When I visit Cory Spotts in the control room of his north Phoenix studio, he's got his finger on the Valley's musical future -- quite literally. With a click of the mouse, a sizable chunk of the best stuff being produced in town reverberates through the room, and Spotts is responsible for it. At 24, this kid's one of the most sought after record producers or engineers around these parts, and he's booked solid through to next year.
On a recent Saturday morning, Spotts has a rare break, this time in the middle of recording a full-length album by the January Taxi. I join him in the studio, where he hits me off with a compilation CD of his recent projects, most of which haven't been released yet, providing a sampler glance at some of this summer and fall's local releases.
It includes one of three new Greeley Estates songs the band recorded recently, "Y'all With the Vampire Squad?"; the Stiletto Formal's cover of Smashing Pumpkins' "The Everlasting Gaze," which will be released on an upcoming tribute CD; De Sole's "Shadow Girl," available on its Web site, www.desoleband.com; the January Taxi's unreleased "The Hellos"; and, uncharacteristically for Spotts, young metal maniacs Job for a Cowboy's pummeling "Entombment of a Machine," from the band's upcoming Doom EP.
Indeed, many of the 'Nix's most popular bands have a single thread in common -- they've all recorded with Spotts. This is an instance where I could interview a bunch of music "experts" about what a great producer is, but really, all you need to do is read his list of bands -- and then run out and listen to them, if you haven't -- to understand the guy's talent.
Spotts, who calls his engineering fiefdom Blue Light Audio Media, even has history behind him, at this young age, including the Necronauts' eponymous LP, the Stiletto Formal's Masochism in the Place of Romance, the January Taxi's Keep Quiet They Might Hear Us, and, most important, Greeley Estates' breakthrough LP Outside of This.
But until this past January, Spotts' operation was completely mobile -- he'd pile his gear into a pickup truck and haul it to the band's house and set up his studio in whatever room was available to him. Then he moved into a nondescript warehouse space in north Phoenix and converted it into a professional quality recording studio.
"I jokingly refer to this as the house that Greeley built," he told me recently in the dim control room of the studio. It was Greeley's 2004 LP, just rereleased by local HourZero Records, that sent Spotts' reputation through the roof. He's been recording locals nonstop since then.
"I moved in here and I was here the first 50 days straight before I got a day off. Days off come in the form of the band member who's supposed to record having to work."
Spotts got into recording from a musician's perspective, tooling around with his former band, Tolerance. He studied recording at Glendale Community College for a while, learning his way around digital audio work stations, mixing boards, and microphones. However, he explains, "I think the musical background's important -- to me, as an engineer, it's more important than learning how to operate recording equipment, because my thing is, I approach recording as a musician, not as a technical guy who knows how to run the gear. You've got to know how to run things, but the whole object is creating music. So much of recording is psychology, knowing how to deal with egos, knowing what the dynamic in a band is. It's just as important if not more important than taking classes."
This innate knowledge of the dynamics of band interrelationships is what's fueled Spotts' success. He basically becomes another member of the band, adopting its vision and applying his own talents.
"I try to suss out the kind of record they want to make before we start," he says. "Then I use my own, unbiased set of ears. I try to walk the line between being objective and being like, 'If you guys are going for this, let's do this, or let's try it this way.' Anything to make their vision come alive or enhance it if I can."
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For Spotts, that doesn't mean coddling. "The band's always the boss. I have a responsibility to the band to bring their vision across as best I can, but at the same time I'm not gonna help their record if I'm letting them go off on their own. If I think something's not up to par or not working, it's not gonna help if I just sit there and try to cater to everyone's ego."
He's also not intimidated by tackling projects that are out of his ordinary oeuvre, like the Stiletto Formal's schizo-tempo complexities, or Job for a Cowboy's screaming and growling brutalimetal. "Job for a Cowboy is a good example of a band that has a vivid vision of how they wanna sound," he explains. "I'm not known for being a metal producer; I was learning the entire time."
Spotts has had what can only be described as runaway success since he started mobile recording bands in late 2002, and the local rock scene has grown with him.
"When I go to shows now as opposed to a couple of years ago, it just feels so much more coherent. The standard's been raised for bands. People are coming to shows again. It's cool to be a part of it. It's funny to walk into a club and four out of the five bands playing have done their CDs with me; it's kind of trippy in a way. It doesn't feel like I've done all these recordings, but I have. In a pretty small amount of time, it's a pretty big body of work. I'm lucky . . . and grateful for it."