Interview with Steve Tushar - (April 1, 2011)
Steve Tushar is a Latin Grammy-nominated music producer and musician best known among Kevin Moore fans for his work on Chroma Key's 2000 album, You Go Now. Tushar and Moore have also collaborated on projects ranging from Carbon 12 to a Metallica tribute album. In addition, he's served as sound editor on several popular movies and remixed songs by Fates Warning and Dream Theater.
Q: How and when did you get involved in the music industry? Where did you study and what were some of your early jobs?
ST: I came to Los Angeles out of recording school in 1990. I was a guitar player and then around 1993, when I was working at one of Stevie Wonder's studios, I discovered [Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI)] and drum machines and realized I could make more noise with synths and samplers then I could on guitar.
A friend of mine heard what I was doing and told me it was very industrial sounding and gave me a Ministry and Skinny Puppy record to check out, and it changed everything for me.
Q: How did you and Kevin first cross paths? Was there natural chemistry between the two of you?
ST: My roommate back then was the second engineer on the last Dream Theater record that Kevin was involved with and told Kevin about me and that I'd like to take a shot at remixing a track. I actually did one that was never released for legal reasons that we don't need to get into here. I went to play it for Kevin at the studio and when it finished he jumped up as said: "I love it! Make me some copies of it!"
He then asked what I did it with and I told him it was all done with a Kurzweil K2000RS for the most part. He ended up buying one a few months later and we stayed in touch because of that.
Q: Were you familiar with Kevin's playing when you met him? What was your opinion of his keyboard work with Dream Theater? Any favorite songs from those albums?
ST: The first time I heard Dream Theater was when I lived in Florida. I was really into stuff like Fates Warning when I was 17 years old, so I was happy to find a similar band. I couldn't even tell you the name of any of the tracks off the first record. Too long ago. Hehehe.
Once I moved to Los Angeles, I was shocked to hear them on KROQ 106.7 FM with their second record since no progressive metal bands ever hit the radio in the past. I dug a lot of that record.
Q: Most Kevin Moore fans recognize your name from Chroma Key's second album, You Go Now, released in 2000. But you were also involved in the debut album, Dead Air For Radios, in 1998. What was your role with that album?
ST: I did a lot of the programming on Dead Air For Radios and also mixed it. Pretty much anything over distorted and Nine Inch Nails sounding was most likely coming out of my K2000RS, like all that crazy noise in the backround on "America the Video."
Kevin asked me to do the programming at first. He didn't like how the mixes of the record were coming out from the engineer, so he asked me to mix it as well. "Camera 4" was actually a Carbon 12 track I was working on that Kevin heard and showed me some vocal samples he recorded. We thought it would be cool to put them on top of the track and put it on Dead Air For Radios. "Hell Mary" was to same type of thing.
Q: What were your contributions to Yo Go Now?
ST: For this record, I produced, co-wrote, engineered and mixed it at a loft Kevin rented in Chinatown Los Angeles. I also did the majority of the programming, some keys/synths and a tiny bit of guitar.
Q: What was the writing process like on that album? Would you and Kevin get in a room and jam or did you individually present song ideas to each other?
ST: This record we actually collaborated more than on Dead Air For Radios. Instead of having completely written songs to work with, Kevin would just have a piano part that he would show me. Most of the time he would come up with some cool parts during the day. I'd come into the studio to check out what he did and then work all night on drum programming and other keyboard parts and then hand it back off to him in the morning. We both work best by ourselves like mad scientists. Once the foundation was there he'd do vocals and then we'd both sit together until we finished it.
Other tracks I started with some dark crazy noise and drums and he would come in and put some great piano part over top to glue it all together.
Q: Did you or Kevin have any unique habits when writing or recording a song?
ST: I can only write with my shoes off for some reason! Hehehe.
Q: Is there any particular song or moment in You Go Now that really has Steve Tushar's stamp on it? Which song are you most proud of?
ST: The one that is the most Steve Tushar on that record is "When You Drive." If it's dark and eerie, you can bet money that it's my handy work. I love the big thundering Moog bass line. From the sound of the drums, I must have been listening to a lot of DJ Shadow at that time. Hehehehe.
Q: Describe your musical approach and thoughts on certain songs. First, "Get Back in the Car"?
ST: That track Kevin showed me the piano parts he had. I started programming the drums and then he layed down the vocals. Not sure if I added the dark ambiances and samples before or after the vocals. The contrast between Kevin's pretty melodies with underlying darkness is what really sets it apart and gives Chroma Key its trademark sound. This song is textbook Chroma Key.
Q: "Another Permanent Address"?
ST: Pretty much the same process as "Get Back in the Car" for this one. I'm most proud of the broken piano sound. I wish I had that patch still. I think I made it by running the Yamaha CP70 through the Waldorf D-Pole plug-in.
ST: I believe that song was almost 100% musically Kevin, including the drums. I just brought in production ideas and mixed that one with him.
Q: "Astronaut Down"?
ST: That was all about drum programming and production on that one for me. From the sound of it, I believe I might have programmed the drums first and handed that off to Kevin. Could be wrong since it was a long time ago, but that one seems drum driven, and I know we worked in that order on a few tracks so I'm guessing that was one of them.
Q: What is your opinion of Kevin's vocals and singing style? What makes it so appealing?
ST: His tone reminds me of Ian Brown. Well, actually I never heard Ian Brown till about four years ago and thought he sounded like Kevin. Both have this cool airy angelic tone.
Q: What do you think of Kevin's lyrics?
ST: I like how you really follow the story as you listen and not just words. I can only think of three other bands that do the same for me. I usually can care less about lyrics and only listen to the melodies, but Kevin's really grab your attention and make you want to follow the story.
Q: In 1998, Kevin collaborated with you on a track for The Blackest Album (An Industrial Tribute to Metallica). How did the opportunity to appear on that album surface? Why was that something you wanted to do and what kind of feedback did you get on the song?
ST: I got asked to do a track, and since I was over doing guitar solos at that point in my career, I thought a synth solo would make more sense. Since my synth playing isn't nearly as good as my guitar playing, I showed it to Kevin when we were hanging out. I just got a Memorymoog that Kevin wanted to check out, so I ran it through a Randall guitar amplifier. Kevin made a patch, and I told him to mock Kirk Hammett's solo in almost a comic joke way. I rolled tape and the second take was the keeper. It was perfect! He nailed it!
Q: In 1999, Kevin was a guest keyboardist on your song "Nonsense & Numerology," which appeared on Carbon 12's Very Harsh Frequencies CD. How would you describe his work on that song?
ST: I wrote that song as a replacement to "Camera 4," since I needed that flavor on the Carbon 12 record still. We did a bit of roll reversal on that one. Normally, it's Kevin doing the pretty melodies and me doing the two-note dark pads. This time, Kevin did the two-note dark pad and I did the melody. Kevin also gave me the vocals samples.
You'll notice a few of the same were also used on the end of "Colorblind." Recycling samples is good for the environment (kidding).
Q: In 2000, you were credited on Fates Warning’s Disconnected album with handling the record's "sequences and noise." What was your role with that album and how did the opportunity come about to get involved? Being a Fates Warning fan growing up, how exciting was that experience for you?
ST: I used to listen to them all the time when I was 17-22 years old, when I played guitar before I got into synths and samplers and went the programmer route. I met Ray [Alder] and Frank [Aresti] in Los Angeles at the Whisky A Go Go, and we started hanging out after that a bit. Then a few years later, Mark [Zonder] and Jim [Matheos] asked me to do a remix of "A Pleasant Shade of Gray." That was one of my first remixes I ever did, so it was really cool that it was of a band I grew up listening to and I could bring together my new love of synths and electronics with my original love of progressive metal.
Q: In 2008, Kevin provided lyrics and vocals to "Periscope," a song on your Oscillate album. Did you give him total freedom to do what he wanted? What is your opinion of what he created?
ST: It came out great! I love what he did! When I wrote it, it just sounded like a Chroma Key track, so I called up Kevin to see if he wanted to lay down some vocals for old time sake. I just wanted to do a record with all my friends on it.
Q: You are also known for your remixes of songs by bands including Korn, Fear Factory, Megadeth and Puddle of Mudd. How do you choose what songs you want to remix and what is your remixing strategy? Any particular remixes that you are most proud of?
ST: Every song is different. I usually take all the tracks and start making 1-2 bar loops of all the cool parts and then start rearranging them in different orders until I stumble on something cool for the foundation. I'm proud of the remix I did for Korn's "Somebody Someone," because it was originally in three different tempos and I stretched all the parts and made them one and interchanged them. I really butchered the track and made a new song.
Q: For the last 10 years, you've also worked as a sound designer and editor for a number of well-known movies and video games from "Jimmy Neutron" to "Coraline." What does that job entail and why do you like it? Any particular movies that you are most proud of?
ST: It's basically sitting in a room making noise all day. I was super excited to work with David Lynch on "Inland Empire."
Q: Getting back to Kevin, have you followed his work in recent years with OSI? What is your opinion of it? Any favorite songs?
ST: He sent me the Blood album, and I played it nonstop in my car for about three weeks. The first song shocked me, because I never heard Kevin sing on such a heavy track, but I liked it!
Q: Do the two of you have any plans to work together again in the future?
ST: We are talking of maybe doing a Chroma Key EP if our schedules align. It would be fun. "Periscope" would go on it, if it happens.
We talk about every two months. Maybe in the spring we will churn something out. Can't say for sure yet. We both really want to do another record for sure. Technology has jumped light years from the toys we had on the first two records, so I would be fun to do something together with the studio I have now. Hell, we didn't even have automation on Dead Air For Radios. Kevin and I would have to practice the fader and mute moves and mix it down over and over till we nailed all the moves with 10 fingers each on the mixing console. LOL.
Q: Tell me something about Kevin that most people might not realize.
ST: He's really not dead. Hehehe.
Q: What other projects are you working on right now?
ST: Just finished doing sound effects and creature sound design for the new Harry Potter video game, "The Deathy Hollows Part I," and a remix for Bunny (Rabbit in the Moon frontman) for his new project just called RABBIT. Just played a show with him down in Brazil last week so we will probably go into the studio soon and start making some new tracks in the next few months.
I will also be going back in the studio with latin rocker Beto Cuevas. I produced his last record that was nominated for a Latin Grammy in 2009. We didn't win so we are going back in the studio with a vengeance and aiming for 2011. Never thought I'd be Grammy nominated for anything coming from such a brutal industrial background. It's pretty crazy!
Q: What's in your CD player or iPod right now?
ST: I have a Zune HD actually. It makes an iPod seem like a complete toy! It has such an amazing user interface on both the player and software.
I love that new Alice in Chains record. Also, I've been listening to bands like Pendulum, UNKLE, Pusifer, Datarock, Peaches, MGMT, Does it Offend You, Yeah?, always anything with Mike Patton, and my good buddies The Crystal Method's new record.
Q: Where can fans learn more about your work or purchase your albums?
ST: My websites are www.stevetushar.com and www.myspace.com/stevetusharmusic.