Energy, Inspiration and the Big Picture: Making Records with Dan Frizza

Dan Frizza is a multifaceted studio pro, working as a recording and mix engineer, producer and musician. After cutting his teeth at Big Jesus Burger, he’s been part of the fabric of many of the premier studios of the east coast: Studios 301 (both Sydney and Byron Bay) and Forbes Street Studios.

Deeply versed in a wide range of styles, he’s worked alongside everyone from Gurrumul to George Maple, even the Australian Chamber Orchestra.

We talked to Dan about his own studio, his plethora of projects, new acquisitions and studio philosophy.

We caught up with multidimensional Sydney producer Dan Frizza to chat his approach to collaborating, his essential pieces of gear and working alongside his heroes.

You’ve plied your trade in a few different studios over your career. Do you have a home base at the moment?

Yes, I have my own studio over in Coogee, its live room is 22 sqm and control room is 12 spm. I also have an amp booth with a handy guitar line into my control room. I also have another two separate rooms I use for amp booths when tracking larger bands, so I can capture the live energy of everyone playing together but still have amp separation, the best of both worlds.

The beauty about having a home base to come back to makes it easy to continue projects and making noise after tracking the beds of songs at external studios. It makes the overdub and mixing phase much more efficient, while offering bands an affordable place to work on their music. I have also been able to build up and pile all my gear to make everything I need within arms reach.

What are you working on at the moment?

Well I recently put a track together with King Princess for Spotify while she was here on tour, it was a cover of an old Velvet Underground song called Femme Fatale, I think we came up with the concept and tracked everything for that in four hours. I’ve also been slaving away at the new Turtleskull album; we spent about a week tracking it up in Byron and since then I’ve just been working through the songs adding synth parts/ambient noises and mixing them.

I’ve also been working with good pals Zeahorse on their new record and Comacozer on their upcoming album too. I’ve also just finished producing and playing everything for this EP I put together for good friend, Adam Dwyer based down in Melbourne, that was good fun – a great song writer, we really channelled some ’60s pop together. And in between I’ve been working alongside good friend Michaela Baranov (Peking Duk, Flight Facilities) writing and collaborating on new material.

What got you into recording music?

I remember when I was in my early years of high school sitting in my room playing guitar, I had one of those old microphones you plug straight into the computer, my dad always had little gadgets like that lying around being in the IT industry. I started to record myself playing guitar and putting ideas together on what I think was a very early version of Windows Voice Recorder. I kinda got into it without even really realising it and now here we are.

Do you have any icebreakers to kick off a fresh session with an artist?

Yeah I think I usually start everything off with a bad dad joke and everything usually goes pretty downhill from there, so it works well to open the space up for a pretty comfortable artist!

What are some pieces of gear that have become essential to your workflow?

Well I have definitely grown from having a lot at hand to having a few bare essentials; my old Reslo Ribbon mic, my pair of DT770 headphones, my trackball mouse and my UAD Twin interface.

Are there any pieces of gear that have been really inspiring you lately?

I have recently acquired an old Juno 106 which seems to sound great no matter what I try to do with it, as soon as I hit a chord I just want it to keep going! That thing is so versatile and the tones are ridiculous.

What are some of your techniques for getting through a creative roadblock?

It depends on the situation but generally speaking, the important thing I tell myself is to keep focused on the bigger picture. I think it goes without saying to do whatever it takes to keep that consistent flow of creative energy however necessary and if it starts to fall back, usually because we’re zooming in too much, then zoom back out and move on. You can always go back to something later on.

What’s the cheapest piece of gear that you feel like you’ve gotten the most out of?

Good question, again, probably my Reslo ribbon mic! That thing is incredible, especially when I start to drive it, surprisingly it picks up a lot more lower sub information then I have expected it to and but I really like the smack it gives me in that lower mid EQ section after driving it through a saturated preamp and compressor chain.

What do you find always challenges you in the studio – how do you overcome it?

I learnt very early on that the most important thing in the studio is the energy, how motivated and inspired the artist feels, without this it doesn’t matter what cool gear you have in front of you. With that in mind I have always challenged myself to keep things focused on the energy in the room, which I think has become second nature now but has also been a fun little challenge as to how to read the artist consistently and to figure out what it is they need to get into a good headspace.

Do you have any producer/engineer heroes? What is it about them that you love?

Yes, so many. I would probably have to point out Nick DiDia who has been a massive influence and inspiration for me, having worked alongside him for many years and being somewhat of a mentor to me, I learnt his ins and outs of the studio ethos and have really appreciated his – for lack of a better word – organic approach to making music. Its about the artist, not the studio, to read the room, to understand music as a whole no matter what genre and to never stop learning/evolving!

Probably also Blake Mills, that guy covers all bases of music making with an extremely high calibre!

Do some sound sources still mystify you when you record?

Yes, the people and their different approaches/styles to making music is what mystifies me, some artists need a party, others need a room full of their closest friends in support, others need it to be quiet without a soul in sight, others need to cram so much thought and work in beforehand and have me push them until they’re almost exhausted and some others need to connect to that higher realm inside of them. All of which, at the end of the day, arriving to make a song.

Did you have a “turning point” moment in your studio career?

Good question. I feel like it’s been a slow burn in a lot of ways. I was actually thinking about this the other day when a friend pointed out to me where I am at with everything; as I now am running my own studio and seem to be making this freelance thing work really well, I’m very much of the persuasion that I’m lucky to have made it this far and to get to do what I do everyday but surely someone’s going to figure out I’m just winging it and will kick me out of my position? Which is kinda absurd really…

I do think though, going back to the original question, that a big step in the right direction was when I moved to Byron to run the 301 facility up there, I think my first session there was Gurrumul’s The Gospel Album so things definitely stepped up from then on.

Do you find yourself narrowly focussed on a particular part of the production process, or do you feel like you can always see the “big picture”?

I suppose I really try and focus on the preparation for the records leading up to them, making sure the songs are there, the ideas are thought out, all the instruments and my general approach is worked out too, within reason of course. I think it really gives us all a headstart once that side of things is mapped out. Obviously ideas and things change on the fly but I usually try to decide on instruments, mics, preamps, style, themes etc. beforehand as to help sculpt the kind of sound we’re going for.

I suppose it’s borderline obsessive but it puts me in a good headspace when I can have the confidence to be organised and go smash it out right from the beginning of the day. It’s also a good use of time too and I like the motto “we should be waiting on the artist, not the studio”.

Who are some artists that you’ve really enjoyed working with and why?

So many! All of them! I do particularly enjoy working with every artist, each for different reasons, which is the beauty of this job, I’m always learning about how these guys make music and it’s always slightly different approaches but with the same result at the end of the day.

Working with Zeahorse has really inspired me to push the way I hear sounds or want to manipulate them, working with Turtleskull has taught me to see things from both sides of the glass and to understand holistically from a more musical point of view with songs as opposed to solely tones or vibe or structure.

I think a stand out would definitely be working with Charlie Gradon, the way he can make musical ideas connect so easily on the fly is really inspiring, he is also a gun at every instrument he touches!

What are some of your goals for the future?

To keep making as much music as I can and to keep helping artists realise and reach their potential. Keep pushing the boundaries on how we choose to listen to and make music and how to get a feeling across and through the speakers. I really thrive on making records with artists and bands that have a vision for their music and stoking them out on what they can achieve.

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