Producer Crosstalk with the Excellent Matt Ross-Spang

Few could receive a better birthday present or a better start to a production and engineering career than multi-Grammy nominee Matt Ross-Spang did. When he was 14 his parents gifted him two hours of recording time at Memphis’ legendary Sun Studio. He connected so well with the then chief engineer James Lott that he was invited back to intern when he was 16. Over his 11-year tenure he mastered his trade and has since worked with artists including Jason Isbell, the Blind Boys of Alabama and Old Crow Medicine Show. Records he worked on with all three have been nominated for a total of seven 2024 Grammys, largely in the Americana space.

Virtually all seasoned producers employ a method (or methods) to determine when a song has the requisite melodic magic. For Ross-Spang, the way a song makes him feel is his best gauge of its success. But there’s more to record-making than simply writing good songs. “Sometimes a song works on its own but less so when packaged as a whole record,” the producer explains. “When you’ve got 11 songs, does one fit with the other ten or does it say something that another song already says better? I often look to the artist because if they’re not fully singing it or they don’t seem excited, that’s my first tell."

For many producers and engineers, establishing their own recording space is a hope that often takes root early in their audio odyssey. From the beginning, Ross-Spang was intent upon a brick-and-mortar echo chamber as opposed to any form of emulation. His dream became a reality around 2021 with the launch of his Memphis studio Southern Grooves. “It’s really like a laboratory,” he says of his sonic setup. “When I work somewhere else, I have to bring equipment with me but I can’t bring it all. Inevitably there’s something you miss or wish you had. With your own place, you can be as creative and as fast as you want to be.”

Over the years and after hundreds of records, Ross-Spang has collected countless treasured memories. But his favorite is of a particular time that he recorded with Irish singer-songwriter Foy Vance. “We did all of the To Memphis record live and in [only] two days,” he recalls. “There was a 10-piece band and the members played everything together. For the first song, everyone was excited and Foy loved it. But he asked that we try it again but to play it like it was a secret. Everyone played less and very quietly and it pulled people in. I’ve used the phrase ‘play it like it’s a secret’ many times since then when the music warranted a gentle approach.”

Ross-Spang is working on a number of projects, many of which are under wraps currently. Additionally, he’s excited about the 27 tracks he crafted alongside his hero and mentor singer-songwriter Billy Swan recently for an upcoming record. Then there’s his work with Memphis jazz artist Tony Thomas, a member of the sonic subset that plays the Wurlitzer pipe organ. 

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