The role of the producer within an album’s creation is often overlooked. The best producers are often the ones who you don’t realise are there; whose musical vision aligns perfectly with the band’s, so that the two parties become married and can bring out the best in each other. However, when this is not the case an album can go terribly wrong, as I aim to explore in today’s blog; the first installment of a new five part series investigating the role of the producer.
Atticus Ross is probably best known for his work with Trent Reznor in Nine Inch Nails (NIN). Ross and Reznor first worked together on NIN’s fourth album With Teeth, where Ross handled programming duties. This role was then extended to include production on all of the following NIN records to date, including last year’s Hesitation Marks. Ross’ most successful NIN work is undoubtedly the instrumental and experimental Ghosts I-IV, where his programming abilities and dark electronic influences permeate the record and fall perfectly into place amongst Reznor’s harsh industrial songwriting.
This working relationship has since extended over onto other projects too, including the extremely electronic side-project How To Destroy Angels and their work together on the movie soundtracks for The Social Network and Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. These movie scores saw the pair receiving many plaudits (deservedly so), including an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a Grammy; a trend they intend to continue with their latest offering: the Gone Girl soundtrack.
Reznor and Ross share a unique synergy, based around their complimentary electronic styles and their ability to bring the best out of each other; a feature of every great writing duo throughout history. However, away from this working relationship, Ross has been less successful.
Coheed & Cambria enlisted Ross’ production skills, along with Joe Barresi (Melvins, Queens of the Stone Age, Clutch), to work on their fifth studio effort Year of The Black Rainbow, in an effort to create a cinematic backdrop for the band’s next installment of their sci-fi progressive rock story. The band’s previous efforts had been full of texture and rich atmosphere, including orchestral elements and a multi-layered sound. Unfortunately, Ross’s over-indulgent production stifled the music, making many tracks one dimensional, whilst the guitars sounded cold and void of any emotion. It’s not surprising then, that for the following double album, The Afterman, the band dropped Ross, in order to return to Micheal Birnbaum and Chris Bittner, who produced their first three studio efforts.
Atticus Ross has also worked with nu metal giants Korn on their seventh and eighth studio albums See You on the Other Side and Untitled. On the former, he held songwriting duties in addition to his production role, which were both shared with the pop-centric production company The Matrix. Somehow, despite the many people involved, See You on the Other Side managed to stay focused. It is also brilliantly produced; the mix between Korn’s dark songwriting, Ross’ faint electronic influences and The Matrix’s leaner, more accessible songwriting approach turned out to be an inspired move.
However, when The Matrix were dropped early into Untitled’s recording process, the brilliance of the Korn-Ross partnership broke down. Untitled was not a cohesive collection of songs; there were some old-school Korn tracks with frantic lyrics and heavy guitars, but many got lost in unnecessary atmosphere, whilst others were clearly the ghosts of pop songs crafted by The Matrix. Ross was unable to guide Korn as successfully as he had managed previously, resulting in a record that plays aimlessly until its completion.
Atticus Ross is the perfect example of a producer needing to share the same musical ideologies as the artist. When he is alongside electronic-orientated artists he thrives, fitting in like the last piece of the puzzle, but when he is challenged with an artist looking beyond his electronic influences, Ross is unable to capture the same magic.
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Part 2 should be available on Friday 12th September