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Interview: Steve Sopchak (The Square Studio)

Since 2002 New York's Square Studios has seen records from the likes of Such Gold, Ice Nine Kills and Honor Bright be recorded, mixed and produced there and all worked on by studio owner Steve Sopchak.

With experience playing in bands such as Eyes Averted and the Bells and Whistles, the Oswego State University graduate has been influenced from Epitaph and Fat Wreck Chord releases and other produces such as James Paul Wisner, Steve Evetts and J. Robbins, and over the last eight years has worked with a wide range of local to international bands and artists, with some of his most recent work including the remastering of The Ataris' 'Blue Skies, Broken Hearts… Next 12 Exits', Ice Nine Kills' 'Safe Is Just A Shadow' and the forthcoming split EP between Such Gold and A Loss For Words.

Sopchak spoke to Alter The Press about how he became a producer, his influences, the formation of Square Studios, his stand-out moments and more.

Alter The Press: Could you tell us how you first came involved with producing and mixing bands?
Steve Sopchak: Sure. I spent many years playing in all different types of bands, mostly focused on being an instrumentalist. I also had an obsession early on with the way my instruments sounded in a live setting. I loved getting new gear and learning every tonal trick it could perform (and still do, of course). The combination of that and the necessity to capture the sounds my bands were making at the time was what spawned my love for recording, mixing, mastering, and producing for other bands.

ATP: Are there any particular producers or studios that have influenced you?
SS: I went to my first studio at age 14, which was More Sound Recording Studio (then called “Jock Jams”) in Syracuse, NY. The owner, Jason “Jocko” Randall, really blew my mind and has since become a great friend and mentor to me. I’m so thankful for his patience, guidance, and generosity over the years. There are also many engineers and producers that I’ve worked with that have influenced me in one way or another. I owe a lot to James Paul Wisner (Paramore, Underoath, Dashboard Confessional) for his arrangement philosophy and his unspoken lessons in patience and professionalism. There are also many engineers and producers whose work I admire from a distance, such as J. Robbins, David Bendeth, Eric Valentine, Steve Evetts, Ryan Greene, the Lord-Alge brothers, and TONS of others.

ATP: In addition are there any records that have influenced you?
SS: Growing up I loved the Epitaph/Fat Wreck Chords era of punk rock records for the vibe that they conveyed so effortlessly. I try to incorporate the urgency of those records into my work on a daily basis. “Jersey’s Best Dancers” by Lifetime, later showed me that there was more to punk rock than I originally thought. That record forced me to explore, and eventually led me to a lot of cool, complex indie rock. Mock Orange’s body of work has made a significant impact on me, especially their most recent record “Captain Love,” that they did with Jeremey Ferguson. It is weird because I am just as influenced on the production-side by records like Paramore’s “Riot,” as I am by records like The Promise Ring’s “Very Emergency,” or Nada Surf’s “Let Go.” I think I try to blend the impact and pop sensibility of something like “Riot” in with the natural, organic beauty of the records from the other camp. That being said, there are a million records that have influenced my work, from Steely Dan to Shai Hulud to Taylor Swift, and I don’t think I could possibly cite them all and their significance to me, no matter how hard I tried.

ATP: How valuable was your experience playing in Eyes Averted and The Bells And Whistles to your studio work?
SS: I was really lucky to play in those bands with those people. The experiences with those projects shaped me in a number of ways but I think most importantly they have helped me as an engineer to know what it is like to be in a younger band trying to do big things. I can relate to my clients successes and struggles in a way that a lot of other engineers can’t, and we bond over that commonality. Additionally, I’ve always participated in music that has challenged me as a player, so the experiences I had writing and learning what I perceived to be really difficult songs has given me the ability to efficiently and confidently navigate my clients music, as well as the ability to offer unique rhythmic and harmonic suggestions.

ATP: You also spent time at Oswego State University. Did this have influence on your work?
SS: My experiences at SUNY Oswego were definitely more business-oriented, as I majored in marketing, but my education there provided me with all of the necessary tools to successfully launch and operate my own business based on my passion for music and recording. I am super grateful for that.

ATP: In the studio, how much input do you have on the bands’ songs? Does the amount of input vary based on the band you're working with, as you've worked with new and established acts?
SS: My musical input totally depends on the project. There are projects where bands come in and have absolutely every detail mapped out on Excel spreadsheets and need no additional musical input for a great record. Then there are projects where I am asked to help co-write, arrange, and/or play many of the instruments on the album. Most projects fall somewhere in between, where the client is relatively sure of what they want, relatively prepared, and I offer arrangement and aesthetics suggestions from the pre-production stages through to the final product. Interestingly enough, the amount of input is not necessarily related to whether the band is new or established. Some of the projects where I feel I’ve had the most impact are with the most established groups, and some of the most prepared bands are the ones who are just starting out. It also has nothing to do with a client’s skill level. It is more a matter of the client’s preference and what the project needs. There’s no pattern, so I’ve come to learn that the way for me to be most effective is to find out how I am needed in the project and to work as hard as possible towards fulfilling that role.

ATP: How did The Square Studio develop?
SS: I hate to paraphrase my website but I think it says it best: The Square Studio started in 2002 as a creative hub for musicians who were writing and performing music that most other area studios did not understand, on a budget that most other studios could not appreciate. It is, and always has been about pushing the boundaries of recorded music to meet the unique sonic needs of every client, and to do so at a competitive rate. The Square has since grown into a fully-equipped recording studio with a well-backed reputation as one of Central New York's best places to make a record. It has evolved into an environment in which younger bands can come to find direction while more established acts can come to fully realize their creative vision, all with someone who cares as much about the result as the artists themselves.

ATP: What advantages does The Square Studio have compared to other studios?
SS: Choosing a studio is a highly personal experience, so what is right for one artist might not be for the next, however, if I were to highlight my greatest strengths they would be my thorough understanding of the musical side of the process as well as the technical side, my ability to trust my ears so that I can work efficiently and effectively, and the unbelievably rewarding long-term relationships that form as a result of working here. Not to mention that I’ve got some killer gear to play with.

ATP: Ultimately why should bands record at The Square?
SS: Bands should record at The Square Studio because I care as much as they do about what they’re recording. I respect all music, have diverse influences, and I will not try to turn a band’s vision into some sort of pre-conceived ideal… I will stop at nothing to find unique and tasteful ways to capture a client’s audio and I will not let a project leave until it is above and beyond our collective expectations. I don’t care if a band is selling 25 records or 25,000—I value everyone’s work equally.

ATP: Having worked with numerous bands and artists for nearly 10 years, are there any records you'd like to go back and change?
SS: There are a lot of records I would have approached differently if I had the knowledge I do now, and I suppose that will always be true. However, I don’t think I’d go back and change anything because it was all part of what has led me to become the engineer I am at this moment. In another 10 years, my answer will probably be the same.

ATP: I understand you've been working on a split release with Such Gold and A Loss For Words. What can you tell us about this?
SS: I am recording Such Gold’s side of the split. We just finished tracking it this past week, and I am currently in the process of mixing it. It features two new songs, both of which are some of the band’s best work to date in my opinion. I am stoked on it! I am really happy to have been able to work with Such Gold again and am so proud of how far they’ve come since we recorded “Stand Tall” in 2009. They deserve everything good that comes their way and I have nothing but respect and sincere appreciation for what they’re doing. In the studio they are always spot on and super enjoyable to work with, and I think it translates in the final product.

ATP: Having worked with various bands/artists for several years, what are your stand-out moments?
SS: A few records and experiences come to mind:

I did an album for a songwriter named Phil Smo called “Woven.” We spent 19 weeks in the studio on it and Phil allowed me to have a big hand in the arrangements on that record. Every instrument we could find is on that record, from an ancient accordion to Mountain Dew cans. It is one of the most eclectic records I’ve ever done and I am still as proud of it today as I was the day it was finished.

Another fond memory was when Mightier Than Sword Records did a bunch of 10th anniversary vinyl re-releases of some awesome albums, and I was asked to re-master The Ataris’ – “Blue Skies, Broken Hearts… Next 12 Exits” as well as “The Julianna Theory’s “Understand This Is A Dream.” It was unexplainably amazing to work on the records that I LOVED growing up for the re-releases.

I also just mixed the second record by The Brilliant Light called “Things That I Won’t Need” which was recorded by Jason Lancaster (Mayday Parade, Go-Radio), and mastered by Doug Van Sloun (Bright Eyes, Rescue, Cursive). To have been involved in a project with people whose work I respect so highly from seemingly opposite ends of the spectrum was a pleasure.

I also loved my experiences working with Ice Nine Kills on their newest record called “Safe Is Just A Shadow.” We did pre-production work for a few weeks in Ocala, Florida with Tom Denney Jr. (A Day To Remember), and then more pre-production work about 6 months later in Orlando, Florida with James Paul Wisner. We then tracked and mixed the record here at The Square Studio this past spring. It was a unique way to go about preparing for a record and I really enjoyed what I gained from the entire process.

ATP: What key skills does a producer need to have to get noticed? What advice would you give any budding producers/mixers?
SS: Engineers and producers need to have patience, passion, inspiration, and ears that can learn and adapt. Another important aspect is the understanding that all of this work is subjective and that you have to do whatever it takes to meet the needs of the client first and foremost—And that meeting the needs of your clients does not necessarily exclude you from satisfying your own creative needs as well, but sometimes it does—And that’s not necessarily a bad thing…

My advice would be to get into this because you love it, and to put in as much work as you can. Moving a mic an inch makes a difference, so learn how to use those differences, and then prepare to have sound behave nothing like you thought it would, because it never does. That’s why this is fun!

ATP: What future plans do you and The Square Studio have planned?
SS: The first half of 2011 will see new music from tons of bands including Such Gold, The Brilliant Light, Ice Nine Kills, White Picket Fence, and SO MANY MORE. Check out my website at: for updates on all that is going on at The Square.

ATP: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
SS: I’d like to shout out TRX Cymbals, SJC Drums, Green Mountain Drums, Curt Mangan Strings, and Evans Drumheads. All of those companies have been super kind to me throughout our relationships, they all make absolutely outstanding products, and I would urge anyone and everyone to check them out.

Further information on Steve Sopchak can be found at
E-Mail Steve Sopchak

Photo Credit: Julia Rabkin

Sean Reid

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