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John Feldmann

Goldfinger frontman John "Feldy" Feldmann has one of the most enviable résumés in the music business. With roots in the California punk scene, Feldmann has gone on to produce and co-write with a wide variety of music’s biggest names, including Good Charlotte, Panic! at the Disco, blink-182, and 5 Seconds of Summer. In this episode, we speak with Feldmann about the ups and downs of his early music career, what bands can do to get noticed, the roles and traits of a good producer, and much more.

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Transcript

Speaker 1:
Welcome to an Ernie Ball Podcast. It starts now.

Evan Ball:
Welcome to Ernie Ball Striking A Chord. I'm Evan Ball today. We have Renaissance man, John Feldmann. John Feldmann of course fronts the band Goldfinger, but he's also a world renowned producer, engineer, A&R exec, songwriter, co-writer, everything. And he's got quite the resume from the Used, to Panic! at the Disco, to Hilary Duff, to Avicii, to 5 Seconds of Summer, to Blink-182, John Feldmann's collaborations reach far and wide.

In this conversation, we discussed the early days with his band, Electric Love Hogs. Electric Love Hogs seemed destined for the big time with "local bands" like Rage Against the Machine and Tool opening for them, but the big time never came. We talk about the heavy disappointment of something like that not working out, and we talk about how out of the ashes Goldfinger formed.

We also discuss the various roles of a producer, what does modern producing look like on the ground level? And I asked him what bands can do to get noticed today. All this and more, ladies and gentlemen, the man who's done it all, John Feldmann,

John Feldmann, welcome to the podcast.

John Feldmann:
That's me in my own studio in Calabasas.

Evan Ball:
Thank you for having me.

John Feldmann:
Thank you very much, Evan.

Evan Ball:
All right, let's start with Goldfinger and then we can go backwards or forwards from there.

John Feldmann:
Okay.

Evan Ball:
How did Goldfinger form?

John Feldmann:
Goldfinger's like I guess sort of a tip of the hat and a throwback to my first band Family Crisis. The first music I ever sunk my teeth into was punk rock when I was a kid. I went through all sorts of incarnations of different styles of music as most musicians or producers go through phases in their life, but punk rock was the first thing that I was like, "This is who I am." When I was a teenager, I'm like, "Fuck yeah," and I played in, I guess we were like a Buzz Cox Generation X influenced punk band Family Crisis.

Evan Ball:
Okay.

John Feldmann:
And so once I went through probably three or four other bands to get to Goldfinger, I knew when I started Goldfinger that I wanted to do something like my first band. I wanted to do something that was just like fun, pop, pop punk and just with some sky influence. I don't know, it was end of 1993, I formed Goldfinger.

John Feldmann:
I was selling shoes on the Promenade in Santa Monica and the guy that I sold shoes with was a bass player, so he was my first hire in the band. Then my best friend worked at Starbucks in the Beverly Center, so his boss was Darren, the drummer, and so he was the manager. Darren was the manager at Starbucks, so I knew him from my best friend at the time, Damien. He was like the only real drummer that I knew, so he was the drummer.

John Feldmann:
And then Charlie, our guitar player was my previous band, the Electric Love Hogs, guitar tech. And so it was kind of a mishmosh of a bunch of random people that I knew ended up forming the first incarnation of Goldfinger.

Evan Ball:
Okay. You're just singing at this point, are you playing guitar or bass?

John Feldmann:
I was playing guitar and singing, yeah.

Evan Ball:
Okay, guitar too.

John Feldmann:
I was doing both, yeah. But I never played guitar in a band. I played bass and Family Crisis and then I didn't play and I only sang in my other bands. And so this was the first band ever to play guitar in. So it started out like, I remember this girl Margo that sold shoes with me. She came to our first show ever at Bob's Frolic Room 3, we were opening for D. H. Peligro who's the Dead Kennedys' drummer.

John Feldmann:
He had his solo projects, we were opening for him and she told me after the show, she's just like, "Don't look at your hands so much when you play. You just got to look at the audience." Because I was staring to make sure I had the right chords because I was like... Eventually it just came with time. Like the 10,000 hour rule, I put 10,000 hours into playing guitar and then I didn't have to look anymore.

Evan Ball:
What bands were you guys playing with initially?

John Feldmann:
In the beginning, the first tour we did was with Buck-O-Nine who's from San Diego. They were like a ska punk band from San Diego. So we did like the Nile Theater in Phoenix and we just did like little regional tours. We played a lot with the Skeletones, who was like a Riverside ska band and they were great. They were like a two tom band, just classic ska punk. More and more scar than punk.

So the early, early days before we got signed, those were like the first bands that... I mean, Blink-182 opened for us a couple times, which was great way back in the early days. After we got signed, that was after we were on the radio was like our big breakthrough tour was opening for No Doubt. That was amazing. We probably did, I don't know, four or five months with them on the road. It was incredible.

Evan Ball:
Just to set the tone, would you mind telling the story how you guys almost got kicked off the tour opening for Sex Pistols?

John Feldmann:
Oh yeah, of course, yeah. Look, there's a few things in my life that I couldn't believe were happening. Going from a shoe salesman to getting an offer to open for the Sex Pistols for their reunion tour. They'd only been a band for what? Less than 18 months back in the '70s and then they came back in 1996. Our manager, John Reese got the opening slot, so we played I think probably two shows and then we played Bumbershoot up in Seattle.

The DJ before us just announced, he said, "Don't throw anything at the band, please don't throw anything." I get on stage and I get hit by like one of those jewel cases, those plastic jewel cases right in the eye. Literally cut my eye with it, and I was like, "All right, if that's all you got, throw every fucking thing you can at me." Like, "Song one."

So the was covered in probably two feet of trash by the time we were done literally, so the Sex Pistols were like, "You're done. If you're going to fucking be this disruptive, you're not..." The Sex Pistols kicking us off their, it's called punk tour-

Evan Ball:
Right.

John Feldmann:
... whatever. And so our drummer went in their dressing room and took a shit on their catering. They had this big like all the cheese and meat plates and just took a shit all down it. And I kind of knew Steve Jones a little bit just from living in Los Angeles and right after he took a shit, they're like, "You guys are back on the tour."

Evan Ball:
Oh.

John Feldmann:
I don't think it's related.

Evan Ball:
Okay.

John Feldmann:
I don't even know if the band really knew that we had done that, but we got back on the tour and they may have never even seen [crosstalk 00:06:45]-

Evan Ball:
Okay.

John Feldmann:
... shit, but it's like.

Evan Ball:
I thought that might have been the key like you needed to-

John Feldmann:
Or maybe they did-

Evan Ball:
... up your punk street cred.

John Feldmann:
Maybe they were like, "Holy shit, these guys are legit. Let's take them back." I don't know.

Evan Ball:
All right.

John Feldmann:
Pretty ridiculous though.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. So did you guys get signed based more on playing live and touring? Was it solely off a demo?

John Feldmann:
It was really the demo. From my old band, I had this 12 track recording thing that had... It was like this half inch beta. It was like a beta max tape, and so I recorded probably six songs that I'd written just in my... I just recorded drums on two tracks and just put together this like demo and I had all this history from making records in the past with my old bands that I knew a little bit about what I was doing. And I had a cassette at the podium at the shoe store.

And so this guy came in that knew me from the Electric Love Hogs, this guy Patrick McDowell and he came in, and he bought a pair of nine and a half Oxblood Dr. Martens and I stuck my demo tape in his shoe box. And so that's how I got signed, was working at the shoe store, this guy knowing me from an old band.

Evan Ball:
Wow, wow. And Electric Love Hogs was a different genre too

John Feldmann:
Electric Love Hogs was like funk metal. We were somewhere between like Motley Crue, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Judas Priest and Metallica. Our bass players slapped the bass and we were like... But we were heavy, we were like a metal band.

Evan Ball:
Right. But I heard you talk about lots of different bands you guys would play with that ended up getting huge, right?

John Feldmann:
Yeah. So the Electric Love Hogs, like Goldfinger as well, we had created... And it's a great question about like live and the demo tape is definitely the song. The song is what got Goldfinger signed-

Evan Ball:
Okay.

John Feldmann:
... but we had already created our own little kind of niche. We'd been playing for probably a year before we got signed, and so we had people coming to our shows. So by the time Jay Rifkin who ran Mojo Records, who was the guy that ultimately signed us, he came and saw a show, which a club that was packed. And so it was a combination of the songs and that.

But the Electric Love Hogs, we were just a wild band, we just went ballistic. We were all like all skateboarders. We had this Santa Cruz Skateboard endorsement. We were just street kids and we had all this Venice. Most of us lived in Venice at the time and so we were playing with Infectious Grooves, which was Mike Muir's side project.

We had this thing going on and we were selling out every show that we had played, headlining all these clubs, and so any band that would come into town would end up opening for us because we were... In the beginning, Alice In Chains, before people knew who they were, they opened for us, Tool played their first couple shows opening for us there.

John Feldmann:
The singer Tool, actually, Maynard was our mascot. He used to come on stage with a little like a chef's hat and a pig's nose and he had a lawn blower and he'd shoot hot dogs into the audience as our mascot in between songs.

Evan Ball:
Wow.

John Feldmann:
He was like our boy. Even before Tool was even a thing, he just was a friend of mine. He used to visit me when I worked at American Rag. He was just my friend. Pearl Jam used to be called Mookie Blaylock. They used to open for us after the basketball player. Rage Against the Machine, we took them on their first tour ever. It was really like San Diego, LA and Anaheim. It was just a real short little run, but Korn opened for us. We used to share a rehearsal space with Korn back in the day, so all these like seminal bands that went on to-

Evan Ball:
Wow. What an era.

John Feldmann:
... become legends opened for my band who nobody remembers my old band.

Evan Ball:
Would you've predicted success, major success for any of these guys at the time?

John Feldmann:
Look at the time, I think I've always had an ear for finding young talent or finding people that are... Because there's always a competition of like who's going to go off harder live? Who's going to draw more people? Whatever. There's always a competition, so we would be rehearsing with Korn and I watched their rehearsals. It was just going ballistic.

They would go ballistic in rehearsal and playing in front of nobody, and then we would go ballistic playing in front of them, just as our audience, so I always knew that... Korn invented... They really invented the sound that so many... Nobody still to this day can... They're the fucking greatest, the way they sound, going off live, they're just an incredible band that led so many.

Rage Against Machine, I saw play in front of five people at Coconut Teaszer and it was like... Zach was just so fucking focused, that guy, and I knew something was going to happen with that band for sure. But I also thought at the time, I'm like, "All these bands that I'm watching go crazy and have these audience come up, they were opening for my band." So in the back of my mind I just thought, I'm going to hit as well-

Evan Ball:
Sure.

John Feldmann:
... and it never happened for us. We ended up getting dropped by the record company. I went back to selling shoes and I'm like, "How the fuck did this not happen for me?" And I was, discouraged isn't nowhere near a word that could describe how I felt about having to go back to work retail after all that shit happened.

Evan Ball:
Mentally, that is a weird dichotomy probably for a lot of people in bands to be on stage basking in the glory and the adoration of the fans and then working a humble job. It's the reality for so many people, but it is an interesting.

John Feldmann:
There's an energy that you get when you're... For me, the bigger shows are always the easier. I think the biggest show we've done is 100,000 people opening for Die Toten Hosen in Germany, they were like the Ramones of Germany, this massive punk band and we opened 100,000 people. And we've done probably about 10, 60,000 people shows and it's like they're so much easier because you just... As long as you commit, if you're committed, like if you say, "Jump." They're going to jump if you're committed.

John Feldmann:
And when you're in a small club you're like basically talking one-on-one to everybody and it's like the jokes have to be really good because you can tell a stupid dad joke in front of 60,000 people and people are like, "Oh it's a dad joke. Whatever."

Evan Ball:
That's interesting.

John Feldmann:
In front of 10 people. it's not as good.

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

John Feldmann:
But there is something man that I think about that there should be some program for... Because everyone's got an arc to their career and whether you're a producer, or an artist, or whatever, if you tour and you've had any kind of success, then you have to go back to whatever. Raising kids or just back to everyday life when-

Evan Ball:
Sure.

John Feldmann:
... your career has an end, there is a real mental challenge to that of like I have failed. There's that feeling of like... At least I had that when the Electric Love Hogs split up. I was like, "Man, my dreams." I was so focused on making it in music and teachers and my parents, everyone said I would never make it. Everyone said, and so when that happened, it was like, "They were right. They were all fucking right. What am I doing?" And then obviously eventually, that voice, like I think we both have those, the idea of which wolf are you going to feed? The good wolf or the bad wolf? And if you're going to feed the positive thoughts, then that grows. And eventually I said, "Dude, I didn't go to school. I got no fallback plan, I've got to make this work." And then I put Goldfinger together eventually. But it took time to process that it wasn't going to happen from my old band.

Evan Ball:
I've heard you talk about having a fairly restrictive upbringing. Do you think there's a connection between that and becoming a punk rock wild man?

John Feldmann:
100%.

Evan Ball:
Or do you think you'd be that anyway [crosstalk 00:14:31]-

John Feldmann:
100 fucking percent.

Evan Ball:
Okay.

John Feldmann:
Look with my kids, they can do pretty much whatever they want. Look, they're good kids. My son's 14, so I was smoking weed at 12, but he's no interest. He just has no interest in any of it, so it's like he... Basically, whatever he wants, he's got right there at his fingertips, playing video games or hanging out with whatever friends and doing whatever he feels like. And we go boxing and he's just a really good kid, so I don't know.

I feel like I'm a supportive father. And my dad did the best he could when he was alive for sure. It's not like I have anything negative really to say now that I've got children, it's like, that's the best thing, you blame your parents until you have kids and then you're like, "Oh man, if only I knew I would have been much kinder."

But at the time they my dad was a very... He was so strict and he took all my albums away from me thinking that that was going to remove the rebellious behavior that I had as a derelict that I was as a kid, thinking it was music to blame, and then it was the drugs, and it was drinking. It was a combination of everything, but the music in the end ended up being my kind of savior. It gave me a sense of purpose and something to do in my life.

Evan Ball:
But you think that background pushed you towards a more maybe rebellious form of music?

John Feldmann:
I think having a father that never believed that it was going to happen for me gave me enough drive to want to prove him wrong.

Evan Ball:
So was there ever like a blow off top with your parents? Or was it just like a gradual... They came to you like you're going to be... He likes loud music and-

John Feldmann:
No. Like I said, I remember when my dad took my record collection away, it was like... When you do that to... I'm obsessed about music and to take away everything that kind of gave me life and a sense of purpose, like I'd come home from school after being harassed, or bullied, or broken up with, or whatever was going on in my life to be able to have music is like the one lighthouse that gave me hope and to remove that from me was it was fucking terrible.

So I'd punch holes in the walls, I'd run away from home. It was awful. I'd sneak out at night and we would just go just destroy... I would just destroy people's properties, key cars and just like... I was a punk rock kid so we'd steal cars, break into garages, just drank and drunk and do all the stupid shit that I think a lot of kids probably did, but for me it was a lifestyle. It was just all I knew.

And so before I really knew that music... At least when I was in Family Crisis, I never thought it could be a career, I just thought this was really fun. It was a way to meet girls, it was a way to get out of my head. And I didn't even think about the anxiety that I had as a kid when I was on stage playing these little garage parties and touring.

We toured with 7 Seconds and we did these little runs up the coast. All I could think about was that.

Evan Ball:
I'm curious, what's the dynamic between... Obviously, I know you've had your day partying with various substances, but at the same time you are pushing career forward. Is it counterproductive or did it help you in any way? I'm just wondering-

John Feldmann:
I remember we played a high school dance up in Lake Tahoe opening for 7 Seconds, and God, I was so fucking coked out. My mouth, I had the worst cotton mouth. I couldn't sing. I was like [inaudible 00:18:15], like full cotton mouth. Literally after the first song, I had to put my bass down, run to the fucking little water faucet at the school and just sit there for five minutes and just put all this water on my face. It was the worst thing for my career ever.

Look, I don't know if Sgt. Pepper's would exist without LSD. I wasn't there, I don't know. And I've heard all the stories about it and I'm sure that there are some people that drugs can maybe enhance the creative process. I am not one of those guys.

Evan Ball:
Okay.

John Feldmann:
No.

Evan Ball:
So you push through despite of it? You moved your career-

John Feldmann:
I pushed through despite it, but... I stopped drinking and using drugs halfway through the Electric Love Hogs.

Evan Ball:
Oh, okay.

John Feldmann:
So my success with that band, getting signed and having all these great legends open for us, that happened after I quit. I was hyper focused on music once I stopped drinking. When I was drinking it was always about the party and it was always about drinking, music was like secondary to that. It was like, "If I can get free beer, that gives me a reason to play music."

Like we used to play at San Diego State, I used to have this like cover band and they just paid us in free beer and I'm like, "I'll be there every week. I don't give a fuck. Get me drunk." Eventually we got kicked off of that. I was the greatest gig, but I ruined it.

Evan Ball:
Is that an abrupt change as a front man going from-

John Feldmann:
Wasted to sober?

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

John Feldmann:
Fuck, yeah.

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

John Feldmann:
Absolutely. I was reading, No One Here Gets Out Alive, the Jim Morrison story, so I was like. "My heroes." And even I love Guns N' Roses and all that kind of like wasted history. Those were my heroes at the time. So I just thought that was cool to be some staggering idiot on stage, but once you're not that and you can see it for what it is, it's just not entertaining. It just isn't great.

Evan Ball:
And you're a naturally energetic guy, so I don't think you necessarily need any-

John Feldmann:
I don't need-

Evan Ball:
.... sort of-

John Feldmann:
No.

Evan Ball:
... masking.

John Feldmann:
Fucking, if you put a gun to my head and said, "Do some fucking coke right now." I'd be like 911 immediately. I'd be like checking my pulse, I'm going to die. It would not be good. Even though I drink like probably 14 shots of espresso a day, so I'm probably pretty good.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. On top of being in a band, you wear many hats in the music industry, A&R, producer, songwriter. If someone asks you what you do, is there any specific title that you fall back on?

John Feldmann:
I'm a song, I'm a songwriter. That's what I do. That's basically what I'm hired as a producer is to co-write and collab with bands. I'm not a Rick Rubin character who helps... Rick Rubin is really great at taking a catalog of songs and picking out a section of a song and saying, "Hey, this is the chorus." And then another song he'll say, "This is the bridge of that other. If you can connect these songs together, you've got one masterpiece."

He's amazing at that, he's amazing at pulling that out of the artist. I write songs, I've written songs since I was 12 and so that's basically 90% of the artists that I work with want me to collaborate with them and write music. So I would say that's the thing I do the most is write songs because I've got a team of people that... When I first started producing, my first bands like Showoff and Messed even the, first Goldfinger records, I did everything myself.

I had to learn how to work Pro Tools, and edit drums and sound, replace snare and kick, and how to edit guitars and tune vocals. I had to learn how to do all that. So my first probably 12 albums that I produced, I did everything myself. I didn't let any engineer touch my work. And now that I've got... Back then I would only have to make two albums a year.

I would tour for probably five months and then I would spend three months for each album. And the record budgets were big enough where I could afford to. Now I've got to make eight to 10 albums a year, so it's just... What is that? Like 600 times the amount of work that I have to do, so I've got to a team now.

I just don't have the bandwidth or time to be able to co-write the song, record all the vocals, record the drums, all the tracking that I'm doing and then edit everything. I've got a team of people that are editing in the background that are sound replacing and editing drums and vocals while I'm working. I make a living as a producer, but I think as a title it would be songwriter.

Evan Ball:
Okay. This might be a silly question, but I think a lot of people might be confused a little bit or it's kind of hazy the understanding of the role of a producer in music. For example, so you're basically trying to improve people's songs, but there has to be a line you cross or you go from producing to songwriting, right?

Is there some gray area there where you're helping them then, "Oh, now I just help to write the song."?

John Feldmann:
Yeah. Back when I first started producing records in like 1997, there was a credibility issue about co-writing, especially in rock. Rock musicians never really co-wrote with anybody. I remember Aerosmith did and it was like... That's pretty much all people talk about, "Oh, this song was co-written by..." What's that guy's name? I forget his fucking name. Dez? No. Fucking, who cares? No one did it, so I was producing records without co-writing. And then there was a line that shift when I worked with more pop artists like Ashley Tisdale, and Ashley Simpson, like all those, Hillary Duff. When I work with those people, I was co-writing for them because they were more on the pop lane.

Then I became known as a writer, so when I work with Good Charlotte, we co-wrote together and they had a different producer, so it kind of shifted. That must've been like early 2000s, but I had already done like even the first two Used albums, I didn't co-write it all with them. But now it's like most producers or writers as well, most people that are really working producers are also collaborating as songwriters these days. Back then it wasn't that way.

Back then, a producer's job would be to move the microphone around the cone of the guitar cabinet until you found the sweet spot, that kind of stuff, and that's an engineer's job as well. But as a producer, you're helping get the right sound, you're making sure the snare sounds the way you want it to.

You've got the right drum tech setting up the right drums to make the sound that you're trying... If you're trying to get a Jon Bon and big roomy sound, or if you're going for something tight, and small, and punk rock, whatever you're trying to do, the producer's guiding the engineers or as I'm an engineer myself, I'm messing with the EQ and getting the right compressors on everything to make the sound happen.

Evan Ball:
Okay.

John Feldmann:
And then I'm sitting there with the musician and I'm saying, "You need to replay that again." Or, "The chorus didn't feel... You could try this different bass riff." Or I have a guitar in my hand and I'd show what I had in mind and they'd either imitate it or write their own version of that bass rift or that guitar idea that I'd have. They'd take it or they'd say, "Oh, I can do something better."

That was like more, more about recording the music than it was really about writing the music. But now it's like, like I said, there's also producers like Rick that don't necessarily move microphones and hit the record button, but he's more about getting the best content, getting the best art from the artist. And then there's also Jack Antonoff who's a real hands on kind of guy who's playing... Basically, I know Jack A. Little.

He plays pretty much everything on all of his records, so you've got a big spectrum of what a producer does.

Evan Ball:
All right. Let's take a quick break, come back and talk a little more about producing and the different projects you've been involved in. And also advice for bands.

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Evan Ball:
Is there a difference between working with more established artists and up and coming artists?

John Feldmann:
Usually the more successful the artist is, the more humble they are. The bigger the artist, the more open minded they are about trying things and they want to collaborate with you. A lot of times younger artists... Even to this day I'll get wrangled into doing a favor for a friend and some young band will come in here and then I'll collaborate and we'll write what I know is a great song that can help get them signed.

And then they'll take it and then the guitar player that was like stuck back home and couldn't be here will just fucking rip it to shreds because he wasn't involved and then kill the whole song. And it's like that happens all the time with like just inexperienced writers or inexperience artists, and it happens once in a while, slips through the crack.

For the most part these days, 30 years into my career, I don't really work with a lot of artists like that anymore, but when I was first starting out, like I remember the first band I ever produced was called TSS from Venice. We recorded like four songs and song number five came along and then they're like, "Will you help us do this gang vocal?" We had like 10 of us in a group.

And it's like, "Okay, the lyrics go, 'White power.'" And I'm like, "Oh, fuck. What the fuck is this? Who is this fucking band?" And I shut it down immediately. I'm like, "I can't be involved in any of this." Because I had no idea and it was like... So once in a while, you have to deal with something that's a little bit off color and I have to shut it down. But for the most part, most musicians are like they're the create art and they want to be collaborative.

Evan Ball:
Interesting. I would have guessed that it would have been the up and comers that were just, "Whenever you think, we're just happy to be here." But-

John Feldmann:
I know. I would think so too. Because me as a kid, Tommy Lee produced the Electric Love Hogs and he was like... Motley Crue were the biggest band in the world and they were... It's like they were legends, and so I would sit with Tommy and I just [crosstalk 00:29:18]-

Evan Ball:
All of this was in the early '90s?

John Feldmann:
... I wanted to learn. This was like 1990-

Evan Ball:
Okay.

John Feldmann:
... when he was producing the Electric Love Hogs. And so I would just listen to story after story about... He would tell me about Ozzy and Snorting Ants, like all of these great stories. When he told me to sing the part again, I'd be like, "Fuck, yeah, I'll sing it again for you because I believe you, I trust you and you've got the experience."

And so it is challenging when kids come in and just think... Kids that are working, selling at some cell phone store think that they know better, or think that their art is just different than anyone that's ever created music. It's like, "Good luck." That's all I can say is good luck and I'll never work with them again. That's the deal because I don't have the time or the bandwidth.

I'd rather just watch my kid play fucking fortnight.

Evan Ball:
What are the hallmarks of a good producer in your opinion?

John Feldmann:
Patience and being able to... Yeah, patience really, be being able to like deal with someone that's in a bad place in their life, but we still have to get the recording done. So being able to listen, being able to listen to what they're going through in their life, whether it's a breakup or something with family, or maybe they're not just feeling great mentally and be able to sit there and have a chat. I meditate a lot and so taking them through a meditation, or we do these cold dips in the pool in the morning, so with the fever right now we've been doing cold dips in the morning first. So it's really about like-

Evan Ball:
Interesting.

John Feldmann:
It's the psychology of getting that performance because I can fake a really good bass part or a guitar part. And it's like if you're even a drummer, we could really make it happen even if they're not in a great place, but with a vocal performance, if the singer isn't feeling it... I have to feel it.

If I'm not feeling it, the world's not going to feel it. If I don't feel the anger, or the performance, or the sadness of it, no one else is going to feel it, so they have to make me feel something. And so if psychologically they're just like flat lining and I don't feel anything, it's a waste of everyone's time. So I'll stop this session and we'll have to go talk it through and get them to a place where they can feel whatever it is that they're going through when they wrote the lyric.

Evan Ball:
So you've done pop albums, metal albums, punk albums. Is there anything that that really stands out if you look back across your career? Certain projects?

John Feldmann:
The Used were the first band that really took me from being an unknown producer to being... That's how I met Rick Rubin. I actually met Rick Rubin tried to sign Goldfingers, so I met him back then and he's always been the greatest. But I remember one of his assistants came up to me and said, "Rick knows who you are now as a producer." I was like, "Fuck yeah. Finally, fucking made it."

For me, it's like The Used changed my trajectory and then it was like I had done all of these kind of emo bands, like Story Of The Year and Cute Is What We Aim For and just a bunch of... I was known as like this emo producer. I was up for the My Chemical Romance album and all of that stuff. And then emo definitely took a back seat to like dance. Avicii came along, Skrillex came along.

Skrillex was part of that scene, so I worked with him in his transitional period when he was called Sonny and the Blood Monkeys, when he was doing dubstep and singing on top of it. We did about four songs together, which was fucking great. The guy's incredible.

Evan Ball:
You're saying for a band or a pop band [crosstalk 00:32:39] he was young.

John Feldmann:
He was in From First to Last, which was an emo band.

Evan Ball:
Okay.

John Feldmann:
Then that band split up or he left the band, started the Sonny and the Blood Monkeys, and then became Skrillex and just took out the vocals and just did his own... What he does is unlike anybody, that guy's so talented at production, he's just incredible.

There was like this transitional period, then I did Panic! At The Disco, which was a great like come out of the emo phase and then I did 5 Seconds of Summer, which put me in a whole different-

Evan Ball:
Wow.

John Feldmann:
... category of pop production.

Evan Ball:
Do you have advice for bands? How does a band today get noticed?

John Feldmann:
God, it's so much easier than when I... Easier meaning if you're going to succeed, it's much easier to get discovered than it was when I was a kid because we had to make flyers at Kinko's and put wallpaper, pastes on all the lampposts and all that. It was a real hard time promoting yourself before the internet. You had to be flyering clubs, which I'm sure people still do. I'm sure people still flyer queues at concerts and stuff.

I'm sure that it still happens, but like with the advent of the internet, if your music is fucking great, it will get discovered. If your music is good, you are doomed, you are doomed. You have to be fucking great.

I remember when I found Twenty One Pilots, when I first heard them, I'm like, "No brainer." They didn't sound like anything else. Singer was so fucking like believable. Drums were insane and the style of music, I just never heard before. And that was obviously during all everything. Facebook and Twitter and everything existed and their head just popped out because it was so unique and so well-crafted.

Evan Ball:
Problem with artists, everyone thinks they have the songs. It feels like it, right? You wouldn't write them otherwise, you think this is good stuff. If only the right person would hear it. How do you get heard so you could know? Is it playing live as much as you can or is it putting videos on YouTube?

John Feldmann:
It's definitely the internet for sure. Playing live is cool and look, there are bands and I think there's bands exists now. A friend of mine is in this band called Repeater that's like a throwback punk band from San Diego and they're playing live shows and people are coming. They play in backyard parties and there's always been bands like Dune Rats and Fidlar that are just like punk bands that like still love the idea.

I remember Zach from Fidlar. I saw this video of him, someone came on stage to take a selfie and he just smacked the phone out of rand and the phone just broke, and I was like, "That's so great." That still exist, but for the most part, the 99% that are just living in this world, that are living on their phones like everybody else is, it's just like...

Look if CKY or if any of that stuff existed, if Jackass existed now, which it does on TikTok. There's people that are really fucking funny and doing really stupid shit and harassing people in public and filming it. That stuff gets noticed. My daughter's on TikTok and you can see there's like hundreds of millions of views on the ones that are great.

John Feldmann:
And those like little [Nosac Scott 00:36:05] discovered because he just had this unique song on TikTok. It didn't sound like anything else. And so that's the thing is you've got to be... And you can be creative with no money and your fucking phone, but you have to be great. That's the thing.

Evan Ball:
Right.

John Feldmann:
Back in the olden days, in the late '80s, all these bands got signed. When Poison and Motley Crue were massive, there was all these bands that sounded exactly like them, like Faster Pussycat, and Tesla, and Tough, all these bands and they all got record deals just because they sounded like someone else. So that doesn't exist anymore.

You've got to have such a unique style and thing that happens. People like Billie Eilish, there's nothing that sounded like her, Adele, nobody sounds like her. It's like that's what it is these days. You've got to be incredible.

Evan Ball:
You had amazing career, still going strong. Can you look back and identify a high point or a low point?

John Feldmann:
Low point being when my band got dropped and I was back to working for $6 an hour, that was definitely a low point [crosstalk 00:37:13]-

Evan Ball:
Okay.

John Feldmann:
All these fucking old ladies would come in with their boils and corns on their feet and just want to show me their medical issues. And it's like after touring the world, I remember we opened for Ugly Kid Joe in Europe and all these, what I thought at the time were massive events went away.

I remember this guy Riki Rachtman had a show on KNAC, which was the metal radio station. He came in and I pretended like I wasn't working there because he knew me from the Electric Love Hogs and I was like, "Oh hey, what's up Riki?" He's like, "I just need to buy a pair of shoes." I just went to the bathroom. I got to pretend like I don't work here. So that was definitely a low point.

High point, two time Grammy nominations for records that I've... The Fever is a band that I helped put together with Jason, the singer, and put on the map, and get them signed, and get them a manager, and really helped from the very beginning. And then watch them get nominated for rock performance of the year on a song that I co-wrote and produced.

And then with Blink-182, California, the record that I produced and co-wrote on, it's like, to have that album be nominated for rock album of the year, those are definitely the high points in my career.

Evan Ball:
If say 1514 year old John Feldmann could look forward and see you now, could you believe it?

John Feldmann:
Pardon me, I think as a kid I'd be like, "Fucking sell out." You know what I mean? Part of me is just that punk rock ethos that I used to have of just like anarchy and nothing matters, and fuck authority and all of that. But then I think that quiet voice that's always lived inside me that like...

I remember as a kid when I'd sneak out at night, even though I'm smoking weed, I'm still looking at how big and like when I first came of age and looked at the universe and said, "All these stars, and what does this life mean? And why are we here? And that sense of overwhelmingness of what is it all mean?"

That kid would be pretty fucking stoked seeing my wife and the whole thing be like, "Holy shit."

Evan Ball:
You must feel vindicated too or he might feel vindicated.

John Feldmann:
Yeah, because there was so much diversity, I was just a terrible student. I was never meant to be a student. I've always had ADHD, I've always had my issues with addiction and all of it since I was a kid. So it just wasn't easy, and it's not easy for anyone. I think 16 is probably the hardest year for most people coming of age and discovering sex and all that kind of stuff, and to know that everything was going to be okay, would be, "God, I wish I could go back and pat that kid on the head and just be like, 'You know what? Just don't stress out so much about this shit.'"

Evan Ball:
Do you think if you went back to school today you might enjoy it?

John Feldmann:
It just depends because I'm really, really engaged with what I love. Like I just got a new computer, so I love putting the Pro Tools cards in, and the memory, and just putting it together and building it up, and then having... I love gear, I love guitars, I love microphones. I just love all of it.

John Feldmann:
So I'm hyper-focused when I'm working, but if I had to go back to school and study trigonometry, chances are it would be a disaster. But look, as an adult, I love language, I love history. There's a lot of stuff that I love that I'm sure if I went back, I love music, that there would be a focus that I had now on stuff that I'm interested in that I was never able to have as a kid.

Evan Ball:
In an alternate universe where you never came across a band or a guitar, do you ever think what that might look like?

John Feldmann:
Of course, yeah. I think ultimately, what I do is so much one-on-one people, so there'd probably be some sort of therapist, or recovery, or psychology, or something like that would have probably been in my future work. I always thought as a kid I'd work with animals because I guess when I was a kid I thought I would be this veterinarian of some sort.

Evan Ball:
Okay. Yeah. And for the record, you're known mostly as a singer, but you also play guitar and bass all with Ernie Ball strings.

John Feldmann:
Oh, with Ernie Ball guitars in my studio too. I just actually played on the Axis today. I was actually recording a bunch of stuff for The Fever with the Axis.

Evan Ball:
Oh nice.

John Feldmann:
It sounds incredible.

Evan Ball:
Nice.

John Feldmann:
Yeah.

Evan Ball:
Okay. Final question. Did you know only one in 2,500 people are born with webbed toes?

John Feldmann:
Oh God, I'm proud of the [crosstalk 00:41:40]-

Evan Ball:
And I'm one of them.

John Feldmann:
Oh, you are?

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

John Feldmann:
I swim like a motherfucker. How about you?

Evan Ball:
I can't swim very well.

John Feldmann:
Okay. Kindred spirits-

Evan Ball:
There we go.

John Feldmann:
... with webbed toes.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. John Feldmann, thanks for being on the podcast.

John Feldmann:
Thanks for having me. It's a pleasure.

Evan Ball:
Thanks for tuning into Striking A Chord and Ernie Ball Podcast. Thanks to John Feldmann for imparting his wisdom as well as some entertaining stories. If you're up for it, why not give us a kind rating on your preferred podcast app. If you'd like to contact us. Email strikingacor@ernieball.com.

John Feldmann:
Yeah, my kids don't have webbed toes, so they skipped that one.

Evan Ball:
Yeah. No, it's rare.

John Feldmann:
Yeah.

Evan Ball:
I was telling them, "I'm sorry you didn't get this. I'm sorry"

John Feldmann:
You have kids?

Evan Ball:
Yeah, two daughters.

John Feldmann:
Oh, okay. [crosstalk 00:42:32]-

Evan Ball:
"I don't want those daddy."

John Feldmann:
I know.

Evan Ball:
"I don't want that."

John Feldmann:
My kids are like, "Eh, that's so disgusting."

Evan Ball:
Yeah.

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