An interview with Katy Perry and Lauren Christy of
Sir Millard Mulch
I have not dared to interview anyone over the phone since the Ween interview I did back in 1999 (those who have read it will know why). Nor have I EVER been so nervous to talk to anyone on the phone.
Damn it, The Matrix are my idols, and I almost couldn’t handle the pressure of screwing up another phone interview — what if they didn’t like me? What if my hard drive crashed and I lost the whole interview? What if I clammed up in awe? Why was I so nervous? Answer: anyone who has been listening to pop radio in the past several years have heard their hit song writing and production skills behind artists such as Avril Lavigne (“Sk8er Boi”), Hilary Duff (So Yesterday), Britney Spears, Ricky Martin, Christina Aguilera, Liz Phair, and Backstreet Boys.
In essence, these are the people responsible for turning all of those huge pop stars into legitimate musicians in the recording studio, unifying their “character images” as a musical message to be listened to and purchased by millions of people. That is no small task, and nothing to be ashamed of — The Matrix Team are top-notch composers, arrangers, and producers. If you don’t agree, let’s see you compete with them. I thought so. Critics who find it unauthentic that many performers don’t write their own material should point the magnifying glass at symphony orchestras — let the famous entertainers entertain, while the song writing geniuses do what they do best: this is Henry Ford assembly-line / division of labor at its finest, mang.
But what do we have here? Am I a fool to assume such things? Is this the way the industry works? I guess not: The Matrix have now signed a contract with Columbia Records to release their very own album! And they have joined forces with singer/songwriters Katy Perry (currently working with Glenn Ballard on her solo album) and AKA (who released his album, Pigeonomics, on Boy George’s U.K. label)… this ought to be amazing! I can’t…
Wait… OMG, the phone is ringing! I wonder if it’s Katy Perry and Lauren Christy?
Sony Rep: Sir Millard?
Sony Rep: You’re on with the lovely ladies!
Katy: Oh my gosh! Sir Millard Munch, what a crazy name! I’m sure you’ve heard that a million times!
Yeah… How are you doin’?
Katy: Doing well!
Lauren: Very good, thanks.
Good! Well, it’s good to meet you two, because I’ve been following the Matrix productions for a while and listening to the different projects and I know I am going to like the new album once I get to hear it.
Lauren: Oh, good, you haven’t heard it yet.
I have not heard it yet.
But I definitely look forward to it.
Katy: So you’re kind of going on a whim to do an interview with us? What if we SUCK?
Well, that’s OK… I’m recording this whole thing into Cubase, so it can’t suck any more worse than what is probably going to happen with this hard drive situation here.
Just let me know what effects you want on your vocals, so I can…
Katy: What? I don’t… [scared] What’s happening?! You’re recording it on a what?
I’m recording it in Cubase.
Katy: What’s that?
It’s a recording program, like Pro-Tools.
Katy: You’re recording this interview on it?
I am recording it so I can transcribe it later, if that’s OK.
Katy: Oh! No, I thought you were going to make a new Matrix Record.
That would go good! The Matrix Produced by Sir Millard Mulch…
Katy: Sir Millard Mulch…
Lauren: Sir Millard Mulch, oh, that’s amazing!
That would be scary.
Katy: (cute) Awwwwwwww! So you’re with INK19, right?
Yep, INK19 Magazine.
Katy: Oh, great! Is it a magazine online?
It was in print for several years and now it’s only online.
Katy: Oh, okay. Great. Tell me, is it a music-based magazine, or is it a lifestyle, or what type of magazine are you guys?
It is both music and culture and film reviews book reviews. Pretty much a very open minded magazine and lets the writers follow their own path and write about whatever they want to write about.
Katy: That’s great!
Lauren: That’s cool! Katy, it sounds like it’s quite high-brow, so behave.
Katy: It sounds like it’s quite what?
Lauren: (pause) High-brow.
Katy: You guys are using some kind of language on me that I don’t really understand.
Lauren: Oh, dear. Katy: Oh, dear… so what’s up?
I was going to ask you guys a few questions I have figured out here…
What is the main benefit or opportunity in making your own album, as opposed to producing songs for others?
Lauren: Well, you know at first we asked that ourselves — TO ourselves. Why are we doing this? We like being behind the scenes… and we thought, “Well, for five years we’ve been behind the scenes doing our thing very happily, and someone is offering us a chance to literally go in and be creative. From our own point of view, rather than always trying to get across another artist’s point of view: 16 year old, 24 year old, guy or girl, whatever.” It was just interesting for the 3 of us to go, “What do WE actually want to say?” I think it would be sad to turn your back on an experience that is offered to you, so we just said yes.
Do you have to work under similar time-constraints or deadlines?
Lauren: We tried to. We tried to treat it like it was another record we were doing. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize it would be quite hard to do, because it’s much easier when you have…
Katy: When you take a step back and you’re doing it for someone else, rather than when you are doing it for yourself, you over-analyze and get really critical and anxious, cuz it’s all about you, it’s not about someone else.
Lauren: Having Katy and AKA though, it was kind of cool because… even though they were very aware that they wanted to get what the three of us wanted to say out, this is a collaboration. It wasn’t their solo album. All I can say is that I am really happy with it and I love it.
Do you guys work all in one central location? Or do you work in separate places and trade demos? Lauren: The three of us, The Matrix, try to get together to do all of our writing. We don’t write over the internet or anything like that. Every day, we are together at some point. When it came to the writing with Katy and AKA, it was very old-fashioned, we would all go in the room with guitars and a piano and write the songs. Very organic.
Katy: Everybody has their own studio. Lauren: We have our own studios, each one of us, but we always come together to do the writing. When it comes to doing the producing, we might be in different places because we’d have to be to get the workload done.
What is your primary recording medium?
Lauren: We do record mainly on ProTools, but it’s not to say… recently we did this record for a band called The Mooney Suzuki and that was all done to analog tape. No computers at all. We’d like to do that, too, but it’s much easier recording on ProTools.
Katy: (shy) Ummmm…. I typically record onto a 4-track. I have a 4-track in the trunk of my car that I take everywhere. Everybody’s always like, talking about gadgets and stuff like that and gettin’ all technical, and I’m like, (sarcastic) “Yeah, I’ve got a 4-track that my ex-boyfriend gave me as a going-away gift, that I write all my songs on.” (everyone laughs)
Do you guys ever run into any technical disasters while you’re recording?
Katy: Yes, we did run into technical DISASTERS! One evening, when we were almost finished with the whole record, when Scott got back to turn on the hard drive, 6 out of 7 had been WIPED. And we were like, oh, shit, are we going to have to re-record everything that we had been recording for the past 5 months?
Lauren: It was one of those things where we all went very “Zen” for a second. We just sort of went, “OK, chant, keep calm.”
Katy: They’ll chant… I pray, I pray! Lauren: Obviously, we got it back.
Katy: Actually, we’re releasing a CD of nothing. (everyone laughs)
Lauren: Katy went into complete freak-out mode, and I just said to her, “Katy, this has happened before. Keep calm. It WILL come back.”
Katy: Of course, I’ve got the biggest mouth and I’m like, “Oh my god, we’ve lost our record!”
Lauren: Katy had taken out a full ad in USA Today. (everyone laughs)
Katy: Yeah, whatever! We had some tech nerd come in and be like, “Well, you know, all you have to do is flip this switch on and there it is.”
Lauren: No, that’s not true, you have to send it off to a Disk Doctor. And Scott’s a real genius with that stuff, too.
Katy: The Disk Doctor and The Tech Nerd are the same person I am talking about! I’m not a liar!
Are there any plans for the tour yet?
Lauren: Well, the truth is, Sir Millard…
Lauren: We have to be honest about what we are, and what The Matrix is — people who have written hit songs for other people. And to suddenly just come out as a grass-roots band that is playing little clubs everywhere and trying to be cool would be totally FAKE. So what we have done is write a bunch of songs that we think would be fabulous hits, put it out to radio like we have with all our other songs, and hopefully the public will like it. And if they do, we’ll be right there to perform. With bells on.
Scott Spock (in background): With accordions!
Katy: But you want the demand to be there, rather than being on the road… like a lot of my friends are in bands and they’re on the road 200 days a year and they’re dying of heart attacks at age 25. We’d like to go where we’re wanted, not where we’re not wanted. So, we’ll see what the song does.
So you’ll let the songs promote themselves…
Lauren: Absolutely, yeah.
What is the recording process like, do you record demos and then start over, or…
Lauren: No, we never really do demos. We never have. You know what ProTools and Cubase are like. Once you start writing a song, you’ve started. So we just build ideas until they’re finished and all three of us go, “Stop!”
Katy: They’re hit makers from the time they strum their first chord. With them, it’s so different. I’m like, “Come on, let’s write the rest of the song, let’s put some lyrics to it!” But they’re such good craftsman that they take every little detail of a song into…
Lauren: You know what that comes from? That comes from so much rejection from record labels when we first started out. And then you start to have a method to your madness… like, does this chord sound like, “Ka-ching?” Not that we’re in it for the money… far be it. I’d rather die than put out some music that I didn’t like. But there is a certain sound, to us, in our humble opinion, of what sounds like a hit. And sometimes you can tell just but strumming the chords and singing the first melody and the verse, “Does it sound like a hit to me?”
Katy: I know, and I have never been in that world. I was like, “G-C-D, let’s write a couple more chords, maybe we can figure out then…”
I will now aim one final question at each of you. For Lauren… have you followed the Mixerman Diaries at all?
Lauren: I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m really sorry, I’m so untechnical.
Some anonymous big producer from Los Angeles has been writing diaries and changing the names of people he has been working with, and they’re horror stories about this band and label he has been working with.
Lauren: Oh, how cool!
And he published them in a book form now.
Lauren: And nobody knows who it is?
People are trying to guess to figure out who he is, because he obviously knows his way around the business…
Lauren: The Mixerman Diaries…
Katy: How do you know it’s not us? Maybe we’re just really good at acting and saying we don’t know. The Mixerman Diaries… I’m gonna write that down.
Lauren: And you can read it online?
Lauren: OK! Wow…
Katy, have you ever listened to Mr. Bungle?
Katy: Man, I don’t know what planet you’re on, but we’re on different ones. I have no idea! Is it a musical guy?
The singer of Faith No More, Mike Patton?
Katy: No… I mean, I listen to a lot of things… Queen, Beach Boys, Heart, Rush. A lot of new indie stuff…Rilo Kiley.
Well, check out Mr. Bungle when you get a chance.
Lauren: So how do you… where is he?
Katy: What is he?
They are in San Francisco, actually.
Lauren: Oh, it’s a band!
Lauren: Ahhhhh! Cool!
Katy: What type of music are they?
It is completely wild music that changes styles all the time, they’ve got a really big underground cult following.
Katy: Is it like the String Cheese Incident? Mulch: I don’t know, I’ve never heard them. Mr. Bungle has very complex productions and are…
Lauren: I’m checking it out as soon as we get off the line, both of these things.
: Check out the album Disco Volante, very dense, complex arrangements and big production.
Katy: It was very nice talking to you and you have very interesting questions! We’re gonna go check out all those things you told us about, OK?
Definitely. I guess we’ll conclude it, and thank you for your time! It was nice meeting you, and have a good day.
Lauren: Thank you, bye bye!