Behind the board with All-American Rejects' Nickolas Wheeler (All-American Rejects, Cassadee Pope, Never Loved, Caroline Dare, & More)
Most people know you as a guitarist, most notably from your band The All-American Rejects, but what's the backstory and progression for you as a producer & engineer?
Did you produce any of your own stuff while touring or have side projects? You have such a unique experience and I'm curious how that was part of your evolution to a producer/engineer/music creator now.
What are some of the biggest lessons you've learned in the music creation process?
What's your advice for musicians who want to get more hands-on behind the board?
These days, you have to be able to do everything. The role of “producer” has evolved, and budgets just aren’t what they used to be so you won’t always have engineers and session musicians available to you. But when you are around them, pay attention to what they’re doing and learn from them.
You now have your own recording studio in Nashville. Why did you want to build your own? How are you planning to use that recording space?
I’ve always had a designated space in my house (wherever that was over the years) that I called the “studio”, be it a corner of a bedroom, living or dining room, a spare room, etc.
But with the kind of projects I want to record, and have been fortunate enough to work on lately, I started to feel limited by the lack of isolation and the amount of ambient noise (air conditioner, lawnmowers, construction, etc.)
Having recorded in a variety of major studios, how did you approach designing your own recording space?
I’ve been so fortunate to have been able to record in some amazing rooms over the years (The Village in Santa Monica, Barefoot, and Conway in Hollywood, Mission Sound in Brooklyn, and even the soundstage at Skywalker Ranch). Obviously, my space doesn’t compare to any of those in size or history, but what they all shared that I COULD draw inspiration from was the “vibe”.
You've been involved in a lot of music making and there's no one-size-fits-all solution, so tell us about your approach for choosing the gear when recording an artist.
Because I’ve moved around so much and because I’ve been touring for over 20 years, I’ve recorded in a lot of different situations, so the first thing I tend to consider are my limitations. When I’m traveling or touring, I usually only have a 2-channel interface in my rig so the only decision really is what mic and what guitar to bring.
Who are you recording right now and how are you getting the sound you & they want to achieve?
- Favorite music to record? I’ve been working with synths and drum machines since the late 1900s when I bought a KORG Triton, but I’ll always gravitate towards recording organic instruments. That said, the genres I enjoy working in the most are rock, pop, and alternative. I love guitars and live drums, but finding interesting textures and combinations to come up with a truly original sound is always the best part!
- Favorite day in the studio: Drum day, vocal day, string day?
Drum day is my absolute favorite day in the studio for sure! It can be such a big production, and it’s really interactive for everyone. I love setting it all up, tuning and treating the drums, getting sounds, and finally just getting to work with a great drummer to really bring a song to life together. But I also love vibing out the space and having an intimate vocal session.
Either way, it’s all about making the performer feel excited and most importantly comfortable. I really enjoy building that mutual trust with an artist so that they feel safe to try anything and also open to being pushed in a way that gets the best performance out of them as possible.
- Favorite part of the music creation process?
I love it when I’m so excited about what I’m working on that I lose track of time. Whether that’s editing drums, being buried in guitar pedals, or even just tracking bass when I feel like I’m onto something really great…It’s better than any other feeling.
- Least favorite part of the music creation process?
Those mornings when you’re feeling uninspired, or you know it’s going to be a tedious day in the studio. But like I said before, most of the time if you just sit in it and get to work on something you’ll find that inspiration and excitement. All of that said, however, tuning vocals really blows.
- Favorite Warm Audio gear?
I love the WA-47 and CX-12 on vocals along with the WA-2A. I run my piano and all my drum room and “color” mics through the WA-412, and finally, I have two WA-EQPs to put on my mix bus along with the Bus Comp.
- Music maker you admire or influence to your process?
The music makers I look up to and relate to the most are those who have similar paths as myself - started in a band, fell in love with a particular part of the process, and then really zeroed in on it. I definitely learned the most from working with Eric and Greg, and I really admire Tim Pagnotta and John Feldman for what they’ve been able to do with their careers in the studio.