Jerry Finn: Empathetic record producer

Saturday 22 October 2011 23:15

Recording Morrissey is never straightforward. The former Smiths frontman is a gifted lyricist and tends to emphasise that aspect of his work. By the time the American producer Jerry Finn worked with him in 2003, the notoriously choosy Morrissey had used four different producers over half a dozen solo albums. He had also relocated to Los Angeles and not released any new music since 1997. For the recording of You Are The Quarry, Finn decided to shake Morrissey out of his comfort zone by changing the singer's modus operandi.

"Having everyone in the studio at the same time made the creative process much easier," the producer said. "Instead of trying to create the music around Morrissey's vocals, which is how it used to be done, we were able to create a much more listenable album because everyone was in the same room at the same time and it made the album much tighter. It's just purely organic and it sounds incredible. I think Quarry is Morrissey's best work because of how it was recorded."

Critics and fans seemed to share Finn's opinion, and the album, issued on Attack in 2004, was hailed as a return to form and went on to become Morrissey's best selling album, spawning four hit singles – "Irish Blood, English Heart", "First Of The Gang To Die", "Let Me Kiss You" and "I Have Forgiven Jesus" – and and selling more than a milion copies worldwide.

"I wanted a louder sound for this record," Morrissey said at the time of the album's release. "I was introduced to Jerry by a mutual friend. He made me feel very confident. He's not easily pleased and he's not prepared to be overwrought. He knows exactly what he wants to do. He was able to help me create the sound for this album that I had already been hearing in my head. This is the best album I've ever done."

Best known for working with third generation US punk rock groups like Blink-182, Green Day and The Offspring, Finn came to Morrissey attention after producing Destination Failure, the 1997 album by the alternative band Smoking Popes, who supported the singer on tour that year. Morrissey made his 2006 album Ringleader Of The Tormentors with the T Rex and David Bowie producer Tony Visconti, but enlisted Finn again for the recording of Years Of Refusal, his next album. Finn had completed production work on the album – due out early next year – when he suffered a brain haemorrhage in July. He never regained consciousness.

Born in 1969, he took the traditional route from assistant engineer via engineer and mixer to fully-fledged producer. In the early 1990s he became right-hand man to Rob Cavallo, who signed Green Day to Reprise, the Warner Brothers label, and produced the Dookie album with the band in 1994. When Billie Armstrong and his bandmates declared themselves dissatisfied with the original mix, Finn and Carvallo set to work again and came up with a brighter, crunchier-sounding album which has now sold 15m copies. As a new generation of teenagers discovered punk rock in 1995, Finn began a fruitful association with Epitaph, the independent label founded by the Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz. The two produced Pennywise's About Time album and a single by Gurewitz's side-project The Daredevils. Finally working on his own, Finn produced Rancid's ...And Out Come The Wolves, the band's commentary on major labels cashing in on punk rock, in 1995. He also mixed their 1998 album Life Won't Wait and Bad Religion's The Process Of Belief in 2002.

In 1999, Finn produced Blink-182's breakthrough album Enema Of The State, which made the charts around the world and sold 8m copies. Finn forged a strong bond with the punk- pop band fronted by Tom DeLonge and Mark Hoppus and produced their subsequent albums Take Off Your Pants And Jacket (2001) and Blink-182 (2003), and co-produced and mixed When Your Heart Stops Beating by +44, the new group led by Hoppus (2006).

Sometimes compared to Butch Vig, the Nirvana producer whose name was on everybody's lips during the grunge era, Finn shared production credits with Vig on Sing The Sorrow, the major label debut by the alternative rock band AFI in 2003, and a landmark in the post-hardcore genre, and produced Decemberunderground, their follow-up, which topped the US charts in 2006.

One of Finn's favourite tricks was to bring in the keyboard player Roger Manning, of the band Jellyfish, into the sessions by Blink-182, Alkaline Trio (the album Crimson in 2005) or even Morrissey. But his real forte was his dynamic, warm guitar sound, as on the Blink-182 albums and All Killer No Filler by the Canadian punk band Sum 41 (2001). This he achieved by recording instruments through more than one amplifier at the same time. He had a large collection of amps which he brought to the studios.

"Many engineers try to keep everything separate and add effects later," he said. "Players play to the sound, so you just have to get a sound and go with it. This allows you to mix tones together to get just the right sound."

Thought of as "one of the guys" by his friends in Blink-182, was in great demand. He could act as a sounding board or confidant and push musicians and singers to perform at their best. He would order food and shoot the breeze with his clients and generally create a relaxed atmosphere.

"He helped shape the sound and direction of Blink-182, from Enema Of The State all the way through to the end and into +44," Hoppus said. "When my son was born, while everyone else was sending us baby blankets and teddy bears, Jerry and his girlfriend gave him a tiny black leather jacket covered in metal studs and Ramones pins. Every day I spent with Jerry over the past 10 years, I feel like he taught me something new about music, or recording, or life."

Pierre Perrone

Jerry Finn, record producer: born 31 March 1969; died Los Angeles 21 August 2008.

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