The L.E.D. lights of the recording studio equipment produce just enough of a glow for Dylan Magierek to capture the sounds. As the darkness around him masks other sensory distractions, the nuances in the music he’s recording come through in a way that makes him lose his sense of the world outside those walls.
Badman Recording Company founder and producer Magierek recorded most of his recent album, Happiness is Easy, in the dark. The dim lighting lent an extra degree of focus, transporting Magierek into another realm of sounds. "I would put headphones on, get sounds cranked up and start creating. There really is a magic that you start tuning into with that. You completely let go of where you are, and just get into the sounds that you’re creating. Adjustments to gear, delay pedals, reverbs, a different attack on the guitar from just a single note becomes a big deal. It just gives you chills at times."
Using the moniker Misc., he worked on tracks alongside John Askew and Eric Carlson when he had time in between producing other bands. "I always had pretty good confidence that I could get a song out, I think because I was doing it so rarely that stuff could build up enough," Magierek says, grinning. "I should be able to do one song a year. It shouldn’t be too hard to get — it’s been floating around my head. I should be able to capture it."
"You completely let go of where you are, and just get into the sounds that you’re creating...it just gives you chills at times."
The album is mainly instrumental slow rock with a lot of atmosphere, yet an emphasis on songwriting with vocals by poet/singer Daniel Ahearn gracing some of the songs. He points out that it’s good music for driving, or it can serve as a soundscape to support the natural meandering of the mind. "You start thinking along your own thoughts and the music is supporting it, or driving it in some direction."
Happiness is Easy was produced in bits and pieces starting in 2002. They made steady progress by setting a tight recording schedule and self-imposed deadlines for each track. "We’d just set dates and then it had to happen. There’s something about a schedule that can help anyone get something done if they’re willing to stick to it. It’s your boundary of completion," he says. And as someone who holds many interests, he’s found that structuring his time this way is the only way to give everything a chance to come to fruition.
Magierek has had to take his scheduling mojo up a notch in the past few years as he adds parenting into the mix. "Having a child causes you to focus a lot more on what you’re doing. You schedule things out a little bit more." He notes that when he does have a period of time to work on something, he does it with a fervor that he hadn’t necessarily felt when his time was more open-ended. "It can cause you to go gung ho in various directions and binge on whatever you’re doing. You can get just as much done, you’re just going to do it in tighter spaces." Again, it comes back to scheduling and creating structure: "You have windows, and you plan them out, and you work hard during them," he says.
Magierek got his start in music playing with cover bands in Hawaii and San Francisco before discovering that his real musical passion needs to be expressed in the studio rather than onstage. "I was always kind of a backup guy, a co-songwriter. Then I started getting the need to put out other people’s records and being excited to record other people’s ideas and concepts," he says. He went on to do a gig as a radio DJ which he credits with helping him get good at putting together sequences. He began to put together compilations for other people, and to help them with sequences and pacing. Working at Universal Music Group as a sales and marketing representative later helped him round out his skills and learn the marketing and distribution end of the music business. When he decided to start the Badman Recording Co. label and production company, he was well positioned for success.
He is a firm believer that people should branch out to find a variety of passions to pursue. "Find a few loves in life. A lot of people just have one thing, and it’s usually their job and maybe they have one other thing they’re interested in. You feel it in their personalities when they’ve limited themselves like that. You feel it in their depth of experience." He pauses, and laughs. "Then again, someone who’s taken on too much stuff, it’s hard to keep their attention."
"The studio is this great escape. When I come out I feel a lot lighter, a lot more excited that we created something, and we captured it."
When it comes to creating music, though, Magierek encourages people to take it one element as a time. "You can start with a single note and build on it. Harmonize with it, repeat it, modulate it. Suddenly you have this soundscape you’ve created." And by all means, record your experiments as you go, because you never know when you’ll come up with something you want to keep. "It’s really surprising sometimes when you do things that you didn’t expect. When things come out of your mouth that you’re surprised you said – in a good way. You can sometimes tap into something that’s from far away. I don’t know where it came from. It’s nice to get those things archived."
The Return of Happiness
Happiness is Easy came together during a tumultuous period of Magierek’s life when he was facing challenges in his family and the changes that brought about. "The initial pain and confusion of going through change is a big part of it. It’s about that change – what am I going to do now with my life? There was such a weight on me. We’d go into the studio and I wouldn’t think about any of that stuff. The studio is this great escape. When I come out I feel a lot lighter, a lot more excited that we created something, and we captured it."
Magierek named the songs – and the album – to fit what he was going through at the time they were produced. Despite the ups and downs in his life, the album title reflects his optimism that difficult periods do smooth out over time. "Maybe happiness is easy, but living life is tough, and relationships are the hard part," he explains, "but once you start getting used to the changes and feeling more stable, your new path starts to show itself and the happiness starts to return."
He continues, "Being in the now is such a strong way to be. You’re not thinking about your past or your future, so you’re not letting things bother you. You don’t have these big expectations. I think the studio does that — anywhere you’re excited, and you're in the moment, is cleansing for your brain. You’re not beating yourself up and you’re not wearing yourself down. It’s positive."
Dylan Magierek heads up Badman Recording Co., independent label and production company located in Portland, Oregon and and records signed and unsigned artists. Badman is home to releases by The Innocence Mission, My Morning Jacket, Mark Kozelek and many other remarkable artists. Dylan mostly works out of Type Foundry Studio in Portland where he is a partner with several other local musician and engineers.