/  02.10.2022

Recording engineer Joey Galvan has watched Wiz Khalifa and Travis Scott make musical magic in the wee hours of the morning. He’s been locked in the studio with Maxo Kream for up to 18 hours at a time. Still, it was Latto’s work ethic that impressed him. Atlanta’s rising star showed him something he’s never witnessed in any male artist.

“I’ve worked with a lot of male rappers, and I’ve never seen somebody work as hard as she works,” Galvan told REVOLT. “We’ll play her some demos and she’ll be like, ‘Alright, I like it’ and just walk in the booth ready to record. She wouldn’t leave the booth until she finishes it.” 

In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” the Grammy Award-nominated engineer discusses signing NDAs to work with Kanye West on The Life of Pablo, Maxo Kream’s 16-hour sessions and how Latto’s “Big Energy” was created.

Who was the first major artist you were in the studio with?

Wiz Khalifa in January 2016. I was already working at [Paramount Recording Studios] for two years before I got promoted to assistant engineer. So, I was helping out his engineer. It was my first session really being locked in with an artist. Funny enough, it was a 24-hour/7-day session (laughs). My main role was making sure his main engineers were good. I set up all of the microphones and equipment they needed. I checked on them periodically. I was helping move the mic when they wanted it moved. Sometimes they wanted the mic in the booth. Sometimes they wanted the mic in the room. I had to be able to do that really quickly. I also had to keep everybody happy. He had a lot of people come in and out. That was the first time I ever met Travis Scott.

You were there while they were collaborating?

Yeah, they were making music together. I was the fly on the wall at the time. They were pretty good together. It was also seven in the morning (laughs). I was surprised Travis Scott came through that early. That was the session for their song ‘Bake Sale.’

Prior to becoming the main engineer, what was your favorite session at Paramount?

I can’t compare anything else to me assisting on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo album. I had to keep it super lowkey. I couldn’t tell my family. I had to sign NDA’s. Every day they made you sign a new NDA (laughs). Those were also 24/7 sessions. We had an air mattress in one of the rooms in case he got sleepy. The song I helped on the most was ‘Ultralight Beam.’ I was in the room when he was first doing it. He was mumbling words until he started saying, ‘bright lights, bright beams,’ and started discovering the melody. He started repeating ‘ultralight beam.’ They recorded that, and I had to email Kirk Franklin and a couple of other people to see if they could help him with it. That was January 18 to February 18 of 2016. 

Your work on Terrace Martin’s Velvet Portraits earned you your first Grammy nomination. What is his creative process like?

He’s a very creative person. I was the assistant and main engineer. I helped set up his keyboards. He sets up at least six keyboards, so it takes over an hour to get him set up. He starts from scratch by just playing little melodies. He’s really collaborative. There are a lot of people in the room with him — usually six or seven. They all spitball ideas to him.

You were the recording engineer for Maxo Kream’s Brandon Banks, the project that inspired a lot of people to tune into his artistry. How did you and Maxo build such a deep connection?

The first time I met Maxo, he was doing the remix of Tay-K’s ‘I Love My Choppa’ song. Before Maxo got signed, I got in a session with him. He was a really funny guy. As soon as he walked in, he took off his shirt, started turning up and then did the verse. When RCA Records ended up signing him, he remembered me. So, they decided to put us in the studio together to see if we vibed, and we did. We ended up kicking it off really quickly. In Texas, sometimes the recordings aren’t as good as the label wants them to be. Two days with me and he was saying, ‘Dang, I notice the difference. I don’t want to record with anyone else but you.’ He records fast, and I can capture vocals very quickly and make them sound good quickly. As he’s recording I’m able to add an effect, so the next time he hears it, the effect is already on it. My main thing is vocals. It seems to stick out to people, especially industry and label people. 

When he was creating Brandon Banks, were you aware he was working on a full-length project? 

We knew he was working on an album. At first, we didn’t — we were just making a lot of songs. I guess one day, the label and his managers got together and were listening to stuff from him and they went, ‘Wait, what’s this one song? Why did we forget about it?’ And that was ‘Meet Again.’ It wasn’t finished at the time — it was just one verse and a hook. They brought it back and we were like, ‘This is incredible, let’s finish it off.’ That’s when we knew he was making an album, and this was album mode. Once we did that song, all of the songs we did before that were brushed off, and we started making new songs based on what that song made us feel like. He already had the narrative of the album, which was his dad being there but not being there. 

What was your favorite session from that album?

There were a lot of good moments in there. The ‘She Live’ record with Megan Thee Stallion was really cool to do, too, because it was way before she had the hype. She was also with her mom, who was her manager and is now deceased. It was interesting meeting her and her mom. It was really fun. She was really pure and organic — that’s why I fuck with Megan Thee Stallion now. Also, the session with Schoolboy Q was one of the highlights of my career because I was a runner when he was doing one of his albums. Two years later, I was recording him. It was wild to me. It was a real turning point where I felt I was really moving up. Sometimes when people do features, they just send it. He actually came in and wrote his whole verse on pen and pad, listened to the song over and over for two hours, and then went, ‘Ok, I think I got something (laughs).’ His verse was crazy on that ‘3AM’ record. That might be the most memorable session.

After dropping Brandon Banks in 2019, Maxo’s next album Weight Of The World didn’t come out until 2021. How did the pandemic affect the making of his follow-up?

It definitely affected it. Usually, we work out of Paramount Studios in Los Angeles, but they have three different studios so we’d be going around to different ones. His A&R J Grand was very scared of the pandemic. So, we decided to lock down their Track Record Studios for eight or nine months. It was only us in the building; we were very secure about that. We had them install hospital-grade filters into the A/C systems. We had filters in the room that were always filtering. We also had a doctor on call. So, if we felt sick, we’d call her up and they paid for all of us to get tested. The A&R was in a separate room that looked like he was in a clear tent, separated from everyone (laughs). We worked every single day when we started that album, and Maxo Kream works late. We worked 16-18 hours per day, every day. For Brandon Banks, we’d have those days, but it would be a week here and a week there. Since COVID was happening, and we didn’t want him to be traveling everywhere, we were all locked in together. We worked on that album for well over 1,000 hours. We got back in the studio for this album in late July 2020. 

Did any of the guest features work in-studio, or did they send in verses?

They sent their verses in. For Tyler, The Creator’s feature, Maxo went to him in person. Tyler and Maxo have very good chemistry. They met through Rick Rubin, who was listening to Maxo one day in Paris when Tyler, the Creator was at his house. I guess he was like, ‘Have you heard this guy?’ Tyler started working with Maxo after Rick Rubin introduced him to his music. They have about six or seven songs together. Their voices sound great together. 

You also worked heavily on Latto’s last project and her most successful single, “Big Energy.” In comparison to the other artists you’ve assisted, what is your in-studio chemistry with Latto like?

I met Latto a while ago. We only had a few sessions together because she had her regular engineer in Atlanta. We were with Nija Charles, and we did ‘Sex Lies’ within our second day of meeting each other. Then, we locked in, in September 2020. It was at the same time I was working on Maxo’s Weight Of The World album because they’re on the same label. He took a month off and she came to the studio. That was the time when we really connected and were talking a lot. I feel because she’s a female, I was able to be myself a lot more with her. She’s very talkative. She’s only 23. I’ve worked with a lot of male rappers, and I’ve never seen somebody work as hard as she works. We’ll play her some demos and she’ll be like, ‘Alright, I like it’ and just walk in the booth ready to record. She wouldn’t leave the booth until she finishes it. For Queen Of Da Souf, ‘On God’ was the most fun song to make. We probably drank a lot that day (laughs). With Maxo, I rarely ever drink in the studio, but with her I feel like it’s normal. She’s the first artist I’ve ever drank with in the studio. She was 21 at the time and was like, ‘Come on, you have to take a shot with me.’ I was like, ‘Alright, I’ll take a shot.’ Our chemistry is really good. I can talk to her like a friend. Maxo doesn’t really like writers or people correcting his bars. She’s the opposite — she’ll ask me, ‘Joey, does this sound better or does this sound better?’ She accepts feedback very easily. 

What was her mood when she was making “Big Energy”?

It was funny because a lot of people didn’t think she’d like the beat; they were nervous to show it to her. They were thinking, ‘Oh, this is so pop. There is no way Latto is going to want to do this.’  This is from the label people and the managers talking amongst each other. She walked into the room that day, and she could tell we were talking about something. She was like, ‘What did I just walk into?’ They told her, ‘There’s this song we don’t know if you’d like.’ We played the beat for her, and surprisingly she was like, ‘Hell yeah! I fuck with this a lot.’ We started tracking it, and she sounded really good on it. It was easy for her to come up with the idea because that’s her thing. We came up with that. For the verses, we had a couple of writers help her out, but she’s really herself. There were some bars the writers said were ridiculous, and we took them out (laughs). We still talk about one of the lines. Then, we sat on the song. We had the song before summer started and we were like, ‘This is a summer song. We should release it in the summer.’ But we didn’t have the singing part when she was like, ‘big, big energy.’ We kept playing it back when it didn’t have that part, and we were like, ‘Something’s missing.’ We knew it was going to be a good song, but we didn’t know it’d be the single. Then we finally took it to someone else to listen to, and within a day they came out with the singing part. They only had it as the outro, but she was the one who decided it should also come in after the second hook and a little bit in the beginning. Once we had that complete, the entire label went crazy. They were like, ‘This is the next single. Here’s the budget (laughs).’ 

What do you have coming up for 2022?

The Latto album is sounding great; it’s coming out very soon. After that, I have a few independent artists I’m working on albums for. After Latto, I’m not really sure what’s next. I go wherever things take me. I work closely with RCA, so I know they’re going to have a new project for me as soon as Latto is over. Most likely, they’ll have me locked in another studio with new artists coming through so they can see who they’re going to sign next. Latto’s album is done. Maxo’s album is done. So, I get to chill out from the big albums for a little bit.

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