Looking at Rami Jaffee’s discography, it seems there isn’t a segment of the music industry the Grammy award-winning artist hasn’t touched in the last 20 years. Although probably best known as a founding member of the Wallflowers and the keyboardist for the Foo Fighters, he’s also recorded with everyone from Melissa Etheridge and Coheed and Cambria to Johnny Cash and Ryan Adams. Yet with all the credits to his name, Jaffee still can’t get enough of the studio, which is why it makes total sense that he would buy his own.
As the co-owner and executive producer of Fonogenic Studios in Los Angeles, Jaffee gets to spend his days and nights doing what he loves most: making music. Luckily for LA Music Blog, he also loves talking about it. Read on to hear what Jaffee had to say about how he got involved with Fonogenic Studios, his love of musical collaboration, and the Heartbreaker that helped launch his career.
Can you tell us a bit about how you got your start in the music industry?
Oh God, where do I start? Well, the Wallflowers started out as a band in the late ‘80s. In the early ‘90s, I became friends with Tom Petty’s keyboard player [Benmont Tench], who did every session on every record and every producer called him to play on shit during the ‘80s. He was like, “Dude, can I give your number to Don Was and all these great producers?” So I was like, “For sure.” I was young, and the Wallflowers didn’t have anything really going on yet, so I was looking to make some money.
Being like the only keyboard player that played a Hammond B-3 organ, I started playing on a lot of records. I end up playing on everything from Melissa Etheridge to Stevie Nicks to Macy Gray to Johnny Cash to Everclear. [LAUGHS] I just fell in love with the idea of having a studio, so when I did finally make money, I had a huge studio in my house in Encino. Then three years ago I met Ran [Pink], and he had this place.
Just so everybody knows, what’s the name of the studios here?
Fonogenic Studios. You can check out the website to see tons of cool pictures from our events and of the studio.
In this studio, you have the ability to do post, you have the ability to record full bands, concerts…pretty much anything, right?
Exactly, and we do it all. [LAUGHS] Right now, we’re scoring two scenes for a pilot for an upcoming TV show. On Wednesday, we’re recording wacky stuff in the sound stage room. In a few years, I hope this place is just booming and doing multiple things in the same day. I’d love to not only be scoring movies, but also be a one-stop-shop where me and Ran would be the composers on a film and do the cues, but we’d also decide, “Oh, so-and-so should sing on this weird song during the opening credits.” Or write a song especially for the opening credits of the movie. Or find some cool indie bands around LA and get a song of theirs placed in it.
You definitely seem like a person who just loves music in any form, whether it’s scoring for a show or just the random madness that happens here or being in the studio with the Foos.
Yeah, all forms, but at the same time, sure, I have favorite things. I tell people like, “Oh, if I’m gonna score something in the vein of Daniel Lanois’ soundtrack to Slingblade or Ry Cooder’s soundtrack to Paris, Texas, it’d be so fucking cool.” It just comes out easier. But to be honest, even if it’s some movie that has to use all 18th century instruments, I’d still be like, “Cool, let’s do this.” I’d still have fun studying that and making the director and the producer of the movie stoked.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the events that you’re currently setting up at the studio?
Okay. They’re all a little different, but they’re equally kind of wacky, ghetto, Rami-style. [LAUGHS] It’s a lot of good talent and a lot of good people coming together kind of thing. Basically, we’ve had them a couple times a year for the last two years, and every time we do it, we say, “Oh my God, we’re gonna have this every month.” The first time it was, “Every week we’re doing this shit.” It’s not stressful, but it’s a lot of shit to put together, to get our assistant and everybody on the phone to get sponsors and beer and wine and weird taco trucks to pull up and tent rentals on half of the parking lot and different bands.
Last time, my friend Pete Yorn’s band has a side project where they do a live Beatles karaoke band, so people signed up and they played Beatles songs to the T. It was killer. They were on the stage all trippy, disco-ed out, and we played Beatles movies on this big screen, and that was pretty wacky. A lot of people signed up. Liz Phair was here. She did it, and Pete and everybody got into it.
The party before that, we were onto something really cool. We all met Monday through Friday before the Saturday event and wrote songs. Jessy Greene, the violin player in the Foos, and Pink and me and like seven other cats had this weird, really ethereal delay pedal-type set, and we wrote songs for the party—how we didn’t record that in a recording studio or film it is just beyond me, [LAUGHS] but that was amazing. So beyond this party of art and food and schmoozing and hanging out and drinking, we’re doing this little weird art set in front of everybody. Next Saturday’s gonna be more like a carny/country/gypsy-style thing, so it’s gonna be a little more into the pedal steel and weepy slide music. [LAUGHS]
You’ve mentioned that you want to do these things to bring something to LA that you feel like is missing. Why do you feel that there’s that missing link between LA and just creation at this point?
When artists connect with other artists and kind of combine forces, that’s the thing. When Eric Clapton played on a Beatles record, they already had a guitar player. That’s so cool. You’re just combining forces, and that’s why side projects are special too. But right now, there’s a great scene going. It just has to come together.
My friend Gary Jules came back and did a KCRW night, but didn’t have anybody to play after him, and he goes, “Rami, would you do a Rami and friends? Get your hipsters and make some weird little thing?” I was like, “For sure.” I was there, and it was sold out. Then some people were blowing up my phone ’cause they couldn’t get in. And some people tried to come, but they couldn’t find parking. You look at my studio, and there’s plenty of parking. We could just do it here. This place is twice the size and less anal than the clubs.
So basically the whole idea is to just create for the sake of creating. Bring people together who aren’t normally together and perform. Just keep the music alive, whether it’s something that ever makes it out or it’s something that stays in the studio for 20 years.
Exactly. That’s why even when we do these recordings during the week—not even talking about our party Saturday—I still tell each person, “You can invite five or 10 people. Bring your girlfriend, your wife, your whoever, bring ’em. More musicians, bring ‘em. If so-and-so’s here from Seattle, he could come chill for a little bit and maybe get up and do something.” It’s kind of chaotic, but it’s a controlled chaos and the cool shit comes out of it.