We got the chance to do a cool interview to get to know one of Noise Creators talented producers. Aslan Freeman grew up as a studio hobbyist while working with his father as a live sound engineer. After completing a BM in Music Composition at UNC-Greensboro and spending time touring in rock bands, Freeman briefly worked and studied under Jesse Cannon, Mike Oettinger, and a few local producers before setting up Freeman Productions Studio in a spacious old house outside of Chapel Hill, NC.
Freeman Productions has quickly gained a reputation for its quality and affordability while servicing countless local and national acts in every genre from country, pop and electronic music to indie rock, classical and hardcore. With his thorough knowledge of music theory and extensive experience as a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Freeman can bring your project to life, no matter if it’s a string quartet for a film score, a raw punk record, or a radio-bound pop single.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen in the studio?
Over the course of 2015 I did a bunch of work on a record called Hall Street Mural for a good friend of mine named Jake Rogers. I grew up watching Jake play in some of my favorite local bands and he’s always been one of the most mind-blowingly creative guitar players I’ve ever heard. The way we did the record was unlike anything else I’ve worked on – he came in for a few days and laid down guitar tracks and some vocals for nine songs just to a click. All the guitar work is in these weird open tunings, most of the songs are completely linear in their arrangement, and just watching him track these parts was incredible. The riffs have rhythm and melody lines woven together so seamlessly it sounds like three or four guitar parts overdubbed, or something from an intricate classical guitar piece, and he’s just standing there one or two taking everything perfectly. Then when we’re done with his parts he basically just turns to me and says “Cool, that’s all I got – you do the rest, just produce it like a mix of modern hip hop and pop, but keep the drums rockin’.” I’m super proud of the way the album turned out and we ended up not only with some of the best guitar sounds I’ve ever gotten, but also some of the most interesting songs and coolest production of anything I’ve been lucky enough to have my name on.
Tell me a story of a great song you worked on and a theory behind it’s production that made it great?
I feel like this is probably pretty common, but all my best memories and work tend to come from working with friends. My two roommates (and often-bandmates for other projects) are in a band called I Was Totally Destroying that’s mostly inactive these days, but wanted me to produce this song “Yours Truly” one of the singers had written a while back. They’d played live once or twice but had never gotten around to recording it. Though this was our first time working on one of their songs, we’d all worked together in the studio before on various other projects so there was already a lot of mutual respect and understanding that let us go into things with a pretty blank creative slate. They’re all really solid players and the song is great so we were able to jump straight into tracking with everyone pretty much knowing what they were going to do, which really freed me up to play around with sounds a lot more, try some new mic placement tricks, and just in general sort of have their blessing to go with whatever I was hearing for a part. That sort of session where everyone trusts each other, is prepared, and is just naturally on the same page is always going to yield the best productions. Of course butting heads and challenging each other creatively is still very important, but if everyone is on the same page as far as the ultimate vision for the song or album, then hopefully people are less hesitant to try things they hadn’t specifically heard themselves, but could still end up bringing us closer to the finished product we’re after. It’s totally possible to achieve that level of creative comfort with people you don’t know or haven’t worked with before too, which is where the theory behind the production comes in. Having the opportunity to get to know an artist a bit before hand, them get to know you as a producer, and then being able to discuss each other’s goals for the end result lets you set up a general plan of attack as a way to keep your bearings on the project. but leave the actual session time open for more reactive creativity.
What record has perfect production and what makes it that way?
Mansions’ album Doom Loop is one of the few records I can listen to front to back without skipping a single track. While it’s not necessarily my favorite record or the best sounding record, everything about the production on it is perfect to me. Tons of interesting guitar tones, creative vocal treatments, huge live drum sounds, crazy amounts of bass distortion, and best of all – despite it being a punk record at heart, there’s no hesitation to add in electronic elements from more modern pop production. The way the electronic percussion and synths fill out the sound of this album is really creative. and it all sits in the mix in a way that doesn’t distract from the live instruments, but still stands out enough to make this record sound unique from 90% of the genre it’s most commonly associated with. If I could make any sort of rock record right now, I would want to make a record like this. It takes my favorite sounds and elements of all my favorite types of music and uses them to bring these really well written songs to life.
What’s your favorite guitar production and what makes it great?
My favorite guitar production is still from my all-time favorite album: The Devil & God are Raging Inside Me by Brand New. There’s so many layered parts throughout this record that create that “wall-of-sound” effect that I associate with their live show, but it never gets too busy or cluttered. The unique tonal choices and careful spatial mixing from part to part help separate everything into its own little area of the mix so that every time I listen to this record – even after so many years – I’m always hearing new parts and interesting nuances in the production that give me ideas and inspiration for my own projects. Also, as a bit of an afterthought from going through and listening back to things while answering these other questions, I feel like I should add that Devil & God still has my favorite bass guitar and live drum production as well.
What’s your favorite drum production and what makes it great?
This one is really tough for me because I was a drummer first and am still a drummer at heart, so for me getting the drum sounds figured out for a session sets the tone and foundation for everything else. If you’ve got the right drum sound to build on I feel like you can get away with almost anything with the rest of the production on a record and it’ll come out sounding great. Because of that I’ll go from loving those more natural, roomy Brand New drums to the super dry, dead sound of a Ryan Adams record, or even the slight electronic tilt of a Metric or Phoenix album, to being obsessed with how huge the drums sound on those Superheaven records that Will Yip has done. So I think to really settle on an answer for this I’ll just go with what has inspired me the most in recent years, which is 4×4=12 by deadmau5. It’s really the pivotal record that got me seriously interested in dance music, and it just sounds so good. The production is incredibly clean and unbelievably spacious and lush for what is overall pretty minimalist music. It instantly made me want to try to learn how to create those sounds myself and figure out what goes into making an album of mainly four-on-the-floor bangers remain so dynamically interesting.
What’s your favorite bass production and what makes it great?
Carly Rae Jepsen’s album Emotion is actually another record that I think has all around perfect production, and I almost picked it for my favorite drum and vocal production too but ended up putting it here because the bass production definitely stands out more on it than on the other records I’ve talked about. I love a great sounding distorted bass for pretty much any sort of rock, but that’s something I know how to do well and probably do most frequently for the projects that come my way. Because of that, the bit of pop and electronic production I get to do here and there is much more interesting and exciting for me, so records like Emotion are really inspiring to listen to for tonal ideas, figuring out how the different bass synths can play well together (and with a live bass too), and just in general learning how to handle and shape the more intense low end of modern pop records. I also just shamelessly love any sort of ’80s influenced, synth-based music, so this record was pretty much an instant favorite for me.
What’s your favorite vocal production and what makes it great?
I think the most recent self-titled Ryan Adams record has some really amazing vocal production that has captivated me recently. The up front slapbacks that get traded off with huge reverb tails in other sections are things I’m usually hesitant to mix that loudly, so it’s been a great A/B album for me to sort of talk myself into pushing the vocal effects harder and really go after a vibe. It also makes it much more stark and intimate when he pulls the effects way back to an almost dry vocal mix. Plus that dude just delivers and captures some of the most killer vocal performances – tons of emotion coming through but still so on point technically speaking.
What was the best lesson you’ve learned about making great music this year?
I feel like I’m constantly re-learning or delving deeper into the idea that Occam’s razor can apply to art as much as any other part of life. Just because something is “simple” or “obvious” doesn’t make it bad or wrong, and a lot of the time it’s by far the best choice. The idea of voice leading didn’t just get invented out of nowhere one day, it exists because those conventions are what the human ear naturally gravitates to and wants to hear. As fun as it is to get creative with subverting those expectations to create tension or get super artistic with your music, sometimes it’s just so much more satisfying to go the simple, obvious route and get that killer payoff of landing exactly where your subconscious wants you to. In a nutshell, I’m trying not to over think things – if it feels good, go with it.