"My made-up age is 38," Ryan Greene tells me while we're sitting in his new recording studio before the immense console, overlooked by a flat wide-screen TV monitor showing some inscrutable B-movie. The legendary producer, who's probably best known among ambitiously audiophiliac pop-punk fans, moved down to Scottsdale from the Bay Area midway through last year, and he's couching his age because, as he explains, "I always undershoot the age so the younger bands will think I'm hip and cool -- but I am hip and cool, goddamnit. How old am I? I feel about 25."
Most fans of Greene's work were probably around 25 -- or younger -- when the infamous records he produced made an impression on their sound-holes. The list is too long to be comprehensive here, but let's just say it starts with NOFX's Punk in Drublic (a gold record of which hangs in his Crush Recording studio), and spans No Use for a Name's Leche con Carne, J Church's Drama of Alienation, Propagandhi's Less Talk, More Rock, and Authority Zero's Andiamo. He's done five albums for NOFX, and more than 40 for the Fat Wreck Chords label (owned by NOFX's Fat Mike). This is the man whose talents at producing, engineering and mixing have defined pop-punk over the past 15 years or so.
And now Ryan Greene is in the 'Nix, with an incredible new studio, and he's on a mission -- a vision quest, really -- to "put Phoenix on the map." As clichéd and cringe-inducing as that phrase is, and despite our music scene's inferiority complex, I'm apt to believe Greene after spending some time listening to his plans for Phoenix's rise from the ashes of audio obscurity. That includes not only producing local bands but launching a record label where he'll use his multitudinous contacts in the business to get bands the deals they deserve.
I was skeptical at first, because despite his résumé, it sounds like a pipe dream. It's easy for me to get discouraged when I examine what's happening in the music scene around here. Between the paucity of live venues, audience apathy, and the fact that Phoenix rarely registers on the radar screens of label execs and A&R guys, things can look pretty bleak when I'm in glass-half-empty mode.
But I'm now convinced that Ryan Greene could be exactly what our beleaguered scene needs. It's about time we had someone influential in the record industry who believes in what we've got going on in the Valley.
Greene's moving out here, wanting to spend the capital he's earned over his long career to break Phoenix bands, is the best shit I've heard in a long time. While having drinks with Alex Otto, an accomplished audio engineer friend of mine who also teaches at the Conservatory of Recording Arts, I mentioned Greene's name, and Otto could hardly believe that Greene had moved to the 'Nix and opened a studio. A lot of people may never have heard of Greene, but the right people know exactly who he is.
While making his bones in the audio trade, after working in genres as diverse as metal, jazz and R&B, and spending several years as the chief engineer for EMI, Greene became the de facto producer and engineer for Fat Wreck Chords, and moved to the Bay Area from Los Angeles to start a studio called Motor with NOFX's Fat Mike.
Greene's connection to the Valley came when he was asked by a friend, Steve Smith (a former senior VP of programming for Clear Channel Radio who now runs a radio consulting business), to come record Authority Zero at his home studio in Phoenix early last year. Greene was smitten with our desert metropolis, and saw potential here that was going completely untapped. He soon moved out here and built Crush Recording, his own dream studio, which opened up in June when he did his first local recording with young guitar prodigy Nick Sterling.
Crush's environs are nothing short of lavish. I wish my house was this nice: There's a slate-floored and -walled bathroom with a huge shower; living quarters for four, for out-of-town bands; and a row of plush black leather chairs with chrome cup holders facing the immense control room, where a wall-mounted flat-screen television lets Greene watch bands as they play in the adjoining room.
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Greene's admittedly aggressive in the studio, though with a sardonic sense of humor: An Irish band called Mixtwitch, which recorded with him at Motor, quotes him on its Web site as telling the members, "That was awful. I'll ring my Gran, she'll be able to do it, or my two year old son," and "Yeah that sucked too, play it like you mean it. Just because you're in San Francisco doesn't mean you gotta to be gay."
Still, it doesn't matter if he's a hard-ass -- Greene knows how to make fucking good records. He told me he'll take two hours on one vocal line if that's what's required to get it perfect. And the music scene here needs some aspirations toward perfection.
"I tell bands, 'If you can't afford me, keep saving your money. Don't go anywhere else -- get the best recording you can,'" he says.
Greene's enthusiasm would make me suspicious if it came from someone with lesser credentials. "I know every A&R guy out there," he tells me. "I've been in the industry a long time. I know what's going to happen here -- it's not a guessing thing. The talent out here is huge. And I'm happy up here. I've never been so happy in my life."