Chris went from playing horns in the school band to making records with the likes of Megadeth, Danzig and Parkway Drive. Read his story and learn more about how he uses Superior Drummer 3 in his workflow.
Name: Chris Rakestraw
Location: Nashville, TN USA
Link: instagram.com/yeoldraker / @yeoldraker
How did you get started in the business and how come you ended up behind the console as a producer/engineer?
When I was younger, I played horns in the school band, then later bass in a couple bands, and I always ended up being the person who would take all the ideas and put them together to make a song. I remember I had a guitar player once who could write really cool stuff, but had no idea what was great or what to do with it. I was constantly stopping him, and making him learn a riff he was messing with. That was when I realized that harnessing an artist’s ideas and creativity and doing something with it was what I was better at, than playing bass. Which at the time was a drag, ‘cause I wanted be a bass player. Back then I had a roommate, Al Jacob, that was sooooo good at bass. I always wanted to be as good as him. He produces records out of his studio called Warrior Sound in North Carolina.
Is there a specific moment or project that helped push you on to the next level?
Absolutely. I was working at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, no affiliation to the movie studio. Mike and Adam, the owners of Paramount had these big white boards for booking all the studios with Post-it notes all over it. I came in one day and saw Glenn Danzig’s name on one of the Post-it notes. I had been assisting up until that point for almost three or four years, I think. I told them to put me on the session. Adam asked me if I was sure that I was ready to start engineering, and I said, “Absolutely. Put me on the session.” A couple weeks later, Glenn and I met, we worked for about two hours, cut some vocals, got some blends, and he just straight up asked me if I wanted to do the rest of his record. I said yes, and after that, I was officially an engineer. That’s why to this day, if Glenn calls, I always answer.
Talking about producing and engineering – two very different roles that sometimes get confused – is there one you favor over the other?
I learned the fundamentals of engineering and I’m good at it, but that only pays off so much emotionally. My favorite is producing. I want to get in the trenches with a band, grind through the rough parts, and create. As far as grey areas between the two, that’s always an issue. If we are talking real life, the difference is the contract you sign before working on a record, which I’m sure will be an unpopular answer here, until people actually get out in the world and create a career for themselves. Logistically speaking though, for me, production starts as soon as you start being interested in my opinion. You ask me which snare to use, which of the takes sounds the best, that’s all related to crafting a vision for the record. Vision for a record is not something that everyone has to offer, so it must be cherished and valued, and at some point not given away for free. Imagine if the Deftones records had a floppy-big-hair-metal- band-splashy snare. Now tell me that doesn’t matter, haha!
Looking at your discography, you have been doing several records every year for almost two straight decades. Do you ever get tired of engineering and producing?
Of course. When I get a bit ground down from the energy it takes to produce a record, I’ll take some engineering or mixing gigs, which are basically a vacation compared to the creative energy the other role consumes. I also use these times between gigs when i’m not inspired to update all my software and tighten my game up so I’m ready to go hard when it comes again.
If you weren’t making records, what would you do?
It would have to be something that gives me a sense that I have created something. After my dad passed in 2013, I took about a year off music and built houses in Mississippi where he lived. The emotional reward from creating something physically lasting is similar to how you feel after getting a record back from mastering. So, probably a carpenter.
Which Toontrack products do you regularly use and where in the creative process do these come into play?
Pre-production for sure! Probably the most important part of record production for me, is the pre-pro. It’s the time when we get to really craft songs and strip every idea out of an artist. Being able to program drum arrangements under guitar parts that were just riffs to a click track yesterday is a massively creative tool. When we were doing “Dystopia”, Dave had all these guitar parts, but no drummer in Nashville, so I just started programming with Dave, and it really opened up a whole new outlet for song realization. As far as the products I use, I love the Metal Machinery SDX, the Metal Foundry SDX and the Progressive Foundry SDX.
Name a few records from your catalogue that you feel particularly proud of, for any reason!
Oh gosh, talk about picking your favorite child, haha! Well, if I have to, the Amigo the Devil record, “Diggers”. Andrew Kline from the band Strife produced that one, and I engineered. I love the sound of that one. Danny is incredibly talented. I loved the Parkway Drive record “Atlas”, Ben was an absolute monster on drums and was such a hard worker, that it made it really fun for me. I love when people come in and just want to work hard and be creative. “Dystopia”, obviously, cause working with a band you grew up listening to was rad, plus it got a Grammy, which is cool. Gosh, all I can think of is that I’m forgetting every record I’ve ever done right now, hahah!
Name a few all-time favorite albums that you did not work on where performance, sound and feel come together in perfect balance.
Well, the obvious answer to this is Rage Against the Machine, “Rage Against the Machine”. I mean, just look at all the kooky s**t that was going on in 1992 like literally Right Said Fred is dropping “I’m Too Sexy”, and Rage drops this album. This is easily a record I can listen to, and not hear a bunch of nerdy dorky production. It’s just pissed off talented m*********s slaying. I like records like that where I can’t hear the producer, I can hear the band. Honestly, this record represents pretty well my philosophy about production of harnessing the band and making their record instead of your own. Also, this was mixed by Andy Wallace, who always seemed to have such a great understanding of what a band should sound like.
Best studio moment ever?
This one is easy. While working on the Motorhead record “Inferno” with Cameron Webb back in L.A., Lemmy handing me a page of lyrics that he had just written. No one had ever seen this but me, straight from the mouth of god. I still remember Lem’s voice, “Have a look at this mate.” Man, this is making me tear up right now.
Worst studio moment ever?
Erasing a DJ Quik song off of analog tape that we had just recorded. I was super green, working at Pacifique Studios in North Hollywood and I had labelled the boxes, but not the actual reels. So anyway, I had striped all the reels starting at 1 hour, well 00:59:45.000, cause MPCs… Anyway, we were dumping all the MIDI stuff to tape, MPC, synths, you name it, there was a lot of stuff. Everything is going great, until I punch out, and hear the other song pop up. Instantly my stomach gets super nauseous. I was by myself, ‘cause this was assistant work. I had to man up and go tell Quik that I had just erased an entire song. He was super zen about it though, he just said, “then we weren’t supposed to do that song.” or something to that effect. I was shocked. That guy was heavy like that. Side note, I never erased anything on analog again after that one accident.
Finally, any tips to those looking to make a career in music production/engineering?
Well, considering I’m better at making records than giving advice… 1. Don’t go to recording school. Those are all bulls**t. 2. No one is ever going to pat you on the back, so don’t look for that. 3. Find a good mentor, learn from them…but not for too long…