Producer Spotlight: Ryan Greene…
During the “Punk Spring” of the 1990s a few major players arose from the grimy and raw culture of a tattered scene of misfits and hooligans. They portray profound potential as professional musicians with only record stores and stages as outlets to caution the personal risks of social consistency. Bands from Fat Wreck Chords and Epitaph Records hooked many others and myself with Survival of the Fattest to Punk-O-Rama and are still making music today. And many players worked with renowned producer Ryan Greene at one point.
The sound of California punk rock made a global impact during the last decade of the millennium and it was not by chance. NOFX, Lagwagon, Propagandhi, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, No Use for a Name, Good Riddance, Strung Out, Swingin’ Utters, and other punk bands exhibited a dramatic increase in ability and audio quality throughout their respectful careers.
Groups have since made a singular effort to schedule time with a man who helped punk rock become a staple in everyday life. Ryan helped bring a more professional and clean sound to a genre known for breaking the rules of recording, music, lyrics, and lifestyle in general.
Listen: NOFX – The Decline
Ryan’s Career In The Music Industry…
Ryan Greene began working with live music when he was 15-years-old while playing drums in local Los Angeles bands. He landed the front of house gig at the legendary Troubadour in West Hollywood two weeks after graduating high school and obtained a position with MCA Music Publishing at age 19. By the time he was 20 he became the youngest 1st engineer the company has ever had.
By 1988 Ryan Greene became chief engineer at EMI Music Publishing and already amassed a resume that included time with Patty LaBelle, Gladys Knight, Chris Trainer (Bush), Johnny Tempesta (The Cult), and writer/producers Glenn Ballard, Desmond Child, and Diane Warren.
He engineered all of the pre-production for Megadeth’s Countdown to Extinction, which became certified double platinum. Ryan says it was incredible sitting two feet away from guitarist Dave Mustaine and watching how perfect every note was, “It doesn’t matter how fast the solo is he could hear the smallest error, he has a great set of ears.”
His ability to connect with various personalities earned him the respect of a wide range of artists. Greene seems to feed off of over-the-top musicians, believing the more out of the box an artist is, the more creative the art becomes. “You don’t want to work with somebody whose personality is one of a banker, right?”
Ryan doesn’t believe artists should change their personality in order to try and fit in the industry because at the end of the day everybody just has to be who they are. Ryan creates a comfortable environment so artists “don’t feel like they have to hold back with anything; that includes how they present themselves, how they play, and how they talk.”
Rather than controlling the situation in the studio, Ryan creates the atmosphere that fosters creativity so bands can be everything they need to be. Prior to recording, Ryan likes to watch the band play live. “It helps me determine what may be the best way to achieve the sound we are collectively looking for.”
Knowing nothing of the modern punk sound, Greene worked with Bad Religion on three songs prior to the release of 1994’s Stranger than Fiction.
“(vocalist) Greg Graffin wasn’t present at the session so (guitarist) Brett Gurewitz sang the three songs and he sounded great.” Gurewitz, founder of Epitaph Records and Bad Religion, told him it was the best-sounding thing his band has ever done to date and asked if he did records out side of EMI, having one specific punk band in mind.
Brett introduced Ryan to bassist/vocalist Fat Mike of NOFX for production on what would later become the best-selling record with Punk In Drublic, becoming certified Gold.
How Ryan Got Fat
NOFX and Ryan joined forces and began a musical journey that would be instrumental in defining the skater punk-rock sound of a decade chock full of albums played on tape decks and CD players at the beach, on skate ramps, and in video games before iTunes was even a thought.
NOFX guitarist Aaron “El Hefe” Abeya says Ryan is “a straight shooter, smart, and good at what he does. We learned a lot from him.”
During a discussion with vocalist Joey Cape of Lagwagon, as if a punk rock angel was listening in on our conversation, NOFX’s song “Linoleum” began to blare at the bar and The Caper said “I think this was the record where Ryan met Fat Mike. Mike was all, ‘I’ve got the guy’ and that was it.”
While still working at EMI, Ryan and Fat Mike formed Motor Studios and barely took any time off for the next few years. In 1996 alone, Ryan produced:
Hefe told The Pier, Ryan works really fast while remaining anal, well organized, and “more meticulous than other producers we have worked with. He really knows his stuff.”
Ryan practically planned each moment of the day preparing the room with everything they would need. Microphones, guitars, bass, drums were ready in case he heard something he wanted to re-do. El Hefe was impressed the group could do “what we want, whenever we want!”
“He has as a unique style in the way that he makes records,” explained Joey Cape. “I don’t know his process… I know a little bit about his process from working with him a bunch, but he might have been a little secretive about things.”
To say Ryan Greene has a good work ethic would be a significant understatement. He was able to fill his schedule with recording sessions for up to 17 hours a day, 7 days a week.
“There were no days off” Greene remembers, “There was a span of time where I worked every single day; Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Years Eve, New Years Day, my birthday, Thanksgiving… I’m telling you it was every single day for a year and a half.”
Greene’s routine involved waking up, showering, walking to the studio, working, taking a trip to the coffee shop, more work, home, rinse, repeat.
“I didn’t even walk into a grocery store for a year and a half.” His only break came when Fat Mike brought him to O’ahu, Hawai’i for the Big Mele Festival in 1997 with 311, Wu Tang Clan, and Save Ferris.
Ryan’s Studio Antics…
Working nine to five in a cubicle, golfing on Saturdays, taking the boat out on the lake, hosting dinner parties, and living a life outside of the studio were never in the cards for Ryan. “Those are things I know nothing about.”
Strung Out guitarist Rob Ramos recalled his studio time with Greene as being “such a fun environment” for “whoever is around those sessions. We’re just laughing all day. He’s so easy going and everyone’s comfortable.”
Rob also remembers Ryan’s recording habits, “He eats a lot of cookies. If there’s a batch of cookies and he walks by he just has to eat a cookie. That man loves his chocolate chip.”
During the Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues sessions drummer Jordan Burns, Joe Dougherty of Jughead’s Revenge, singer/painter Jason Cruz, and Ramos were tracking a vocal chant for “Bring Out Your Dead” and Ryan decided to have some fun with the group…
With former Strung Out bassist Jim Cherry in the control room next to him, Ryan said he wanted a lower sound and told the guys to crouch down…
They recorded the track and Ryan said he wasn’t satisfied. He went back into the room with the guys crouched down and told them they needed to get lower to the ground in order to hit the right pitch. “They liked it so much they did the rest of the vocals like that,” shared Ryan.
Ramos told The Pier, “Ryan had us on our hands and knees yelling into the carpet because he said the sound would bounce off the floor. He was in there laughing his ass off. Joe (Dougherty) had more experience than any of us, but he didn’t catch on either.”
“He didn’t make us chant into the floor, anything like that,” laughed Hefe, although he would pretend to delete takes or tell them he accidentally lost the whole day’s session before leaving for the night.
Ryan remembers debating with Fat Mike on which tracks to keep and which ones to re-record. When Mike was satisfied with one that Ryan wanted to redo he would hit record, effectively erasing the previous recording.
The time spent with Ryan had an obvious effect on Swingin’ Utters’ Johnny Bonnel and Darius Koski who just let out a big sigh when I mentioned their long time friend and producer. I wondered if they could think of some stand out moments from their sessions with Greene and both of them only spoke of how much they learned…
“He was a consultant, a psychiatrist, an idealist, and a realist,” Strung Out’s award-winning drummer Jordan Burns told The Pier. “The camaraderie was insane at times. The drilling of creating the drums to all the proper drum parts was really intense. A lot of times Ryan was coming in as a mediator. He would come in and say, ‘that is not a Jordan Burns beat, anybody can play that’ and ‘no, you’re not doing it.”
According to Greene, Burns is “one of the most solid and even drummers” he worked with during the Fat years, while Dave Raun from Lagwagon is “the most powerful and very creative.” Eric Sandin of NOFX “has the best foot in the business and the most relaxed player… People would think that we would run drum samples on him and it was, ‘Have you heard him play live?’”
One of Ryan’s only performance credits was an acoustic split album with Joey Cape and No Use for a Name’s Tony Sly in 2004. Sly wanted to have a drumbeat on one song of the raw recording, but felt adding an entire drum kit was unnecessary.
“Is there any way that we can do drums, but have them not be drums? Different sounds?” Tony asked. “How about if our [tapping] foot is the kick drum and our stomach is the snare?” Greene suggested.
“I went out into the room and I mic’d up my foot and did different hits of me just tapping the floor. And it’s really funny because it sounds like [a Roland TR-808]… on steroids. I tried tapping on my stomach for the snare drum and it didn’t sound good, so then Tony went in there and tapped his stomach and it was the sound. So it’s my foot and Tony’s stomach on one song.”
Joey remembers painstakingly recording over and over until Greene heard the perfect sound, “you hear the record when it’s done and everything sounds so fuckin’ good. He’s definitely exceptional. Really clean, really punchy records where you can hear every instrument. That’s not true for most people.”
“Sometimes its just experimentation, sometimes it just works,” Ryan told me. With some players, “there is no chord or pick in the world that is going to help their playing.” Some people are just naturals. Luke Pabich of Good Riddance came to mind.
“If you ever notice him playing, he plays hard but his guitar is always in tune. That is called technique.” Ryan says some aggressive guitar players will improve their sound by simply loosening their grip on the guitar.
Within all of the chaos Ryan got to know a side of the bands that those of us in the crowd can only imagine; a pure and honest side that exists beyond the stage, studio and music venue. His contribution to the punk scene can be measured in the relationships he developed.
“I’m excited that I could be apart of something, you know, I think Mike and I made a great team. We did a lot together.”
Ryan Greene Continues to Produce…
As of August 2014 Greene has made the commitment to only work for 10 hours a day and 6 days a week. Sometimes he does not know what to do with the little time off. Even as he continued the interview he sat in his car right outside the studio on his day off.
All of the punk rock veterans are still at the top of their game and use Ryan as a valuable resource. Strung Out utilized Ryan’s Los Angeles studio to record their latest record, Transmission.Alpha.Delta and Ryan says he stopped by for moral support. Burns has a different description of Ryan’s role.
“There were times when I was mentally falling apart and breaking down, almost in tears. It was really cool that he was able to let us create at his studio, wanting to be a part of the creativity. That’s why he has credit on the album; I think it says ‘Psychiatrist’.”
Many of the same groups trust Ryan to produce quality records years later. He is currently working with Implants &
Ryan recently finished recording a band called Slow Motion Celebrity. “This band is so good. The singer is kind of a cross between Alanis Morissette and Christina Aguilera. She has all the chops.”
Ryan Green is currently mixing a project for Megadeth bass player David Ellefson. A song he produced for The Chimpz was aired in final season of Sons of Anarchy and Greene has nothing but good things to say about Chester Rushing. He recently returned from Japan after recoding NAMBA69, with members of Fat Wreck Chords alumni Hi-Standard.
Fat Mike recently commissioned Ryan for a few tracks on the soundtrack to his musical entitled Home Street Home.
Music lovers of any style can find a Ryan Greene album that fits their taste from R&B to heavy metal. His keen ability to recognize a sound a group wants to convey makes him an artist’s dream producer. His cool, calm, collect demeanor with a knack for understanding countless personality types has changed the way we listen to at least one scene forever. To Ryan, it’s just another day at the office.
[Related: Home Street Home with Old Man Markley]
Mail complaints to:
Fat Wreck Chords
C/O Fat Mike
2196 Palou Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94124
Article by: Blake Taylor
Photos by: Ryan Greene and David Norris