One of L.A.'s most respected producers, engineers and mixers — and one of the busiest — Jim Scott has built his rep off of crisp, live-off-the-floor sounds and attendant good vibes. Scott picked up his first Grammy in 1995 for engineering Tom Petty's Wildflowers, scoring two more for his work with Santana on Supernatural and the Foo Fighters' One By One. In February, he doubled his Grammy total, scoring a hat trick for his recording of the Dixie Chicks milestone Taking the Long Way. That album was the most recent of dozens of projects Scott has done with Rick Rubin during the past two decades, from Petty and Johnny Cash to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Slayer.
From left, The King and producer/engineer Jim Scott.
Photo: Dr. Howard Marshall
John Fogerty realized Scott had major-league chops as soon as they sat down to mix The Long Road Home — In Concert live DVD and CD, so when the Creedence auteur was ready to start work on his latest studio album, he tapped Scott as his go-to guy.
On a recent Monday, Scott joined Fogerty, drummer Kenny Aronoff, bass player David Santos and guitarist Hunter Perrin in Studio B at North Hollywood's NRG. During a week of rehearsals, the band had worked up five songs, hoping to nail at least three of them by the end of Friday. “I'm delighted and maybe amazed,” says Fogerty. “We got five out of five, and they're all good. Jim really knows what he's doing, and he's also the nicest man. Sonically, he'll get the instruments up and sounding really good pretty quickly, and that's not an accident.”
“John is a musically aggressive guy,” Scott points out. “He wants the drums to sound really powerful; that's why he sticks with Kenny Aronoff. What we went for was an in-your-face, honest rock 'n' roll drum sound that's loud and clear. John has a great guitar sound; he really takes time and care choosing his guitars and amps. As far as working the sessions, John's a strong leader, but if you're confident and have something intelligent to say, he'll listen. So if I had a thought or a favorite take, I'd tell him, instead of being a ‘What do you think, John?’ kind of guy. Everything we've done has been fun and quick.”
Between now and the second set of Fogerty sessions at NRG, Scott will return to another work in progress — producing, engineering and recording an LP with Canadian alt country artist Kathleen Edwards — and mixing several projects, including tracks by country star Travis Tritt and Interscope buzz band the Midway State. All of this work is going down at PLYRZ Studios, Scott's personal workspace, a converted warehouse located in his home base of Santa Clarita, 20 miles north of L.A. He is cagey about the name, saying only that it was inspired by a “kinda top-secret rock project” he's been working on. “But they're the guys I thanked at the Grammys,” he says. Since opening the place in January 2006, Scott has been working there nonstop, producing bluegrass group King Wilkie and Finnish rock 'n' roll band The Latebirds, and mixing projects by artists including Dave Alvin, Los Lobos, Lavender Diamond, Marc Cohn and Minnie Driver, as well as Wilco's Sky Blue Sky and the band's covers of “Simple Twist of Fate” and “I'll Be Your Baby Tonight” for the upcoming Bob Dylan movie, I'm Not There.
The cornerstone of PLYRZ is a rare Neve 8048. The 32-input, 24-monitor, 16-bus board was built in 1976 for RCA Studios in New York City and acquired by Kitaro in 1995. While Scott was working on the Dixie Chicks project at the Village in 2005, studio head Jeff Greenberg found out the 8048 was available. “I jumped on it, probably much to Jeff's chagrin,” Scott says with a laugh. Two Neve BCM 10s and Pro Tools HD round out the power plant, and Scott makes constant use of an arsenal of vintage compressors, reverb units and tape recorders from dbx, Univeral Audio, Altec, Scully and AKG.
When you walk in the back door of the studio, you suddenly find yourself in a big, high-ceilinged warehouse space that's so jam-packed with vintage instruments and gear — guitars, amps, keyboards, drum kits, road cases — that it could serve as a rock 'n' roll museum. “I finally have my entire lifelong collection of gear in one place,” he says. There's also a separate tracking room, a vocal booth, a kitchen, a bar and a huge lounge upstairs with 9-foot-high picture windows overlooking the surrounding mountains and valleys. The walls are bedecked with tapestries — he calls it “hippie-style” décor. “It's beautiful up here,” Scott says, “and people love it. It's an alternate environment for people to chill out — it's bright, it's happy, it's different. People appreciate what went into how the place looks and feels. And the room sounds awesome.”
Sky Blue Sky, the highest-profile album Scott has mixed at PLYRZ thus far, is a return to Wilco's roots in late-'60s/early '70s music, following the envelope-pushing Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born. After recording it live to tape in Wilco's Chicago rehearsal space, bandleader Jeff Tweedy gave the tapes to mainstay Jim O'Rourke, who had mixed both Yankee and Ghost, producing the latter, but Tweedy wasn't satisfied with the results. “Compared to the demos, [O'Rourke's mixes] just didn't feel quite the same or like the record we, as a band, had made,” Tweedy explained in Billboard. So he turned once again to Scott, who had mixed several Wilco albums, most recently the live Kicking Television. A day after receiving it, Tweedy asked Scott to mix the entire album.
“I've done enough mixing for Jeff that I have learned where he wanted his vocal and where he wanted the band to be,” Scott explains. “But on this record, I just couldn't help myself — I felt like I wanted to mix his vocals a little louder and clearer than ever. I thought, ‘That's what this record is: It's about his words and his voice, and the music he wrote to support and accompany his vocals.’ Jeff's just in the best place ever, and why not make a record that sounds great, too? There's nothin' to hide. You get the songs and feel the songs; he sings so well and with so much emotion. And the album isn't all dolled up and fixed up like everything else — it's just real, and it's great. So I'm really happy for him.”
As for the band as a whole, “After mixing the live album last year with the same lineup, I got the gist of what they were trying to do,” says Scott, “and I wanted to hear everything. If you keep your eye on the most important parts of the music, the other parts will find their own balance and importance, especially with Wilco. There's not a lot of overdubs — they worked really hard to make their sound. Those weren't spontaneous jams; they were the result of rehearsal and decisions. And it still sounds fresh because they're totally performing. Wilco's just a crackin' band.”
Said Tweedy in the Billboard interview: “The mixes we did with Jim Scott put you in this room a lot more than the [first] ones we did, which sounded much more like a ‘record.’ The room was gone.”
When Scott works on a record, the room is always present, along with everything else that needs to be heard — pure and simple, loud and clear. He rocks
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