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Irish Times: The Dubliner producing the goods for REM, Snow Patrol and U2


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[from:  The Irish Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2011]

 

The Dubliner producing the goods for REM, Snow Patrol and U2

TONY CLAYTON-LEA

From the Dublin music scene of the mid-1980s, Jacknife Lee has carved a successful career as one of music’s most sought after producers

 

LINKING ARTISTS who stand at the intersection between art and technology, northside Dubliner Garret “Jacknife†Lee knows the music, he knows the equipment, and he knows how to fuse them together in order to make a very decent racket. This talent has made him one of the most sought after music producers of the past 10 years.

 

 

Lee lives in Los Angeles these days with his wife and children, but back in the day, in Dublin town, he manned the sound desks of venues such as The Underground – where more bands than he cares to remember cut their teeth, made something of a mark, and then dissolved.

 

 

Lee had his own “contender†bands in mid-1980s Dublin, too; the once-trumpeted Thee Amazing Colossal Men morphed into Compulsion. “I was something of a cocky teenager,†recalls Lee, a likeable guy who rarely speaks to the media. “Thee Amazing Colossal Men was a gang of lads, and we behaved like we owned the world. But we had such terrible music industry experiences. I didn’t think I was learning anything at the time. I don’t think I was even paying attention! I just assumed that this was the way life was – you start a band, you make a record and you take success for granted. It was only later, when I was on the dole, that I realised how good, how incredible, it was.

 

 

“Strangely, with the work I do now, I realise what a terrible experience we had with the recording of our first record. I always think of those times when I’m working with a new band, and how things can get taken away from you.â€

 

 

Lee’s career arc is intriguing. After Thee Amazing Colossal Men were dropped (they had signed to a minor offshoot label of Virgin) came a more punked-up, independent unit called Compulsion. The rigmarole began again: they signed to a bigger label, Interscope. They were subsequently dropped. Cue scratching of heads and kicking of heels; arrogance was gradually chipped away, to be replaced by a more pragmatic approach to life.

 

 

“I didn’t really know how to do anything else,†admits Lee. “I had toyed with quitting altogether and becoming a cook – I had really thought I was done with music. But then I got into doing mash-up bootlegs, and I got credited with doing one that I actually didn’t do. I felt bad about that, but from that point on people started calling me, telling me that they loved what I had done to that particular mash-up, and would I like to work on one of their songs?â€

 

 

His sampling work begat mixing projects, which kick-started Lee’s work in production and a tentative solo career. According to Lee, however, his solo records weren’t particularly satisfying.

 

 

“They weren’t bad,†he allows, “but they weren’t good, either. I was by myself, and it’s very hard to make good things on your own – it’s the collaborations that make them work. Also, I don’t think I’m made for performance or doing promotion.â€

 

 

Ah, is he talking about the self-titled solo album of a few years ago that was released by a major label, but which he wanted nothing to do with? “I didn’t want to talk to the media, I didn’t want to go on tour. I now realise that was a stupid thing to do, and of course the record died.â€

 

 

But then along came the arena-size big hitters (Snow Patrol, U2, REM) and the lower key quality acts (Crystal Castles, Regina Spektor, The Wombats).

 

 

Lee terms the work in his pinball creative life as “a pretty wide stretch†and also says becoming a father has helped iron out certain character creases. “I used to take criticism very much to heart, but after I had kids, I cared very little about stuff like that.â€

 

 

Among others, Lee has worked with REM, who are in their 30th year, and U2, who have been around for slightly longer. So is it a truism that the more successful a band becomes, the more secure they are in its collective skin? Surprisingly, the answer is no.

 

 

“They all seem to go through over-confidence at the start, lose their way in the middle, try to remember what they were good at, get past that, and then begin freaking out about whether they’ve reached a peak and are now on the way down. Bands fight at different stages, and it really is about fighting for why you’re doing something.â€

 

 

When he’s in the studio producing an act as successful as U2, or Snow Patrol, does it ever cross his mind: that could have been me? “I’m so happy it’s not me,†he says. “Being in a band now is not what it was like 10 to 15 years ago . . . you make a record, you tour it and you promote it. It’s a tough job to do.â€

Ones I made earlier 

 

Albums produced by Jacknife Lee

2003 : Snow Patrol, Final Straw

2004 : U2, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb

2006 : Snow Patrol, Eyes Open

2007 : Bloc Party, A Weekend In The City ; The Hives, The Black & White Album 

2008 : REM, Accelerate ; Snow Patrol, A Hundred Million Suns 

2009 : Regina Spektor, Far ; Snow Patrol, Up To Now ; Weezer, Raditude 

2010 : Crystal Castles, Crystal Castles; Tired Pony, The Place We Ran From 

2011 : REM, Collapse Into Now

 

 


REM’s Collapse Into Now is on release. Other 2011 production work from Jacknife Lee includes new albums from The Cars, The Wombats, All Time Low, and Snow Patrol.

 

 

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