Interview – Jack Endino Producer
Jack Endino has been referred to as the “Godfather of Grunge.” He has worked on albums and singles from famous bands such as Mudhoney, Soundgarden, and Nirvana. A musician himself, he started out on the drums, then moved to guitar with the Seattle band Skin Yard. They produced 5 albums (1985-1992) and interestingly, Nirvana opened for their performance. Matt Cameron played drums with this band before he left for Soundgarden. Skin Yard also had two songs on the Deep Six Grunge Compilation album that made its mark in grunge history.
Jack left his basement studio to start Reciprocal Recording with the Deep Six sound engineer Chris Hanzsek. In 1988, Endino recorded Nirvana’s first album, Bleach, using a reel-to-reel 8-track machine. The album went platinum.
Jack is heralded as an influencer in the Grunge world, as noted by numerous articles, interviews and documentaries around the world — the Hype 1996 documentary and Grunge is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music to name two. After Reciprocal Recordings closed in the early 90’s, he continued as a freelance producer known for his stripped-down, “raw” recordings and dislike of “over-produced music with effects and remastering.” This raw sound and the success of Soundgarden’s Screaming Life and Nirvana’s Bleach helped to define aspects of the grunge movement.
Jack has recorded more than 400 records from 14 countries, working internationally with bands and artists such as Titas (Brazil), Guillotina (Mexico) Banda de la Muerte (Argentina), Winnebago Deal, Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden (UK), Therapy (Ireland), Spiderbait (Australia) and Burning Heads (France). An artist at heart, he still performs in multiple bands, including MKB Ultra, Sky Cries Mary (see iTunes for the Thieves and Sirens album), and Beyond Captain Orca. He took some time out from recording for this interview and shares his thoughts with aspiring producers.
His path transitioning from artist to producer was always evident. He revealed that he knew as a teenager that he wanted to be a record producer. “I was always recording, from the first moment I was jamming as a musician I would set up mics and try to record to a cassette.”
Endino went to college for a degree electrical engineering, which he says really helped him obtain the science background necessary to understand what is needed behind sound and acoustic recording. “Recording and playing was two sides of the same coin for me. I was learning to become a producer at the same time I was becoming a musician.”
When I asked him about his career highlights or defining success moments, he didn’t talk about working with famous bands and producing platinum records; instead, he related a more personal story.
Endino said he knew specifically the moment that he had made it. He left his previous job in a naval shipyard to pursue music. This upset his father, who could not understand why he would leave a job with benefits. “It wasn’t until my dad began seeing my face on TV that he started to understand what I was doing and that maybe this music thing was working out for me.” By the time his father passed, away Endino knew that his dad thought that what he was doing was great, and that he totally supported him. “As the grunge movement exploded in Seattle and around the world it was exciting and it opened up opportunities for me to record and produce in many countries.”
When I asked him his advice for young producers wanting to enter this field full time, his first reaction was,“Don’t quit your day job.” He continued with, “I’d skip recording school and first spend your money on equipment to try it out and to make sure that producing is for you.” Jack advises buying a computer, interface, and mics and just get out there and start recording, “If you are good at it, the word will get out. Just make sure you really want to do it, because it’s not easy.”
The current pandemic is a nightmare for the music industry, and he worries about the long-term effects on it. “Band rehearsal projects are stuck because they can’t rehearse with the whole distancing issue, and they are unable to record in studio.” Endino is fortunate because a lot of his work is mixing and mastering, so he is still working almost as much as he did before COVID-19. “I feel bad for all those in the industry doing live sound because they are screwed. Just think of all the people affected without live music from stadium — set-up to merchandise, equipment transport….”
Endino feels there are still effects to not being able to be part of the live studio recording sessions. “In production, you have the opportunity to do another take on vocals or a chord change with real-time input on the spot” he explains. However, there is an upside for him as he adds, “One advantage right now is less stress. You are on your own time schedule when mixing and mastering, and you are not watching the clock like during studio sessions.” As more musicians are recording at home it increases the need for professional mixing and mastering, making talent like Endino’s invaluable.
Endino was reluctant to predict what will happen in this industry in the next few years, but shares his personal thoughts. “I don’t think people will put up with online music only, eventually they will just say “screw it” — this can’t go on for two years. You can’t stop human interaction; it’s preposterous and insane. I’m [not] going to live in a bubble for the rest of my life.” He is worried about venues as well. “Let’s see if there are any clubs left to play at when this is over with. I feel bad for our musicians, and the whole entire music support industry — this is a disaster!”
Although the industry has been hit hard and it’s a rough time to get into a production career, Endino believes people continue this “calling” because of their passion. For some, there is no other choice but music. “I was inspired by hearing records and seeing what other producers had done and thinking I could do this.”
Endino says it all started with his love of music. “That’s how we all end up in this, we start as a music fan and go deep, and that won’t change.” He adds, “As long as there is music, there will be people who want to get involved in the music industry side of it more deeply.”
He concludes with this advice: “Keep your spirits up – we all hope to get back to normal sessions and eventually production will get there. Use this time wisely to learn more recording skills, experiment, and focus on being self-taught.”