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PRODUCTION EXPO 2013: If you want to get on Dave Jerden’s bad side, try calling him a producer and see what happens. “Makes me sound like a dilettante,” he snorts. “That might be fine for some people, but not me. I just don’t like the word. I don't like the way it sounds."
So what would he prefer to be called? “An engineer is fine,” he says. "See, my father was a musician, so I used to go to sessions with him. I watched the engineer, and I thought he was the most important guy in the room. He was the guy making the record, not the producer. The engineer was always working, he knew what all the knobs and equipment did – he was like a rocket scientist."
In the late '70s, Jerden learned what all the knobs did as house engineer at Hollywood's famed Eldorado Studios, which served as his home base until 1996. It was an environment and a role that suited him. "I was centered," he says. "I knew who I was, and I got the job done." But by the mid-'80s, after he finished work on The Rolling Stones' near-breakup album Dirty Work, Jerden's world began to change. "My manager told me there were some new artists who wanted somebody different to produce them," he explains. "I guess it was my time. But I really started producing out of default. It's not what I was looking to do."
He didn't do too badly, though, especially with a pair of unruly late '80s bands – Jane's Addiction and Alice In Chains – who kicked up calamities of fresh, unrestrained sounds that helped flush the preconceived notions of the day's reigning hair metal bands right down the toilet. “My forte was bringing alternative bands into the mainstream," Jerden says. "Groups that were relegated to smaller labels and got attention in fanzines were the kinds of things that I gravitated towards. I treaded on the bits that other people missed, and they missed some good stuff.”
By the mid-'90s, Jerden was swimming in cash, driving a Porsche, and owning not one, not two, but four homes – and he was miserable. "For years I drove an old pickup truck and lived in small places, but I was happy," he says. "When you have a boat and six horses and all this stuff, you have to keep generating income to pay for it. I’m not that kind of guy. So when I found myself making corporate-type records and feeding the radio machine, I realized that I lost my bearings. I wasn't making records for the right reasons anymore."
He didn't retire, but he did lie low, working occasionally during the '00s while spending a lot time studying the applications of digital to analogue and experimenting with new ways to record. “It’s only recently that I decided to really get back in and do some work again," Jerden says. "There’s still new avenues to explore, new ways to make good records fast, so it’s exciting. If people have talent and have something to say, and if they want to work with somebody with a lot of experience, I’m interested.”
On the following pages, Jerden looks back at 13 of his most notable recordings, whether he was engineer, mixer or, ahem, producer.