To make a living off of artistic pursuits alone, you need to develop the slippery skin of an eel. It’s an evolutionary necessity in order to not get pinned down in one position. For musician and producer Jonathan Schenke, diversifying his skillset has been the name of the game for most of his professional and creative life.
As a musician, Schenke is a member of the Brooklyn-based electronic/art punk trio Eaters as well as their joint project P.E. with members of the now-defunct band Pill. When he’s not playing in these projects or lending his hand to run sound on tours for various artists such as Parquet Courts, Frankie Rose, Dirty Beaches, Dan Deacon and Girl Talk, Schenke has built up a reputation as a go-to producer with Studio Windows—the studio he co-owns and operates in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
Adding his special touch to albums that have gone on to be huge successes in the indie rock world such as Light Up Gold by Parquet Courts and Lush by Snail Mail, the New Yorker called him “a go-to producer for Brooklyn’s indie-rock elite.” In a 2017 interview with Tape-Op they echoed that sentiment, saying his “passion for excellent record-making is clear, and rewarding for everyone involved.”
With such a reputation for being someone who can make special things happen for bands and artists “in the room,” Schenke has had to learn once again how to adapt when things came to a standstill over the last year and a half. While he is thankful that his sterling reputation has allowed him to shift some projects online during the pandemic, losing the face-to-face collaborative feeling of making a record has been something he struggled to get used to.
“I could be working on your song. And [I could say], ‘How cool would it be if I took that thing and put it out to this effect and we could have that come in at the end of the chorus?’ If you were in the room with me I [could] just plug it in and show you and 30 seconds later, you can give me a thumbs up or a thumbs down,” explained Schenke over a phone call with Ears to Feed in March.
“Over email, it’s days of back and forth of ‘do you like that?’ Maybe they do like it, but it’s implemented in a way differently than what they’re hearing. So to fine tune it… that’s a handful of exchanges right there. Maybe the spark in that moment has been lost.”
When Schenke says he misses the interpersonal moments of recording bands in the flesh, he means it. Schenke gets fully invested with the dynamics of a group, even getting a “cooking” credit on Snail Mail’s album Lush when he whipped up meals for the band and crew while engineering the album with producer Jake Aron. “I genuinely wanted a cooking credit on the record,” laughed Schenke, reminiscing about his mastery in the kitchen during those sessions. “I think they thought I was joking but I wasn’t. I really did want that.”
Without the four walls of the studio to contain them, recording projects tended to go on for all hours of the day with constant communication between Schenke and his clients online. This caused him to really consider his time and to create boundaries for himself. “One thing I have picked up from over the past year, especially those first few months of not going anywhere and not having any sort of schedule, is my mornings have become a lot more sacred for me,” Schenke explained.
“Having a few hours in the morning where I can cook a nice meal, do some yoga, hang out with my girlfriend and the cat…I don’t want to give that up anymore,” he added, “Having that time in the morning for myself that I don’t have to share with a band has become really important and definitely something that may have taken me a lot longer to figure out had we not had the pandemic.”
When we caught up with Schenke, he was busy at work on the newest release from Japanese artist Nana Yamato, Before Sunrise, and the highly anticipated Liars album, The Apple Drop. For Schenke, he is thankful to have any work at all. But he is hoping to get back to what made him fall in love with the process altogether as soon as he is allowed to.
“I started working on more projects and it’s been pretty busy over the last six months,” assured Schenke. “Going forward, there’s a lot of cool stuff that I’m working on and I know that I have worked on that I know is coming out soon. So I’m really excited about that. I am really looking forward to doing more stuff in person where I can get in a room with a band for a week and just really bond creatively and personally, making their records together.”