From KUOI to the big time
Interview by Anthony Saia & Nick McGarvey
Terry Date has been producing records for twenty-five years. In fact some have heard his records. Remember Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger? Date produced that. How about Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power? Yep, he did that one too. How about Deftones’ first four records? Uh-huh. He did all those as well.
Obviously Date did not just appear in Seattle and start turning knobs to make all these amazing albums. In fact, Station Manager Anthony Saia and Production Director Nick McGarvey had an opportunity to catch up with Terry Date to pick his mind on music production and how he got his start.
Although Date now lives in Seattle, he grew up in the Midwest, specifically in Cleveland & Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1975, he decided to come to the University of Idaho because “he needed to get out of the Midwest.” In addition his family roots are from Oregon. “Being 19 years old and not thinking through things,” he states, “I’ll go to Idaho and be up in the mountains. Then I got to Idaho, to Moscow, and realized it is mostly wheat fields”.
Now, Date was not always interested in turning knobs and producing records. His first course of study was Forestry. “That lasted part of the first year” he recalled. “But I didn’t want to go back to where my parents were living at the time, which was Indiana, for the summer. I heard that you could get a job in the mines of Northern Idaho if you were a Geology major, so I changed my major to geology so I could get a summer job up at the mines.”
Date did not graduate from University of Idaho though. He transferred in 1979 to Eastern Washington University because they had a recording program. So how did Date go from Geology to recording? Well, he stated that he got involved with KUOI because, “at the time, the station was run by Chris Foster and my good friend John Rankin, those were my friends so I got to know them. They told me that they needed someone to record open mics and coffee houses to put on the radio and that sounded like that was a good thing for me.” Aside from doing recordings Date speculated that he, “had a Sunday evening jazz show or something like that. Probably the least listened to show in the history of KUOI.” Some may beg to differ on that statement though.
Making the jump from recording shows in Moscow to producing some big names such as Deftones was all about desire for Date. “There definitely wasn’t a plan” he recounts, “but there definitely was a desire to continue to do something that I enjoy doing. I had friends in Seattle that were doing some home recording stuff, you know, small time recording stuff. I eventually moved over here and started working in clubs doing live sound just to get to know the local music scene. So once I had done that for a little bit, once again, friends and kept my ears open. There was a studio here in town that was doing advertising mainly but they had a full music recording facility but they closed their doors at five o’clock when it was past business hours. I asked the owner if I could come in and work the night shift recording some of these bands that I had been working with in the clubs. He said, he just wanted to make I wasn’t going to steal his microphones. I said I wouldn’t – probably. He gave me the keys and let me work at night. That is where I got started working in a real studio and where I made the jump.”
Obviously there was a bit of a situational advantage of sorts for Date to get his foot into the door. The bands that he produced in his early years have also made careers for themselves now, but with as many records under his proverbial belt, there has to be a record that enjoys more than others, right? Wrong. Date is a very humble fellow. He stated, “You know, I am sure there are. They are all important to me. Some are more important than others while some are important for different reasons. I can’t really put value on them necessarily. I just associate them with certain experiences and certain relationships that I had with people making those records. It is very hard to say one is more important than the other. I would say the bands that I have worked with that hold a lot of importance are Soundgarden, Deftones and Pantera. I’ve done multiple records with all three bands. All of those bands and I have become really close friends.”
Starting out as a record producer and ascending to the level that Date has, there is typically a jump off point where producers cut their teeth in the business. Now that Date’s career has progressed we were interested to see whether he had been sought out by particular bands and labels. “Early on in my career, I was sought out by the bands for sure. Soundgarden was the first major label ones that I worked with. The reason I worked with them was because they liked what I had been working on at that point locally. They wanted to record their first major label record locally as well. That’s where that one came from. The other bands that came after that chose me because of, once again, the Soundgarden record and further down the road they chose me because of Pantera records, Deftones records, it was kind of my track record that people used and that is why the came to me. Typically, in the early days, bands sought me out. Now labels go to my management and suggest me to bands who then look at my track record. It is a little more impersonal than it used to be – in some cases.”
Now, since Date has been producing records for so long, he could have taken the opportunity to step away from the board and take on more of an executive role. Instead, he opted to stay behind the mixing board. “Typically executive producers kind of check in every once and a while, while someone else does all the hard work, the trench work. I still do all that. I am behind the board 99% of the time for everything I do, still. That is just the way I am most comfortable working. I feel somebody is interested in me enough to ask me to do a record with them, they expect me to be there do it. The only difference is the music business has changed. It is a lot harder for bands to work with producers. It is hard for me to get to these bands now.”
With a producer’s set of ears, we asked Date whether there was an album he was more happy with than others. He came back with a very good, yet unexpected answer. “Well, there are probably some I am more proud of than others. I don’t think I am satisfied with any of them. That is kind of a cliché response I know but there is a saying that we have used in the past ‘If you are ever completely happy with a record you have done, you should quit because you just don’t care anymore or you have achieved perfection and you’ll never repeat it’. I would say that yes, there are some that are important to me. The Mother Love Bone record is important to me. The record would gave probably gone a lot farther had the lead singer not died. The loss of him as a friend makes that record even more important to me. I would say it is the body of work from the three bands I have already talked about that are important to me. I would say White Pony, Vulgar Display of Power, Far Beyond Driven and Badmotorfinger. Those are some records I feel like, you know, I am happy I worked on those records.” Most fans of these records are likely to feel the same way.
Now, to produce the kind of records that Date does, it is likely that the producer would have to be a fan of the music. He agreed with that statement, saying, “Certainly when I first started out, that’s pretty much all I listened to. I came from a lot of influences. After living in Idaho for four years and working up there we were listening to a lot, especially in the late ‘70s. I listened to punk rock a lot as well as now what is called classic rock from the early ‘70s. That is kind of were I cut my teeth. Being in Idaho, we listened to country rock and hard blues – you know, a lot. When I first got to Seattle, and I started working with these bands, the first one I hit one was with heavy bands. So when you do that, you start working with more heavy bands. The people who listen to the kind of music hear something you’ve done sand they want you to work with them so you kind of get key holed in a little bit. I tried as hard as I could to keep myself as broad-based musically as possible so I wouldn’t get type cast as one kind of guy. These days, since it has been a few years, I have a very large, wide variety of music I listen to. It evens goes so far as saying that I don’t like listening to music at all sometimes. Sometimes, your making a record and you’re listening to music six days a week and twelve hours a day, you kind of get to point where you just want to listen to talk radio for a while. The musical interests are very much wider than they used to be. Probably now I don’t listen to music I record as much or hardly at all. I probably listen to way different music than what I am working on.”
Being in the business so long, one would think that it could get to the point for anyone in the industry to start analyzing it from a producer’s standpoint. In fact Date agreed in saying, “Absolutely. I can’t listen to music that I do anymore for enjoyment. That may sound a little weird but its not that I don’t enjoy it. I can’t listen to anything without wondering how they got that snare drum or ‘listen to the effect they put on that vocal’. I can’t just sit back for the sheer enjoyment other than going back to stuff I listened to when I was much younger. Stuff in the ‘70s or whatever. I’ll listen to that stuff and I will hear it they same way I heard it when I was that age. Non-analytical to the music. I am listening to it for enjoyment at that point. More current stuff I am much more analytical of the process other than for enjoyment.”
In fact, some of the enjoyment has been taken out of music listening in the way they are produced now. There is no human factor anymore. Listening to bands from earlier times, it is much easier to tell that it is a band that has not been computerized. “Computers are a partial cause of that,” Date stated. “I used to resist the computer quite a bit. I always worked on tape. The main difference, with tape you couldn’t make a mistake it was more like a live performance. You couldn’t go in and fix things but with a computer you can. That’s not saying you have to. I think a lot of creative people they understand that when they have a tool to make something perfect it is very hard not to do that. That is where the creativity comes in with a producer, engineer or artist – you’ve got to know when to stop and what mistakes to leave in. The thing is, we’ve tried in the recent years to make, strictly tape records. It is not incredibly recent now, but I worked partly on the Smashing Pumpkins record [Zeitgeist]. That was done completely on tape and it is very hard because you are competing with the perfection of computers and you are thinking in terms of that perfection instead of terms of feel, moment and vibe. That is the hardest thing to deal with.”
Some artists have come to expect that sort of magical perfection. “That’s the thing,” Date said, “You used the term magical perfection and I’m talking about magic. I’m talking about that mistake that was the coolest thing you’ve ever heard that you can never recreate. I’ve had a number projects where the band has made demos for me before we go in and the demos are really good. Pantera’s first record, was that way. They had made a demo of that before I was involved with the record and the demo was really good. I went down and did the record and in a lot of ways I did not beat the demo. The demo had special moments that you can’t recreate. You can go back in and try and you can try and all you’re trying to do is recreate a magic moment. That is what I am talking about. Its those mistakes that you can never recreate that the computer sometimes can eliminate. You can still use a computer as a tape machine but it’s the mentality that everybody knows they have a big safety net around them so there is no fear of failure because the computer will take care of them.”
Aside from the use of analog to record the albums that Date has worked on, there is not a unique sound or nuance that says, “Terry Date produced this record” and that is very important to him. “Especially in the earlier years for me, it was very important that there wasn’t a stamp or identity that had anything to do with me on the record. I wanted to be as invisible as possible because this was the bands record. I wanted their identity to come through and that’s why in the earlier ‘90s you’d hear me do a Soundgarden record, a Fishbone record or a Pantera record and they would all sound radically different. It wouldn’t sound like, ‘Okay, this guy’s signature sound’ unlike earlier generations where certain producers that have a sound that’s associated with them. I really resisted that because I wanted the bands to have their own identity for every record. I wanted my signature to be invisibility. I wanted to be the photographer basically. I just didn’t want to be the fifth member of a band. I wanted to be the conduit for them to make a great record.”
As listeners and fans it is always interesting to think of what a record might have sounded like if a different person was doing vocals or a different producer was behind the board. Date stated, “There are number of them that I could of worked on. In fact, there were a couple that I turned down when they were offered to me that I wish I hadn’t turned down. I won’t go in to detail on that one to protect the innocent. There are a number that I turned down because I didn’t feel they were right – not necessarily for me because I always felt that if I were in to somebody I could figure out a make it work but there were certain bands that I didn’t like parts of them or I didn’t ‘feel it’. I wish I had worked with The Beatles though.”
Although Date has many achievements are many, he still continues to work. He gave us some insight on some new projects as well saying, “I’m just finishing up a record with Duff McKagan from Guns ‘N’ Roses and now his band is called Loaded. This is a project that is all Washington people. Duff grew up in Seattle. The drummer [Issac Carpenter] is from Tri-Cities who was also in a great band called Loudermilk and he is an amazing drummer, guitar player and singer also. There is a guitar player Mike Squires who has been in a number of Seattle bands. I believe this is the third record with him and the Jeff Rouse who again, as been in a number of Seattle bands who is the bass player in the band. I just finished a band in Los Angeles called Rev Theory. That is a little more straight ahead rock. Duff’s project is a little bit more punk rock. We did it live and very fast.” This leads back to his earlier example of “going back to basics”. Having a band play live with those “mistakes” are magical indeed.
As previously stated, Date’s career isn’t over but he likes to measure his success in saying, “I think a crowning achievement is again that I pick all my projects by personalities, not by music. It is the people and the relationships that I have made by making these records that makes it all special and important to me. I’ve been really lucky to do multiple records with a number of bands which to me is my measuring stick for success whether band asks me to come back and do a second record with them because that tells me no matter what the record sales were or the critical whatever was if they felt like they wanted me to come back and do another record that they were satisfied that I represented their music accurately. To me that’s the crowning achievement is being asked a few times by some of these bands to come back and do multiple records.”
Now, fall all of those working on trying to make it into the music industry we asked Date if he had a record that he wanted people to hear, how would he go about getting it heard. After a short laugh he stated,“I think if I had an answer to that, I would probably have my own building in New York City some place. It is very difficult and a lot people have complained that the illegal downloads and the Internet has done a number of things to hurt but it has done things to help. It really makes getting your own music out there easier.”
As the interview ended, and being that Deftones are a large part of some peoples discography we had the opportunity to ask about the sidelined Eros record. Date was humble in his response saying,“I think because of the circumstances, it is the band’s record. It is there place to make any statement about the record. Chi is a very good friend and always has been and I can only hope that he wakes up and we can see him playing bass again.”(Deftones bassist Chi Cheng was involved in a terrible car accident in the latter part of 2008 that has left him in a semi-conscious state).
It was certainly an honor to have the opportunity to talk to Terry Date about his life and career as a record producer. He has been the “invisible man” behind the mixing board for years and has been an integral part of the music industry for the past 25 years.