Sonic Jr.: On the record with engineer Justin Pizzoferrato

Cellars by Starlight
By JONATHAN DONALDSON  |  November 26, 2012

In talking to a cross section of talented musicians about their craft, certain themes repeat, and sometimes the names of certain people. One of those names is recording engineer Justin Pizzoferrato — a scraggly-haired, mega-nice lover of sound with a terrible knack for being really, really competent.

"Every time I work with him, he puts together insane amp/guitar pedal combos that kick ass," says guitarist Reuben Bettsak, currently recording another Guillermo Sexo album at Pizzoferrato's Easthampton-based Sonelab (which he shares with Slaughterhouse Recording's Mark Miller). "He feels like a brother, or a part of the band."

Many others feel the same. Pizzoferrato has made a name locally for working on projects like the spectacular new Banditas full-length (engineering) or the most recent Speedy Ortiz EP (mixing). What he is perhaps best known for, though, is his work with Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth — relationships that he was able to develop partially by being at the right place at the right time (J Mascis and Thurston Moore both live in next-door Northampton), but mostly by having the capacity to work with noise rock's biggest giants.

Pizzoferrato first met Mascis after moving out to Western Mass six years ago, and his since gone on to engineer Dinosaur Jr.'s last three records. He describes the trio's process as one that starts with workshopping songwriter Mascis's tunes and then recording takes until they get the perfect drum track. "I feel like we are able to work and not think about the work too much," says Pizzoferrato of his Zen-like approach. It makes it easy for bands like Dino to keep coming back.

He first met Sonic Youth while assisting on their 2009 LP, The Eternal. He would eventually develop such a good working relationship with both Moore and Kim Gordon that he would not only work closely with them on their solo projects (including Moore's new Chelsea Light Morning and Gordon's Body/Head), but also partially set up his recording studio in their living room. He might consider the founders of one of rock's greatest bands to be just really nice friends; for the rest of us, we can't help but wonder what working with them must be like.

"Thurston will come in with his Twin Reverb and a couple of fuzz pedals, and I'll set up some mics, and he'll play for 15 minutes. I'll twiddle a bunch of knobs, and if I need to fix something, he'll tell me." It's not a lot different than working with any other musician, according to Pizzoferrato; the difference, he says, is in the confidence that they bring to the proceedings. It's the kind of confidence that has taught the engineer to always keep the tape running. "I know that at any second they could just nail a take."

DINOSAUR JR. + HUSH ARBORS :: Paradise Rock Club, 967 Comm Ave, Boston :: November 30 @ 8 pm :: 18+ :: $25 :: 617.562.8800 or 


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