Behind the (Seattle) Music
An Interview with Jon Weil, Audio Mixer & Masterer
By Glenn Smith
The following is the first in a series of interviews with people in the music industry who work behind the scenes. More broadly, it’s a series designed to highlight all of the people who perform various roles in the Seattle music community, other than musicians.
Everyone loves a great song, or a great show–when bands make great music, we give them our love. Rarely, however, are the people behind the scenes acknowledged. Some of them book and promote shows. Some produce and mix songs and albums. Others still help shine light on worthy artists. Behind the (Seattle) Music is a way to tell those stories.
For this first installment, I’ve started close to home with a look at Seattle-based independent audio mixer and masterer Jon Weil. He’s a great producer. I know this first-hand because he edited, mixed and mastered my early 2017 solo album (Freeze’s Voices).
NadaMucho.com: Who are you and where are you from?
Jon Weil: My full name is Jonathan Michael Weil, and I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. I moved to Phoenix in 1998 and then Seatle in late 2016.
NM: So you run Fuzzywallz Productions. What’s up with that?
JW: The official title of the business is “Fuzzywallz Recordings LLC”, but now I call it Fuzzywallz Mastering because I’ve been doing mostly mastering and mixing, with fairly little recording as of late.
NM: Did you originally call it Fuzzywallz Recordings because you thought you’d be doing more audio capture and producing than post-production?
JW: When I started the company I was recording bands and solo artists at my house and, although I did offer mastering as a service, I was a lot more familiar with and experienced with the recording aspect. At that time the company was more of an all-in-one recording studio.
Now my studio is strictly mixing and mastering. That’s my focus and my happy place.
The focus had switched more to the post production side, although I’m still all about recording bands if the opportunity comes up and the situation is doable. I’d love to find some bands to book here in Seattle and even have a few studios I could use.
NM: Did you see yourself as a producer of sorts? What changed to make you change the name to Fuzzywallz Mastering?
JW: I did, and actually still do, consider myself as a producer of sorts. However, I’m more of an engineer with a co-producer mentality. I always feel like the artist should have the final say on things, not me. That being said, there’s certainly been times where I’m contributing even more than the artist and that’s okay.
I changed the stated name from “Fuzzywallz Recordings” to “Fuzzywallz Mastering” around 2014 because I had started doing more (and better) mastering at my home, while I was doing all my recording and mixing at Uranus Recordings (was in Tempe, AZ–owned by Robin wilson, singer for the Gin Blossoms). I figured that could split the two in an organized way and prevent any toe-stepping between Robin’s studio and my business. Once Uranus closed in summer of 2015, I had pretty much decided I wanted to focus on mastering, so the new name stuck.
NM: Tell me a story or two about why recording became not your preferred thing, and mixing and mastering did. I’m asking you to go back in time here. Any horror stories? Any really frustrating experiences?
JW: That’s a tough one! I really do think it has to do with turnaround time. I also like working alone for at least a portion of any production–it’s a little easier to get in the zone. I also really like being the person who is finalizing the production, rather than starting it.
As far as stories go, there have certainly been some situations that turned me off from the face-to-face-ness of recording. There was the guy who kept accidentally unplugging his bass during takes….i had to keep walking out into the studio and plugging it back in, as he stood looking in awe. Turns out he was high on heroin!
I have also recorded quite a bit at home studios. There was one time a band had spent the whole day recording at my house, and after the 12-hour session finally ended, I discovered the band had clogged my toilet, forcing a whole day’s worth of feces on the bathroom floor. That sucked to clean up!
There was also my “worst client” ever–he stood over my back screaming orders at me while doing edits, preached his religion non-stop between edits and then tried to only pay me for a small percentage of the time–claiming I wasn’t working as hard as I should have. I’ve also had numerous clients refuse to pay for “the takes we didn’t keep.” Not kidding.
But really, I think the reasons I floated away from recording are the endless takes, lack of musician preparation and over-dependency on things like auto-tune and editing. Back when I started recording, the band was ready, you set things up and you made a record. Eventually it became the norm where the engineer was expected to take even the worst recordings and turn them into perfection. Now it’s not that I am too lazy to do all the editing, tuning and hand-holding–that’s just not what I got into this for!
With mixing and especially mastering, I do my thing and it’s done! I find mixing can be a little more “fun” and lets me stretch out my creativity a bit more, but mastering feels like I am truly applying my skills in the most direct and efficient way.
NM: Care to dish about some of the famous people you’ve worked with?
JW: All in all, I have been impressed with how nice, hard-working and approachable most of the big acts have been. One time I was recording an acoustic set for Panic! at the Disco and they played the entire Pick of Destiny soundtrack for the small studio audience, off-record and just for fun. They had probably been on the road for months and had a big show that night… and then played the set I’d just recorded. But then they still did this whole special set for the fans. That was fucking dope. Silversun Pickups were similarly giving to their studio audience too; joking around onstage and offstage, when they could have been short and cold.
One time a superstar was exceptionally harsh with me. I won’t mention any names. But this lead singer of a very hip Calif. band, spoke of himself in third person when refusing the bottled water I handed him. “(His name here) only drinks room temperature water…ever.” That same band put me through the wringer on some technical stuff too, but that’s a long, unentertaining story, fueled by the manager’s obvious cocaine habit.
I also personally had to edit every single note (of one instrument) for a major-label band’s album release. I mean, EVERY SINGLE NOTE.I knew if I didn’t, the player might be fired and/or the album would have been delayed. They may never know…
On that same album (never to be named) I had some killer rough mixes together before it was sent to mixing. When they came back from mastering, what had been a punchy, analog, rocking album from a very famous 90’s band became something even Disney would have called “soft.” The dynamics were gone, the quality was reduced and the mastering was cringe-worthy. Another reason I wanna be on this side of the process.
NM: So you say ‘this side,’ do you mean the mastering side, so you can help other bands avoid having the same thing happen?
JW: By “this side,” I mean the mixing and mastering rather than recording. It wasn’t so much to prevent the same thing happening again (because that scenario was completely out of my control), but it did cement that I wanted to be responsible for at least the mixing on anything I recorded. I do trust a few mastering engineers out there to master my mixes (e.g. Warren Sokal) but tend to wanna mix most things I record. I can be a Mr. Picky Pants.
NM: What do you think sets you apart from other people who do what you do?
Jon: Tons of experience, humble attitude, good and effective communication, open-mindedness come to mind. I can work fast, I love to share knowledge and obviously have a radical taste in all things musical. I also tend not to take advantage of anyone, I’m pretty honest, and when I need to, I can shed my ego.