30 Days Out Interview: Steve Christensen, “Townes” engineer

Christensen

Last week my band, Orange Is In, was recording drums for our latest project at Rogers Recording in Houston when I stumbled upon some cool information about our engineer Steve Christensen. Steve has worked with Destiny’s Child, Jermaine Dupri, Ray Wylie Hubbard and countless others who have passed through Houston’s legendary Sugar Hill Studios. He also worked on our first two records and is not only a great engineer, but also a great guy.

During a break, we decided to go to Antone’s Famous Po’ Boys to pick up a sandwich. If you’re ever in Houston, I suggest you get the “Original.” It’s filledtownes300 with salami, ham and lots of relish, but I digress. Anyway, we’re talking and Steve proceeds to tell me that he worked on Steve Earle’s latest and greatest disc, Townes. Pleasantly surprised, I asked him if he would answer a few questions about his whirlwind trip to the Big Apple and the making of, in my opinion, the best album of the year.

30DaysOut: How did you come to work with Steve Earle on Townes?

SC: I got a call from Chris Masterson of Son Volt, who I have worked with and been friends with for years. I had recorded his fiancee Eleanor Whitmore’s, new record and she happens to play with Steve’s wife (Allison Moorer). One day, Earle happened to mention to Eleanor that he wanted to do a record in his apartment and that he needed to find a Pro Tools engineer. Eleanor told him “This guy Steve down in Houston is the guy who can do it.” Earle liked the fact that I was from Houston where Townes (Van Zandt) was from too. So I got a call from Chris saying “we got you hooked up with Steve Earle and he’ll be calling you in 10 minutes.” I said “okay.” Ten minutes later I get a call from Earle saying “I’m doing a record of all Townes Van Zandt songs and I want you to come up and we’re going to record it here in my living room.” I said “okay.” He said “I need you up here tomorrow.” I said “okay.” Then there I am on my way to New York City and the next thing I know I’m recording “Pancho and Lefty” in his living room.

30DaysOut: Describe the experience for us…

SC: It all happened so fast that it literally took me a couple of days to realize what was happening. I didn’t even realize how amazing theEarle record was until I was long done with it, just because it happened so suddenly. But it was just me and Steve in his apartment. It was quite a departure for him because he’s used to making records where the whole band gets together and plays live. This record he wanted to just concentrate on the acoustic guitar and vocals and getting amazing performances and then filling everything else in later. It ended up being a very intimate setting. It was amazing to sit there and watch him, not just play Townes Van Zandt songs, but very emotional and amazing songs written by his friend and mentor.

30DaysOut: What was the best moment?

SC: “Colorado Girl” is the one that stands out. I think that is my favorite song on the record. It’s one where he just recorded amazing acoustic guitar and vocals and I really remember that one. The sun was going down in Manhattan, dusk settling in, and he just slayed that performance. He was so in the zone and that song just came across as something really special.

30DaysOut: Did he take your advice on anything or did he pretty much do his own thing?

SC: After the first couple days he realized I had good musical instincts. He would do on average six takes of every song and then we would edit the best performances together. It was kinda cool because we would get to a point where I would say “I like this vocal line” and he would agree. He also shot me down a few times. At the end of the day he would say “I’m sorry, but I have a vision for this.” I thought it was cool that he listened to my opinions.

30DaysOut: Tell us about Steve Earle in general…you mentioned something about a love acoustic guitars and pacing during the sessions…

SC: He is a very intense personality and a passionate guy and his passion right now is acoustic guitars. So whenever we weren’t recording music, he was talking about acoustic guitars. When he was talking about acoustic guitars, he was pacing back and forth in his apartment. So you have these amazing performances, the music stops, and he starts telling me everything he knows about acoustic guitars. I can’t hang with that conversation at all.

30DaysOut: …then you said he goes downstairs to the guitar shop?

SC: I think he sleeps in his apartment, but he actually lives in Matt (Umanov) Guitars around the corner. We would do a song, edit it, and head straight to Matt’s Guitars. We would leave, record another song and head back to the guitar shop. It was great.

30DaysOut: If the album is nominated for a Grammy Award, and you in particular are nominated for a Grammy Award, what will you do?

SC: I have no idea if it will be nominated, but I know it’s good enough to be nominated. What would I do if I was nominated? I would sh** myself.

Steve Christensen MySpace page

One Response to “30 Days Out Interview: Steve Christensen, “Townes” engineer”

  1. Thanks for that interesting insight into a great tribute album! Best of the year may not be far off – Townes and Steve = magic. 🙂

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