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Mark Trombino: Tears of Our Tracks

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Often times, we don’t fully appreciate what goes into the music we listen to; it’s not easy creating an album’s worth of music. Records are released all the time, but making one takes time and energy. Making a record that reaches out to the listeners, that takes heart.

Mark Trombino is a producer, mixer, and engineer of albums. He puts all he believes into his work, and the results can be seen in the vast amount of work he has done. From Jimmy Eat World to Mineral, to recent fan favorites the Starting Line, Mark Trombino is constantly working. He took time out of his very busy schedule to talk to me; it showed me just what kind of person he is and being a fan of the albums Mark has worked on, growing up on the sounds that he has helped create, it was an incredible experience.

David: Mark, you produce and mix albums. Can you explain to the readers, what this actually consists of?

Mark: Well, I’ll tackle the easy one first. A mixer is the person who, after everything has been recorded, takes all that material and adjusts the balances between them and basically finishes the recording process. They may get a tape with 24 tracks on it, with the bass drum on one track, a bass on another, guitars and vocals on others as well, and they then squeeze all that information down to 2 tracks which represent the left and right signals in a stereo image. How they do it involves proper equalization of the source material, compression, panning, etc. and is really an art form in and of itself.

Producers are a lot harder to explain. I guess it’s fair to say that producers are hired by bands to be the objective party in the studio, the person that isn’t partial to any particular instrument or component of the band, and someone who can, with relative certainty, give guidance and focus to a process that can be very overwhelming. I see myself in that way. What I try and do is first make sure that I feel the band is ready to even set foot in the studio, and I do this by listening to the songs, and seeing if we have an album’s worth of material there. Then we’ll go into a rehearsal room, and we’ll tweak the arrangements if necessary, and we’ll figure out tempos, and we’ll work on drum parts, etc. We’ll do as much as we can in pre-production to avoid doing it later on in the studio. When that’s done, we move into the studio and my role as a producer I’d say is really about making sure that the band is performing to their fullest potential. Is this take good enough? Can it be better? Producers are often called on to be cheerleaders, to be ego strokers, to prop the musicians up when they need it, but I find that I suck really badly at that.

I also engineer my own records, and that’s another job description entirely. I won’t get into it now, but that involves setting up microphones, choosing the signal path used to record something, being the guy that gets the physical sound from the musician onto tape. I guess that would be as opposed to the producer who gets the “vibe” or “energy” or whatever of the performance onto tape.

David: How did you get involved with producing, mixing, and engineering albums?

Mark: I really just sort of fell into it. I never really planned on doing this as a career, but because I was always interested in the process, and because my experience of recording with other people never really was satisfying to me, I just sort of started doing it. When I was in college, I started recording my bands and some friends’ bands in the electronic music studios at UCSD. The Jehu Merge 7” (Drive Like Jehu) was done there. When Jehu was looking for a place to mix YankCrime, we found this studio in North San Diego county that wasn’t being used much, and I was able to convince the owner to let me start bringing bands there. That turned into Big Fish, and that’s where I really started learning how to make records.

David: Many of the albums that you work on are with many bands of the punk rock or indie genre. Why is that?

Mark: It’s not by design I promise! I find it strange, and a little unsettling because honestly it’s not my favorite kind of music on a personal level, and also I don’t like the idea that I would be associated with only one genre of music. I’ve always been very afraid of being pigeon-holed as a “punk guy”. I would rather be in the same category as a Tchad Blake, who can make an amazingly cool record in any genre he chooses. I appreciate a good pop song, and it really doesn’t matter to me what genre it comes from. It’s all about the song itself. I’d be happy to do just about any kind of music really, and in fact I wish I was working in a greater variety of genres.

David: You have built quite a reputation in the punk music world. When people close to the scene hear, “Mark Trombino will be producing this upcoming album”, they get excited. How does that feel for you being that it’s kind of rare in the music industry today to even know who the producers are.

Mark: That’s awesome. I didn’t know that. I’m too detached from it, really. I just make records and I have little knowledge of how they’re received afterwards. But it’s good to know that people associate my name with a certain sound or quality or production value… Or based on some of the reviews that I have read, my “over production” value!

David: With doing many punk albums, many of those bands are on Drive Thru Records. Talk a little bit about your relationship with the people at Drive Thru?

Mark: I think that I have a great relationship with Richard and Stephanie. They’re good people who put out records by bands they they absolutely love. They have an amazing amount of passion for every single band on their label – and I totally respect that.

David: How long does your actual production time on an album take?

Mark: It depends. I’ll spend as long as I can making a record. I’ve done records in four days and I’ve spent as much as three months. I’ll use whatever I have. In general, though, I’d say it takes one to two weeks of pre-production, about five weeks of tracking, and a couple of weeks for mixing. That’s a pretty ideal scenario.

David: When you add programming into the music, how do you and the band work out the added sounds that you will incorporate into the specific song?

Mark: For me it’s pretty simple. I just use whatever sounds I have at my disposal within the song itself. So if I need some loopy drum sounds, I’ll take the drums that I’ve already recorded for the song and process them a bit to make them sound different and use that. If I need a pad of some sort, I’ll take another sound and time stretch it a bunch of times until I get a nice harmonic texture to lay over the music. Occasionally I’ll pull a sound from outside the song, but since my sample library is pretty much non-existent, I don’t have much to choose from. I have to make it myself. It’s probably bullshit, but I feel that if I use pre-existing sounds and process them, then it’s more organic or more appropriate for some reason.

David: When adding programming sounds, what type of equipment do you use for those sounds?

Mark: I use Pro Tools for just about everything. I don’t use that much gear. I like to work “in the box”.

David: Your work on the Jimmy Eat World albums, especially ‘Clarity’, in my opinion is like nothing out there. Talk about the relationship between you and the boys from Jimmy Eat World?

Mark: We’ve done three records together and by now we are really close. The experience of making ‘Bleed American’, where we made a record on our own and completely without any label support or input, working guerilla style was something that I always look back on as my favorite recording experience ever. I point to that as THE way to make an album. Artist and producer without any label or outside input whatsoever. We made the record we wanted to make, on our own schedule, and on our own terms. The fact that it did so well is just icing on the cake. The process of making the album was more rewarding than anything else I’ve ever been a part of.

David: Is there an album you have produced that you are most proud of?

Mark: Every album I make I love. You can not spend such an enormous amount of time and energy on something and not become attached to it in some way. And every album has given me the opportunity to learn something new or try out something new, or has forced me to think about things in a different way.

David: Mark, what is your personal opinion of the music out there today?

Mark: I can’t make any sort of blanket statement about current music. I think that, as there has always been, there is an over abundance of shitty music out there, but that there is enough amazing and brilliant music currently to keep me from jumping off of a bridge. Personally, I like music that sounds fresh, that’s forward thinking, that isn’t too derivative. My favorite new record right now is ‘The Ugly Organ’ by Cursive. Brilliant.

David: Any upcoming projects that you are currently working on or will be working on that you can share with Sound The Sirens?

Mark: I’m currently working on The Living End. We’re about done tracking and then we move to mixing. After that I’ll be doing another Jimmy Eat World record, then another Finch record, and then another Starting Line record.

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San Diego’s Best Dancers: An interview with Allweather

San Diego’s rich punk history continues its next chapter with Allweather

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San Diego’s alternative music history will forever be intertwined with punk’s mainstream rise through the 90s. While Los Angeles and the Bay Area took much of the attention, San Diego quietly produced a few bands that would ultimately rise to the top of mainstream punk. Now more than 20 years later, San Diego continues to produce as many excellent bands as it does excellent burrito joints. We are unsure whether it has anything to do with the sunny locale, or the food, or the proximity to coastal bliss, but San Diego punk is thriving. But don’t just take our word for it, just listen to the current crop of punk bands that call the area home.

Allweather are one of the newest on the scene, but their members have a long history amongst Southern California’s punk underground. They’ve just released their debut full-length Through the Floor; 10 songs of hard-hitting, melodic punk that at times throws it back to Lifetime’s emotionally charged output.

We spoke to Allweather guitarist and vocalist Tim Putnam.

Thanks for taking the time guys- new full-length in the books- how does everyone feel?

We are so stoked that this thing is finally out. It took about a year and a half to put this all together, what with full-time jobs and other adult-y obligations; but now we’re ready to share it with the world and it feels awesome. Definitely a labor of love with this one.

I really enjoyed the record. You’ve gotten some great feedback?

Everyone has been super receptive. Maybe they’re just being nice and telling us what we want to hear. But if so, they’re doing a great job! They’re saying some nice things!

I spent the first few listens trying to figure out that “sound”— because the album got me like a record did so many years ago. It took a few good listens but to me, it reminds me of Lifetime’s Hello Bastards and Jersey’s Best Dancers. At least that’s how it made me feel. I love those two records and I felt the same when I listened to yours. What are your thoughts on the different interpretations of the record or how it can make people feel many different things?

That’s awesome that you say that. I honestly love everything Dr. Dan Yemin has been involved with: Lifetime, Kid Dynamite, Armalite, Paint it Black. Contrasting dark vocal delivery and lyrical themes with more melodic/upbeat instrumentation is something I think we try to emulate from those bands. I’m hoping that makes for a record that everyone can take something away from, whether you want to just bop around to some pop punk songs or delve deeper into the bummer-ass lyrical content and see what exactly this dude is yelling about.

Who produced it and how did the writing and recording go?

So, that gets a little messy. The majority of engineering was done by our lead guitarist, Tony Estrada, who was our guitarist at the beginning of this recording quest. Tony left the band in the process of recording the record so Todd Allen, of Paper Street Cuts fame, stepped in to engineer what was left of the project. Mixing and mastering was done by Paul Miner at Buzzbomb Studios. All music was written collectively by the band.

It’s a personal record- songs about day-to-day life, ups and downs?

For the most part, I’m a fairly upbeat kind of guy. That’s because I have music as an outlet to compartmentalize any sad or angry thought I might have. This record is a collection of all our anger and sadness for the last two years. That’s pretty heavy. We’ve got songs about heartbreak, death of friends, and questioning the purpose of human existence. More ups than downs I guess.

You guys are relatively new as a band. Can you share with us a little Allweather history and how you got started?

I’ve known Aaron and Manny since we were teenagers. We all grew up about an hour and a half east of San Diego in a small town called El Centro, California. It’s basically the default decision when you’re old enough to move from El Centro to San Diego because it’s a larger city close to home. Aaron, Manny and I all ended up in San Diego by this logic and all played in bands together when we were younger in El Centro and just decided to jam to see what might come out. And Allweather was born. Tyson is the newest addition to the family, having joined our ranks on lead guitar almost a year ago, and the dude is a prodigy. He brings a lot of songwriting to the table and is going to be huge in shaping what Allweather is going to sound like moving forward.

What got you all into into punk and the music that became Allweather?

I think coming of age in the late 90s/early 2000s, punk was somewhat accessible. At least gateway-punk. It was very easy to get into Green Day and Blink-182 by seeing them on MTV, then hop on the internet and get sucked into the rabbit hole that is punk rock. Before you know it you’re on Limewire giving your computer AIDS so you can pirate “Maxwell Murder” at 20 kbps. 2 days later you listen to it and you’re like “Welp, I guess I’m a punk now.” Also, growing up in a small town like El Centro, you were just bored and had to entertain yourself. You started garage bands and booked backyard shows because it was something to do. 

Let’s talk about the stop-motion video for “Life Vest”- looked like a fun video, but it looked like a lot of work. How was that to shoot? Why stop-motion?

Almost 1000 individual photos. 18 hours straight of shooting. For a 2-minute music video. SO WORTH IT. We had about a hundred dollars to spend on the video and stop motion seemed like a good way to add some class to our cardboard-prop-level budget. Luckily, Tyson took the reigns, figured out the math behind the whole thing and hopped in the director’s chair. All in all, we’re super proud of the finished product.

The vinyl/CD is out through Paper Street Cuts- how did you guys connect with Paper Street Cuts? 

I’ve been playing local shows with Todd of Paper Street Cuts in San Diego for the last 9 years. In that time, Todd has become a real friend of mine and the band’s. This year Todd started making handmade lathe cut records for limited release through his label, Paper Street Cuts. No… like he cuts his own records. By hand. WHAT? Not to mention he’s an incredible human being. So, when Todd approached us about having our record be the first LP available through Paper Street Cuts, we jumped on it.

You had a record release show June 14. What are you guys up to next- back on the road?

We are going to be heading out for a West Coast USA tour at the end of July. It’s our first time touring and we’re pumped. More info on that shortly.

What are some of the things I should check out next time I’m in San Diego- food, music- cool record stores?

San Diego is the self-proclaimed burrito capital of the world. But it’s true. Best burritos anywhere. And where do you go to get one? Throw a rock in any direction and you’ll probably hit a taco shop. Some of our favorites though are Colima’s, Roberto’s, Rigaberto’s, Alberto’s…basically anything with the -berto’s suffix will be a win. For live music, our headquarters is Tower Bar in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego. Honorable mention goes to Til Two Club, the Casbah, and Soda Bar. Tons of rad record stores but our recs go to Red Brontosaurus Records and Re-Animated Records.

Allweather’s debut album, Through the Floor, is available now via Paper Street Cuts.

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The Down and Dirty: An interview with The Aggrolites

We chat to “dirty reggae” kings The Aggrolites about their new record Reggae Now!

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It’s been a long time between records for Los Angeles reggae band The Aggrolites. 8 years to be exact. After countless albums and endless days on the road, the band felt like it was the right time to step away from the grind of writing, recording, touring. But the extended break between records meant the band just had time to get some air, recuperate and find the charge that would ignite that next spark. That next spark ended up becoming Reggae Now!, a collection of the band’s signature “dirty reggae” sound, packed with life-affirming songs about hope and positivity. And while the album isn’t afraid to challenge and question the current landscape we find ourselves in, it doesn’t shy away from having a good time.

The record has received some lavish praise, with noted filmmaker, DJ, and Big Audio Dynamite co-founder Don Letts saying; “Their tunes perfectly echo the human chemistry you can hear in those early Jamaican productions. The band’s old-school analog sound totally captures the spirit of the music I grew up on“. While Specials vocalist/guitarist Lynval Golding has said; “This is THE album.

It’s easy to say that one of the most influential bands of modern American reggae is back. But the truth is, they never left. In between stops of their current North American tour, we had a chance to chat with vocalist and guitarist Jesse Wagner about Reggae Now!, how it feels to have written the record on their own time, and the significance of reggae music in America.

Congrats on the new record; how does feel now that it’s out?

It feels awesome. We are beyond stoked to see how positive the vibes are coming from all the fans old and new. 

It was a long time between records- 8 years. It was the right time to take a break after 2011?

We felt so. We were going hard on the road for a good decade. I think 250 days a year can wear anyone out. We never quit though. We just needed some time to do our own thing with our families and friends back at home. 

How did Reggae Now! come together- was there a spark that got you guys back into the writing process?

It just felt like the right time. We had talked about it for a while and when it happened it just worked. 

Was this the first time you had the chance to write and record an album without the pressure of label deadlines? How did it feel that you could just write Reggae Now! on your own time- the way you want to 100%?

Yes it was. And it felt really chill and relaxing knowing that time was on our side. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. 

How did you connect and end up working with Pirates Press Records? It seems like a great fit- plus their roster of artists is incredible.

I’ve known Skippy for a long time now and have been a fan of what he has been doing with Pirates Press for years. Playing the style of music we play isn’t necessarily an easy target to market. We knew Skippy and Pirates Press would know exactly what to do with our album and are all grateful for them. 

For those who may not be too familiar with the Aggrolites- share with us a little bit of your history and how the band came to be?

We’ve been around since 2002. We all pretty much come from the same scene in Los Angeles and all have the same love and passion for old school Jamaican music.  With that passion, the band has managed to keep it going ever since. 

How has the tour been so far? You guys are hitting cities all across the US until August; how is touring and getting to meet and perform for the fans now than, say, back in 2002?

It’s been an amazing run so far. If anything, things are getting better. I think with the internet it’s easier for people to find out about certain genres of music. We’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback. 

I love the video for “Pound for Pound”- where did you shoot it? How was it?

It was filmed in the San Fernando Valley at an equipment rental spot called Zio. Our friend Josh Rousch was the director and mastermind behind the whole thing. We had a blast filming it. So much fun and we were stoked to have some Aggro fans involved in the video also. That was a first. 

Let’s talk about reggae- because it’s such an important genre of music (in my view) and I think some people only see it in one color. But there’s a lot of history and culture- how did you discover reggae and what are some of the most important aspects of the music and culture to you and the band?

I found out about reggae probably like the majority of the American youth from the early 1990s; punk rock and Two-Tone. The thing that got me stuck on it was how tuff of a sound it is, but at the same time so beautiful. It is by far the most interesting music I’ve ever gotten into. I love how they sang about social issues going down on their small Island, but how powerful the lyrics would be in relating to people all over the world. 

Reggae, and ska and rocksteady seem to have a close relationship with punk. You guys have toured with and are close to many punk bands; what is it about the two genres that make sense and connects?

I believed it all goes back to the late 1960s when reggae became popular with the working class in the UK. It’s music for the people. Songs about struggle and overcoming it. Very rebellious music also. I believe Don Letts said it best that reggae was the soundtrack to the punk rock scene throughout the late 1970s. 

How important do you think music of good vibes is in today’s world? I think maybe the world could use a little more Reggae Now.

I thank you for saying that and agree 100%. We’ve always said we are “Feel Good” music. Sometimes it’s nice to just play a record and have a good time. Especially in this day and age. There is a lot of corruption going on and hopefully, we can ease people’s minds from negativity with our album. 

The Aggrolites’ new album, Reggae Now!, is available via Pirates Press Records.

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