by D. House
March 01, 2009
Jack Endino has a long history as one of the preeminent producers/engineers associated with the Seattle Grunge scene. Among the list of bands he's worked with are Nirvana, Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Screaming Trees, Blue Cheer, Supersuckers, Gas Huffer and High On Fire. He is currently the defacto manager and primary recording engineer for Soundhouse Recordings located in Seattle. In addition to his work in the studio, he was the guitarist for the influential grunge band Skin Yard (1985-1992), and is currently in Kandi Coded, a Volcom band that features snowboarding pro Jamie Lynn.
Over the years you have been referred to as the Godfather of Grunge. Do you have any idea where that came from?
You know, there was an article profiling me in The Rocket magazine. It was a full-page article in (I think) 1993 or 1994 and for some reason they titled it The Godfather of Grunge because, at the time, I had done a Mudhoney record and a TAD record and you know, it was sort of the “high tide” of Grunge in the commercial sense and suddenly everyone was looking back and saying… “hey, this is the guy who has been working with all these bands all along” and it just stuck and other people picked up on it.
People reading this will know you, if for no other reason, your early work with Soundgarden and Nirvana , two enormous bands exported from the Seattle scene.
The funny thing is everyone has heard Bleach, Nirvana’s first record. Hardly anyone I talk to has heard of Screaming Life (at least outside of Seattle.), Soundgardens’ first record that I recorded. But yes, I recorded both of those.
How did you end up recording Screaming Life?
Well in 1985 Kim Thayil lived half a mile from me. We were always hanging out and we played on a lot of bills together and when I got a chance to become part of Reciprocal Recording Studios in 1986, almost my first clients recording with me on an 8-track machine were Soundgarden and Green River and a few others just looking for somewhere they could make a recording that was better than in their basement. It was an 8-track machine and we were charging 15 bucks an hour.
It was word of mouth, I think. Nirvana was a couple of years after Soundgarden and Green River. The first Nirvana recording I did was in January 1988 and they just called me up and, they didn’t have a band name it was just Kurt and Krist and Dale Crover on drums and Kurt wanted to record some songs and I think he had heard the Screaming Life EP that had come out just a few months before that? I don’t know exactly how Kurt heard of me, to call me up in Seattle, when he lived in Olympia at the time.
I met you in 1984 when I was playing in Feedback with Matt Cameron and you had been friends with "Nerm"(the guitar player) from high school?
From right after highschool. Tom Herring is his real name. He "appeared" on Bainbridge Island a month of so after we all graduated from high school. This was the summer of 1976. He was actually the guy who gave me my first guitar lesson. Had it not been for that connection, I may not have ended up on the same musical path. It was because of Skin Yard that many of the connections into the Seattle music scene were made. I came to see Feedback play at practice, and because of that and the recordings of my own music that I had been doing at the time that eventually you and I started Skin Yard together the following year...I think it was from the Tiger Lake sessions which were all done on the 4-track that I owned at the time.
How did you originally get started recording your own music? How did that evolve? Was that the seed that led to your career as an engineer and producer?
I always wanted to record and there weren’t many musicians around me. The first band I was in I played drums and from the first time we jammed I had a cassette deck with 2 microphones right behind me at the drum set. I was making these little stereo recordings and I thought, well, this is really easy and it didn’t sound too bad...and for a few seconds it actually sounded like a band, and there was a potential of not sucking. Recording was always a mirror for me that allowed me to gain confidence in my playing.
I was recoding myself right from the very beginning, from when I first started playing music. Some of the first multitracking I did was with cassette decks bouncing back and forth from one deck and then playing live on top of the previous track. Then I had a roommate who had a 4 track reel-to-reel that I bought. I was thinking "this is what I've been waiting for my whole life."After that, I was always recording.
Let’s talk about Skin Yard for a minute. It’s been 17-18 years since the band broke up. Looking back, what is your memory of those times?
I think of Skin Yard as 5 records that I am pretty artistically satisfied with. 5 records that, to me, were kind of what my idea of the ideal rock band could sound like. Every record is different, every record has its own identity, the songs all sound different from each other, each record stands on its own as an artistic statement. It was an evolving organic band and I always enjoyed that aspect of it even though it was a difficult band to be in at times. I really enjoyed the recordings we made and the shows that we played. I really learned how to record and did a lot of experimenting using our stuff. There were things I could try in the studio that nobody else would let me do. I was learning how to be a guitar player and a recording engineer at the same time.
I have always found it interesting that we went through so many drummers and also that we had as band members some of the best drummers the Seattle music scene had ever known. Matt Cameron (Soundgarden/Pearl Jam), Jason Finn (Presidents of the U.S.A.), Scott McCullum (Gruntruck), and Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees/Mad Season).
We worked them pretty hard. The fact that I started out as a drummer was a little frustrating for me, because even the best drummer has his limitations. This is a coincidence because I was hanging out with Matt Cameron last night, before The Hater show. We were talking about some drummer and I made some comment about them and Matt said to the people we were with, “Ya, Jack was always hard on drummers and very blunt with them.” Barrett was a light, jazz drummer and I would tell him exactly what I wanted him to play. He cut his teeth in Skin Yard. He learned how to be a power drummer. We upped the volume compared to anything he had been in before.
What are some of the highlights of your recording career? Your fondest memories?
I would say the first Mark Lanegan record was a pretty magical record, The Winding Sheet. I played bass on about half the record. The whole record sort of just fell together.
I really enjoyed doing Accused in 1990, it was my first bit of thrash metal. I had a lot of fun working with Titãs in Brazil. They sing entirely in Portuguese. I got to record in Rockfield Studios in 1994 in Wales which is a historic studio -- there is actually a book about it. Bruce Dickinson, the singer of Iron Maiden. I did a solo record for him in 1996. A lot of the best memories I have are of travel and recording in exotic places and making records in strange conditions.
You're still engineering and producing, but also now you are playing again. Tell me about the band you are in now and how that came together?
After a very long time, my marriage fell apart. I found myself single again after 18 years.
I had a lot of unclaimed creative and emotional energy and I was thinking to myself, I have been a producer for the last 15 years and I really miss playing in bands. I need to play instead of just recording other people's music. In 2000, I briefly played bass in a band called Wellwater Conspiracy (Matt Cameron was interestingly enough the drummer in that band), and I realized how much fun that was even though I had no creative input whatsoever. There was another band I was recording by the name of Upwell who lost a bass player. I volunteered to play until they found somebody else, and that wound up stretching to six or eight months. I just had a great time, and that reminded me that I really needed to be doing this. Kandi Coded, this band I was making an album for a couple of years ago, lost their lead guitar player when he became a dad and left the band in the middle of making the record. They only had a few songs left to finish and invited me to play some guitar. I don’t usually do this, wearing two hats, producing and recording, but I liked this band, and their drummer had an energy that reminded me of the old days. Pretty soon they were playing a record release show and still didn’t have a guitar player, so I told them I’d play it. I had a good time doing it, and I’m still in the band two years later. Now we’re working on another album. Actually, right when you called I was cutting a guitar solo for one of the new songs.
When I spoke to you earlier, you mentioned you had just recorded a Flipper record with Krist Novoselic as the bass player. I find that to be an interesting full circle because even though Nirvana wasn’t the beginning, it was a lot of what you were known for in your earliest recording days, and here you are recording one of the classic punk rock bands with the former the bass player from Nirvana. Tell me how that all came together and what the experience has been like.
I had been hanging with Krist a bit over the years. It was not easy for him to maintain normal friendships with people due to the enormity of what Nirvana became; it gets in the way of having normal relationships. When it came time to work on the Nirvana Box Set, I found myself as a consultant to that project, and that put me back in touch with Krist after years of not seeing him or knowing what he was doing. He very much withdrew from public life. This Flipper thing came up totally out of left field. Flipper, the band who had started in 1979, got back together for the first time since 1995 or '96. Their original bass player, Will Shatter, had died a few years ago. They never really called it quits, they just retired. Someone invited them to play a big festival, so they found a temporary bass player and went and did the show. A friend of theirs who also knew Krist recommended him as someone not currently doing anything, adding that he was a Flipper fan. They figured it was a long shot, but they asked and he said sure. He played with them for about a year and a half. I’m not sure if he’s still playing with them as we speak because he doesn’t want to do the touring bit. Flipper wants to play and play and play, and Krist has already been there, done that. They did write a record together. They didn’t want to spend a lot of money, so they ended up calling me and asking if it was technically possibly to record it in Krist’s barn with a portable Pro-Tools rig. I had been there and knew the acoustics and said, “Yeah. I can do that.” As long as we mix it in a real studio, we can record it almost anywhere. I spent a couple weekends down there setting up gear. The band flew up and spent about a week rehearsing. We ended up doing that a couple of times over a year and a half, where the band would rehearse and we’d record for two or three days. Finally we had an album.
Is there anything you want to leave the readership with?
There were a couple of interesting records I’ve done in the last few years. High on Fire was last year. I did a record for the old drummer from Nirvana, Chad Channing. The band is called Before Cars, and it’s really a great pop record. Hardly anybody knows that Chad plays guitar and sings, but he has for years. Most recently I did a record for Toxic Holocaust, which is out on the Relapse label. There was Kulture Shock. Early Man will be in the studio in a few months. There’s Valient Thorr on Volcom with a brand new record called Immortalizer. Kandi Coded actually toured with them. I’m managing a studio here in Seattle called Soundhouse. I’m currently in two bands, the other being Slippage where I play bass, and it actually has one of the ex-drummers from Skin Yard, Scott McCullum. I’m still keeping busy past 300 records on my discography at this point. I guess I like to keep occupied.