SRO Interview With Grammy Award-Winning Producer/Engineer Paul Q. Kolderie

BOSTON - Over a 30-plus year career, producer/engineer/mixer/musician, Paul Q. Kolderie, has contributed (often along with his musical friend and partner Sean Slade) to the success of many bands and artists spanning multiple styles and genres including Radiohead, Pixies, Warren Zevon, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Juliana Hatfield just to name a few.

Article by Joe Milliken * Photos courtesy of Joe Harvard

Originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, Paul played in a few bands during his formative, high school years before turning to sound engineering. “I played in bands through high school but no one was really writing their own songs back then, so we played lots of Allman Brothers, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Uriah Heep songs,” Kolderie said in an exclusive, Standing Room Only interview. “Then, when I went to college on the East coast, the late 70’s punk movement was underway and I met up with some like-minded guys who were also interested in writing original material.”

After college, Kolderie landed in California with some of his musician friends and they started experimenting on a reel-to-reel, four-track machine their piano player had brought along. However, about a year later Paul returned to the East coast and helped form a band in Boston called the Sex Execs. “Most of the band lived in a house in Dorchester that we wired up as a primitive studio,” Kolderie said. “The band practiced in the basement and a snake ran upstairs to the attic where the ‘control room’ was.

“Fortunately, our landlord was a long tall transvestite who wanted to be Lena Horne and he encouraged our artistic pursuits. Our rent was dirt cheap so we were able to spend most of our time playing and recording and we actually got pretty good. One of the gang was an ad copywriter and our first paying gig was a commercial for People’s Auto Parts that ran on Celtics games.”

They continued to record demos at the house and other bands they knew started going over and recording there as well. “As our band got more successful, we started recording in real studios around town such as SyncroSound, the studio built by The Cars on Newbury Street... I learned a lot from those engineers.”

The first band and record Kolderie produced, which just so happened to take place at the aforementioned SyncroSound, was for a Boston band called Three Colors. “They had recorded at our house with good results, so we all went over to Syncro to record their EP,” Paul said. “That led to a record deal for them in England and we all went over there to pursue stardom... that’s a story for another day though.”

In 1985, Kolderie was part of a group, which also included Sean Slade and Jim Fitting(his band mates in Sex Execs) and local musician/producer Joe Harvard, that created a new recording facility they dubbed Fort Apache. The studio was a converted warehouse in the Boston neighborhood of Roxbury, and quickly became very active on the Boston-area indie rock scene. They soon upgraded the eight-track equipment to 16-track for the first Pixies record Come on Pilgrim. Then in 1988, after teaming with another local producer and musician, Gary Smith, they opened a second 24-track space above the Rounder Records offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts and called it Fort Apache North.

“The studio was started as a collective, by a group of producers who needed a place to work,” Paul stated. “We pooled our money (which wasn’t much) and built the place ourselves with the help of some local musicians and carpenters. It was not a good neighborhood, security wise, and one of the guys had his drums stolen out of his car while we were working. As we surveyed the damage somebody said ‘Jesus, it’s like fucking Fort Apache around here!’... and the name stuck.

“The idea was to start a studio that was only about rock... no dentist office paneling, no receptionist... it was a bare-bones place but you could really get a slammin’ sound there and no one felt uncomfortable...which is important! This is where I did my 10,000 hours of learning... at one point, I did 54 straight days of sessions.

“The first project released commercially was a single for the Oysters on Taang! Records called “Mine Caroline”, Paul said. “Boston was just full of great bands in that mid 80’s period... bands like The Neats, The Turbines, The Flies, The Pixies, Throwing Muses, Dinosaur Jr, Buffalo Tom, The Lemonheads... and they all came to the Fort to record.”

Kolderie also worked with the rock band, Morphine, an alternative trio led by the late Mark Sandman which combined low-tone, blues and jazz elements with rock arrangements to create an unusual and distinctive sound. “A friend, David Champagne, and I were driving down to Providence to record some of his stuff with Bob Holmes from Rubber Rodeo, and he mentioned that he had reconnected with an old school friend who ‘had a really cool, deep voice’... it was Mark Sandman.

“Soon after, they formed Treat Her Right, a truly innovative band based on a Chicago Blues - Chess Records kind of sound. We cut a record at Fort Apache - which was still an 8-track studio at the time - that yielded a hit song called ‘I Think She Likes Me.’ That led to a deal with RCA and unfortunately to a typical ‘80’s major label hell ride’ for them. After Treat Her Right crashed and burned, Mark took some time off and then started Morphine with Dana from Three Colors on sax. Mark called me in to work with them and that led to four Morphine records that I’m very proud of.”

Kolderie would experience many memorable sessions with a wide range of bands and artists throughout his time at Fort Apache, from the aforementioned Radiohead and Pixies, to The Go-Go’s and Warren Zevon. “Warren was kind of a pain in the ass to work with, actually.” Paul offered. “I think he felt like if he didn’t give you a hard time he wouldn’t be respected... “the music was fantastic though.

“His bass player/co-writer, Jorge Calderon, was there to help us get through the session. One of my favorite moments was during the mixing sessions in New York when Warren brought in some great backup singers he knew from the Letterman Show to sing on ‘Fistful of Rain.’ Everybody was laughing and joking around, but when they started singing it was just amazing...that’s my favorite track on the record.”

In the 90’s Fort Apache continued to thrive with sessions for such successful releases as Radiohead’s Pablo Honey and The Bends and Dinosaur Jr.’s Green Mind.

Paul has recorded, produced and engineered hundred's of records by dozens of bands and artists over the years including Joe Jackson, Buffalo Tom, The Goo Goo Dolls, The Dresden Dolls, Uncle Tupelo, Hole, Tracy Bonham and Billy Bragg. He continues to produce new music and is working with several artists now.

“Well, I try to keep busy! Last year I went to San Francisco to engineer and mix Chuck Prophet’s latest record Night Surfer, which is now out on Yep Roc Records,” Kolderie concluded. “This year I’ve recorded a great Boston and Washington, DC-based rock band called Kingsley Flood, (EP titled To The Fire) a really cool New York City-based girl pop band called the Prettiots who have a record coming out on Rough Trade and I’ve mixed records for Session Americana, Mark Mulcahy, Look Homeward, Spirit Family Reunion and the Platters.”

Other recent work includes mixing the 2014 Grammy-Nominated Della Mae record This World Oft Can Be, mixing the first new record in a decade by The Dismemberment Plan, as well as new records from Speedy Ortiz, Mike Gordon of Phish and Yellow Ostrich.
Other bands Kolderie has contributed to include the Detroit-based cowpunk band Goober & The Peas and the low-key indie supergroup Raisins In The Sun, which featured Jules Shear, Chuck Prophet, Harvey Brooks and the late Jim Dickinson.