by Morgan Davis
Ovrld recently got introduced to Josh Rumer, the founder of Invengo Productions, a developmental production company that relocated to Austin from California. We were interested in the different approach Rumer and his team take to working with and recording artists and sat down with him for a discussion about Rumer’s thoughts on the differences between California and Austin artists, infrastructure in Austin and nurturing artists at key early points in their careers.
Morgan Davis for Ovrld: What got you into production in the first place?
Josh Rumer: I’m a prolific creator of music and I have this deep desire to give the world better music and help artists find their way in the darkness, just like I had to do with no help. I want to give back.
Ovrld: What differentiates your approach to production from other, for-hire producers?
Josh: My approach is different because I don’t have any time constraints. I choose to work with somebody. No amount of money in the world is going to get me to work with somebody I don’t want to work with. I make a conscious choice, I choose them and I choose to give them everything I have—all of my knowledge and skills and talent, all of my help. I’m accountable to them whereas if they just go to a studio, a studio isn’t accountable to their success. I am. And I will never stop doing that.
Ovrld: What are some of the struggles you think musicians face on their own that producers like yourself can help with?
Josh: Navigating the studio environment with ease and comfort is very difficult for a lot of artists, because of the time constraints. They think they have to cram their whole life story into a six hour recording session. Some people do something really stupid and buy a 15-hour block in a studio, which is crazy. Their minds have been trained to make the wrong decisions in that type of environment.
If you’re a producer, and you’re in a studio seven days a week for 15 years, you learn the right ways to go about things, and you impose that, if you will, upon the artist, so that they can navigate the way through this portion of their creative journey, which is the most difficult. Studios are weird. You either get it or you don’t get it. Or you work your ass off to get it. Or you fail. But this is the weirdest part of the entire process, that I’ve seen. Some people take to it like a duck to water. Some people just can’t do it.
Some people are amazing live, but you get them in a booth then they’re a disaster. And vice versa. Some people are all around great, but this is the hardest thing to do, to record a perfect product for you.
Ovrld: What are some of the differences you’ve noticed with artists you worked with before in California and artists out here in Austin? What are some of the differences in personalities?
Josh: For the most part, I never worked consistently with anyone from any general demographic. We worked with people from all over the world. So even in LA I might have worked with four or five LA artists in a year, and everyone else came from somewhere else. Everybody was different all the time, but a lot of them shared the same common threads with me, which is that they really wanted something that represented their spirit, as opposed to just recordings of their music. They could get that anywhere. They could do that on their phone. They really wanted something that represented the soul of their being, I guess.
The only other difference is that people in LA had a lot of knowledge that I wish a lot of people here had. I don’t want to say that in a bad way but it’s true. There were 15-year-olds who were overly knowledgeable about the music business as opposed to a guy I spoke to last week who has lived in Houston his whole life and he’s in his 50s and he’s still pushing the same eight tracks he recorded ten years ago and wondering why his life isn’t turning out. And then you have 15-year-olds who are asking for a developmental producer, and are asking for their own ISRC codes. It’s a lot different out there.
But then again, I might not be hanging out in the right circles. I’m only basing off that our contacts. We get 20 or 30 submissions a week, and 98% of them, that’s what it is—a great song, by a great artist, and it sounds like it was recorded with a potato. It’s just really bad. That upsets me and it breaks my heart, because I want to do something for that person. I want to reach out and say “look, we can take that song, and make everybody love it, and they’ll love you, and you’ll get to write for another day, and you’ll win!” That’s what I want to see happen.
Ovrld: On a different note, you work with a lot of different genres. Most producers tend to operate in only one or two fields, and stick to a certain kind of sound. Why do you like to dabble the way you do? What draws you in about different genres?
Josh: I’ve always thought that a man who lives within his own means lacks imagination. If your only means are this kind of music, there will come a day where that music is not that cool, because that always happens, music is cyclic. Then what?
I have to do whatever I feel good about. There are times where I want to work with metal bands, so I’ll get my people looking for a metal band, because it balances me out as a producer. It allows me to infuse that with other people. So let’s say an indie folk artist, who has a very gentle sound, and sings gentle, soft, heartwarming ballads, has a song that needs an up tempo feel to it but can’t deliver like that because it will deviate from her natural sound, it’s easy for me to bring some street noise into that if I need to. I can bring some hip hop, electric guitars in the back, I can tweak it out to make it its own original thing, as long as the artist is happy with it. Now it has its own place in the world, it can’t be pigeonholed with someone else who has already done it 500 times, or more. It’s a brand new, completely new thing, that no one has ever done, even if it sounds weird, people end up liking it. So I don’t see why I can’t take a chance on a song and live outside my means.
I love metal. I absolutely adore great metal. And I have an appreciation for it because it’s the most difficult form of music to produce properly. But I can’t put metal in everybody’s stuff. I also like really well done hip hop. It has to be different and new. I guess that’s the answer. I can kind of infuse everything and create this thing that otherwise wouldn’t be created if someone lived within their means of production and perception.
Ovrld: So that versatility helps you enliven all your projects?
Josh: It makes me. It’s the whole reason why I’m here, I believe. One of the big reasons. I like things that are different. It’s like one of those artists that comes to you and says “I want to sound like Muse” and you’re like “Well, great, then start writing songs that sound like Muse because right now you sound like a country band.” Go call Muse’s producer! Work with them and say you want to sound like a clone of someone else, that’s anti-art. I’m not about that. They did that in LA all the time. They’d say “I want to sound like Britney Spears!” and I’d go “There’s the door. And there’s the number of the guy who made her sound like that.”
I’m not into clones. If you listen to the artists I’ve worked with, no one sounds like anybody, I don’t think. And I try not to listen to a lot of music because of that. I do not want to be influenced by anything past, like, 1975. I want to be influenced by the artists I’m working with, that’s it. That’s so hippie [laughs].
Ovrld: With the artists you’ve worked with so far, what would you consider some of your greatest successes?
Josh: When people go quit their job and become a musician based upon the recordings they heard. I tend to judge success a lot differently than some. Record sales have nothing to do with success for a guy like me. Not that I’ve even worked with a bunch of people who have sold a lot of records.
It’s more about taking that girl whose entire life heard her family say “Stop playing guitar, go get a job, you can’t do this, there’s not future for you,” etc etc. Or taking that kid no one believed in, the one everyone laughed at. Or that kid that was a jock in high school and sits down and starts writing like James Taylor and never shared it with anybody until he turned 45. And then seeing that transformation take place, where they say “You know what? I can do this. For the first time in my life I feel as if I can pull this off.” And I try to give that to them, because it does help the recording process, and I love to witness that. That’s the part that helps me sleep at night, when the coal miner from West Virginia walks in and quits his job after our first pre-production session because he says “the mines are not for me, but music is.” And he’s never felt that way in his whole life and no one has ever come by and told him that that was a possibility. And I firmly believe that it is.
So that’s my biggest success story of this job. That and staying alive all these years, which has been a challenge. But just watching people step across that line, like I did. I used to have a medical degree and I practiced medicine and I quit that to go be a loser in a band. It was the best move I ever made. And I like to see other people make that choice. I love it. I’m there for them, 110%.
Ovrld: What are some of the things that make your studio set-up and how you utilize it different from others?
Josh: The whole property is the studio. You know, from the video game den to the porch to the yard to the grill to the garden to the bike path…the whole entire area is a creative sanctuary. People come here from all over the place to stay a week at a time, or longer, or they come once a month, and they stay here. And they relax, and they get it done when the universe tells them it’s time to get in that booth, not a minute sooner, not a second later. That’s how I like to make records. That’s why I don’t do hourly at all. I’ll work with somebody for eight months if I have to, for the same price it would cost somebody to work for three weeks with me. Because I put as much into them as necessary, without fail, until we all achieve what it is we’re going for.
So that’s the thing that sets this place apart, it’s a comfort zone. The whole entire space is designed for creativity and fun and relaxation. That’s how this place is run, there’s no clockwatching, you might say.
Ovrld: Do you play a lot of the instruments on your recordings?
Josh: Yes. Not really well. I can get by. But I generally produce a song by myself and then I send it to session artists to play, because they’re the people that make me awesome, to be honest. Guys like Toshi Yanagi, and Brian Mendez, and Chris Trafton [drummer for Carolyn Wonderland and others], Brooke Langton, Greg Cash, Ry Dill, these are the people that make me awesome. These are the most incredible artists on the planet, in my book, and any time I can use the excuse for them to come over and play, and me witness it in person, I’m all over that, man.
Ovrld: What are some of the plans you have for your Invengo going forward?
Josh: I would like to continue what I’m doing because I’m very happy. That’s my plan. There are other plans [laughs]. But everybody’s got plans. But for starters, the most important thing for me is that I want to continue assisting people with whatever I can help them with, whether they appreciate it or not, or whether they deserve it or not, it’s for the song. I am going to continue doing that. Nothing’s going to stop me from doing that. You could cut my head off and I will find a way. Put it in a jar and I’ll get an engineer and I’ll continue to producer records the best I can. As a head in a jar [laughs].
But that’s my plan. I want to keep helping Austin because I do feel Austin needs some help. Not everybody. There are a lot of people here who are doing great, and I’m really proud of them and I applaud their success. There are a lot of people here who should be doing a lot better, and I can see why they’re not, and I’d like to be that person who removes those numbers out of their equation and gets them pointed in the right direction.
I also want more really talented people. Not kids up there with guitars singing Hallmark card lyrics. I want some real shit. I want to know the material from artists I work with came from a spot of life and death, instead of “I learned some chords and I want to rhyme some silly words and wear tight pants and sign up for American Idol.” Not my thing. I definitely don’t want to do that. I want to do more of the good stuff, you know? And see some of these artists succeed. I’ll die to see them succeed if I have to.
Ovrld: Well, let’s hope it doesn’t get to that point…
Josh: [laughs] It’s true! I would jump in front of a bus for some of these artists.
Ovrld: What are some of the traits of these kinds of artists you are drawn to?
Josh: Part of it is that they’re like me when I was them, and nobody was there to help me. That’s part of it. They’re supernatural, in my opinion, otherwise I wouldn’t offer my services to them. There’s something about them to me personally that sets them apart from 100% of the population, each in their own way. That doesn’t meant the artists are identical, but it’s the way that they sing, it’s the songs that they write, the way that they perform them, the way that it touches me. When something reaches out and grabs me like that, I have to be a good steward to it, I have to be the one to make sure it doesn’t end up in the hands of an evil villain or a factory-type, feed-the-meter, cookie cutter, copy and paste world. I have to make sure it doesn’t end up there. I don’t know how else to say it. That’s how I feel about the songs I work on, they’re my children and I want the best for them.
Not to get too hippie, but there’s an air about certain artists, the second I see them, especially when I see them perform. That’s why we do the Luna Mic event at El Sol y La Luna every [Thursday]. It allows me to look at somebody and invite them over. I can only do it once a week but these people who do video production in Calgary who come over and record performance videos with us, these are people we find at our open mic. They just show up. And for the most part, the talent is kind of sketchy. People generally go to open mics because they can’t get gigs anywhere else, no joke. But once a week, somebody shows up that knocks my socks off, that I fall in love with. I’m behind the sound board and I watch that guy or that girl sing a song and I’m just like “If only I could get that song in the studio, with my guys and the team…” and it just starts. I get this massive vision of the next ten years of this artist’s life. And the only way I know how to start is to get together with them.
There are a lot of jaded people here in Austin. A lot of really jaded people. And I can see why. I’ve heard what they pay, and I’ve heard what they get for what they pay, and I would be jaded too. But there are people out there who are good, and I think we’re a group of good people that give a shit about your life and your career.
Starting this month, Ovrld will be working with Invengo Productions on a live podcast series, connecting some of our favorite local acts with the studio. So keep your ears out for the details on the first episode and our guests!