Though he doesn’t like to talk about it too much, being as it is a means to an end, Jordan Lieb juggles making legimate ‘underground’ music and engineering for a variety of reputable producers with producing music for TV commercials and soap operas in America. As you can imagine, making music within such a commercial domain offers little room for creativity though, at the same time, can be very lucrative. We featured Jordan’s recent EP on Mr.C’s Superfreq label in our Recommendations recently and, to follow-up, we dropped him a line to speak about his background and what life is like for someone who straddles two very contrasting forms of music production…
Hi Jordan, first up how did you get into making music? I mean, how did you acquire the necessary equipment to begin making your own stuff? What was your entry point?
First, thanks for this opportunity… Honestly, I’ve been making music for as long as I can remember. We always had a piano and guitar around the house. We had one of those little cassette recorders, and the rest is history. I remember listening to my parents records, completely absorbed, thinking, ‘This is who I am’. It was never a conscious decision.
And why was there always a piano and guitar around? Were your parents musical, too?
My Dad used to play jazz, upright bass. There were always records playing or the radio on in the evening. My mom making dinner and hearing classical music is such a nice memory for me. Music has always been in our house. Both my sister and I took piano lessons. It’s just been a constant element in our family.
When did you decide that making music could be a legitimate career choice?
The day I saw my first royalty check and bought some groceries!
Cool, where did that first royalty check come from?
Soap Operas! What an odd feeling to get paid for that!
As far as listening to music goes, what kind of stuff inspired you when you first getting into production?
The Beatles. George Martin (their producer) is a true genius. I remember as a child wondering, ‘What’s that sound?’ or ‘How do they make guitars play backwards?’. I learned and sang every vocal harmony. Also Phil Spector. His mastery of mono recording – Holy shit! Have you ever listened to the Beatles or The Ronettes in headphones? I don’t think people realize what they did with only three or four tracks. I can hardly understand it myself!
Later on, studying classical piano, I found similar questions and answers about harmonies, key changes… Mozart is one of my favorites. Very sly. Even his simple children’s pieces offer so much to learn. I would recommend even the most elementary classical piano sight reading to aspiring producers. There’s an ocean of music in even the simplest works. (Ableton will never provide that kind of wonder and awe, sorry.)
So how did you end up getting so deep into music?
There really was no defining thing or moment. As a child, one is open to everything. I can’t tell you how or when. As far back as I can remember I was absorbed in records. First The Beatles, then Hendrix as a teen, Nirvana, how I worshiped them.. then friends started showing me electronic music; Meat Beat Manifesto, Cabaret Voltaire, The Orb… it was an endless journey of discovery through different phases of my life. There really is no beginning or end.
So what do you find in music, that you can’t find elsewhere?
What do you find most difficult about making music?
That I can’t control it. Some days you just feel bored and dried up, some days it pours out effortlessly. I think the biggest obstacles are the critics in my head. They are never really happy.
You also engineer, when did you start to get into that side of things?
College, really. We had a small studio there, and I also started training myself on ProTools and an MPC. I never had any expensive equipment of my own, so when I started working around bigger studios I just faked it. All the basic principles are the same. You just use your ears and instincts and ask a lot of questions.
Some people are obsessed with the gear. But gear doesn’t make music. It simply captures it. The magic in the studio is when the two work together to create a something unique.
How far into formal training did you go?
I’ve studied piano on and off, never long enough to get really good. In college I studied composition, recording, and classical piano. I simply don’t have the kind of patience it requires to be really good at any one instrument. Part of being a producer is a bit of laziness, in an odd way. Instead of being a great guitar player, for example, I learned a lot about editing, sampling, overdubbing… etc. Techniques that start as band-aids become a part of your toolkit as a good producer.
How did you make the leap from making your own music to creating stuff especially for television?
I don’t care to talk too much about TV music. My passion is making records. My first studio job was engineering rather than composing for soap opera music. It was a right place right time kind of thing.. just a lucky break. Then I moved on to scoring TV commercials. It’s a good gig, fast paced, good pay… but my heart is not in it.
The two positives I can say are:
1. It’s great practice as a producer. I can pump out just about anything in a short period of time.
2. I will always be grateful to the people in the industry who gave me a leg up. I’m on the road to bigger things and I will never forget the help I was given from the beginning.
Which film score/composers are you most fond of?
John Hughes is my film hero. Ira Newborn did a ton of his scores. The romantic and nostalgic sound of the eighties. That’s my childhood. The sounds of my dreams. Also Angelo Badalamenti, who worked a lot with David Lynch. Twin Peaks. ‘nuf said.
What are the two industries like to work in? Is there much difference in the way they both operate?
They are two different animals: TV’s a day job. A means to an end. Pays the bills. Sometimes it can be really interesting and cutting edge, sometimes it’s really ridiculous. Making records is my passion; Writing my own music, or working with bands or producers, I do because I love it. I fit it in on nights and weekends. Eventually that will be my full-time job.
Have you ever made something for television that you thought would actually work in a club, too?
What’s your current studio set-up?
I use Logic to write.
Hardware: I love the Neve 1066, Urei 1176, Pultec EQ. Couldn’t live without them. Lately I’ve been using more tape recorders. The 4-track cassette recorder is a classic lo-fi monster.
Synths: Juno-106, Arturia Minibrute, Nord Lead Rack.
Plug-ins…. well those are just my little secrets, aren’t they.
Your Dear Suzanne EP is wicked, the title track is one of my favorites so far this year. Can you tell me a little bit about the EP, how you hooked up with Mr.C?
Richard West (Mr C) has become a dear friend over the years. I met him while working on his new album, Smell The Coffee, and we hit it off like kids at playtime. He simply grabbed a hold of Dear Suzanne and said, ‘I’m putting this out on Superfreq Records!!!!’ Nothing could have made me happier. I’m so lucky to have his love and support. He’s one of the rare ones. A mentor to say the least.
Where did the EP name come from? Who’s Suzanne?
Haha… that must remain secret.
You’ve also worked with Francis Harris in the past, what’s the connection with him?
Francis asked me to help him finish his album, Leland – instant bond. We both learned so much from one another’s styles. We both learned a lot about analog mixing. No one is more patient and precise with a kick drum and bass line than him! Then he heard my music and ‘Poof!’… He created Scissor & Thread records. He found me hiding my music under a rock. If it wasn’t for him I might still be there. Again, never forget those who helped you in the beginning. Now we produce and tour together frequently.
In terms of club music, what are you working on at the moment?
I’m producing the next Bob Moses EP, Far From The Tree. Those guys are pure genius!!!
Yeah they’re great! How did you hook up with them?
Francis Harris discovered these guys. They are just phenomenal. Tom Howie and Jimmy Vallance. They are pushing very musical elements in their electronic music; Beautiful vocals, guitar parts, true song crafting, sound design elements. I feel lucky to work along with them. They are so musical that it’s easy for me. There’s no hand holding or training wheels with these guys. My job is simply to support what’s already written. Get a good mix and make it glow… I add few fun bits as well. Can’t help myself!
What about solo-wise? Any new treats?
There is a Black Light Smoke album somewhere on the horizon. A few tunes are coming together. I’m not in a rush because I want it to come when it’s ready. I want it to come from a really fresh place in me… I’m still sort of waiting to see where it leads.
I’m hoping for a follow up EP on Superfreq.. Also, I’ve recently released Tiger Fingers on HFN Records, my band from a few years back. It’s a dance/song/electro kind of project I created with my dear friend Asako Fujimoto. Check it out HERE.
What does the future hold for you, where do your ambitions lie?
My own studio. Produce and write albums. I wake up and go to sleep with that on my mind. I don’t care if the music industry is rising or falling. Fads are all a flash in the pan. People will always need music. I will help them make it.
I hear you also masquerade as a vigilante and fight crimes at night?
The real crime is some of the club and pop music that is being released today. There’s a tide of dumbed down music.
With that answer in mind, what have you heard recently that you’ve really liked?
You know, that being said, I am constantly being surprised. I don’t listen to a lot of music, actually… after working on it all day, I often prefer silence. So I depend on my friends to show me new things. I have a hard time following new releases. I’m really blown away and confounded by The Knife’s new album. It’s really intense. The new Apparat album is really exciting too. I like some of what I’m hearing out of the underground R&B scene too. It’s really exciting to hear new urban music that really breaks the mold.
Dear Suzanne by Jordan Lieb is out now, pick it up by clicking here.