For “Studios Sessions,” we delve into the stories behind the long hours in the studio and all that goes into making an album by talking with artists, producers, engineers, photographers, and more who are intimately connected to the recording process with some of the biggest artists in the world. These are the stories that rarely leave the booth.
Jessie Reyez’s music is so visceral that it demands that you exhaust your emotions in order to connect to hers when listening. As her engineer of nearly five years, Tim Suby has had to dig deep into his own just to keep up.
“Depending on that day, I just have to get into that mood with her, which can be kind of depressing. That’s the only way I can make something that she’ll really fuck with. So, I have to go to a place in my life that she might be at, even if I’m in a good mood,” Suby told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” Suby explains Reyez’s recording process, how his work with her led to him producing on Eminem’s last two albums, and more. Read below.
How did you and Jessie Reyez connect?
It was through an old friend in the Toronto area. We had been doing sessions and he was pretty much like, “Do this session with this girl. Her name is Jesse.” We did a session [about five or six years ago]. The first song we made was “Fuck It,” which was the first song on Kiddo. It was a really good start.
What do you notice about her as an artist?
We always try not to put ourselves in a box when we’re creating. When we first started working, we weren’t really worried about the end product. We worried about after the song was done. She’s very instinctual. She doesn’t really talk to you during the session. She’s just like, “I’m working on something,” and she’s just writing already. She’s not afraid to tell me, “What you’re doing sucks.” I was the same way with her, which was really nice and helpful.
Is there a song that either of you had to be brutally honest about in order to get it done?
The most raw of that is probably the song “Blue Ribbon” on Kiddo. It was a crazy mash up of different beats. We made the plan at the beginning of the session to just go crazy. There was a lot of me telling her, “Sing like this, change the rhythm, or maybe you should rap.” Obviously, she would be like, “What if you put a snare there?” It’s very collaborative.
What was your mental process when you made “Shutter Island?”
The beat came before the idea for the song. It’s funny, it’s either really complicated chaos or very simple. With that one, I was like, “Let me do something as simple as possible to lay a bed over.” So, I started with those strings. I think she wrote everything before I added the drums, the 808s and the rest of it.
She has some of the most emotionally exhaustive songs. What are those sessions like?
You could literally see her come into the session full of energy. She closes her eyes a lot of when she writes and when she’s singing. After finishing a song like [“Shutter Island”], she opened her eyes, and she looks like she just woken up from a nap. She’ll come in really energetic, and if we do a full song that day, cutting vocals and things like that.
How do you tap into your own emotions to make these beats or see her make her songs?
We’ve gained a relationship where I can look at her and know what sort of mood she’s in. Depending on that day, I just have to get into that mood with her, which can be kind of depressing. That’s the only way I can make something that she’ll really fuck with. So, I have to go to a place in my life that she might be at, even if I’m in a good mood.
When did you two start working on her debut album, Before Love Came To Kill Us?
Armand, help me on this one.
Suby’s manager, Armand: I would say that her team officially declared they were starting to work on and prepare for the album about two or two and a half years ago. Some of the songs on there completely predate that.
What songs were older songs?
“DEAF (who are you)” is really old. It was about four or five years old.
The beat for “DEAF” sounds like some abstract Stanley Kubrick score. How was the making of something so unorthodox?
She’ll come in to the room and say, “Timmy, be free.” She’ll be like, “Be free today. Don’t ask me anything. Do what you want.” Some days I’m emotional, so she’ll come in sometimes and will almost play the producer by being like, “Play me how you’re feeling.” I guess I was in a cool mood for that “DEAF” song (chuckles). It’s funny you say it sounds like a Stanley Kubrick score because I also score for television. I try to use all the stuff I learn from there. I’m always looking for new sounds and new ways to do things. She fucks with that. She says, “Get weird.”
Where did you two record the album?
We went to so many different studios. We worked at this studio Dragonfly Creek Recording Studio in Malibu that was on this farm and was really beautiful. We had other producers coming in and it was a great vibe. It was really dope coming into the studio. It was nuts. That was the most fun for her. There were all these different vibes coming in and she was going from room to room making stuff. “Do You Love Her” was made up there in a trailer. There was this back trailer studio that Fred Ball was in. She would go from the trailer to the main studio. There were two studios in there. I tracked live strings up there. That’s when it felt like it was a real album. That was a special couple of weeks.
How many songs were recorded for this album? Was there a white board with a running tracklist?
There were older songs that were on that list, as well as newer songs that didn’t make it. There were probably 50 songs. That’s not all the songs she’s made with other people and me. That was when we were like, “Let’s put this up on the board” and were cutting this down. There were songs that weren’t on the board that were coming back after we cut those 50 down. It was nice to have that much, but because she’s so good, it’s hard to cut it down... She wants to get everything out to the world. We just want everything out. She’s a real songwriter and true artist who wants to just make, make, make and share, share, share.
What happened to “Crazy”? That was a fan favorite.
We had some other songs we wanted to actually be on the album. Her and her team had made the decision to not put that on the album. Spencer “Moose” Muscio, who engineered the whole project, did that track. He’s a really good producer. All I did on that track was play bass.
What is the vibe she likes to have in a session to make her best music?
With her, it’s always good to have no ego. For this project, there were a lot of producers and people on this project. It was great to work with people and knowing, even if I wasn’t in the room, no one was like that. It was good to know she’s going to be in a safe space. Other than that, she loves her sage. She had some peppermint oil she kept spraying in everyone’s face. She said it was good for something (laughs). She’s very into her oils and her candles.
How did you end up producing two records on Eminem’s Kamikaze album?
That was me trusting her team. They were up there playing stuff and Armand, can you help me with this?
Armand: Eminem is a fan of Jessie’s and they were actually in the studio together. The way her managers told us the story was, they were in there and Em had asked Jessie, “Do you know any producers that you like? I’m looking for more beats.” She co-signed Tim super hard. Both of her managers started calling me, which is very rare. Normally, it’s just one or the other. They gave us the whole spiel saying, “Hey, he wants some stuff right now. Send us some stuff now.” Funny thing about Tim is, he’s really an in-the-room guy, so we don’t have a lot of beats just sitting around. So, we sent a folder of what we had. Then, a couple of days later we got hit by Em’s team saying, “Hey, we want to keep these two beats,” which they actually merged together into one song. That was props to Jessie and her management team.
Tim, is that also how you got placements on his latest album, Music To Be Murdered By?
Pretty much. Armand gained a relationship with Eminem’s team.
Besides Jessie, who’s the most talented person you’ve worked with?
There’s definitely a couple. Artist-wise, I’d have to say Victoria Monet, Kevin Garrett, who I’m working with closely right now. Also, [Grand son], who’s this really cool singer from Toronto. He does this mix of rock and hip hop.
Did you know Ariana Grande was going to hop on the “Monopoly” record you worked on with Victoria Monet?
No, it was just me and Victoria in the session. It was actually a really bad session. We had an engineer in there. She was cutting to the song in another room and he left. There was no window, so she couldn’t see, and he just left mid-recording in order to get his Postmates (laughs). She was like, “Hello? Hello?” No one had a way to get to her or anything, so there was a good 20 seconds of her being like, “Where is everyone?” It was one of those sessions where we were like, “We’ll get them next time” and it ended up being “Monopoly.”