In Residence: Blake Mills comes full circle with Sound City Studios

Blake Mills. Photo by Kourtney Kyung Smith.

Blake Mills’ bonafides seemingly have no boundaries — but even the Grammy-winning producer, composer, guitarist and songwriter wonders where the ceiling is after appearing on Bob Dylan’s heralded new album “Rough and Rowdy Ways.” In a social media post, Mills said, “I got to do the one thing I have always dreamt of doing, and it turned out to be better than the dream. Congratulations to everyone involved in making this album, thank you all for allowing me to be a part of it, and for giving me an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life. Where do we go from here?!”

Well, if he thought KCRW’s In Residence series — he’s correct! Joking aside, it’s an absolute delight to host Mills for a storytelling live session and Q&A conversation on the heels of his outstanding 2020 album “Mutable Set.” The album features his intricate musical stylings and appreciation for dynamic sound, space, and layers. It’s a headphone record if there ever was one; showered with melodic flourishes from a range of instruments. It swells and haunts, it feels cinematic and organic. And given that he coupled his immense talent with one of our modern-day lyrical poets, Cass McCombs, it should come as no surprise that the results would be inspired and singular.

The album was recorded at Sound City Studios. A room with such a rich history — I wager to bet some of your desert island discs were recorded there. From elders like, Neil Young, Elton John, Grateful Dead, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Santana, Guns N’ Roses, Johnny Cash; to disciples including, Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against The Machine, Metallica, Death Cab For Cutie, Arctic Monkeys, Queens of the Stone Age. It might be easier to tally defining albums that haven’t been recorded there.

Blake Mills’ Studio. Credit: Blake Mills.

It takes confidence and a deft hand to record in a modern day museum studio such as Sound City but for Mills’ it’s literally part of business. He details his relationship with the room below, artists he’d still like to work with, what he looks for in a guitar and performing with other musicians. Enjoy this intimate session recorded exclusively for KCRW featuring “Summer All Over,” “Eat My Dust,” and “Farsickness” and read more from Blake Mills below.

Your new album features a lot of collaborators from Cass McCombs to Pino Palladino, and over the years you’ve worked with a long list of impressive musicians (Fiona Apple, Alabama Shakes, Jackson Browne, Perfume Genius etc.). Who tops your personal list of artists you’d like to record, produce or perform with but haven’t had the opportunity yet?

Abdullah Ibrahim, Robert Wyatt, Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou, Arca, Jeich Ould Badu, Kate Bush, Dan Higgs, Rosalía, Shamir Bailey

What is the story of how you found your favorite guitar?

My favorite guitars will always be the ones passed down to me by other musicians. The gesture of gifting instruments is ancient, and it’s a beautiful tradition that carries a lot of meaning with it. It’s like becoming a god-father! Some of these people are practically trusting you with their children. 

I like guitars that make a big sound when they’re played very gently. Pickups that have a lot of detail in them are good for that.

I’m also always on the lookout for guitars that seem to write songs. One or two good songs can end up earning back all the money you spent on the guitar, and deep down you know never would have come across those songs without those instruments.

Blake Mills’ instruments. Credit: Blake Mills.

When we get back to live performance — where do you look forward to playing the most and why? Could be a venue, a city, an outdoor space.

What I most look forward to about playing live again is being able to have a conversation with a moment. Sometimes it’s about tapping into the energy of an audience, or the sound of a particular venue, but it’s mostly about the people you’re making music with. Right now I really miss playing music with people, much more than I miss playing for people.

Tell us about your relationship — both business and music-wise — with Sound City Studios 

I, along with my business partner Tony Berg, have a long term lease on Sound City. We each have a studio there, where we record and produce our respective projects. Coincidentally, Sound City was the first professional recording studio I’d ever worked in — as a member of the band Simon Dawes in 2007, and Tony Berg produced our record. So it’s all come full circle.

Blake Mills. Credit: Blake Mills.

— Written By Tyler Hale

Check out more In Residence sessions:
Aloe Blacc
Devon Gilfillian
Jonathan Wilson
Juana Molina





Technical credit: 
Edited for broadcast by Kat Yore