Published in The Music Network
Nick DiDia’s sonic fingerprints can be found across some of the biggest rock records of the past 20 years. The celebrated producer, sound engineer and mixer has worked on a staggering hit-list of albums by Pearl Jam (Vs., Vitalogy, No Code, Yield, Backspacer), Bruce Springsteen (The Rising, Magic, Devils & Dust, Working on a Dream), Rage Against The Machine (Evil Empire, Battle of Los Angeles) and many others. DiDia has a strong affinity with Australian artists, having worked with the likes of Katie Noonan and newcomers Holland, while his efforts on albums for Powderfinger (Internationalist, Odyssey Number 5, Vulture Street, Fingerprints, Golden Rule) and The Living End (The Ending Is Just The Beginning Repeating) have had legendary results. Now, DiDia is getting closer to his spiritual home. He recently touched down in Byron Bay, where he’s taken a full-time position at Studios 301.
You seem to have a real bond with Australia.
I first came to Australia in 1998 to work with Powderfinger and I’ve wanted to get back ever since. I’m not sure if it’s that I just fit in, but I really like it here. My family and I spent about two months in Byron in 2009, and we all just fell in love with it. My situation coming here, even though it was planned for a while, it was kind of last-minute when I actually arrived. I was working up to the point when I left. It was a 14-year journey which happened in about a month.
Australia has a long history in rock. Is that where Australia’s strength lies?
I’d say its strength is in playing real instruments. Even though not all of it sounds organic, most Australian bands come from a point of really learning their instruments. Which to me is the basis for any great band, whether it’s a rock band, or pop or folk. There’s an emphasis placed on the ability to play. For whatever I’m known for, my emphasis is placed on trying to capture a band and their energy when they play together. Australian bands typically do that really well.
That might have something to do with our garage culture?
It might. The Living End was the perfect example. As far as three guys in a room bashing it out, it’s pretty fun to be a part of what they do. The Australian music scene is great. It’s really diverse and different.
You’ve worked with some of the biggest acts on the planet. Is there a common thread which runs through these enormously successful bands?
Great singers, and great songs. That’s not to take anything away from the bands, but that’s what they have in common. And they all have a sound that helps identify it. People generally connect with the guy or girl who’s singing the song.
Do the big acts leave the ego at the door?
At that level, everyone is there to work. And get the job done. Not that it’s formulated or calculated. There’s not a lot of room for ego. You can get a lot done if you just work hard in the studio.
Do you have a favourite album you worked on?
Probably The Rising, the first Springsteen record I was involved in. That was one of the first bands that I worked where I was a fan of since I was a kid. That and Pearl Jam’s Vs. That was the first album Brendan O’Brien and I worked on that was really anticipated.
Do you feel anxious ahead of a release?
Yeah, absolutely. You do your best and hope people like it, especially if you’re taking any kind of chance with the record. Obviously it’s the bands’ faces on the front of the album; they probably feel more responsible for it. As an engineer or a producer, the primary thing is that the band realises their full potential on the record.
How do you set about making the record?
I’m just trying to make it sound great. If I’m producing a band, I really try to spend a lot of time on the songs before we get into the studio. Just working on the songs, arrangement and lyrics and trying to create an atmosphere in the studio that’s fun and people are excited about recording.
Where do you find inspiration?
A lot of the time, it’s from the young bands. When it’s the guys or girls’ first experience with making a record, their enthusiasm just rubs off on everyone involved. By the same token, working with Springsteen was that way, where he is such a hard worker and so inspired that everyone around him wants to work harder. Working with people who are really dedicated to what they’re doing makes you want to be better.
Is there anyone you’re desperate to work with?
I was a prog-rock fan when I was a kid. So Peter Gabriel is on my list, as he is with most engineers of my era. Beside the songwriting, sonically his music is always so interesting and groundbreaking at times.
Have you ever been tempted to run a label?
It would be exciting. Everyone who does this at some point thinks that they should be–maybe unwisely–finding and picking the band. Many have tried and failed. But it doesn’t stop people from trying it again. I’ve been involved in a band, Von Grey, who are now signed to Red Light Management in the States. We’ll see how that goes.