When I hit publish on our review of Northlane‘s Mesmer album, I never expected to hear from the album’s producer himself, David Bendeth:
“I have read many reviews of artists I have worked with, some good some bad, but I truly have to say that whomever it was that wrote the review of Northlane’s Mesmer took my breath away.
Yes people can write about drums sounds, and screaming, and album jackets, haircuts, comparisons to old members etc, but this review captures the very essence of what we started out to do. Speaking directly about the music, not easy these days, this review speaks directly to the very reason I make records all year, inspiration.
Thank you for your depth, your knowledge, your attention to detail here, sensational!!
(Once I picked my jaw off the floor) I reached out to David, hoping to learn more about his own experience with Northlane, behind the scenes on Mesmer. David is a multi-platinum award-winning record producer with an extensive list of what he has created and been a part of. [THE LIST] I was grateful to have David agree to share his insight with me, and now also with you.
Kel Burch (Depth Mag): David, you have an incredibly long and impressive list of musical projects that you have touched by way of production, mixing or as a musician. It is beyond my comprehension, so I wonder is this just ‘how it is’ to you? Or do you have ‘pinch-me’ surreal moments of all of these adventures you’ve been a part of? Or somewhere in between. 🙂
David Bendeth: Great question, people always ask me about my favourite record I worked on, and I always say the one I am working on now.
Music has been in my blood since I was three, it never went away, it was always magical, and I always listened to escape the world. The adventures have run into five decades [laughs] and that is how I divide them up in my mind, basically from the 60s until now.
One thing I have tried to do is be ahead of the curve, so to me the ‘pinch me’ moments happen when I feel I have created something more timeless musically, I never really know until later, but there is a special feeling of “wow”!
Kel Burch: How did you find your way to music? I’d love to know how if there was a moment in time where you had an experience with music that got you hooked, sparking off this timeline you’ve had?
David Bendeth: Yes a pivotal moment, in our tiny house in the east end of London, my mother playing me Peter And The Wolf at three, and being amazed at the different instruments of the orchestra and how they worked together.
It was mesmerizing to me, each animal with a different sound representing it and to me it was cathartic as I correlated living things to music and how it made me feel, both melodically and spiritually. It affected me so much that at nursery school I was compelled to take over the teacher’s job as the music conductor.
I was smitten.
Kel Burch: What do you love most about producing?
David Bendeth: The ability to see a song grow and an artist grow into the song simultaneously. The ability to see an audience embrace the music and attach it to their lives and pinpoint moments that made them feel a certain way after listening. The ability to see the song have a life of its own and live forever.
Kel Burch: For people (like me) that don’t know the process, can you elaborate how Northlane came to be working with you? From an interview I saw, they had approached multiple producers. Is it a matter of them getting a feel for who they want to work with, and those logistical things like availability?
David Bendeth: Well in this instance from what I hear there was another band on the label that wanted me and they flipped a coin [laughs].
Bands seek me out when they need an overhaul, a makeover, a moment of clarity. I am not for everyone. We had spoken on the phone a few times and there were some real big question makes that made me think. One of them was the previous record, the type of music and the message. I related to the band somewhat in our Skype and phone calls but it wasn’t until they came here that the fire was lit.
I was originally supposed to go there, I explained I needed more time so the trip to New Jersey was planned. The band had no clue what was going to happen, just that they needed to reconnect with their songs, lyrics, and mostly the singer Marcus. That was my goal, to bring him to the spotlight. I made myself available, I do that when I want to work with someone.
Kel Burch: Before you started on Mesmer, what was your feeling by way of Northlane and their direction?
David Bendeth: As all bands that lose members, there is a restructure and a reshaping of the model. I felt they had the music down pat, but the actual melodies and songs and structures were way off base.
My goal was to have some kind of thematic line running through it all, and as the music was complicated and very busy, to try and humanize it emotionally and take the listener on a voyage. The band are sophisticated, they are cerebral, and the direct correlation to mood and melody harmony had been disengaged. My goal was to stitch it back together and open a new audience.
Kel Burch: How do you get a ‘feel’ for the bands you work with? Are you picky about the artists you’ll work with?
David Bendeth: When I mix, I am not picky. When I produce, I am careful. A lot of bands can make kids (songs) but they do not know how to dress them for school (records).
I try and work with sensitive respectful and appreciative artists that want to be pushed hard to greatness. I love the tough customers, they go down the hardest.
Reaching the core of an artist’s talent can only be understood by sitting with them and discussing what is their mantra. It is therapy, songs are therapy, and music can change the way we think about everything in a flash. I try to find artists that have a grasp of that and will allow me to take it to the next level, because I know where all the pot holes in the road are … well, most of them.
Kel Burch: Josh shared in an interview that when they connected with you, you critiqued where they were at. What were your criticisms if you don’t mind sharing?
David Bendeth: I critiqued many things with this band. They were wounded coming off the last record, the transition was not smooth, they really did not give Marcus his creative freedom. I immediately opened that can of worms and empowered him to believe in himself and believe in the lyrics. He was no longer going to be the ‘new kid’ with no tenure. He was going to be a force.
I used brevity in the arrangements and I dug to the core of emotion with all of them. I used their own fears to give them strength. I took them back to basics: groove, melody, feel, the intangibles, the very thing that moves people to be inside the song instead of being blown away by the technical prowess.
I pushed them to humanize their record and criticised them for dodging the very reason they got into music. That is what I do mostly, teach an artist to fall back in love with their instrument and learn more.
Kel Burch: How long did you spend with the band working on Mesmer?
David Bendeth: Start to finish, 9 weeks. Long enough to connect them to each other musically.
Kel Burch: Did they bring the concept of the album to you or was it something you co-created?
David Bendeth: Jon Deiley is talented. He had the musical vision, he combines electronics with smashing guitars, he is dedicated and feels rhythm and chords not lyric and melody. Jon understands lyrics not melody and Marcus has it all, he listens to a wide array. We listened to a lot of music in the studio, from Miles Davis to Bruno Mars, from Perfect Circle to Limp Bizkit. That is normal on my sessions, it’s like school.
Kel Burch: Did you have a clear ‘vision’ for Mesmer and for Northlane’s sound?
David Bendeth: Never a doubt. It was always going to be a journey. I heard the sound in my head, I went for the future, not the past of the genre.
Kel Burch: The band members spoke about your effectiveness in getting to the core emotions, and bringing that out of them. I’d love to know more of your process. Is there a particular track you’re most proud of in this sense?
David Bendeth: Yes, “Heart Machine”, “Fade”, “Zero-One” and “Savage”. Those four move me.
The core emotions come from everyone going to the dark place and sharing the truth with everyone, like therapy. The idea is to give everyone in the band a greater understanding of pain, live, and to live in the moment.
It’s a work hard, play hard, tough love approach. Not for the feint of heart, so I hear. It’s always been my style. It was the way I learned myself coming up. The criticism and the truth shaped my sound and pushed me to reach harder on every record. If you think you know it all, your career is over.
Some people react different, they shut down… This band opened up like a flower in bloom and embraced their true feelings and then performed them to the best of their ability. Each guy in this band had a story and they all brought their A game. They wanted to be pushed and questioned. That never stopped.
Kel Burch: Could you share with us your thoughts about the expression of emotion and meaning in music, as it seems this was done very powerfully in the tracks on Mesmer, and it’s something we also value at Depth Magazine.
David Bendeth: Yes, of course there has to be a connection to the essence of rhythm and melody, to harmony and lyric. I have to make the artist relive their lives and parts of both happiness and depression. How can you sell an idea if you do not believe in it yourself?
Dealing with love, death, maturity, music, the business, parents, friends, enemies, all the things that we all deal with on a daily basis has to be addressed. The way I see it as once was quoted to me: The artist has to look at their audience and see their life, and the audience must see the artist and see their lives in all its memories, present and future. Once those dots are connected, there becomes an unbreakable bond, it usually lasts forever if it is performed the right way.
The expression of “You like the man/woman, you like the music”. The music becomes an extension of what the artist fights for, whatever that may be. If an artist has nothing to say, no cause, then they are nothing but a hollow shell.
Kel Burch: Do you get a feel for when a track is ‘there’? How do you know a track is done?
David Bendeth: Great question! A track is never really done, I just finish it when I mix it. I take it as far as I can, push the extra mile to realize whatever the budget lets me do.. But it is never done, only completed on a certain day. I cannot listen to anything that I have produced/mixed or written in my past, it makes me cringe.
Kel Burch: And also on that note, how do you know when an album is fully complete?
David Bendeth: Well that is easy to answer: When the audience hears it.
Kel Burch: Were there any tracks that just flowed? Or others that took far greater effort to bring to life?
David Bendeth: It’s very rare in the studio that anything just flows. I am meticulous, I am fastidious, I am insane. I think I drive my artists nuts with detail and timing, tuning, emotion, performance.
As I said, I am not for everyone, only the dedicated. Northlane came and rose to that occasion as many before them. They knew the drill.
Kel Burch: When you’re working with a band, do you spend time together intensively? I guess I am wondering if you hung out together!
David Bendeth: We did in a group and individually. I break them down that way by forcing them to be honest with each other, leave everything on the table, bring no bullshit in the room, everyone lightens the load, and then they feel for each other and embrace the challenge.
My favorite moment on any record is watching people that never got along before coming to the others’ aid when they are down. I cannot describe that feeling. It moves mountains, it makes teams, and it represents compassion and love.
Kel Burch: When I met the guys at the UNFD signing/pop-up shop, it was clear how down to earth they were. Was that your experience in working with them also?
David Bendeth: They were rattled at first. They all come from great families except for Marcus. They were respectful, funny, polite and diligent. I was impressed with all of them as people, they were typical artists going through a metamorphosis.
Kel Burch: Once you’ve put an album out into the world with a band, do you still feel a connection with it? Like you’ve raised this thing, brought it to life, and now it’s out in the world (for better or for worse by way of reactions to it)..
David Bendeth: Well it becomes the jungle, survival of the fittest. I try to build a tank. I usually hate the press, they never really touch on the importance and meaning of lyrics and song structure, they just go by their untrained ears.
This release circumvented the process and drew a straight line to the fans. I wish every record was like that. Once I let go, I close my eyes and pray.
I have a fondness for everyone and everything I do, like a warranty. Some of my best work has never seen the light of day, there are so many that have been crushed by the industry I had great expectations for. Like a doctor losing a patient, there is only so much you can do. You have to move and embrace the next patient. Triage!!
Kel Burch: It must also feel great when the albums hit certification levels and receive awards. Is that gratifying for the heart and energy that you clearly put into your work?
David Bendeth: It’s like a medal, it is worth nothing. A pat on the back. I have all mine now in a box in the basement. I think I have even smashed a few on some rough days.
Success is strange and so is failure, there is really no answers. Who am I happy for? The band, their parents, their friends. I am happy to be able to do something I love and survive at it and feed my own family. Making records is a dying art, especially with real playing and performing.
Thanks again, David, for your time and sharing your experience with us.