Pre-Eminent Local Producer Danny Reisch Moves South to Lockhart
The challenge as he moves is to maintain the same creative space and energy
Danny Reisch spins his chair away from the production console in his living room and leans back easily.
"The Seventies was about exploration, fidelity, and pushing everything," he says. "And we've now gotten to how can we make it smaller and more immediate? We're OK with it sucking so long as we can have it right now. We've just become selfish children basically."
"What changed, you think?" ponders Scott Butler, frontman for the Black and White Years, sitting on a couch in the center of the room. "Because those early Madonna records sounded great."
"Yeah," concedes Reisch. "Maybe the late Eighties. There was a level of excess where people were like, 'Let's take it further.' The advent of digital is really what it is. That ushered in a level of indulgence where previously you had to rely on playing well.
"Digital did for music what word processors did for penmanship."
Reisch turns back to his computer and the project at hand: mixing tracks for the Austinites' fourth album, expected for release early next year. In between tweaks, the idle conversation of music obsessives drifts through opinions about everyone from Art Tatum to Ray Manzarek. The easy atmosphere is an essential part of the process for the host's role, and his new home studio in Lockhart exudes that vibe even more so than his former space on East Third Street in Austin (see "Playback: The Future of Austin Recording Studios," Aug. 5).
"It's just isolated enough where we can focus and people don't feel like they're rushing from their jobs to their session, or going to let their dog out," he offers later walking through the house. "People are here for the day and do nothing but this, and there aren't a lot of distractions. So I'm getting better work, more focused work, out of people. My old place was a little too convenient."
Although Good Danny's has only set up shop in the 110-year-old Victorian-style house for a couple of weeks, Reisch and his production partner, Max Lorenzen, have been renovating it into a studio for the past two months in preparation for their move south of Austin. They rebuilt the door frames, fortified the windows with Lexan, and rewired the rooms.
The 12-foot-high ceilings breathe spaciously, while the 2,400 square feet provide room for Reisch's copious amount of equipment without feeling cluttered. The three side rooms are patched for recording on a moment's notice, and the arched doorway divides the living room between a jam space and his production setup. Everything in the studio is meticulously placed and labeled.
"I have to be super organized," he admits. "I never want the process to impede creativity. I want everything to always be at my fingertips, so if there's an idea we can just reach over and go."
Over the past decade, Good Danny's has helped soundtrack Austin's indie scene, and at 33, Reisch has begun hitting his stride as a producer, including helming one of this year's top local releases in Shearwater's elaborate Jet Plane and Oxbow.
Get Out of the City
At the Chaparral Coffee shop across the street from the Caldwell County Courthouse, Lockhart's small-town charm is on full display.
"It's like Back to the Future down here, and I love it," Reisch enthuses. "I was obsessed with that movie when I was a kid and wanted play guitar like Marty McFly. It's the moment where there's a glint on the pick and Marty strums that chord in front of an 80-inch speaker, which then blows him back to the wall.
"I was like, 'Yep, that's what I want to do. That looks awesome. I want that.'"
Growing up in Dallas, Reisch began producing without even realizing it, recording his junior high school bands and selling cassettes to classmates. By 16, he was skipping classes to intern at ASC Summit Burnett studios, and sitting in on sessions with Matt Pence at the Echo Lab in Denton. He enrolled in Texas State's renowned School of Music, which offers the only Sound Recording Technology degree in the Southwest.
"I was lucky enough to go there when Bobby Arnold was one of the main professors," notes Reisch. "He was Willie [Nelson]'s engineer for years, and a monster in the studio, but he was so concerned with teaching us how to be good people, and to understand energy and how to work with people. It's not all just technical. It's about making sure it feels good for musicians.
"That's what Bobby excelled at and why he was such a good engineer."
By 2005, Reisch was playing with and recording acts around Austin, including drumming for homegrown indie staples like the Lemurs, Belaire, and What Made Milwaukee Famous. The Lemurs' band house on East Third morphed into his studio as he took on more assignments and gear, including working with local production company Super!Alright! as they began to seed Austin's Eastside into an emerging creative hub. He garnered 2010's Austin Music Award for Best Record Producer for the eponymous debut from Bright Light Social Hour (see sidebar), while Good Danny's was named Best Recording Studio three years later by Austin Music People.
He also began recording sessions in Austin for influential website Daytrotter, hosting hundreds of intimate South by Southwest performances ranging from the Zombies to Jimmy Cliff. Local bands benefited from the association with high-exposure opportunities. As his reputation grew, his studio space became more precarious amid the neighborhood's rapid development.
"I'm pretty empathic – I sense energy around me – and that frenetic tension from all of the construction and people wandering the streets fuels a type of anxiety that I just don't want," he admits. "It seeps into the mentality that we all have, and seeps into a general feeling of constant noise, construction, people coming and going. I feel like my surroundings really affect my energy, and that's contagious, whether it's a person or environment.
"I'm not going to move out here [to Lockhart] and suddenly everything is down-tempo, but as far as my mentality and my working, it already feels better and more comfortable. I think anything you do benefits from not doing it with tension and anxiety."
"Danny's so detail oriented, and he really believes something that I believe, which is that the difference between something being OK and being really good is often in the last 5 percent," offers Shearwater conceptualizer Jonathan Meiburg. "It's the hardest part of the record, but Danny's always willing to double down on that and really push. He's got a hungry mind, and he somehow manages to maintain an almost scary amount of energy for a long time."
Meiburg first approached Reisch to work on Shearwater's 2012 LP Animal Joy, after which the producer eventually joined the band as a tour drummer. The band's Eighties-inspired tour de force, Jet Plane and Oxbow, took their collaboration to even greater heights.
"The Shearwater record nearly killed me," laughs Reisch. "It was exhausting, but I'm so proud of it. It's a total high-water mark for me, and one of the coolest things I've done."
His dedication is echoed by nearly everyone who works with him, as is the contagious spirit he contributes to every project.
"One thing I love about working with Danny is that he makes it fun, and that's not always true of everybody," attests Dana Falconberry, whose 2012 album Leelanau expanded sonically beyond her early folk focus. "The energy he brings is really unique and fresh and exciting, and makes you excited. It's not stressful, even when you're down to the wire."
"It really boils down to we just have an awesome rapport," says Josh Lambert, who tapped Reisch to helm the Octopus Project's next LP. "He doesn't get locked totally into ideas, and is open to different things, even if we completely flip it. There's zero ego, which is how we as a band work as well."
For his part, Reisch credits his production style to his time behind the kit and on the other side of the recording equation.
"So much of it is just making people feel good about what they're doing, and when something is not happening, knowing how to steer the ship without completely knocking them down," he says. "It's a real vulnerable moment, that moment someone steps up and does their first vocal take, and the take ends and the talk-back is on. What do you say? It's all right there. And you have the ability to completely destroy someone if you are thoughtless or reckless with what comes out of your mouth.
"I don't think every producer or engineer understands that because a lot of them aren't players."
Yet Reisch also remains intensely cognizant of the balance between being relaxed in the studio and being efficient. As album sales continue to tank, so too do production budgets and the time he can devote to each recording. He typically works on six or seven projects at any given time, on top of his drumming duties with local outfit Bee Caves and Portland's Other Lives.
"I need to squeeze the most out of every day as I can with a band," he acknowledges. "The scheduling and budget stuff is not the fun part of the job. It's where art and commerce intersect, and you start talking about your art as a product and thinking about it in terms of dollars and cents instead of a vision or goal you have creatively. It's not the fun part for me at all, but it's a practical reality you can't ignore."
Back in the new studio with the Black and White Years, Reisch feeds a track through his Cyclosonic Songbird, an extremely rare piece of panning equipment he picked up from a Russian auction site.
"That sound's flying around my head and I love it!" he exclaims as Butler's synth rhythm warps in and out.
Good Danny's stocks equipment and instruments both arcane and modern. His frequent work at other studios and constant tinkering with his custom setup keep him always on the hunt for new gear and sounds.
"It's a very digital/analog hybrid setup," he says, emphasizing the 3M M79 16-track 2-inch tape machine in a corner of the living room. "You can use great analog gear and tape while you're tracking into Pro Tools, and that, to me, is the coolest combination. I love classic recordings and classic sounds, and the way to get that sound is to use that gear, and have everything working together to get that sound.
"But I also can't just live in this late-Sixties bubble. I have to be able to Dropbox files to people and get tracks to a band in Australia. So this setup is really just kind of an extension of my taste – I love LCD Soundsystem and the Who. I want to be able to do all that. It's a way of integrating every era of what I like best about music into one setup I can access."
Reisch's challenge now as he moves his studio 30 miles south of the city is to maintain the same kind of creative space and energy Good Danny's has always provided. His current roster of projects, which includes Erika Wennerstrom from the Heartless Bastards, Pat Pestorius of Okkervil River, and Tele Novella's upcoming debut LP, suggests he's not only rebuilding the communal hub he left behind in East Austin, but also reaching new creative peaks personally.
"The community aspect of what I do is a huge thing to me," he affirms. "It's not just about running a business, making art, trying to do my thing, or all the other practical, insular goals. It's about something bigger. In Austin, there's just so much talent and such a great community. I want to work on stuff that I'm into and that plays to my strengths, and as long as I can share a vision with what the band's going for, then I'm on board creatively."