From guitarist to music producer, Matt LaPlant has dabbled in a little bit of everything in the music industry and has worked with some of the biggest artists out there. Before he had the opportunity to work with artists like Nonpoint and Justin Bieber he was playing guitar in a ska-punk band with Poe Dameron from Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Rock|Life: When did you get started working in the music industry?
Matt LaPlant: I started out playing in bands and stuff like that but I was mostly too cheap to pay to
record in recording studios so I would offer to intern. One benefit I had was I was really good at soldering and doing tech work. So I offer to fix people’s stuff in exchange for studio time. So when I was interning I got to work in all the big studios in Miami like Gloria Estefan’s place, Crescent Moon Studios and Audio Vision Studios. A lot of times I’d be trading tech support for recording time but my band of broke up right about the time I finished college. Our singer, Oscar Isaac actually became an actor and is playing Poe Dameron in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He was in a lot of movies before that, but he’s a big actor now. So when the band broke up I kept pursuing the production aspect of things and kind of weaseled my way into a gig working for the Bieler Brothers at their studio. I did that for 8 years and worked with a variety of people from Nonpoint, Skindred and Malevolent Creation to Justin Bieber and Jennifer Lopez. So I’ve done all kinds of different music.
RL: Do you try to have a wide variety of jobs with the projects that you’ve worked on? Whether it’s mixing, engineering, producing…
ML: Yeah, I don’t try to carry around an ego about things. Like if I’m engineering, I’m engineering, and that’s awesome because I can just focus on being as fast at Pro Tools as possible and getting the best sounds as possible. When I’m producing it’s all about making the songs the best they can be and making the parts fit for the songs. If I’m assisting, I want to make sure that the artist is the most comfortable and the studio just kind of disappears and they’re just there being as creative as possible. If it means making sure they have coffee before they ask for it, that’s what I do. It doesn’t matter what roll I play. A lot of my records I do start to finish. I’m engineering from the beginning, I’m producing, I’m rewriting the songs, I’m reworking the songs with them and then I’m mixing at the end. So I do a lot of start to finish stuff.
RL: Do you have a favorite job in the studio or do you like to change it up?
ML: To be honest, if I spend too much time doing one thing I get too into it and I get frustrated. Recently I was down in Florida for about 5 weeks working with bands and I worked with like 5 different bands. I like to alternate between jobs to keep things fresh. Sometimes I try to take on a couple of gigs doing live sound stuff to stay on my toes. So much of live sound is about moving quickly, making sure the band is set up quickly and make sure the solos come up in the mix. When you get into mixing mode, you get super picky about little things that don’t matter. I do a lot of programming as well. One of my interns at Bieler, Stephen Swartz, has kind of gone on to be a fairly large guy in the electronic music scene. We had a song that we worked on called Bullet Train that I contributed writing to and it did really well and sold a lot of copies. It was in the top twenty on iTunes for like 3-4 years. With that song we never signed it away or put it on a label or anything like that, it was completely independently done. So all the money from sales came back to him and we all split it up. In that case I was a writer on the song, helped with the overall arrangement and mixed the song.
RL: When it comes to working in different studios, are you more of a freelance artist that books studio time or do you have your own setup?
ML: I have a couple of studios that I work with and I try to be fairly loyal to those studios. For instance, if I’m working in Tampa, I always work at the same studio. If I’m working around Miami, I always work at this one studio in West Palm. When I’m in Madison, Wisconsin I always try to work at DNA Music Labs. For the most part the studio is really just used for drums. I don’t necessarily need a studio to record vocals or guitars. I have a setup for recording guitars at my place that I use. I’ve got a big selection of guitar amps and all of them are modified. It’s kind of anti-Dave Grohl in a lot of ways, like with the Sound City documentary where everyone got together in the room and jammed. What I’ve found is that if I can work with a band to put a song together and make them see what the possibilities are and hear it sounding good instantly, then they can build themselves up around that and get better. Where as, if I just put them in a room and tell them to jam, there are all these political things that start coming into it. It’s much easier to program the drums in quick so they can hear the idea and then if they like it we can come back in at end of the project and track the drums. It gives the drummer a chance to practice to the drums that we all agreed on and really liked. I don’t believe in just programming the drums though. So by doing it that way we can kind of build things as we go and we’re not basing the level that the band can attain on their ability to instantly figure out changes while they’re playing in a room. So that’s kind of the benefit of the way I’ve evolved my workflow at least.
RL: Do you primarily use guitar amps? Do you have experience with amp modeling?
ML: I’ve actually had a lot of success with Pod Farm and I’ve used the Eleven plug-in, by Pro Tools.
I’m not opposed to those kinds of sounds. Sometimes I don’t really like guitars to sound like guitars. That’s how it is for one of the bands that I’m working with called Super Bob. The whole concept with that band is to not really make them sound like a rock band. They are a rock band but we’re not focused on making rock music. We’re making this weird kind of bastardized electronic hip-hop music. The rest of the stuff we’re referencing is way out of bounds for the typical rock band. That’s what makes them unique. So with them, I’m never focused on making it sound like a guitar. I’m always focused on making it sound like something else. They don’t use a lot of synths, but it sounds like they do. What you’re actually hearing is guitars. They’re just super processed guitars.
If I’m working with a rock band and it needs a rock guitar sound, I do prefer amps most of the time. I’ve noticed that the younger bands that I work with are more at home when I use the plug-ins. I had two bands that I worked with recently that were younger and I had their guitars running through one of Eddie Van Halen’s actual 5150s and they made me switch back to the plug-ins sound because there was something more immediate about the way it sounded. I was just talking with Misha Mansoor from Periphery and he was saying they use AxeFx on their records. He was saying that he literally has all the actual amps for the presets and models that he uses on his AxeFx, but he still uses the AxeFx because it works better for them. I don’t care what we use as long as it sounds good. I just think that kids will find a way to make music sound good, on the tools that they have. Ultimately the artist has to have some sort of concept of what they want to say or do or express. If you have an artist that knows how to do that, then it’s very easy for me to figure out how to work within that but if you don’t know what you’re trying to say or do, it will be a long day.
RL: You recently worked with a Madison band, Left of Reason. How did you get hooked up with those guys?
ML: The first time I met those guys was at a show in Madison at The Red Zone. I was there to see a band from Mississippi that I had worked with that was on tour at the time. I got there a little early and caught their set and then talked to them after the show. When we were talking they had mentioned that they were going to be playing a showcase show in St. Petersburg, Florida. When they mentioned that, I knew exactly what they were doing because I have been doing the showcase thing for 8 years. Talk about super small world, it’s unbelievable.
RL: Do you have any current projects that you’re working on right now?
ML: I’m currently working on the new Super Bob record. Some of the stuff that I worked on in the past just came out. It’s crazy how long it takes stuff to come out. The new Saliva album that I worked on, “Love, Lies & Therapy” back in August of last year was released over the summer. I’ve got this band from Cuba that I’ve been working with, called Escape, they literally defected from Cuba and got to play South by Southwest. They’re really weird. They’re like the biggest metal band in Cuba. It’s like semi-industrial and very heavy but it’s really weird because a lot of the rhythms are very Cuban oriented. There’s rumba rhythms and stuff like that. It’s super cool.