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Producer · Engineer · FOH
Jeff Larson
Jeff Larson
Jeff Larson
Jeff Larson

Jeff Larson

Jeff Larson

Singer, Songwriter and producer, Jeff Larson has worked with some of the coolest stars in music, including America, Jeffrey Foskett (Beach Boys) and Robert Lamm (Chicago). Jeff reveals what it's like work with these legends and why the Aston Halo and Spirit are his studio staples... 

Love for melodies and harmony

 I've always had the pull and love for melodies and harmony.  I grew up with a mix of pop, rock, soul, and a lot of experimentation of sounds.  Being somewhat of an introvert, music was an obvious go-to for expression.  So, picking up a guitar around 15 was key.  I started a band in high school, soon after doing my own songs and learned I could sing along the way. It’s been changing over the last 5 years, but I'm basically a singer/songwriter who like many today has drifted into the audio production side.  In my case I have been in studios since I was 17 but didn't start to get hands-on until around 2005. I still write and track as I always have, but I also help others in various areas of the release process.  These days artist an engineer/producer seems to fit.

For years it was a very basic tracking of vocals and guitar/piano and then taking it to larger studios to grow the production, but in 2007 I did a project with Gerry Beckley of America (Heart of the Valley) where I did something new, that was an album of covers - his songs.  The idea was an album like "Nilsson Sings Newman" where a songwriter covers another's work.  This was a learning experience in more ways than one - the key being the production process of Gerry's, which opened me up to ideas.  Then fast forward to 2015, Gerry asked me to take on organizing his old studio sessions which led to finding many of his tracks in various stages and unreleased America tracks from 1998-2010.

This was a learning experience in more ways than one

Along with the DAW-based sessions I started to work the mixes on, there were some finds of old analogue tapes of alternate mixes, demos, rehearsals, and even some multi-tracks. That lead to transfers to digital and then sorting those out, editing some things, but more or less being a custodian of a growing archives catalogue.  There has been two Gerry solo albums (Carousel - 2016, Five Mile Road -  2019)   I was involved in the mixing and production with both of those as well as some backing vocals.  The analogue tape finds has led to a flurry of America archive releases, those include Lost & Found (2015), Archives Vol 1 (2015), Heritage (Omnivore in 2016), some help with the current Rhino/Warner box set alternate tracks (2019), the second Archive release from Omnivore, Heritage II due Record Store Day 2020 on Vinyl/CD, and currently a larger box set due in late 2020 on Gonzo Multimedia (UK) titled “Half Century”.

He gave me a lot of confidence with my music

Most recently the new album, "Voices", I did for my friend Jeffrey Foskett (Beach Boys) on BMG.  I've worked closely with him the last 22 years now on many of my own projects and now some of his.  I am a huge fan of his voice, but even more of him as a friend.  The America archival work which continues to be a labor of Love.  In 2018 I did a couple projects as an Engineer - tracking/editing backing vocals, instruments with Nick Patrick producing - Those were the Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) projects.  Both went Gold and it was a joy to work these tracks and get to know their catalog's deeper.  I also helped on the Beach Boys with the RPO in early 2018.  As far as key solo releases on my side, Fragile Sunrise (JVC 2002) I did with Hank Linderman in Los Angeles and The Heart of the Valley project I mentioned earlier.

 

I should note a very early event... when I was about 18-19 I had a steady gig in San Francisco (Ghirardelli Wine Cellar) and through a friend I met producer Elliot Mazer (Neil Young's Harvest, The Last Waltz, Lightfoot, etc.) around this time - He heard my early demos and was into my songs and voice and took me under his wing for a year.  That taught me a lot about the realities of the music business.  I was invited to his house in S.F. a handful of times where I would just sit on his couch with my three-ring binder of songs and an acoustic guitar while he played Bass through a little Pignose amp.  He had a shelf of session reels there from projects he had worked - I remember seeing Neil Young "Homegrown" among others.  This was San Francisco in 1981 and the music business was going through hard times, video was entering in and everything seemed to be changing fast.  Anyway, he gave me a lot of confidence with my music which helped early on and then some.

I don't have an overly large set-up

I've been in technology since I was about 21-22 growing up in what now is the Silicon Valley.  I was working in tech and still doing music all along the way so the move to digital actually informed me well by the time I started working in today's formats.  My DAW is primarily ProTools. I am big on UAD products and that makes up the majority of my interfaces and outboard gear and I use Focal and Genelec monitors.  Being a singer, I do audition mics and have Neumann's, Telefunken's, Boutique models, some higher-end Blue mics, and of course Aston which I have been using mainly on acoustic guitars with the last project.  I don't have an overly large set-up.

I do a lot of work with others via servers - mainly for drums, horns, strings.  I was an early adopter of "satellite studio" approach.  Something is lost with the approach vs being in the same room with all the musicians, but much of that is made up for by choosing the right musicians with the right set-up and vision for what you are trying to accomplish.  By this time, I have a healthy team of people I can go to in L.A., Nashville, etc. With the economics on the backend being so poor these days, the ease of tracking makes up for some of that. For mixing, it is 90% in the box.  I am not a purist by any stretch from songwriting to the production process.

There is no serious compromise.

The Halo reflection filter which I preferred so much over a previous solution for home studios, kept me on watch for what else Aston would do, that is finding solutions.  The Aston Spirit is the one I first used and still do prefer that for acoustic guitars.  I was working with Jeffrey Foskett and tracking acoustics and I had it in the corner on a stand and we decided to give it a try - we were impressed with how it tracked a Gibson J45 on a couple songs and cut through all the layers that were eventually added.

 

I have The Aston Spirit and Origin.  I also still use the purple Halo reflection filter - it's a constant for home and remote use. The built-in pop-filter and solid build and design makes the Aston Spirit a great mobile go-to mic.  There is no serious compromise.  I tracked backing vocals in a hotel room in Huntington Beach a couple years back using the Sprit in a pinch and it did the job. 

 

A new solo album in finally nearing completion for next year

The America "Half Century" Box Set, a 7 CD, 1 DVD, a book of Memorabilia, etc.  This is part of their 50th Anniversary.  I have been working this on and off for over a year now.  There are some new song collaborations with Robert Lamm (Chicago) which has me working into some fresh music territory.  I recently completed working a new America song, "Remembering", that will be on the box set.  I continue to work on unreleased Gerry Beckley tracks for a "Best Of" his work being planned now.  Also, a new solo album in finally nearing completion for next year. 

 

I made it a point to write and track a song a week during the stay at home period due to the Pandemic - mainly to help keep it sane.  The upside being even more time with a guitar and the back and forth with fellow musicians.  I should note, in early 2019 I completed an album with Jeddrah (daughter of Timothy B Schmit / Eagles).  This is a unique collaboration of songs with our vocal blend.  I believe Vivid Sound Japan is releasing with a short tour to follow, but these are delayed now.

 

Outtakes and Credits

Q. Who are your favourite artists?
A. Heavy on the singer/songwriter side - The obvious ones such as the Beatles and the Beach Boys/Brian Wilson, Burt Bacharach (catalog of songs and artists), Neil Young, CSN - all three, Dylan of course, Nick Drake, Bruce Cockburn, Joni Mitchell, Los Lobos, Flaming Lips, REM, Any and all of the Thom Bell produced Philly Soul artists/groups, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, George Jones, NRBQ, Dusty Springfield, Elvis Costello, Staples Singers, Guster, Buddy Holly, Jayhawks, Grateful Dead, Iron & Wine, XTC, etc.

Q. If you weren’t working in music what would you be doing?
A. Something in the arts - I have an interest in the visual and I do draw and paint. 

Q. What would your fantasy mic be? (i.e. one that doesn’t exist!) What would you like to see Aston do next?  
A. I am not sure on the fantasy mic response, but I trust Aston will find a unique fit in the market – that cannot be easy these days, but this company has it together and utilizes technology well.  That said,  I wouldn’t mind seeing a tube mic from Aston down the line. 

Q. What are 4 words that you’d use to describe the Aston brand, or your experience with the brand?
A. Innovative, Progressive, Solid, Timely, Classy

Q. What was the first song that made you cry?
A. Likely it was something I heard and related to a broken heart.  So a love song… dare I say "Long, Long Time" by Linda Ronstadt – she kills that. Also, something like Paul Simon's "Frank Lloyd Wright" or "Bridge Over Troubled Water."  My parents had that Simon and Garfunkel album (and about 4 others...)  I have always been drawn to that sparse singer-songwriter approach that realizes something beyond the usual subject matter.  Songs that give off a “way of seeing” always provides some life-affirming reality.

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