Blake Matthews (With Clarity / Clarity Audio Productions) - Sound In The Signals Interview

I recently had the opportunity to interview Blake Matthews of Clarity Audio Productions and band, With Clarity. We discussed what inspired him to become a producer, the most important tools and thoughts that a producer should bring to a project, producing three songs on the The Pacific Ridge Records New Found Glory tribute album, his thoughts on With Clarity’s album, ‘Rise’, recording their video for “Masochist”, and more. Check it out below.

First, thanks for the interview.

Thank you very much for taking the time to interview me!

You work as a producer with Clarity Audio Productions and also have your own band, With Clarity. How did you initially become interested in music and in working on both sides of creating music? 

I started playing guitar at age 10, I got my first extremely basic recording equipment at around 12 or 13, and I began playing in a band within the first couple of months of high school. I played in a heavy rock band for several years, and then in a pop punk/emo band for a few years after that. That band ended back in 2015 after some less than ideal circumstances with a producer and a record we recorded that never came out. It was around this time I started really taking the audio side seriously and began recording other local bands. I really wanted to provide bands a great experience and great end product they could be proud of, without a lot of the hurdles I had experienced working with producers. 

With Clarity was around in some form not too long after starting the studio business, but it really took a backseat to me building Clarity Audio. After several years of really devoting myself to the studio and getting to work with a ton of awesome bands, I really wanted to be able to do my own music again along with still helping other musicians. So late 2019 With Clarity started doing some shows and put out our first single in January 2020, not knowing that the whole world was going to change just a few months after kicking off the band.

What do you think are some of the most important tools/thoughts that a producer should bring to a project? How does this role lend itself to being in a band, as well?

This is a big question. I think the most important tool that a producer should have is $400,000 in gear...minimum. I'm kidding. I think today there are so many ways to make a great recording. For a lot of bands, they can record themselves at home, and then hand those files off to someone like me to do the mix and get the tracks up to a pro level. For a lot of bands, they can get good tones for their band, but it's the editing, the mixing and mastering that often require some higher technical skills than they might have. I spent countless hours just hermiting and working on this craft to get to the skill level I'm at now. That's time that if I'm a band member, I probably should spend writing songs, promoting, and all the other important hard work that it takes to be in a band. Like I mentioned before, I basically took 4 or 5 years away from really focusing on being in a band before I started back to it. So I don't recommend most bands go as hard on the audio side of things as I did. 

For other bands, they definitely see the value in coming to a producer to guide the process and help shape their music, so they don't want to record at home. Seeing as I'm pretty much constantly working on projects between With Clarity and other bands, I might make more records in a year than some artists have in their entire life. So I'd like to think that I bring something to the table to help guide the ship towards the artist's desired destination.

To go back to your initial question, I think it's important for a producer or mixer to bring the technical skills and experience to the table, but it's just as important that they can help guide the band's performances, arrangements, and to bring a fresh perspective to the music.

As for being in a band, it's definitely difficult sometimes for me to produce With Clarity. Like I said, it's often good to have that outside person come in with a fresh perspective, but I think as long as I, or one of the other band members have a clear vision of where the song should go, it's fine. I generally try to explore most ideas that each member might have for a song, but I try not to let us go down the rabbit hole of "we have to use every idea that someone brings to the table", so someone, usually whoever the main writer of a song is, has to have some veto power, because not every idea is the right direction for a song. But hey let's talk about it and try it and find out if it is right because we could stumble onto something cool.  

One project you recently worked on was The Pacific Ridge Records New Found Glory tribute album. How did you get involved in this project? What inspired you about New Found Glory?

I did a previous Senses Fail compilation with Pacific Ridge Records and did 2 tracks on that compilation. I heard about this new one and reached out to the label and they asked if I could send them some bands I knew that might be interested. I came into the picture towards the end of them putting it together so there weren't a ton of spots left for the compilation. With Clarity contributed a track, Logan's Circle contributed a track and so did Come Clean.  

Tell us more about your experience producing for three of the songs on the album. 

It was extremely rushed due to some behind the scenes complications, nothing that was really anyone's fault, like I said, I came into the picture late in the game on the compilation. The With Clarity track, was picked by our bass player Mitch because I think he was the most familiar with NFG's catalog and the songs we had to pick from. Seeing as With Clarity isn't really a pop punk band, we didn't want to go with one of their more pop punk sounding songs for our pick. We didn't have time to practice the song at all, so we basically had to learn the song as we recorded it. I went pretty heavy on the vocal and harmony production. The song has a lot of back and forth vocals between Mitch and I, as well as Chris singing the bridge. It was a blast. I think we spent about 2 days on the song in total. Come Clean and Logan's Circle both tracked their song in 1 day total from start to finish, along with recording a podcast that day. It was definitely quite the experience and I slept very well that night. 

This was also back in December 2020 so COVID was a huge concern at that time. Lots of precautions were taken between ensuring we had only the person recording in the room, cleaning between each person coming in to record, wearing masks, the works. We kept a separate area with more space for the band members to spread out and wait their turn, and we also had our friends over at the Your Friendly Neighborhood Musicians Podcast come to interview the bands while they were waiting. Basically what we did was have Come Clean's drummer Dallas lay down drums for their song first, then I sent the files to my editor to clean up the tracks and get them ready for guitar tracking. While he was doing that, we brought in Logan's Circle's drummer Sean to lay down drums and then sent those over to my editor Garrett. After that, we moved on to Come Clean guitars, bass and vocals and then finished out the day with wrapping up Logan's Circle's tracks. 

Overall things went smooth, but we essentially took 4-5 days of work and condensed them down to 1 day. I wouldn't say we cut corners, but it was one of those things where the time restraints dictated how the songs were produced. They were kept pretty raw which really fits the songs that they picked. It's funny how restrictions can often lead to great art. It also didn't hurt that both bands came in extremely prepared. I had the pleasure of doing records with both bands in the past so those relationships and how we work together were already well established. 

Your band, With Clarity released your album, ‘Rise’ late last year. What are your thoughts looking back on it now?

Overall I'm proud of Rise. That record was actually finished in late 2019 and was planned for a spring 2020 release but once COVID hit and other life events, it got shelved for a bit. I think that Rise was a record we needed to make because most of the band have previously been in emo rock bands and really that's kinda the plan we had in the early stages of With Clarity was to be a band that kinda skirted the line between emo and hard rock. I think for awhile now we have been wanting to move towards being more of a heavy rock band. On Rise we wanted to kinda show our roots from previous bands and also set the stage for where we are going. So I kinda produced and mixed it like a modern heavy band but with the songs still toed that line between emo and rock. I think Stronger, which blends a lot of synths and heavy guitars, is that stepping stone track that made the next single after Rise "Masochist" not feel like such a massive jump in sound.

You’ve released new singles, “Oxygen” and “Masochist” this year and a video for “Masochist” recently. Can you tell us more about writing and recording these songs and a bit about the new video? 

"Oxygen" is the song we did for the NFG compilation so I've already covered that. "Masochist" was written around October 2020, this was like the peak of political divide around the election. Just looking at social media, you would constantly see how poorly people were treating each other. That's where the line you hear in the song a lot "How did we fucking come to this?" came from. The song also takes a hard look at mainstream media and how it affects that divide. I wanted to be clear in the song to not target or align with one side or the other of the political spectrum because that's not really what the song is about. Recording the song was also interesting. 

Originally I wanted to get the song out in January but due to schedules it just couldn't happen to get the video done and whatnot. We were also bringing in a new drummer and moving our old drummer Chris to guitar. It would have been nice to be like the South Park of music and get a song so topical out so quickly, but we didn't want to compromise the promotional side and have no one actually hear the song. Because we were trying to get the song done quickly the recording process went quickly on this one too. The writing, demoing and recording phases all kinda happened at the same time. There's a ton of layers on this song. I think the final mix ended up at around 200 tracks. 

For the video, we worked with my friend Garrett who also does a ton of edit work for me at the studio. We shot the performance shots in my Great Grandad's shop where he use to restore cars. Then we shot the tied up TV screens scenes in the vocal room at the studio. I put together an ungodly amount of news footage from the last year from a wide variety of stations. Left leaning, right leaning, I'm an equal opportunity mainstream media hater haha. I shuffled them up to make footage for all the different TV screens. Just watching all that news footage shuffled together would be enough to drive someone insane. Garrett did an awesome job shooting and editing the video.

What’s next for you as a producer and the band? 

Next steps as a producer are really just to keep growing, keep producing bands, keep helping the bands I work with grow and hopefully continue to grow along with them. Next for With Clarity is we are working on our next single at the moment and we are also getting our live set together with our new drummer Sean. We have a lot of new material in the works and I'm so stoked to play "Masochist" live for the first time. The song has been really well received and I can't wait to perform it. We all really miss shows, we miss seeing our friends at shows, the people who come out to shows and the bands that we would hang out with at shows. I love the studio world, but constantly looking at takes under a microscope can be exhausting. I'm ready to get out there and have some fun on stage. 

Thanks for taking the time to answer the questions. Is there anything else you’d like to add? 

I think that about covers it! 

If people would like to check out the band, you can find us on instagram at @WithClarityBand and Facebook at Facebook.com/WithClarityBand. You can check out the new music video for Masochist here.

If you're a band and want to work with me on a project, I'd love to talk to you about that. The studio website is https://www.clarityaudionc.com/ and I'm also on instagram at @clarityaudionc

Follow Blake Matthews: 

With Clarity Facebook

With Clarity Instagram 

Clarity Audio Instagram 

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