Producer's Desk: Tucker Martine

Jun 1, 2012 9:00 AM, By Blair Jackson



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photo of Tucker Martine

Over the past 15 years, Tucker Martine has slowly but surely built a reputation as one of the most interesting and inventive producer/engineers in music—one who seeks out adventurous and innovative artists, loves to experiment in the studio with electronics and unusual sonic textures, and works easily in a wide variety of musical styles. His extensive credit list is littered with spectacularly idiosyncratic talents.

Based in Seattle from the mid-’90s until 2006, he worked on many albums with Wayne Horvitz—who had been a key driver in New York’s free-ranging, experimental “Downtown scene” before relocating to the Northwest—as well as with the always intriguing guitarist Bill Frisell (another N.Y.-to-Seattle transplant), violin phenom Eyvind Kang, saxophonist John Zorn, Mudhoney and many others.

In 2006 he worked for the first time with the famously eclectic Portland band The Decemberists (on The Crane Wife), and ended up liking Portland so much that he moved there and, as he had in Seattle, built his own home studio. He’s worked on every Decemberists album since, and toiled on an impressive array of projects—sometimes producing, tracking and mixing, other times just mixing—including Mudhoney’s Lucky Ones, solo albums by The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy and Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla, My Morning Jacket’s extraordinary Circuital, Bill Frisell’s live masterpiece East/West, preliminary recording for REM’s Collapse Into Now, violinist extraordinaire Jenny Scheinman’s wonderful Mischief and Mayhem, and two superb discs five years apart from Floratone—an occasional quartet comprising Frisell, drummer Matt Chamberlain, Martine and co-producer Lee Townsend.

A native of Nashville, where his father, Layng Martine Jr., has been a successful songwriter for several decades, Tucker played drums in high school but also gravitated to the sound side and was soon recording the groups he was in and then others. Early on he was influenced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois “because they were using the studio as an instrument and were making some music that was constructed not only entirely in the studio, but because of the studio. I was fascinated with that—tape loops and tape manipulations and processing. I also loved abstract sounds and manipulating things and atmospheres.” After spending some time in Boulder, Colo., playing music with his brother, he traveled around the U.S. for a few months before ending up in Seattle, in 1990, right as Nirvana and the grunge scene were exploding.

Is Seattle where you hooked up with Wayne Horvitz?
Yes. Wayne was there and Bill Frisell had just moved there, so that was a draw, aside from the fact that the Subpop scene was exploding and whatnot.

How, if at all, did that affect your aesthetic?
It wasn’t something I was deep into, although seeing Nirvana was irresistible, and I eventually got into Soundgarden as well. But I was really looking for outlets to experiment with a studio and with songs that could be informed more by the studio, rather than that music, which was about capturing that intense live energy.

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