By Shannon Carlin
John Congleton has a mantra that sounds like something muttered at Alcoholics Anonymous: “Do the work, stay out of the way of the results.”
The Dallas-based renaissance music man has been staying out of the way of the results for nearly 15 years, and though he might not be a household name, his detached approach has made him a go-to ally for those artists looking for someone who is willing to work hard on their behalf.
At 37 years old, Congleton has racked up an impressive list of credits that range from producing to mixing to engineering to drum programming for artists like David Byrne, Swans, Amanda Palmer, The Walkmen, The War on Drugs, Bill Callahan, fellow Texans Explosions in the Sky and his own band The Paper Chase. This year alone, he’s worked on eight albums, producing three of the most well-received indie records of 2014, so far: Cloud Nothings‘ Here and Nowhere Else, Angel Olsen‘s Burn Your Fire For No Witness and St. Vincent‘s self-titled release, which is his fifth collaboration with the singer.
“A lot of producers have a X, Y and Z way of doing a record. That’s not the way I work,” Congleton told Radio.com over the phone. “Mainly because I think that’s unfair to the artist, but also boring to me. I might as well go work at a bank if I’m going to do the same thing all the time.”
Unlike other producers, Congleton doesn’t think it’s interesting to have an overt style. “Just picking over everything and making it exactly how I want it, that’s so boring. I’m just gonna have a bunch of records that sound the same,” he said. “It’s also not particularly playing its part in the nexus of music that you’re just sort of destroying a style that an artist has cultivated throughout the years.” Instead Congleton says his goal as a producer is to capture that feeling he had when he was 13 years old, back when he felt like his favorite music just fell out of the sky. “It just felt like it just happened as opposed to created,” he explained.
Congleton considers himself to be a “spectrum producer,” meaning he will take on whatever role the band needs him to just as long as the record sounds good. Sometimes a band comes into the studio and has tortured themselves over every note so Congleton’s job is to record as much as possible and use his ear to decide which takes are best. Other times, Congleton is like an additional band member, co-writing music or acting as a session player, something he prefers not to do. “The moment I play something, I become one of the musicians and I sort of have some weird preciousness about it,” he explained. “It f–ks with your brain too much.”
(Photo Courtesy of Minna Choi)