding: cold and high-tech and cyber. It was before that really existed in music. There was a certain amount with Gary Numan and artists like that, but that all really sounded programmed. They had the drum machines, and we wanted to do it with live drums and still have sequenced elements that meshed with that. With Rage, everything we tried worked. It was incredibly positive. We would try it, and it would work. So the whole thing went from strength to strength.

Have you been asked to do a lot of songwriting for people in the studio?
Yeah, I actually co-wrote several albums over the years. I was working on the Aviator record for three or four years. I also worked very closely with Michael Bolton on his record [Everybody’s Crazy]. I call myself a one-stop shop. I’m able to help out with song arrangements or come up with parts if they need them or lay down the foundation or set people off with homework to do between pre-pro. I can do as much or as little as necessary. With one of the Dokken records that I worked on, it was really a matter of cobbling all the ideas together because they were pretty fragmented at that point. If a band’s really got their stuff together, it might just be a matter of fine-tuning bits here and there, but if there’s a lot of work to be done, I’m more than happy to get my hands dirty.

How much credit do you get for that?
To me, it’s all part of the same thing. Admittedly, if someone says they’d like to write an album with me, I go in with a different mindset. But if they ask what the song needs, if it’s a little bit that I can help out with, I don’t mind. For me, it’s all part of getting the job done. It’s easy to do. I’m not really a credit grabber.

You worked for Chicago-based label Slipped Disc, which led you to producing death-metal band Macabre in 1997, which in turn led to work with Cannibal Corpse, Deicide, Nile and other groups of that genre. At the same time, you jumped into the prog-metal world. How did that dichotomy work for you?
When I got the opportunity to work with Nile, I had already done the Spiral Architect record. It was very technical. It’s all inextricably involved in a sense. I’ve always gravitated toward technical music, which I suppose is where the prog stuff comes in. I don’t like to do only one thing; I like to do lots of different things. It keeps me fresh and makes sure I don’t keep making the same record over and over again. I don’t like two bands to sound alike. I like the bands to sound like themselves rather than like a Neil Kernon production. So I go down these rabbit holes for a while where I’m sort of oblivious to what’s going on in the rest of the music world. My focus is really intense in a certain area, but then when I come up for air and discover what’s been going on, I have to backtrack and learn what else has been out there.






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