Will Yip talks Live At Studio 4 concert series, working on The Menzingers' From Exile, and staying creative during a pandemic - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

All things considered, Will Yip has had a banner year. The studio engineer and producer who has worked with seminal Philly bands like Circa Survive, Balance & Composure, and Modern Baseball has stayed busy even with pandemic-induced shutdowns. He put out a few records, held a test pressing raffle to benefit community bail funds, and most recently announced a livestream concert series called Live At Studio 4, due to begin on August 14 with Scranton emo act Tigers Jaw.

Among his various projects, Yip found the time to sit down and talk about Live At Studio 4, recording the new Menzingers album, and the silver linings of working in a creative field during a global pandemic.

The Key: Can you walk me through how Live at Studio 4 came together? How the idea came about, and then making the idea into reality?

Will Yip: I guess the whole Live At Studio 4 thing – we always had the idea for years. It grew from a series we were doing that was based on my indie label called Memory Music that we held small acoustic, stripped-down performances in the studio with a live studio audience and we recorded them. We put out a Tigers Jaw one, we did an Anthony Green one, and a few more coming in the works. It’s always been kind of like a dream of mine to share with people my favorite space in the world. Studio 4 is a dream studio. It was a dream studio for most of my life growing up, and it’s kind of a crazy honor and privilege to not only work there but to become a partner there, and I always felt like I wanted to share the space, I wanted to share the room, I wanted to share the energy, the overall vibe of the recording studio, because it inspired me so much. And every artist that walks in there is just inspiring.

I remember doing the session with Turnstile, some of my best friends, and Brendan’s playing and we’re out writing some parts, and he’s like, “Man, it’s just inspiring to write in here. It’s inspiring to be here.” And I’m like, “I know, right? That’s cool. I wish everyone could feel this.” That energy is kind of how I started doing these older – they’re called Live At Studio 4 acoustic sessions – that we put out on vinyl. It’s meant to be this intimate audio recording, and a way to let 30, 40, or 50 people be in a room, and have it be their night. I wanted to give a very intimate, as intimate as it gets, performance with Anthony, Tigers Jaw, and a few other bands.

When this crazy pandemic hit, and bands just want to play, everyone wants to make music and share music with people, including myself and all my friends. My manager [and partner in this series], slash one of my best friends in the world, Tim Zahodski, he’s like, “Dude, we should start doing some of this livestream stuff. Do it your way, do it your way, do it the way you want to curate it at the studio.” It was so crazy, the second we were talking about that, Ben from Tigers Jaw hits me up, was like, “Yo, would you want to do something in that studio? Like a big, full band livestream?” And I’m like, that’s crazy, we just kind of linked up. Usually all my ideas, every idea I take part in, whether it’s a record label, new projects, new bands, a writing thing or a production thing, it all happens organically. I just don’t see it as a lucrative behavior or whatever. That’s not what I’m interested in. My interest is giving my friends and myself an outlet to do cool stuff, and just to have fun and do some stuff that a lot of our guys haven’t been able to do this year. So it just made sense, because we already did the audio versions back in the day on Memory Music, so we wanted to kind of expand it, and do a purely livestream thing here — a livestream series I should say, because once we did one, we’ll want to do a bunch and share them with a bunch of artists.

Once Tigers Jaw does it, I know a bunch of artists that I work with are going to hit me up about it, because I was so confident that it was going to sound good and that it’s going to look great, because we’re partnered with Sunny Singh, hate5six, who’s brilliant. He does this hardcore stuff, he does a lot of stuff in the punk community, and working with him is a privilege as well, having him be a partner in this, but I was just so confident that – not saying that we’re going to be doing it better than anyone else, because it’s not really a competition – I’m just so confident that we’re doing it such our own unique way. And just to share a studio vibe, I feel a lot of people hit me up about wanting to tour Studio 4, and I just can’t do that because we’re just so busy here, but this is the closest someone can get into Studio 4 without ever coming into Studio 4. We did a bunch of rehearsals already, and it’s so special.

My goal watching it – I wouldn’t have committed to it if I watched it and it didn’t feel like being in Studio 4. When Sunny sent me the first cut of the rehearsal, I was like, “Dude, I feel like I’m watching us in Studio 4,” and it made my day. I had chills, and I was like, this is how I feel being in the room. This is perfect. I just want to share that experience with people, and hopefully the internet and everything behaves well. It’s the first time we’re doing it, but so far, this is exactly what we wanted to do, and with the exact right people – Tigers Jaw are some of my best friends, I probably wouldn’t have done the first one without them. If it weren’t for them, this probably wouldn’t have happened, so this is kind of the perfect situation, because it’s so family. Everyone that’s involved is just a family, and we’re all trying to do the same thing, just share what we do with the world during a crazy tough time.

TK: I remember the first time I listened to the Anthony Green Studio 4 recording, and I remember that it felt like a private concert with Anthony, and that is so hard to achieve with those kinds of recordings.

WY: You saying that just gave me chills. I’m like damn, that’s awesome. That was the goal. That’s awesome. Hell yeah.

TK: You answered very well my next question about Tigers Jaw kicking it off. Obviously, you go way, way back with them, so they clearly felt like sort of the natural fit to kick things off, and with the story that you gave especially. Gladie, I believe, is opening for Tigers Jaw. Can you tell me a little about your relationship with them and how they got onboarded onto this?

WY: Honestly, I don’t have a relationship with them. We’ve only been corresponding virtually right now, kind of talking about the show. I’m a big fan of the band, and I think it’s going to be cool for us to kind of work together in some capacity. The goal of the series wasn’t for it to be so much like a Studio 4 or a me thing. It was really to give bands an outlet. We’re giving them a venue. That’s kind of the goal. We’re going to give you this digital, virtual venue in the coolest studio space we possibly can, and we want you to put together the show you want to do.

We want Tigers Jaw to put together a show that they wanted. So they were like, that tour with Gladie, that got cancelled going into the pandemic, they were like, “They’ll be perfect,” because they were supposed to tour with them, and they’d been planning that tour forever, so let’s ask them, they’ll be down. And lucky for us, they were so down, they didn’t think twice about it, and they’re local, so it’s awesome. It’s going to be great to meet them. I’ve never met them, but they’ve been nothing but professional and cool. Again, big fans of them, so it’ll be very, very cool to kind of have them involved. But yeah, that was all Tigers Jaw kind of curating, because I wanted them to have a show that they want to play, as if they’re playing Union Transfer, what band do you want to play with for the show? And that was the first band that came to mind, and it just made sense. So that’s all this is all happening.

TK: Absolutely, and I feel like we’ve noticed a sort of transition from the early stages of quarantine, which was a lot of frontmen of bands playing acoustic covers on Facebook Live, to a sort of more concert-like experience, where it’s these full bands streaming in studios. I know Frank Turner just did a full band set from a stage, Dropkick Murphys had their Live at Fenway. There’s definitely a transition towards more approximating a full band concert experience than there was at the start. When live concerts eventually come back – and this could be conservatively within maybe 6-8 months, or maybe several years down the line, depending on how the pandemic goes – do you think there will still be a market and an audience and a space for these kind of full band, studio-recorded, livestreamed concerts, where you buy your tickets in advance and you can watch it a few days later if you can’t catch it live? Do you think that will persist in some fashion?

WY: I think that, just to kind of take a step back a little bit, I think that the pandemic has obviously been horrible for everyone, and it’s been very tough for musicians and bands. The very small silver lining in the music industry is that it’s kind of forcing bands, creators, producers, writers, labels, managers, everyone to be more creative in how to get content out there. Code Orange, for example, is a band that I work with a lot, I have a long history with Code Orange, and those guys are probably some of the most creative people I’ve ever met. We spent so long working on their last record, called Underneath, and literally the shutdown hit the week that the record was coming out. The record came out, they had a huge tour lined up, they had a tour with Slipknot, which is almost a perfect support tour for them, and it all got cancelled or postponed.

They didn’t think twice about their record release party, they still had a venue, and they were the first ones to do a full-on stage production. Like, the first week of the shutdown. I was watching the livestream on Twitch, I was like, yo, this is awesome, this is so sick. I experienced something that I’ve never experienced before concerning music, because it felt so live, it wasn’t just like a live concert on TV. It wasn’t just this, like, produced thing. It was because the energy was live – because it was truly 1-to-1 live, that there was this special energy, and a special experience, and they curated videos, like live content, produced video stuff, over the live stuff and, experiencing something so cool, this is the silver lining of the music industry, that music creators are being forced to think outside the box and to create just a new experience for people, and that experience, I would want to experience that when live music comes that.

It’s like the first time I watched MTV Unplugged, I watched Nirvana, and I was still going to live shows. I still can go to live shows, but I’m still enjoying watching those Unplugged videos, I’m still enjoying watching newer Unplugged videos, so I think as long as we’re creative, and as long as we’re forward-thinking with the content, and as long as the content is good, I hope, I think, I’m confident that people will still enjoy it at a certain level. Obviously, when live music comes back, I think people’s yearning or want for someone playing in a bedroom at two o’clock in the morning probably isn’t going to be as intense as it is now – for diehards it’ll hopefully still be – but I think if artists continue to be as creative as they have been with digital content, as has been growing the last few months – the last Code Orange Unplugged they did last week was insane. It was intense, it just looked so much like MTV Unplugged from 1994. So if people are just creative, I think it’ll be an additional arm to their creative output. They probably won’t be doing one every week or every month, but it’ll be another special asset to their creative output.

Hopefully live music comes back as soon as possible, but even not on a visual side, even on an audio side – The Menzingers, I just helped them finish up a quarantine record where they all recorded individually in their homes, and they sent reimagined versions of their songs to each other, and everyone kind of added to it and messed around with it. It wasn’t just this acoustic record, it was this fully reimagined record, and I helped with the mixing and mastering, I put it all together. And I’m like, holy shit, they should be doing this all the time! It was so cool to have one of my favorite records, Hello Exile, and then for us to reimagine it in this way, to have a broken-down version, but creatively remained. It wasn’t just acoustic songs: more verses were added, different lyrics were added, new structures of songs were added, and we were like, this is so cool. This wouldn’t have happened if we weren’t in shutdown. Obviously, I’d rather us not to end up in that position, but again, a little silver lining was we were forced to be creative. I hope we can do that with every single record we do together, and reimagine songs and remix it our way, and I hope those things continue.

As long as the stuff’s good, it’ll continue. Obviously, certain livestreams are more innovative than others, but I think the ones that give you a different experience than just going to a live show, I think those are going to stay. I really am confident in that, because I think if you put energy in it the right way, it’ll create something unique and something inspiring that’s different than a live show. My goal with the Live At Studio 4, the livestream series, isn’t for it to feel like a concert. It’s more so for people to feel like you’re getting a show, but it’s the unique experience of the show. It’s not about being next to your best friends, shoulder to shoulder, it’s kind of more like what you said about the Anthony Green live audios, is that you feel like you’re in the performance, and you’re there, and you’re experiencing something within those walls. We try to bring you in, and I like to think people are still going to be interested in that when live shows come back in the States, because the energy’s going to be different for sure.

TK: And I’m a huge Menzingers fan. I went to their Creep [Records] acoustic performance, got the record signed. I’ve been loving the From Exile songs that they’ve released.

WY: Awesome! Thank you. Hello Exile is my favorite record I’ve ever done, and the From Exile songs are some of my favorite songs that I ever worked on as well, so it’s cool that I get to do one of my favorite records twice.

TK: You’ve had a pretty busy year! Like you said, working on Code Orange as the shutdowns happened. New Tigers Jaw, the Live At Studio 4, working on From Exile. I feel like we talk to a lot of artists on how they’ve had to restructure things like recordings and performances to account for the pandemic, but how has your job as a producer changed in light of the shutdowns?

WY: It’s been tough to adjust, especially in the beginning, because we shut down the studio. We share the building with a restaurant, so we had to shut everything down. Luckily for me, I’m always pretty busy and I’m always kind of behind on homework. I always have a lot of records that I have to finish up mixing, or have to finish up mastering, and so I had a few months of back work that I had to catch up on, and it was really cool – just like I said about people having to pivot, just like the rest of the world, a lot of other industries, have to pivot. It’s going to be tough for people that just want to stay and wait it out, because with this country, who knows how long it’s going to be? You have to kind of pivot and adjust during this crazy year, and I got to focus.

I wanted to look at a bunch of things that I’ve always wanted to do that I haven’t had a chance to do because of time, whether that was doing a lot more co-writing sessions, like virtual writing sessions with, and a kind of secret project that I’m writing on with one of my best friends – that’s going to be pretty crazy once we announce it. Just a few things that I wanted to do that I haven’t had a chance to do, and again, this livestream thing kind of stems from something we always wanted to do, but we just never had the time to do it. I don’t like having too many things. It sounds like I have so many things going on: everything I have going on with my record label to the productions, I have to focus on them. Having to focus on the livestream thing, or like a concert series in the middle of a normal year, is probably a little too much and I can’t give it the attention it deserves, so I’ve been finding things that I always wanted to work on to do, or find those things to kind of commit to, while finishing up records, finishing up mixing records that I had, even from late 2019.

Once the restrictions lifted on our building and we were able to have a few people in here, I still wanted to keep things safe. We weren’t just going to open the doors. Lucky for me, I don’t really run a studio business. It’s not like, “oh, a few days here, these guys want to book a studio, so we’re having these guys in for a few days.” That’s just so dangerous, I don’t back that. Obviously, I’m not judging people that are rocking their studio business here, you gotta do what you gotta do, but I want to keep it as safe as possible.

And lucky for me, the projects that I do are huge chunks. I usually don’t work with a band for less than a month, so we started a record back in June when the restrictions were being lifted, and we had the guys get tested, we had everyone get tested in the band, including myself, and then they all quarantined separately before coming to the studio, and then they quarantined together in an Airbnb before coming to the studio, and then we lived together in the studio for those four weeks making the record. We just kind of kept it the safest we could possibly do it, and be sure everyone that walks in is tested and probably quarantined to make it a habit. A lot of studios are probably back up and going right now. I just hope everyone’s doing it safe and doing it smart, and that not too many people are in and out, willy-nilly. I wanted to go through those extra precautions to get a band in here because I want to make sure we show respect to the next band, and the next band, and the next band that comes in here.

So that’s what we’re doing. We’re spreading out the records, we’re not doing as many records right now as we planned to, but in a way, it’s kind of great. We can focus on stuff like the livestream stuff. Great’s probably not the best word, but it kind of allows me to focus on other things. I think treating the records that we have planned to do as safely as possible, as smart as possible, while focusing on other stuff. That’s the best way to do it.

I run one and I’m a part of another label, an imprint called Black Cement, and I have my own indie label called Memory Music, and the goal during this time was for me to focus a lot of that too. Basically, just focus on a bunch of things that I haven’t been able to give 4,000% of my energy on in the last few years because I’ve been so focused on producing records. I still get to produce a few records right now and get to give energy to some other projects like the labels and the livestream stuff that it deserves.

TK: You have sort of answered this already, but just to sort of close things up here, what do you hope both fans and performers get out of the Live At Studio 4 series?

WY: I’ll kind of repeat but kind of add to it. For artists, I want them to have an outlet where they can share, and share in a professional way. It’s really cool, I watched a lot of those kind of smaller, kind of lo-fi, self-produced livestreams on Twitch and Instagram Live, and then the slightly, you know, just the band, one camera kind of livestream thing, and they’re cool, and I enjoy a bunch of them. And I’m like, what if we had endless resources to do a livestream? What if we had Sunny, a brilliant videographer who has a brilliant team, such a great producer and director, and we had so many cameras and so many angles, and what if we had this awesome room that always looks cool? And a studio, we can do it in a studio that sounds cool, and what if we sent every resource that you could want for a livestream, what if we had it for you? And we can do a video production, injected into the video stuff. Just a bunch of ideas we had are just, how can we give artists all the resources that they could possibly want/need to make whatever they had in their mind doable, real? So I just wanted to give artists, my friends especially, a resource to share, because I don’t think of rock music, I wouldn’t want to put any other community of rock musicians than the community I’m lucky enough to share with, bands like Menzingers to Tigers Jaw to Anthony Green to Code Orange, they’re all on the forefront of so much. I wanted to give them, and people like them, the resources to creatively put whatever output they wanted out there in terms of a live show setting.

And for fans, I wanted them, I guess most importantly, to be able to get music and get the creative output from their favorite artists. I think that’s the most important thing, just like other streams are doing, but moreso my personal goal was to invite them in. Invite fans into Studio 4 and feel the magic that I’ve been lucky enough to feel every day for the last 14 years of my life. There’s a special magic here, and a lot of artists come in here not just for me but for the energy of the room, and I wanted to share that with people. Even watching the first clips of the rehearsal, I felt the magic. I was like, man, if I was a music fan, if I had any interest in a studio or just a band, if I was an active music fan, and I watched this clip, I would be so stoked. I would be so inspired to pick up my guitar and play, or to do my own live shows, to go on Twitch and do my own livestream. I want that. I want to inspire people. I always want to inspire people. Everything we do needs to inspire people, but even in this tough time, we all need all the inspiration we can get, and I want musicians, or just music fans, to feel the magic in here and feel inspired. That’s the big, cliché goal.

Live At Studio 4 will kick off this Friday, August 14 at 9pm ET (6pm PT) with a performance from Tigers Jaw. Tickets are available for purchase here.

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