This interview was done for Sounds of Seattle a few years back. www.soundsofseattle.com. My company was then called Eschaton Music Works and I was abriviated version of my name on all my credits


Ronan Chris Murphy is a Seattle based producer and mixer , known, for working with a vast array of musical styles and clients from around the world He has a wide range of credits from Grammy winners Chucho Valdes and Irakere (Cuba) to several albums with the legendary rock group King Crimson. His work is all over the map, both literally and figuratively. He has spent the lions share of his 4 years as a Seattle resident working out of town or with artists that travel from other places to work with him in the Northwest. Sounds of Seattle caught up with Chris at the office of his production company, Eschaton Music Works.

SOS: So what exactly do you do? A lot of musicians might not be clear about what a producer actually does.

RCM: Thats OK. A lot of producers are not clear about that either! The definition of a producer is never quite clear. In short what I do is help artists make great master tapes that get turned into great CDs or records. Bands and labels hire me to oversee the recording. I help my clients navigate the entire process of recording: From budgeting and picking out the studios to the details of the artistic vision and performance. I work very closely with artists on the performance and arrangement of the music. A lot of people will confuse production with the drum sound on a record. While the drum sound is one part of it, my take is that I like to get the songs and the performances great enough that the drums sound dont matter, and then I get great drum sounds. For me the prep work I do with a band is as important as the work we do in the studio. A lot of producers are for the most part just engineers that give a bit of guidance. I am really concerned with helping an artist work on the whole artistic vision. I am definitely down in the trenches.

SOS: Do you also engineer records?

RCM: I do have a strong background in engineering, but the artist that work with me, do so because they are looking for some one to really come in as an involved team player. Some one to come in and really help develop them as artists. I am very involved in the technical choices made on a record, and depending on the budget and style of music I sometimes engineer records I produce. On the engineering side of things I am mostly known as a mixer. Quite often records that were recorded by other engineers or producers are brought to me for the final mix. At times almost half my work is in this capacity.

SOS: You are perhaps most known for your work with King Crimson; How did you end up working with them?

RCM: Well at least in rock circles I am most known for my Crimson work. Many years ago I met a musician named Steve Ball who was playing guitar in a Boston subway station. We got to talking and it turned out that I had seen Steve Perform on one of the many tours he did performing with Robert Fripp. Steve and I started a long working relationship that has lasted to this day. Through working with Steve I ended up working with a lot of other musicians Fripp had worked with including some of the guys from King Crimson. When Robert needed some one to help him out on the G3 tour (Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Fripp) His front of house engineer asked if I could do it. I did that tour with Robert and one or 2 more. Robert and I got a long well and enjoyed working together, and I guess he heard about my reputation as a mixer, so he invited me over to England to work on some King Crimson material. I went back several times and ended up working on quite a bit of new material, re-mixing some of the back catalog and mixing a large chunk of archive material both for major label release as well as some collectors edition releases. I also mixed my first 5.1 surround DVD over there.

SOS: Fripp has a bit of a reputation of being hard to work with. What was it like to work with him?

RCM: I know Robert as a guy who works very seriously when its time to work and has fun when its time to have fun. I guess most people run into him when its time to work seriously. I like Robert and dig working with him, He has a pretty wicked sense of humor. We are both pretty opinionated and driven people when it comes to our work, so of course we wrestle a bit over things, but what we found was that the things that were most important to him, and most important to me are generally pretty compatible. Robert has been talking about getting back into producing for other artists again (he has produced Peter Gabriel, the Roaches, Daryl Hall and others in the past. -ed). If he does, we have been throwing around the idea of teaming up to do these records. I certainly have no regrets about working with him and look forward to more of it.

SOS: Do you own your own studio?

RCM: Not really. I do have a small private facility, but for the most part I try to match each project to the right studio. I do about half my records here in the US and about half over in Europe. My favorite studio in the world however is a place called Paradise Sound about an hour from Seattle. Most of my local stuff gets done there. But finding the right recording space to match a particular artist or project is really important. I always try to find the place thatıs going to get the best out of the artists.

SOS: Since you work out of so many different studios, is there a particular kind of studio that you need to do your work?

RCM: I work out of all sorts of rooms. I do records out of small private studios as well as multimillion dollars studios in exotic locations. Some times a combination of the two. To me good equipment and good sounding rooms does make a huge difference in a record and the way I am able to work, but a lot of records donıt have the budgets to get into really nice studios. I think the most important thing is to try and make a record that will work with what you have got. The equipment and the environment will have a big impact on a record, I am a believer that you should accept that influence and maximize it. My biggest disappointment about the home recording revolution is that I was hoping for a wave of great records that could have never been made in big studios, but what I hear for the most part are people trying to make records that sound like big studio records and failing, rather than making great records that really honor the moment and the environment they were made in . But the main thing to keep in mind is that great records are made by great people, not great studios.

SOS: How did you end up working so much out of town?

RCM: Before coming to Seattle I had been working for a couple years in Canada, with a very global client base. When I moved here to Seattle, my perspective was a bit skewed by that. So all of my promotion and networking efforts had a much wider focus than the local market. The Internet has been a really great tool to let me do business globally.

I have been able to spend several months this year here in the Northwest doing records, which has been a real treat for me. There is a lot of great talent her and its nice to be a bit grounded every now and then.

SOS: What sort of things do you do with the Internet to help your work?

RCM: Email is King! One thing is that, a sustained career in music is about the relationships you foster and sustain. I try to keep in touch with people I have met or worked with, just so I am regularly in their radar. It may be a few years before a relationship turns into work, but your relationships are you support network. Also I use Email to do pre-production work with bands in other cities or countries. We can send tapes and we can discuss the music back and forth without having to spend outrageous international phone bills. That way when we finally get together for a week or so before going into the studio, we already have a dialog, a relationship and they have had time to work on particular elements of the music that needed attention. It is not nearly as good as spending time together in a room with guitars, but its better than nothing. Of course the web site helps as well, as both a promotional tool and a resource where I can send people who are looking to learn more about me. < http://www.eschatonmusic.com>

SOS: So what do you think about the whole MP3 revolution?

RCM: For now I am going to let other people worry about that. My days are tied up trying to make great records. There are a lot of people with time and resources to deal with that stuff. I am just not one of them right now.

SOS: How did you get started?

RCM: I started as a performer. My first real band was a yappy little punk rock band called Freak Baby that I started when I was 15. Freak Baby, oddly enough, also served as Dave Grohls (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) foray into professional music after I left the group. I went on to do a lot of playing and touring with bands in the scene that later became known as "alternative" before it had that name. So my bands were playing with other groups like Dinosaur Jr., Henry Rollins, The Flaming Lips, GWAR and that sort of stuff.

When one of my bands broke up in the late 80s, I started really focusing on composition, music technology and recording. I settled real easily into the recording thing and realized that I actually had much more to offer as a producer than as a player. I, of course, still play on a lot of the records I produce, but my energies are really focused on helping other artists than being an "artist", myself.

SOS: Was it hard getting started?

RCM: Oh yeah, its hard continuing! I feel blessed every day that I wake up and go to work, but deciding to have a life in music is certainly a major commitment. I think if someone aspires to work in music, but is not willing to work 7 days at week at it, they have probably picked the wrong profession. When I first started I sought out ways to work in niches or on the cutting edge, which worked out well for me. As early as the late 80s I began working with MIDI and then digital audio. That ended up opening a lot of doors for me, since at the time there were actually very few people that could do that sort of stuff. I think it was that experience that got me invited to be a producer in residence at the Banff Centre in Canada, where I got to work with some of the greatest musicians in the world. I always tried to serve the fringes so to speak when ever I can and eventually the fringes started taking care of me. I consider all the work I got to do with King Crimson a testament to that.

SOS: Who is the greatest artist you have ever worked with?

RCM: I would have to say Martin Sexton is the greatest "artist" I have ever worked with. I worked with him many years ago, back when I lived in Boston. I was still a bit new to serious recording back then, so it is by no means my personal best work, but I am still honored to have the chance to work with him. Now that I have finally come into my own as producer I would love to do a full record with him some day. Probably the best musician I have ever worked with is Tony Levin. I have never met anyone that can play exactly the right part so consistently. Thatıs why Tony is a fist call musician for the Likes of Peter Gabriel, Seal and even John Lennon. The Drummer, Pat Mastelotto, is also a favorite of mine. Pat has played with every one from XTC and King Crimson to Mister Mister and Don Ho. Pat has such great feel and an awesome work ethic. I have learned a lot from him.

SOS: You have insanely wide range of musical styles you work with. What kinds of projects attract your attention, or do you choose to work on?

RCM: The big thing for me is conviction and courage. By that I mean I want to feel that an artist really believes in what they are doing and has something genuine to say as a musician. The projects I get excited about are those where an artist is really trying to find a unique voice or make a really unique statement with an album. Lucky for me these are the kinds of artists that get excited about me. Courage is a really big thing to. If I am working with a folk artists, I want some one who is going to have the courage to make a really personal, intimate record. If itıs a harder band I want bands that have the guts really go over the top.

I do try and keep balance in my work. If I am doing a lot of heavy stuff, I will try to shift over to working on some folk or classical records. I have been doing a lot experimental improvised music lately, so now I am trying to focus on more song oriented material. Balance really is a key for me to stay focused. I really love working out on the fringes and then being able to come back and working with artists that are more mainstream.

SOS: What is the R. Chris Murphy Sound?

RCM: God, I hope there isnıt one! I mean that seriously. To me every artist and every album is unique. An album has potential to be such a beautiful, special thing and I hate the idea that I would impose some sort of cookie cutter mold on to it. Every album I do, I try to find a perspective for the listener that is going to have the most powerful impact on them. Some times that means beating the listener over the head and other times it is more a gentle seduction. You also need to keep in mind the focus of an album. If a singer songwriter is the focal point of a record you need to address a different set of concerns then a bone crushing metal band, but at the end of the day its all about giving the listener an experience. I believe whole heartedly that records are part of an experience above anything else. When I am working on an album the whole time I am thinking about the experience of the person who takes this album home and makes it part of their life.

Earlier this year inside of one month I worked with an alternative rock artist from Seattle, a pop singer from West Africa singing in his native language, a folk singer from LA and an Extreme Metal band from Seattle. Needless to say one sound or approach would not have served all of them equally.

SOS: Speaking of Native languages, how do you deal with working with artists that donıt work in English? Do you speak several languages?

RCM: Not really. I can speak a bit of French, Italian and Norwegian, but certainly not fluently. I try to make sure that in another country I have an assistant that is bilingual if the artist is not fluent in English. I will also try to learn some of the basics before I go. As for lyrics I get translations of the material and work from there. Itıs a little extra work because I have to make sure that musical suggestions I make do not compromise the meaning of the lyric. If I can get the singer to send chills up my spine without understanding the lyric then we are off to a good start.

SOS: Any exciting Seattle stuff you are working on ?

RCM: Definitely! Josh White, Christdriver, Windowpane, Third World County. There is definitely some great talent around Seattle.

SOS: Do you accept demos?

RCM: Yes. I am always looking for new and interesting projects to work on. The best time to get me in the loop is when a band or artist has put together the resources to make a record. Before that point there is usually not much I can do to help.

Ronan Chris Murphy can be reached at rcm@venetowest.comOr check out the web site at www.vevenetowest.com

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