In Conversation With Michael Phillip Wojewoda

 

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Michael Phillip Wojewoda began recording bands in the basement of his mother’s beauty salon with a Sony 250 reel-to-reel purloined from his catholic grade school AV department, and a Candle stereo system with an 8-track cartridge recorder.

Thirty years into the game, Wojewoda is still capturing that raw authenticity of sound, and in so doing has been instrumental in shaping the careers of some of Canada’s finest talent, contributing largely to the unique voice of Canadian music.

A multiple Juno Award-winning producer and recording engineer, Wojewoda is a self-professed people person whose compelling sonic stylings have attracted an eclectic stable of northern heavyweights from the Barenaked Ladies to Jane Siberry, Ashley MacIsaac, Great Big Sea, and Spirit of the West.

With over 120 albums to his credit, Wojewoda has been behind the boards for a diverse collection of critically and commercially successful records including the Doughboy’s Happy Accidents (1990); Change of Heart’s Smile (1992); Spirit of the West’s Faithlift (1993); the Rheostatics’ Whale Music (1992), Introducing Happiness (1994), and The Story of Harmelodia (1999); Ashley MacIsaac’s Hi, How are You? (1995); and the Barenaked Ladies’ multimillion-selling debut, Gordon (1992), as well as their American breakthrough live album, Rock Spectacle (1997), and Snacktime! (2008).

Wojewoda also produced and mixed the theme song for the hit show, Big Bang Theory, with the Barenaked Ladies.

An accomplished musician in his own right, Wojewoda played drums for the Rheostatics from 2001 – 2007.

In the last five years, Michael has strategically repositioned his career toward mixing other people’s work, reaching in the box to more easily achieve the kind of results formally reserved for hardware.

Wojewoda’s more recent work includes sessions with Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Alex Lifeson and Anvil.

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When he’s not in his Toronto-based studio, affectionately known as “The Pit,” Wojewoda can be found riding his motorcycle across exotic lands.

 


When did you start recording bands?I started recording in 1977. I borrowed a Sony 250 reel to reel from the AV department of my Catholic school, and through some blurring of their administration managed to keep it. They used to administer corporal punishment so vigorously over there, that I felt it was a small compensation!So I started on the Sony reel to reel with a stereo system made by a company called Candle, which had an 8-track cartridge recorder. This is the rig I learned how to overdub on, and I used it to record my first band in the basement of my Mom’s beauty salon.Did you go to school for engineering?No!

For many years you have been primarily known as an engineer and producer on projects. Do you find yourself mixing more frequently?

For years I would only occasionally mix other people’s projects, but in the last 5 years I have been rebranding myself as a mixer. Mixing has become a lot less cumbersome and time consuming in some ways, and the ability to tweak mixes relatively quickly has allowed me to develop a very streamlined way of working.

I’m really happy that I waited so long to commit to going this direction. I’m thrilled that the UAD plugs have given me the ability to recreate my memory of what the hardware sounds like. Having had years of practical experience with the hardware I’m able to make decisions quickly knowing the UAD plugins sound so good!

Have the UAD plugins affected your creativity as a mixer?

Yes. The ability to mix and match virtual vintage processors with complete automation lets me start using the plugins as vibe shaping tools beyond their original intent. For instance, I might change the threshold of the LA-2A compressor as a kind of vocal riding technique instead of using the fader. It has a very different sound. Another technique might be adjusting reverb or tape echo parameters in real-time during mixes. Real-time EQ moves are now standard for me as well. I find I will solve more technical problems with dynamic automation moves within the plugins. Basically I use those plugins as choreographed mix options.

When you mix, do you find yourself setting up “classic” chains of plugins?

I’ve mixed a number of projects where I build up my plugin chain based entirely on a classic console or a classic sounding signal path, but inevitably what I like to do is mix and match plugins. It’s a great feeling being able to create these impossible complex chains. In the end, when you close your eyes, it doesn’t really matter how you obtain the final result. There’s a great non-linear “thing” that happens to the signal flow that can be really appealing.

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Do you have any specific examples of mixing and matching when you mix?

Sure. I may listen to a sound source and then call up many different compressors, one at a time till I find one that perfectly suits that sound in that song. Compressors even with the same settings all sound so different and have their own personality. I may call up a similar source sound and decide to use a different compressor. The same thing applies for EQ strips. It is not unusual for a mix to use Helios, Trident, Neve, Manley and API all side by side. The results are mixes that don’t sound like they come from one console but an exotic blend. It can make the mixes sound very colourful. Of course, sometimes it’s best to use the same channel strip and simulate one console. It’s nice to use the Studer tape plugin, yet change the tape type, speed or bias on individual tracks.

Are there UA plugins that you instinctively reach for when you work?

I really like to audition all of the plugs to find what I feel is appropriate for the job. I think the Precision Multiband is fantastic! I’m a huge advocate of dynamic EQing as a problem solver in a mix. Of course, the EMT 140, EMT 250, and the Lexicon 224 are used

More frequently my “go to” plugins are ones that I would use on the output side of things. The BX EQ, in particular, I really like to use to help me shape a mix. Mostly my desire is to bring back the memory of what makes vinyl “vinyl”. The BX has a “sum to mono” feature that helps bring that certain classic “vinyl” sound into a mix.

Do you ever make a decision to mix “in the box” based on the constraints of a given project budget?

There was a time when an “in the box” mix was definitely due to budget constraints, but there has come a point, in terms of the sophistication of plugins software where mixing in the box isn’t necessarily a second choice, but can be a more aesthetically appropriate choice for a mix. The UA plugins are at that level where it doesn’t feel like a compromise at all.

Are there any projects you can mention specifically where UA hardware or software has played an integral roll in the final product?

On the hardware side, there isn’t a project that some piece of UA gear, reissue or UREI original doesn’t get used.

On the software side, once I acquired the PCIe cards and software I have never looked back. They are used on everything I do.

interview by Natale Ghent

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