The past year of Paul Laxer's life is coming down to four plinking piano notes.
It's a chilly Thursday afternoon, and the 28-year-old producer is in his Northeast Portland mixing studio, putting the final touches on the new album by Typhoon—a record the band, for which Laxer is something of a "fifth Beatle," started demoing in January 2012. He is hoping to finally sign off on it tonight. All that's left to do is perfect the transition out of the ringing guitar that concludes one track into the four piano notes introducing the next. Since Tuesday, Laxer has been fielding phone calls and emailed sound files from the engineer in New York he hired to master the album, trying to get the volume levels on that five-second sliver of music exactly how it sounds in his head. It seems like a superfluous thing to spend two days haggling over, but this is, by far, the most important project Laxer has ever been involved with. He thinks this could be the album to launch the beloved Portland chamber-pop ensemble nationally, and every last detail must be right.
"If you think small, you get small," Laxer says, staring at his computer screen as he opens the latest mix. "If you think big, you get big."
Thinking big is Laxer's preferred mode of operation. He isn't a Steve Albini type of producer, who takes pride in capturing the raw energy of a band playing live in a room. If an artist is looking to knock out an album over a weekend, he'll suggest someone else. Laxer prefers to take his time, meticulously building each song up from its skeletal foundation into a gleaming tower of sound. That makes him the ideal producer for a group like Typhoon, which, with 13 members, is more orchestra than rock band. He met the band when he moved to Portland four years ago, fresh out of audio engineering school in Atlanta. He recorded Typhoon's 2010 album, Hunger and Thirst, and based on that record scored gigs recording Aan, Brainstorm, Ben Darwish, Horse Feathers' Sam Cooper and others—enough to quit his day job and go into production full-time.
But this latest Typhoon album, Laxer says, "is miles above everything else I've done." It's his attempt to erase all remnants of the band's house-show roots and nudge it toward the masses. In other words, he's taking a big band, and making it sound even bigger. He queues up a new song, a booming anthem based around an angular, almost glam-y guitar riff from songwriter Kyle Morton. Laxer then opens a program on his computer and displays the sum of its parts: more than 100 individual tracks, including violins, dual kick drums, multiple tambourines, explosion effects and a keyboard part Morton practiced for weeks that appears on the song for only a few seconds. And that's just the intro.
"It's a new sound for us, and I'm very aware of that," Laxer says. "I think we're going to lose some fans, but I think we're going to gain a lot more. Iâm willing to take the blame for it, though.â
VISIT: Paul Laxer is at paullaxer.wordpress.com.