I got a chance to talk to Stu McKillop, lead singer of Youth Decay, guitarist for Daggermouth and prolific producer at Rain City Recorders in Vancouver, British Columbia. We talked about his bands, recording, the Canadian music scene and more.
Check it out below.
Hey, how’s it going?
Good. How are you?
Great. I haven’t been up to much today. Just looking forward to this! What have you been doing?
Just stuck working on the computer all day. I’m finishing up a guy’s solo album. He had a bunch of changes to do. Next I have Witch Doctor that I have to start working on. They’re a really hardcore kind of band.
I could guess from the name. (Laughs) You’ve been producing music for 15 years. How’d you get started doing that?
Just wanting to record my own bands in the basement. That’s what got me started. I ended up being Jesse Ganders studio rat for a while. I’d clean up, stay late at the studio. I’d work at Long & McQuade, the music store during the day. I’d work night and day and sleep a little bit in between. I learned from Jesse and reading books. I didn’t do any schooling or anything like that. It’s better to learn for real. You can only learn so much in school.
You have your own recording studio called Rain City Recorders in Vancouver. Can you tell me a little about that?
Yeah, it’s the third one we moved too I think. It started at The Hive in Bartonville with Colin and Jesse. Then we moved to Mt. Pleasant. It was a smaller studio. Then the guys at Greenhouse offered us their big studio A. Nickelback, 54-40, huge Canadian rocker bands like that go there. It’s a super big nice studio. We couldn’t say no to the deal so we moved over there. It’s awesome. We’ve got a big Neve console. It’s good stuff. Now we’re making punk records in a place where they made all this super expensive cock rock. (Laughs) Now we make crazy punk albums in there.
Well if Nickelback is involved, how could you possibly say no to that? The ghost of Nickelback is going to haunt you now. (laughs)
No, Avril Lavigne can come haunt us.
I don’t know. If you’re a skater boy, she might have to say see you later boy. (Laughs)
No way! (Laughs)
Sorry, I had to. You left that door wide open!)
I did! You know in Japan, their favorite artist in the world is freaking Avril Lavigne. When I went to Japan they had Avril Lavigne t-shirts everywhere!
I know Japan loves punk rock too though because punk bands love to tour there like The Vandals and NOFX.
Yeah, Comeback Kid and Misery Signals are over there right now.
Who influenced your production style most? I know when we last talked you mentioned Jerry Finn who produced (Green Day, Blink 182 and Alkaline Trio), Mark Trombino (Jimmy Eat World, Knapsack) and Steve Evetts (Saves the Day, Snapcase, Such Gold.)
I like those guys style because it sounds polished and clean but it still sounds like human beings playing the instruments. It’s not all processed to death sounding like dudes in tight black pants and keyboards, ya know? It sounds real. Even the new Green Day sounds like a real band. It doesn’t sound fake to me.
Which you can’t say for the new Blink. What the heck?
Yeah, the auto-tune is wild on that record. It’s very clear, but it’s missed like a pop vocal record. The vocals are so loud and the guitars are so quiet on it. It sounds good on ear buds and stuff. To each his own. The vocals are auto-tuned like crazy and they’re super fucking loud though.
It’s so weird. Every space is filled with na na nas or something. There’s no space between notes or the instrumentation.
Yeah, it’s constantly going. There’s no lulls in the record.
Which is funny because it’s not even a fast record. There’s some fast ones, but it’s not like a fast skate punk rock or something. Can you tell me about the studio and what your approach is when recording / producing bands is?
Yeah, if I’m recording a real punk band, I’m not going to trigger and edit the piss out of it. If it’s supposed to sound shiny and new though, I’m going to edit the drums. It just depends. I just try to make it sound real.
I’ve heard that term before. What does trigger mean?
Like on Facebook, “I’m so triggered.” (throws up hands and laughs) Yeah, no. With kicks and snares you can sometimes layer another snare that doesn’t have all the cymbal wash and stuff. So like say if you listen to a Pantera record, the kick drum is completely triggered or Metallica. You know like that hard snap? Those are overdone triggers. That’s how I could explain how not to do it. Or listen to Attack Attack or those mall metalcore bands.
I’d rather not listen to Attack Attack. (Laughs)
Yeah, exactly (laughs) I get asked to record bands like that so I get asked to check out that stuff. I’m well versed in mall metal.
Oh no! Do you ever get bummed? A part of you that dies a little bit? Like “Ugh, I don’t want to record this!”
Nah, I want to give people what they want. I’d rather record that than work at the grocery store. Any kind of music, really.
You have a good attitude.
Yeah, I try to. You have to or you’ll go broke.
Do you ever get jaded listening to punk bands all day? When you’re listening to music on your own are you like, “I don’t want to listen to any of this?”
I don’t listen to music very much any more for pleasure. I’ll put on music if I have a day off or something. I’ll put on Green Day or Guns N Roses. I don’t set out to find new bands or anything like that. I don’t have the patience. I like what I like already. Like 90’s hip hop. There’s enough Run the Jewels albums coming out.
Yes, I can’t wait for new Run the Jewels album.
Yeah, EL P is always good. His first album with Company Flow was great, his first group is great. It’s one of my favorites. Definitely check out Funcrusher Plus. I like that new Run the Jewels song in 6/8 time. It has a weird feel. Hip-hop is usually 4/4.
You produced Living With Lions, Hextalls, Carpenter What are your favorite bands to have produced?
Yeah, Carpenter. I always enjoy recording those guys. Living With Lions is awesome. The new record is going to be really good. It’s back to fast and fun. It’s still like the bouncy, typical Living With Lions feel, but a lot of new fast, good shit. The transitions between parts and writing is a lot better. It’s going to be a very good record. I’m very excited for it. We just finished tracking it. I’ve got to mix it in early 2016, like January.
That’s awesome you’ll have to send it to me. I’m excited about it. I think it’s gonna be great.
Yeah, you’ll have to ask Chase first, but I’m sure he will. A Textbook Tragedy is another one I had a lot of fun recording.
Yeah? I don’t think I know of that band.
They’re an old early 2000’s metalcore band. The drummer plays in a new band called Baptists now.
Oh, on New Damage Records?
No, they’re on Southern Lord. A Textbook Tragedy was on Distort which was Alexisonfire’s label.
Oh, the same label as Cancer Bats! Let’s talk about the latest band you’re in called Youth Decay. I love you’re band so much, dude. It’s so good. I can’t wait for y’all to come down here.
Thank you. That rules. I’d love to come down next year maybe for FEST.
Yeah, I got to go last year. My friends crowd funded it. It was so awesome. I got to see Bigwig!
Oh Bigwig! That’s old school. That’s awesome!
Yeah, they’re working on a new record, but it’s gonna take forever. (Laughs)
There’s new Fullblast on the way too!
Oh really? Wow! Man you guys have so many good bands.
That’s because it’s too fucking cold and we’ve got nothing else to do. Yeah, the entire city of Winnipeg are all really good at punk rock.
What are some of your favorite bands or newer bands people should know about?
Propagandhi are the punk gods of Canada. SNFU, Bad Words, Bad Words sounds like Kerplunk era Green Day!
Yes! Now I get to talk to someone about Green Day. I’m a huge Green Day nerd.
I love Green Day. They were my favorite band when I was a kid. Still are. I can’t listen to any of the new shit. It’s not so good.
Yeah, I know, right? I tried to listen to the new album. There’s a couple songs I like, but it’s just not the same. Insomniac is my favorite Green Day record.
Nice. I like Insomniac too. It’s the dark album. I like it.
It’s overlooked because it’s right after Dookie.
I didn’t mind Uno of those Uno Dos Tres records. The Uno one kinda had a Kerplunk vibe. I don’t know I don’t listen to music in the same way as other people anymore. It’s hard to listen to music. You’re not listening to music for pleasure. You’re just analyzing everything.
You’re thinking of it mathematically and analytically rather than for pleasure.
Exactly, I have to figure out what the fuck is going on rather than enjoying it.
Well, that’s cool. That’s interesting though because your brain is wired differently.
It will happen eventually as you keep on doing it.
What’s your favorite Green Day record?
That’s everyone’s favorite.
I like Kerplunk a lot too though. Insomniac. I like them all pretty much. I know them word for word.
I like Kerplunk but wish it had been recorded differently because it was recorded fast.
It’s really early and harsh sounding. It sound like Cheshire Cat. Same kind of harsh vibe going on.
Yeah, on Kerplunk, you can hear a toilet flushing in the background. You’re like, “Wh-what?”
Yeah, I’ve mic’d a toilet before. (Laughs)
Oh yeah, I’ve opened up the toilet down the hall and stuck a mic in the toilet.
I d0n’t know. Just to try it. (laughs)
Let’s talk about the latest band you’re in called Youth Decay. You released “The Party’s Over” in 2015. I love it because it’s a combination of pop-punk, skate punk and melodic hardcore. There’s poppy elements, fast skate punk beats and cool break downs. It blends so well together.
We do whatever the fuck we want and that’s what came out. I think the next album will be a lot faster. Less of the pop stuff and more of the fast stuff.
What was it like recording that record?
It was a pain in the ass because I had to do all the recording. I tracked it with my assistant Mark. I don’t think I’d ever do that again. It’s kind of a pain in the butt to track your own band and be into the songs when you have to work on them all of the time. It was harder for me to create with the guys and finish the writing stuff because I’m too busy recording all that shit.
They say doctors make the worst patients. Do producers make the worst band members?
Yeah. It’s hard to be a band member and producer at the same time. Next time I’d rather have someone else do it and I could just be a singer in the studio for once. I’ve never ever gone to the studio and have someone else record my band other than my very very old band. I’ve always recorded my own bands and it’s always been a pain in my ass.
Do you have anyone in mind as far as who you’d like to produce it?
We’re starting to work on new songs. I’d love to work with Sam Pura in Oakland. He’s a good buddy. I could see getting along with him in a working type of situation.
What kind of stuff has he worked on?
He did The Story So Far. All that kind of stuff.
Oh ok. You produced the Youth Decay record. I love how clear the bass tone and drums are. A lot of the times, those instruments are drowned out by vocals. That’s not to say that vocals on this album are prominent, but they aren’t overpowering. A lot of the time in punk the records are top-heavy.
The bass thing too is a result of how much louder you push the record, the less bass you can have. A lot of guys will want to make it super fucking loud and then you can’t have any low-end. Kyle Black mixed the record. We sent it to the states and had him do it. He rules. He does a lot of good stuff. He did the last Comeback Kid record. He’s done some Paramore stuff too. He killed it. He did a great job!
That’s awesome. One thing that will drive me crazy is the drums like on the old skate punk records. Like Slick Shoes. How everything is recorded where you can’t hear each instrument.
That’s just so old. That’s how far technology has come. Some of those older records just don’t stand the test of time. They’re still great and there’s still elements to take from them. Look at those Husker Du recordings. They have the craziest guitar sounds. It sounds like insanity. I love them. People still give me that as a reference to me for guitar tones and shit like that. Those records as a whole compared to today’s punk records don’t sound all that hot, but they sound awesome in their own right, ya know? I don’t want those records to remixed or fucked with.
Yeah, totally. They have character.
People can take elements of those old punk records and make them still sound modern.
I guess it depends with generation you’re from because people are used to hearing things a certain way. I’ve been spoiled with modern technology.
We all are. Look at how many people think the Beatles recordings are the greatest recordings on Earth. If you showed a kid today, they might say they sound like dog shit. (laughs).
They’d be wrong.
Your parents and grandparents are going to want to listen to music that sounds like it’s from when they were a kid. I still listen to the stuff I did as a teenager. I don’t think that’s gonna change much as I get older. People get stuck in what you listen to when you’re 13-25.
I try and get into new bands. It’s a must when I’m doing zines like DyingScene and For the Love of Punk. Chris Cresswell of the Flatliners is on the Youth Decay. How’d you get him on there?
Yeah, he rules. He’s been a long time friend. Flatliners has been around since we were little kids. They come out a lot and we go to Toronto. We’ve just always been friends. You always keep in touch with real bands. The ones that tour. You know like, Comeback Kid will be my buddies until I’m dead. Same with Flatliners, Living With Lions.
You guys (Canada) actually used to show punk on TV. Gob, Sum 41 etc. So cool!
Yes, that was The Punk Show and the Wedge Yeah, The Punk Show. I think one of the guys in Fucked Up used to host that show.
Yeah, Damien from the podcast, Turned Out a Punk.
Yeah! And our government funds punk recordings.
That’s even wilder, yeah! We get government grants up here for music!
I know there was a fuss when Living With Lions released Holy Shit because of the album cover and it was government.
Yeah, the government doesn’t fund hate against religious groups unfortunately (laughs)
I thought it was funny because non of the songs are anti-religion. It’s not like they’re Propagandhi.
Yeah, there’s a lot more things to be worried about than poop wrapped in toilet paper on the inside cover of that record or whatever it was.
So you guys are writing new Youth Decay songs. How’s that going?
Good. Stu Ross has been writing a bunch of songs in his Garage Band and sending it to us. We’ll eventually learn and finish writing them, but for now, we’re compiling ideas. The next LP is going to come out on New Damage as well.
That’s awesome. Stu must be so busy. Playing with Youth Decay, Living With Lions, Comeback Kid.
Yeah, he played bass on the new Living With Lions record. He plays guitar in Comeback Kid, Misery Signals and Youth Decay. He’s a busy boy. Loren in Youth Decay also plays in Living With Lions and Comeback Kid.
I know Daggermouth has a song called This is Chase Brenneman. Is there gonna be a Living With Lions song called this is Kenny Lush? (laughs)
We just had a jam. Daggermouth and I had a jam session recently.
Daggermouth had those demos for the record. Ever thought about finishing it?
I’d love to. I don’t know where the fate of that band will lie. We’re just jamming for now and having fun. Nothing too serious right now. Who knows?
I love all your bands, dude. Daggermouth is awesome.
Thanks, yeah. It was super fun. It is so weird to play those songs now because everything was written when we were so young. To read the lyrics as an older person is pretty funny.
Didn’t the singer of Daggermouth, he became a photographer?
Yeah! He does photo retouching. He did like Hillary Clinton’s last campaign. He’s done a bunch of big shit. He’s done Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robert De Niro. He’s definitely not going to down to do any Daggermouth stuff. He’s killing it doing his own thing. He’s a busy boy. If he did anything, it would probably be me on vocals.