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Halle: The city, situated on the river Saale, is famous for things like the Hallorenkugeln or as the place of birth of Georg Friedrich Händel. What many of you out there probably don’t know is that it has also become a hotspot for music production, at least if you’re into Rock and Metal. The reason for that is SAWDUST RECORDINGS, the studio founded by ANNISOKAY vocalist Christoph Wieczorek. In the interview below, you can read how he ended up producing music, which production didn’t get the anticipated recognition and many other interesting things.
Many thanks again to lightinmirror.de for the wonderful pictures.
Shieldmaiden’s Voice: Describe your way to work in three words!
Christoph Wieczorek: Modern, uncompromising, individual!
SV: How did you get started in music production?
CW: I have to go way back for this one. At the age of five, I started playing piano and keyboard and around the age of twelve I started writing my own songs. Naturally, I wanted to listen to them later on and with the help of my father, who happens to be a musician as well, I started recording. He probably still has these songs saved on some floppy disks! [laughs]
At the time, my father already had a studio corner in which stood the keyboard and an Atari computer which had the program „Cubasis“. That must have been around the year 1995.
When I became a teenager, the keyboard became uncool in a way. I insisted on learning the electric guitar and taught it to myself. It was just really awesome to, at 16 years old, write songs for my own band. Of course, I had to find a way to remember what I had written, which led me to the question on how to best record this. Due to the experience with my father, I was already a bit familiar with the technical background.
Everything else just developed from there and I started recording my own band. We had an awesome singer and I recorded him in the living room and even in the closet.
At the time, there was no Youtube and no forums with which you could teach yourself these things. I had to find all this out for myself via a Learning-by-Doing-process and with a Trial-and-Error kind of process. This obviously took quite some time. In hindsight, I wish I would have grown up these times since that would have been easier.
At a certain point, the band called SALAX, a Nu-Metal band, became locally known and this led to other bands approaching me and asking if I could do this for them as well. I took my computer, drove to their rehearsal space and recorded them there while I slept on a mattress. That was my first album production. Then the next one came and I traveled a lot. At a certain point, you realize that you need to have a permanent space which is why I built my first studio. And before you know it, you’re deeply involved in music production.
SV: Let’s jump into the present! What are the things you are mainly producing here at Sawdust Recordings?
CW: The main business is modern Rock all the way through to Metal. I don’t want to exclude anyone, we have the occasional Pop-Production and even some Jazz or some Symphonic Metal or even Death metal. There is something from every direction you could go. The core, however, plays Metalcore, Hardcore and Rock.
Recently, another speciality has been established which is female-fronted. I have a lot of bands with female singers. When I counted them recently, I realized that last year I recorded more bands with female singers than with male singers. Honestly, I don’t know if that’s a general trend in this kind of musical style, but I did notice it in my studio.
SV: What milestones have you accomplished or experience with your team in this studio?
CW: The studio as such has been a big milestone for me. It was a huge investment and you question whether it’s the right course of action or if the risk is too big, but in the end I just did it. I took out a loan, planned and designed everything and that’s how it turned out. Finally, I’m at a point at which I feel comfortable welcoming bands and proudly showing them the space. We have been here since 2018 and before that it was a bit punk. The productions were still good, but that’s just one side of the coin. The people are supposed to feel comfortable. When the bands came to the other studio, it was always a bit embarrassing for me [laughs]. Now I can welcome there without any hesitation which is why this was a milestone.
Apart from that, you always climb your way up from production to production to get to more well known artists. You then start working with bigger musicians who are more famous and sell more albums. There are the first placements in the charts, the highest was WE BUTTER THE BREAD WITH BUTTER which placed 8th in the German album charts. Right now, I’m working on the new ELECTRIC CALLBOY album which could be our first Nr. 1 placement.
When you start doing things like this here in Halle, you’d never expect to produce bands this big, bands that are really at the top of their genre. That is really insane. I could name more bands, but everything developed piece by piece.
SV: Why do you even need a producer in the first place?
CW: There are two main work fields a producer has: One is the musical side and the other is the sound side.
The musical side is about the song itself: from the arrangement to the song structure with melodies, harmonies and everything else that has do with that.
In terms of the sound, it’s about things like the guitar sound, vocal production, effects, mixing and mastering.
For the first part, you need a producer, at least in my opinion, because you lose your objectivity during the time you’re working on the song. In the end you cannot tell if the song is cool, if the melody fits or what could be done better. That’s what I call „Demoritis“.
Naturally, you have some kind of instinct or feeling but a third opinion is really valuable. By showing the song to someone, you already start thinking differently about it. The producer has a fresh ear, listens to the song for the first time and then has new ideas that can push this song once more.
As a band or as an artist, you need a producer to transcend your own horizon. At some point, it just stops and that is not the fault of the musician or the band. On the contrary, it’s quite natural. I’m not exempt from that either. I also need a producer for the things I do for ANNISOKAY.
And then you have the sound aspect which is a big part as well. For this, a producer is needed so that it sounds grand in the end. There are always bands that say that they can do that themselves. You can do a lot with modern technology, but in order to get to a really professional level, you really need someone who has done nothing else for years. That makes the difference and won’t change in the next 10 years.
If you imagine a software where you just push one button and it then mixes and masters the song, then everyone would end up sounding the same and nobody wants that. It’s about the art and it’s an individual form of expression. And that is exactly what you need the producer for.
SV: What are the biggest difficulties or challenges when you’re producing a band? You just spoke about „Demoritis“, but is there something else that drives you into desperation?
CW: It really is the fight against the familiarization that is the hardest. At first, you have to win the trust of the bands that come to your studio. I’m lucky enough that a lot of bands, that come here, already know my work and just say „Yes, do that!“. But there is always one person in the band that remains skeptical. There is immediate protest and panic when you start changing the first accord. Judging from your own experience, you know what fits the melody best. The artist might not see like you do and you have to find a way to cooperate with which everyone can happily live. It’s not my intention to force my ideas on anyone and if they prefer the original version than I have not problem leaving it that way. It’s still their song after all. Occasionally, the art is to mediate between these different opinions and it has a lot of psychological implications. Julian, my colleague, studied psychology and that is one his biggest advantages. he can deal with the people in these situations. For me, it’s rather difficult, but it always depends on the artist. There more than enough artists that are very easy-going, who like every idea and even develop their own new ideas.
It’s difficult though when the musicians aren’t that good and the musical ability isn’t that sufficient so that I can sign my name under it and still be happy with it. Nowadays, there are a lot of possibilities though and you can do a lot, especially for singers. You can even make a screaming kitten sound like music.
I’m quite happy about that because in the past, where they just had a tape rolling and everything had to just right, I wouldn’t have enjoyed being a producer.
SV: Which production are you most proud of?
CW: My own albums for sure, because with ANNISOKAY I can decide everything myself. I don’t want to exclude my band, they are very active in everything as well, but concerning production and songwriting, everything is done by me. For the musical side, Benny Richter from Berlin helps me a lot, but I do the sound myself.
There is so much emotion, time and work invested in this that the things I do myself are the ones I can get most fully behind and of which I’m the proudest.
SV: Are there productions you wouldn’t do?
CW: I draw the red line with things that I can’t support politically. We had requests like that. I would never produce bands that claim to be right wing or that spread conspiracy theories.
Other than that, I’m always open-minded towards everything as long as it’s good. There is nothing musically I wouldn’t do as long as the bands want to work with me.
SV: Which project didn’t get the attention and recognition that you anticipated?
CW: I can answer that immediately! The band is called VON WELT. It was the very first production in this studio and I was also involved in the songwriting. The process lasted over a duration of two years, we invested a lot of energy and I loved every song. When they finally came to the studio, we took hours perfecting the sound and the final product was amazing and they simply didn’t get the hype that I had hoped for. That’s just how it. You never know why it turns out that way. At the time, they didn’t have a label, were talking with a lot of major labels and it rather dragged on and we’ll see how that turns out. Meanwhile, they’ve built quite the strong fanbase, but they were the first that came to my mind.
SV: What are you currently working on?
CW: Right now, I’m working on the new albums of CIRCUS OF FOOLS, AERIES, OCEANS and A LIFE DIVIDED. In addition, there is the mastering of the upcoming ELECTRIC CALLBOY album. I could say more since a lot of things are going on at the same time and there are some aren’t even public yet. What I already named is quite cool though!
SV: What kind of influence did the pandemic have on your work?
CW: I had two or three cancellations for productions I really wanted to do. One was enormously tragic and that was the production for CASKETS. It’s a band from the United Kingdom, for whom I’d previously only mixed some songs and who wanted to do a whole production with me. I was very excited about that because international productions are always cool, but in the summer of 2020 they couldn’t come here because of the situation back then. They made the album elsewhere and now they are in the selection for a Grammy nomination with one of their singles. That really sucks.
During the time, in which I lost the other two projects, I was eligible for the governmental relief fund which I got quite quickly, which isn’t always the case. From a financial standpoint, it therefore wasn’t a problem. I rather have the feeling that the great influence is yet to come. This year seem to be bit more relaxed. In the beginning of the pandemic, the time was used to write, but no band writes and produces music for more than two years. At some point, the album will be finished and then you have to go on tour. When everyone is on tour, it’s quite possible that the studio will be empty. That is my apprehension right now that this will happen to me.
SV: What is the best way to contact you for productions?
CW: There is a request button on our website where you can fill out a form and that is the best way. By doing that, I can roughly assess what it’s about. That makes it easy for all parties involved.
If you want to see more of Christoph after this interview, you can do soon at the upcoming ANNISOKAY tour that will commence soon. At this point, I can tell you that this was not the last interview from SAWDUST RECORDINGS that will await you here. So stay tuned, stay healthy and enjoy the beginning summer!