Interview with Jay Maas

Interview with Jay Maas

About Jay

Jay Maas is an American producer/engineer, based near Boston Massachusetts, Maryland. Jay has worked with a number of great bands including Defeater, Counterparts, BANE, State Champs, Citizen, Title Fight, Transit, and many more.

Check out Jay's new signature drum library with Room Sound:

Room Sound Jay Maas Signature 2.0

Who are you and what do you do?

I am Jay Maas, I am a full-time audio engineer, studio owner, I have been at this now for about 15 years. I've made records all over the world, I've recorded band who have come here, or to whatever studio I own at the time. A lot of stuff has hit the Billboards. I played in a lot of bands over the years. I started a band called Defeater in 2007-2008, and I toured pretty extensively for 8 years. We signed to Bridge 9 Records to start, and then we ended up signing to Epitaph Records. And then since I've sort of just become a full-time engineer and producer, and also a full-time Dad. So that's who I am.

How and when did you get started?

I got started recording in I think it was early 2004. I got a tax return for my job at the time. I was sort of in-between figuring out like, I'd been in the studio before, but I kinda had this new band. And I wasn't exactly sure if what I wanted to do was like, spend all this money on this new band, and I didn't even know if we were going to play shows, or what we were going to do. But I definitely did want to record it. So I did the math, and I went to Guitar Center. I was probably like a little bit over-confident, but I just bought a bunch of stuff. And I was like, "I can do this, I've seen people do this. Like, how hard could it be?" And obviously, it turns out there's a lot more to it than I originally anticipated. But yeah, I think it was January 2004, I did my taxes right away and I took that little tax return and went to Guitar Center and decided, "this should be easy." So that's kinda how I got started.

If you started again, what would you do differently?

If I could start all over again with the knowledge that I've obtained since I definitely would have done a lot of things differently. One thing that happens is like, when you're first starting out you're going to start encountering all these new problems. You know, "why don't my guitars sound like this" or "why don't my vocals sound like this record", or whatever it is. Sometimes you think that you need to spend a lot more money to fix those problems than you do. And actually, as I age into my career, I find myself needing to so a lot less "stuff", and I do things a lot quicker now.

I think one of the first things I would have done, is told myself to not buy new gear to fix every problem. Because the most important piece of gear is what's between your ears. The problem is at the time, you haven't exactly developed that so you go to your wallet. But yeah, I bought countless things that I thought would fix certain problems, only to find that while they had uses and they were cool pieces of gear (or sometimes they weren't and I'd have to sell them because it was a mistake) it rarely fixed my problem. It did give me experience with new gear and stuff which is cool, but yeah, I probably would have told myself to save like a bunch of money.

What is the most important part of a song for you?

I think the most important part of any song kind of varies based on the composition of that song. And stylistically too, if we're talking westernized pop music then so often we're talking about the chorus, the chorus has to bang. I think that would be the obvious answer for a lot of people in terms of like, parts of song. Maybe to slightly change perspective here, the most important part of my role in the song to me is to be able to effectively be a vessel for what the artist has in their head an get it to come out of the speakers. I think it can be an emotionally tricky position too because you're dealing with people who (hopefully have anyway) a really strong vision for what they're trying to create. And so, if I'm dealing with a band with pop sensibilities, we're probably going to spend a lot of time on the choruses, and we're going to make sure they're perfect. But, if I'm dealing with an instrumental band or just something different, in those cases, the goal of the composition could be different. I think the most important part of a song really varies, but I think identifying what's important to the band is the real challenge. And what's really important.

What is your favorite project that you've worked on?

It would be really hard for me to pick a favorite favorite record I've ever done, particularly because I've done so many, and I've done so many across such a diverse range of styles of bands. My favorite record I'm working on right now might be the new Somos record. It's really cool, I'm really proud of them for challenging themselves. I think the common thread that I can find in projects that I really like is, the bands aren't worried about "does this fit a specific genre?", it's not pop punk, it doesn't have to be metal specifically or follow the hard guidelines of hardcore, or anything like that. It's a band making music and making it for themselves. When we're in the control room together and everyone is getting really really excited about this thing we're doing, you can feel it. Especially if I'm resonating with the artist too, we can really feel us making something cool and creative. And never once are we worried about "what are kids going to think?", "what's popular right now?". That to me feels exceptionally uninspired. Every record that I've done that I've really loved has definitely had that in common, we're just making it just to make it. Just to make something cool. And if it does something cool, awesome. But what I've found, is that when we don't care about what's going to happen, more often than not good things do happen.

Which artists you would like to work with but haven't been able to?

Two bands that I would love to work with, that I've not been able to work with yet, nor do I ever think I'll get to work with. It's totally just fanboy stuff, but two of my favorite bands are Fugazi and Jawbreaker. For no other reason than how much those bands and the records that they made really meant to me. As a kid growing up skateboarding, as something that dealt with their angsty youth, as someone who moved a lot. It was good.

I think for Fugazi, while the lyrics are cool, it's the instrumental and the experimentation aspects of Fugazi that I really like and it feels really performance-based, it feels really honest. I love that a lot.

Jawbreaker is definitely a lot more refined. In a traditional structure sense, the chords are not as complex, the compositions are not as complex. However, there is a certain charm and wit that I find exceptionally endearing. The wordplay is great.

Neither band necessarily have outstanding vocalists from a traditional sense. But they both have outstanding vocalists in the sense that are unique and compelling. So I'm not as worried if there's a little flat or a little sharp or whatever. It's really the passion and delivery that does it. And what they're trying to say, and how intelligently they are trying to say it.

So those would probably be the two projects that I'd love to do and know that I'm probably going to get to do. But if you're out there, let's do it.

Are you a big plugin user? If so, name some of your favorites!

In this day and age, who isn't a big plugin user. A lot of us have ones that we've really gotten to know and use all the time.

That newish plugin soothe, the moment that came out, I was head over heels. I can find uses for that all over the place. It's such a smart plugin. How was this not already a thing? It's so useful.

I'll use plugins for character when it comes to effects like delay, reverbs, modulation, that kind of stuff, I will use plugins for character. I don't use them for warmth and distortion and that type of stuff very much. But I use them a lot to fix problems.

Like Fabfilter Pro-Q3, incredible. How good is that on guitars? You've got like that peak around 2.2k (at least I always seem to get one). And now, I can go in, I can find exactly where it is. I can make that nice narrow notch I want to make, and pull it down, based on the guitar tone. Just enough so that whistle goes away. If you didn't know it was there, you might not necessarily know what was going on, but there would just be something fatiguing and irritating about the guitars. As you listen to them more and more, but once you figure out what it is, and once you take it out, all of a sudden it's like "oh my god, how did I ever not hear that right away?".

The other thing I'll do on guitars with Pro-Q3 is, they have these new dynamic EQs. So I'll just put it usually (when you're doing open chords, you'll have a certain amount of low-end response, but if it's a heavier band and they start like djun djun djun, chugging or whatever, you're going to get this low-end build up) somewhere around 100hz. It depends on the tuning and all of this stuff, and how far away the proximity effect is, microphone to the speaker, if you're using a real amp. I do that because I'm old. I'll use Pro-Q3 there so that only when those chugs come in I'll have it just start hammering just that frequency range down so that it doesn't overwhelm the mix. Especially as you start stacking guitars, and a lot of times the low end of the bass guitar can live there, you can get a tone of build up there if you're not careful, and it can really hurt your mixes.

So that's it, I've got Pro-Q3, I've got soothe I love. That Greg Wills MixCentric is black magic, it's one knob and it just makes things sound better, it's annoying.

What plugins did I grow up on? So when I moved to 64-bit, my plugin game flipped. I had plugins from '07 they stopped making, that I loved. And then Cubase was like, "Alright, sike, no more 32-bit anything". Yeah, that makes sense, it's time. Warp, there was a Steinberg plugin called Warp. It was supposed to be some sort of bass cabinet emulator. It was the weirdest thing ever, and it had the most drastic scoop. My assistant turned me onto it, and we used it on bass non-stop. Like, "Nobody's using that plugin" and now I'm not using it either. We've found ways around it, it's not a problem.

What is one thing that you can't get your sound without?

This is a great question. This is going to sound like a cop-out, but I can't get my sound without my brain. Having recorded as long as I've recorded, and having recorded in as many different studios on as many different DAWs, consoles, rooms, different microphone selections, all of that stuff. What I find is that my preferences, opinions and artistically my taste tends to really guide me. So I use gear, be it a 57, Royer 121, e22s, Distressor 17176, whatever it is. I use that stuff to help get me to the place that I hear in my head. Once you spend enough time with the gear, you start using what you feel like is its strong suits are. There's times where my mic choice or a lot of times where my mic choice or even compressor choice really has to do with "what's my source sound like?", "what is this band like", "what destination do I have in my mind?". I just choose whatever I need to help me get there. I think as you age into recording, great compressors are amazing, but I think it's proven you can make a really compelling piece of audio with a handful of 57s and a 4-track if you have enough experience doing that. We've seen that through the ages, good sounding records son;t sound any particular way, so again, this is a testament to; nothing is more important than trusting in yourself and educating yourself with experience stuff as much as possible.

Who are some of your favorite producers & engineers today?

How much time do we have? Jerry Finn, Mike Trombino, love them. I have to give my hat off to Kurt Ballou. He gave me an opportunity to help intern and stuff with him and I learned a lot from Kurt. I think that he does something really cool and special and unique. His sonic signature might be challenging for some at times, but I think it's really smart and I love it. Will Yip's really popular and I think it's totally deserved. I can always hear a Kurt Ballou record, I hear 2 seconds of a record and I know it's Will Yip. I really like the way his records sound.

What advice would you give to those new to the game?

Don't set your level of enjoyment based on a certain level of expectations. Understand that learning takes time and that if you really like to record and you really like to participate in music and helping people create art, You need to be passionate about the craft itself. If you're even thinking business plan before you you're thinking you can't wait to get to the studio and be creatively compelled, then I think your tenure in this industry might be shorter. Some of us have made a living out of doing this for sure, but the reason you'll stick around is that you really love it, and the fact you really love it will help you make great work. When we're not stressed on what other people are gonna think or what's going to happen, we're just doing it because we just purely love to do it, that just always seems to lead to good results. Just go for it, try stuff, throw away the concept of rules. I know new engineers are always looking for "on snare drum, you cut this frequency, and then you boost this frequency, and you use this compressor", and that sucks, that's not true, You can do anything you want, and I encourage you to try a lot of different stuff. You gain a wider array of experiences, and then you can draw from those experiences when you encounter new situations when they may apply. There's some advice for you kiddos.

Outside of your day job, what music have you been listening to lately?

Podcasts, books on tape (tape, wow I'm old). I'm listening to Tame Impala again. I super-listened to "Currents" front-to-back a million times, then sort of forgot about it, now I'm listening to that record all over again. Another band I've been listening to a lot is Oathbreaker. Female-fronted, sort of grindy-hardcore from Belgium. Mid-90s almost goofy like Will Smith Summertime type of hip-hop in the car. Also, I have a son now, we kind of keep it lighter. You have to understand, I spend almost all of my time down here listening to cymbals and guitars, so when I get into the car, sometimes I just don't want to hear anything abrasive whatsoever because my entire day was fucking pickslides and squeals and shit. And I'm old, like, I fucking listen to the news...and Fugazi.