Glen Robinson is Very Tall
Canadian producer extraordinaire Glen Robinson was behind the boards for the recording of some of rock's biggest albums as chief engineer at Le Studio in Quebec, and in the last four or five years, he has produced some of Vermont's biggest bands. Bands like Envy, Wide Wail, Five Seconds Expired, Chin Ho! and Non Compos Mentis have all had discs produced by Robinson, and we thought it was about time we told you who he is. Chris Parizo writes.
"Yeah, I think you can do it better. Let's do it again." The voice crackles through my headphones. I groan. I shuffle my weight to the other foot. One more time...this will be the one. I am standing in the recording room at Archer Studios attempting to lay down one half of the rhythm track to the recording of a single titled "Low Flying Planes." We are entering the beginning of the third hour and I am getting frustrated. My headphones are beginning to feel uncomfortable and the temperature feels like it has risen twenty degrees...this is starting to suck.
Glen Robinson, the producer from Montreal who we chose to help us reach our sound, is determined that we will eventually nail down the recording that we are looking for, and he has also decided that we are going to record our parts separate from each other...the drummer and myself are the first up.
"Here we go." he says "Recording."
And then comes that opening riff...that damn opening guitar riff that is permanently branded into my brain after hearing it umph-teen times today. All I have to do is play along...why is this so damn difficult? It sounds fine to me? What is it that this guy hears that is wrong? I am ready to scream.
Who am I kidding? I am having the time of my life.
I would not go through this process if I didn't know for a fact that Glen Robinson was one of the best producers in the eastern part of North America. His work can be heard on such local albums as Five Second Expired's monster sounding Null, Wide Wail's Wide Wail and Never Again's Through Bleeding Hands . He has produced major label acts such as Headstones (MCA), G.W.A.R. (WEA) and Canada's over-hyped The Tea Party (EMI). In his earlier days, he worked as an engineer on the recordings of Tori Amos, Thomas Dolby and even rock legend Keith Richards.
Glen's finished products are enormous. Huge, in-your-face guitars with an enormous rhythm section are characteristics of a Robinson recording. The vocals are crisp and clear and never over shadow the musicianship of the band. He is willing to sit and wait for an inept bassist to nail a recorded track perfectly. He is patient. He can read a musician's talent almost immediately and knows when you are performing at the top of your game. I wasn't. He knew it.
"He definitely knows his shit." says Mark Lucia, guitarist for Never Again. "He's a nice guy -- great guy -- but he gets very serious when he is in the studio. For us, it took a couple of songs before he knew what we were all about...but he got it. The guy definitely knows his music better than...uh...anyone."
Robinson got his start back in his late teens. He grew up in Montreal and began playing guitar with local bands. A friend of his father's, who just happened to manage 80's heart-throb Corey Hart, got Robinson a job sweeping the floors at Sol Soleil Recording. He spent the rest of the year watching and learning, and within one year's time he would find himself sitting behind the tables as engineer on an album by the legendary English new wave band Gang of Four.
At the age of 25, Robinson became a master of his trade and would accept the position of Chief Engineer at Le Studio in Morin Heights, the principle recording facility for many Rush albums, and would work with 13 Engines and Queensryche.
In 1996, Glen entered the studios to remix some historic concerts for the King Biscuit/BMG catalogue. Among the artists whose work he remixed included David Crosby, Joe Satriani and the legendary Joe Cocker.
So with all these huge money-market major label bands that he could be working with full-time, why is he bothering to work with bands from Burlington, Vermont?
"The scene is supportive," he says. "In a lot of other areas, there is a lot of trash talking. In Burlington, you rarely hear a band come down on other bands."
Glen's first introduction to the Burlington scene was with the now-defunct Envy, a band that featured Matt Hutton and Shawn Toohey of Warner Brothers-signed The Red Telephone and former Zola Turn drummer Ann Mindell.
"I was working at White Crow (Recording Studio in Burlington now closed) and they were there working on some stuff. We ended up hooking up and recording their first CD (1995's Distorted Greetings.)
From then on, I would hear about a band and check them out. I'd go to their shows and see what they were all about. Talk to people, that is how it generally goes."
According to many, Glen's best piece of work with a Burlington band is Five Seconds Expired's Null, that was released on the indie label Another Planet. The album is furious. Glen made the rhythm section shine with a loud and in your face groove that was not distorted or sloppy. The guitars were clear and aggressive, and the vocals weren't too bad either. It is apparent that Glen shines on the harder material.
"Incredible," says former Five Seconds Expired frontman Jeff Howlett. "...the chairman of the boards."
His latest project with a Burlington group is a new recording by Wide Wail. The band went up to Canada and spent a weekend recording material for an upcoming release. In the recording, Glen decided to use a new approach to laying down material.
"We decided to record the material live... everyone playing at the same time. The recording came out killer! We went in and I said: 'No headphones!'. They all played together, recording at the same time.
The sound is more live, more emotional. I have this new motto when recording: 'Don't listen to yourself, listen to others'. This way everyone plays off of each other, listening to what the others are doing. It feels better and it sounds better."
When it comes down to WHERE a band is going to be recorded, Robinson likes to move around a little bit. He is used to being on the move, never being in the same place for too long, and his roster of different recording studios can reflect that.
"I'd get bored if I was in one place. I really don't like being stuck in the same studio working with the same equipment. That's why I don't think I'll open my own. Using new equipment keeps things fresh. I have been collecting vintage recording gear but I am not planning on keeping it in one place for too long."
In the future, Robinson plans on creating more and more records. Working with Burlington music has become more than a hobby, but a chance to capture up and coming artists at their trade...waiting for the scene to break.
And when it does, you can bet that our six foot eight inch friend from the north had something to do with it, whether behind the boards or dropping names to the right people (which he by the way does).
Back at Archer Studios, we finish recording the track and spend the next couple of minutes listening to the play back. "Yep. I think that is it," says Robinson.
Three hours, I am done. I pass Dave Morency setting up in the hallway, getting ready for his turn in the pit.
I wander into the board room and melt into a couch. Robinson turns to me with a smile, picks up a guitar and says: "Hey! That didn't take too long."
With no sarcasm.
Chris Parizo is the bass player for Chin Ho! Glen Robinson produced Chin Ho!'s last single "Low Flying Planes." Now there's a shameless plug for ya. Read about it in Vox soon.