Sound Engineer - Jesse Goffin Interview

Jesse Goffin Sound Engineer

by Vittorio Carli

Jesse Goffin is a creative, up and coming arranger, sound engineer, and composer. He has worked with many rising hip-hop artists such as DJ Prophet and Drew Dilla. Jesse comes from a very musical family. His father was the first rate Brill Factory composer Jerry Goffin, and he even had Carole King as a step mom. His sister, is the singer/songwriter, Louise Goffin. She was recently profiled in "Rock Girl" magazine, and her latest recording received a positive review in the "Chicago Tribune." This interview was conducted in February of 2003 when Jesse still lived in Pilsen, Chicago. He has since relocated to seek his fame and fortune in sunny California.

His music can be sampled on line at Nitgritz.com

Vito: What can you tell us about your background?

Jesse: I was born in Manhattan, Central Park West. We lived right down the street from John Lennon, and from where he was shot. I used to play with Lennon's son. The shooting was part of the reason why my mother decided to leave the city. My parents were divorced and I was four or five. She moved us to Woodstock, New York, which is two hours north of New York City. People who know about music know that the place has a musical history. There were a lot of hippies still around. The actual Woodstock concert was not actually held there. The promoters doing it were from that town; it was an interesting place to grow up. There were lots of jazz musicians that had moved up from the city. I played with Jack De Johnette's daughter, Jimmy Cobb's daughter, and it was really neat see those people-to see Jack De Jonnette pick up his kid. Event though I didn't exactly know what he did. In Woodstock I took drumming lessons, played the viola for a while, but I didn't love it. When I was 14 or 15, I started getting into electronic music and Dj ing. I had been really interested in Hip-hop music. I had a cable hooked up to my radio when I was 9 or 10, from the mid '80s to the early '90s. Then everything changed: it ended up becoming more plastic sounding. I started to lose interest. I spent more time in New York clubs and helped at a radio show, which played more electronic music and techno. That's when I started to get into composing electronic music. When I was 15, I was Djing hip-hop then I moved more into house music. For six years I was involved in that whole scene.

I left for college and I attended the Rhode Island School of Design. It was a rocky situation: there was no multi-media at the time I studied graphic design. I felt out of place and after a few years transferred to the Art Institute of Chicago. It had an experimental sound department. It was an open-ended curriculum and it allowed me to take classes I wanted. At the other school, it was all about prerequisites, and you didn't even get to pick a class until your senior year. I graduated from the Art Institute around 2001. I built a small, functional but n0t terribly professional studio with a friend. Since I have been in Chicago, I have mostly been working on hip-hop tracks. I got tired of house music. It's really formulaic. It's so easy and so programmed. It's all built around the same exact structure. If you change the formula, the DJ's won't play your music. It has to all build and breakdown the right amount of times or they won't look at it, so they can program it. I thought that was sort of silly.

Vito: You have a sister Lousie who is a songwriter. Your father Jerry is a respected songwriter. Do you feel that musical talent is partially hereditary or is it learned?

Jesse: I don't think it's hereditary. People's environments obviously shape their interests. My sister, Louise sings and writes. My other sister, Sherry, married a musician. It's what we were exposed to. I do think that creativity in general may be hereditary because almost everyone in my family has ended up doing something creative, even my younger sister. Lauren designs clothes and paints a lot, and she always has been very visual. She does not however, do anything musical: she's completely tone deaf. My father wrote lyrics, and my older sister, Louse is a singer/songwriter. But I don't do any of that. I make beats, compose and arrange music. That's something quite different.

Vito: Did having a famous dad help or hinder your musical career? It was helpful.

Jesse: He definitely supported me when I wanted to make music. When I was young, he took me to the studio. I saw how he interacted with other artists. I watched them make demos. It was very helpful. But when someone like me with a famous parent becomes more and more successful it can be kind of a hindrance. As you get into the public eye, they want to focus on your famous father and not your talent.

Vito: You talked to me before about how pop and radio had become formulaic. How can young talents get around the barriers to achieve radio or club play?

Jesse: Many artists struggling to get above underground status have to deal with that more. There is no simple answer. People have to ask themselves whether they re willing to compromise to rise above underground status or say "Fuck that I'll do what I want to do." So far I haven't gotten that much exposure of my own music. On one level that's troubling, but on the other hand I am not compromising my work. But I feel there is a happy medium somewhere. You can be avant-garde and still produce a track with a really commercial ear. It can sound like a commercial record from a production quality. I don't want the hip-hop I produce to sound like it was made in someone's basement. I want it to sound like the stuff you hear on the radio.

VIto: How has your education helped your career?

Jesse: Well, I went to art school and it was all about creating. I had no business backing and experience. Collecting debts from clients was not always easy. Oddly enough, I did get a second job, which was business related, dealing with marketing and accounts. That actually gave me more experience in running a business than art school. Art school did give me the chance to zero in artistically on what I wanted to do. You see lots of people that want to be artists when they haven't even worked through their techniques. I had friends that graduated that were painting and they were still learning their craft. Four years is not enough time to learn to be a painter. When I was out of school, I was not ready to present my work. It's taken about seven years in the making.

Vito: Have you had any mentors along the way?

Jesse: Well, when I first started at the Art Institute of Chicago, I encountered a critic/journalist named John Corbett. He also does a Wednesday night Empty Bottle free Jazz night. He was one of the first adult journalists who validated my interest in a whole bunch of styles of music. I was interested in dub reggae and hip-hop. It was interesting to hear someone discuss them on a sonic level. To some people it's fringe music for fringe people without much artistic relevance, but it really did. He brought it to the table and presented it as quintessential work of the last 20 years. Early reggae is where the whole idea of the remix started-before disco. Every pop music song now has a dance club version. It also influenced the beginning of hip-hop. A lot of the early DJs that played in parks in New York were from Jamaica. Kool Herc is the most well known example. They drew off the tradition from Jamaica in which DJs would play music all night with a portable sound system. The DJs would toast or rhyme over the tracks. They immigrated to America where there was a better living. The only thing that was different is that they used a different MC and that's how hip-hop started. From a musical standpoint I was very influenced by these early DJs in New York: DJ Red Alert, Chuck Chillout and lots of early hip-hop producers. That sound really impacted me. Who did they producers? DJ Marc De 45 King who went on to produce Queen Latifah, and he had something to do with Naughty by Nature. DJ SCOTT LA Rock who was shot by a drug dealer in '81 was KRS 1's original producer. I really looked up to him when he was younger. Chuck D from Public Enemy and their producers, the Bomb Squad. They were really doing something different at the time producing sound collage.

They thought of everything as noise that could organized. They sampled but not in a cheap way. The cold cut remixes of Peyton Full were great, too. The cutting and paste/break beat really influenced the London sound and you can hear it in Moby's work. I also loved early Erik B. Rakim. One of your cuts, "The Fighting Irish" samples Ennio Morricone's work. Has the Western or cinema in general has any influence on your music? Yes the Western had a big influence on my music. I'm a film buff and I have always been moved by dramatic instances of sound in film. Moriconne has always been very dramatic. It's perhaps what stitches the spaghetti westerns together. I always though film composing is difficult interesting and when done right incredibly poignant. For instance, the music in "Black Orpheus" makes that film.

VIto: The really dramatic moments tend to occur in horror films? Would you like to compose for films?

Jesse: I would love to write for films. My background doesn't give me that much experience in it but yea I would. Are there any film directors or musicians you'd like to work with? I am impressed with producer/DJs such as DJ Shadow, RJD2 and others in that genre. Hip-hop groups like Blackalicious and J Live. The whole Def Jux crew. I've been influenced by early soul and funk

Vito: Are you a big fan of Phil Spector? I was a big fan of Phil Spector and the whole wall of sound as well as Leiber-Stoller. They did "There's A Riot Going on ", the one before the Sly Stone song. It's a late 50s/early 60s track. They have the sonic sound on the album. It sta5rts with riot sirens and crowds. That was something very different back then, I love the early reggae dub producers such as Lee Scratch Perry, King Tubby, King Jammy and the Scientist. Some of these guys have worked on hundreds of recordings. Their discographies are amazing. Which artists have you worked with already. A Chicago hip-hop performer named Prophet, Mr. Brown, and the Locksmith, Boogie Chill, who was working on a compilation with lots of female singers. Also a mariachi group called Mariachi Universal, 17-year-old hip-hop guy named Drew Dilla, who is looking for a record deal. I also worked with my sister, Louise, on a single I did "Sometimes a Circle," a remix of the title track off the first album.

The easiest way to hear it is to go to the

Nitgritz Multimedia Website

There will be info on it on how to contact me and the people I produce for. They work with us on a low budget level. They can use us to make a professional sounding demo that they can sell to help recoup the expenses. This way they don't have to be embarrassed to bring in their demo to the record company executive. It's professional work for a non-professional price

VIto: Can you tell me what you typically do in the studio?

Jesse: When I'm working with an artist they come in and sometimes they have an unfinished loop and they want to use it. I do preproduction and help develop a backing track or a rapper might come in and I'll go into the studio, I'll help him or her engineer, coach and sometimes edit a bit. If he's isn't doing well I'll stop. I might tell him, you have too many syllables in that line or your cadence is off. I do it in a very polite way. But I have to admit I am a little tougher on people I know well.

Vito: Speaking of people you know well, can you tell me about the track you did with our mutual friend, Jermell? Well Jermel Clark is a local Pilsen character. Anyone living here has obviously heard his voice at some time-- even if it's down the street. He fancies himself as a rapper, and he is. He's a little unfocused about his writing. One day I was at my house and I had a mic. I had just finished a track, and I want you to do something with it. I'm going to do something with the vocals. The track he's on is called ""Galactic Black Star Line Free Style." The whole idea is that it occurred on a spaceship-- a star liner. It has a futuristic sound and a robotic voice. The idea is that Jermell is sitting on a spaceship going from planet to planet. He gets really bored and begins free styling. We did it. He didn't like it at first because he didn't think he recognized his own voice, but he later got to like it.

Vito: What do you do after a track is recorded?

Jesse: After coaching people and getting a final recording, it doesn't end there. I mix. produce, and remaster the track. I clean it up, compress the vocals, and do all the postproduction at my house on my computer and my software. Everything is split out separately in tracks like back in the old days when they used the reel to reel, and I arrange the vocals and the drums. I decide where the drums and vocals come in ecetera. Essentially I do the work of several people would do in a professional studio. Do you do a lot with the vocals after they've been recorded? Yes, I do stuff like echo, which is important, but not many non-producers know about. I also do compression and gating. Gating creates a threshold line so that if anything above the threshold passes through so you can hear. Anything below the threshold cannot be heard. This is very important for vocals because it cuts out all the room noise and background noise when no one sang anything. It also cuts out all the quiet breathy things that you hear. Compression essentially crunches the frequency range and levels the vocals so that you don't have any peaks and valleys and the vocals will be essentially the same volume all the way through. When you're mixing you don't have to worry about raising the levels of the vocals. Those are basic things that are essential to achieving a good vocal sound. These are mostly things that I learned about in school. It was an experimental school and we learned stuff that anyone in the studio would need to know. Has the website of your girlfriend, Randall played a big role in publicizing your compositions? Not really. My stuff has only been on her site for the last few months. Initially I had work on MP3.com, which was important for a while. I got a lot of hits and made some money until they asked us to pay a yearly fee. So I just stopped. I think, my site still exists but I'm relatively reclusive and I am not good at promoting my music. I could use an agent because I don't feel comfortable shoving my work in peoples' faces. Is it more difficult to break through now with all the rigid radio play lists? It's incredibly difficult. Also, it seems like interest in fringe music like electronic music, triphop and hip-hop may have peaked in the later '90s. Also these new CD turntable machines are killing interest in vinyl. The vinyl industry and the DJ are a huge proponent or reason for me to make my music. The whole thing seems like a dying art. Only the late night shows play interesting stuff. How do you envision radio in the future? With digital media and the Internet, the radio is already a dead art form, anyway. I've been interested in shows with sound affects that combine words and music. When I was very young, I grew up listening to Dr. Demento. That aspect of radio has always interested me. In Europe and public radio you do see examples of radio art. Creating a sonic world is great, but playing commercial pop songs and plugging commercials is not a great use of the medium.

Vito: I met a really unconventional Internet VJ, Miss Messy Stench with a punk/zombie look at a party here in Pilsen. She has an innovative website at http://www.craptabulous.com/ and a weekly show on Fridays that features all underground music and musical guests. Do you think the Internet will open things up for music and keep things fresh?

Jesse: Yes, I think so. There are a lot of people doing great radio stuff on-line. For a couple of years, a friend was Djing for an Internet show in LA. I don't know if it's still on. Lots of underground artists went through and got exposure. He did Internet radio with visuals. I thought it was a wonderful platform because it is on your own terms. I wish more people were using it to find music. Many people are stuck in the same rut listening to and buying whatever pops out.

VIto: Did you know that Bjork's last CD, "Vespertine" was the top seller on the Internet, but it barely made the top 20 on the regular charts?

Jesse: Yes that makes sense. Bjork is one of those artists bordering on fringe music. She was very influenced by electronica, and many of her fans grew up on electronica. So it makes sense that the Internet is her biggest market. But the computer is also a hindrance because it makes any music completely copiable. It's great for me now because I don't have that mush known copyrighted stuff out there. But it's a double-edged sword.

Vito: What are some of your upcoming projects?

Jesse: I'm going to Los Angeles to spend lots of time with my family. That's where most of the music is. Right now, I'm finishing up an EP by MC Prophet, it's my first full-length hip-hop album. Its called pushing issues. I also recorded a whole album of my own material, which you heard some of. I'm getting the covers made and the text so I can give it to people. I've been packing up my house and working with an ex con, street poet. He's a bout 40 and is influenced by Gil Scott Heron and the Last Poets. His name is Bill Hodges, but I don't think he came up with a recording name to go under yet. I am finishing up for tracks with drew Dilla. He's shopping his demos with Rawkus Records, which is a division of Sony.

Hear some samples

_or order cd for $12.00

(June of 2006 - Jesse Goffin currently works at Evolution Music Partners handling creative representation of composers, music supervisors, copyright owners, and recording artists worldwide. )

Contact Jesse Goffin

Jermel video sample

 

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