Vic Wainstein has lived a life. The engineer talent has tightened up classics on Frank Ocean’s c hannel ORANGE, Mac Miller’s Swimming and every Tyler, the Creator album for over a decade.
“Frank was in a villa across the way. Solange was in a villa. So, we were just playing musical chairs. Frank or Solange would come by, and our studio would be set up. We’d pop to their place, and then we’d record there. It was great. Igor came from that,” Wainstein told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” the Grammy Award-winning engineer and producer explains how Tyler, the Creator, brought NBA YoungBoy into his world, his experiences with Mac Miller in and out of the studio before his passing and his upcoming work with music icons.
What was one of the most recent creative decisions Tyler made musically that impressed you?
Including NBA YoungBoy on Call Me If You Get Lost. That was a big one because we met with YoungBoy, and the juxtaposition between him and Tyler was vast. But somehow, Tyler got to the center of who he was as a person and built a bridge from his world to Tyler’s world. I feel like that’s what happened when we put that song together.
What did you notice about their interactions?
They were calm. I feel like YoungBoy was calm, whereas he’s not that in any other iteration of his public persona. He was listening to Tyler. Being around Tyler, not having that same guard up, and being open to other people’s opinions at the rate he was with Tyler was the most impressive shift I’ve seen in an artist in a long time. Tyler has a way of fostering a creative space for everyone to be comfortable and productive. To see him do that with YoungBoy and make it about the music was very impressive.
Was there ever a creative vision Tyler had that you didn’t immediately see?
A big one is “EARFQUAKE.” That was a big one because he believed wholeheartedly in that song before any of us. It seemed like a really heavy lift for me considering we made it for Justin Bieber. It didn’t seem impossible, but it seemed very farfetched that it would end up being his record. As I watched him take it from being rejected as a Bieber song and bring it into focus for what he was building creatively, it was the most impressive feat. Until it was fully realized, I was still thinking, “Maybe this one isn’t it.” But what he pulled out was so monumental. It’s one of his biggest commercial songs.
You two seem inseparable when there’s music to be made. Do you guys have a studio?
We rented a villa and made it a studio. That’s why Solange was there, too, and Frank was out there, too. Frank was in a villa across the way. Solange was in a villa. So, we were just playing musical chairs. Frank or Solange would come by, and our studio would be set up. We’d pop to their place, and then we’d record there. It was great. Igor came from that. That was when we were trying to figure out the rest of Igor.
We started some things but nothing was fully realized just yet. We had a lot of things bubbling. But Igor was such a departure from Flower Boy creatively that we were out there really trying to hit a different mark, especially with the reception of Flower Boy being so great. That’s almost a bigger conundrum in itself. When you make people happy, the challenge becomes, “How do we keep them happy?”
But it’s not only about keeping them happy but keeping ourselves happy with the creative strides we’re making. That’s why I think he took to getting out of the way of the norm of L.A. and the States, even trying to capture something unique and incorporate it with the feeling that eventually came to Igor.
What was one of the most emotionally charged sessions you’ve been a part of?
When I was recording Earl [Sweatshirt] for I Don’t Like S**t, I Don’t Go Outside. There’s a song on there with Na-Kel Smith. As soon as Na-Kel got to the studio, he found out one of his close homeboys from his block had passed away. It was literally moments before he was going in a booth to rap for the first time on a big album. I remember seeing that emotion pour out of him to the point where whatever he had written before, that went out the window. He freestyled and spoke to the emotion he was dealing with at that moment.
What’s the most star-studded session you’ve been in?
Early on, when I was an assistant engineer at Aftermath [Records], I remember being in the room when Dre and Snoop [Dogg] were there, and then [Eminem] came in. Then, Game came into the room. Then, [The Alchemist] came in the room, and I was sitting there plugging in cables. I stood up to grab something; I looked around and thought, “Who the f**k am I?” I was basically looking at my CD book from high school. That was in 2009. That session activated a hunger inside of me to stay in rooms like that. There was one time we were at Electric Lady [Studios]. Tyler and I were in one room, and Daniel Caesar pulled up. Frank was upstairs working. Frank came downstairs, and it was all of us in one room. And then Travis Scott was in the other room and decided to pop his crazy a** in to say, “Hello.” That was a couple of years ago.
Sept. 7, 2023 was the five-year anniversary of your close collaborator Mac Miller’s passing. Do you remember the last session you two had together?
It was the week he passed. He passed on a Thursday. I physically saw him Monday night and Tuesday morning. He passed Wednesday night going into Thursday morning. I was actually supposed to pull up to his house the night he passed because I was in the studio with Tyler and [ASAP] Rocky that night. Tyler doesn’t usually go late in the studio, so I was planning on just popping over because Mac starts late in the evening. I was going to pop over, and we would work like a normal day. I couldn’t make it because I was locked in with them. I told him, “Hey, I’m gonna be here for a while. We should just get up tomorrow.” And he said, “Cool.” That was the last conversation I had with him.
He asked me, “How do I hook up my vinyl player so I could test the Swimming vinyl on the speakers?” I gave him the play-by-play. Then I hit him, asking if everything worked out okay. He sent me a video of him spinning the Swimming vinyl on the rig I had built at his house. That video was his last Instagram story post.
Every morning, I would send him random songs. So, that morning, I sent him a song called “Grey Area” by Jerry Paper. I didn’t hear back. The hour after I sent it, I went down to my car to roll over to his place because I thought he was still asleep. I found out he passed shortly after.
How did you start working with him?
I started with him toward the end of GO:OD AM. We met through Tyler because Tyler decided to do a song with him on Watching Movies With The Sound Off. We pulled up to the studio together, and Mac was there. I had an idea about Mac Miller, but didn’t know his work. I was friends with his engineer, Josh Berg.
After the session, I told Josh, “Your man can really rap, bro. I’m impressed.” The first night I met Mac, I walked outside because we were all leaving the session. I went to my car, and I left my dome light on. So, my battery was dead. I asked the front desk if they could call me a cab to my crib. As I’m outside waiting for this cab to pull up, I see Mac pull out with his Benz. He asked me if I needed a ride, and I told him, “I live on the west side. I’m not trying to make you take me that far. He told me, “I’m literally not doing anything. Get in the car.”
He drove me all the way to my place, and then he needed to use the bathroom. After a long day, I sat on the couch and put on some ESPN to decompress. He came out of the bathroom, sat on my couch, and stayed for another two hours just chilling with me, watching ESPN. That was a big moment in our relationship.
Do you remember the last song you two worked on?
We didn’t finish that song. It’s still unfinished. Sometimes, your brain gets a little fried when it gets to the late hours of sessions. It’s not uncommon that you step away to let it marinate a bit and then come back to figure it out. I do remember the last song. We were on the verge of something very awesome.
What do you have coming up this year?
I’ve been making a lot of music with Jean Dawson. I haven’t engineered for anybody else besides Tyler and Thundercat, and I won’t. I’m operating in a multitude of capacities nowadays where I’ll engineer, mix and produce, but it’s by proxy because I’m also executive producing and A&Ring in a lot of different situations for people.
Jean and I did a song together, along with Hoskins and Biako for a Talking Heads tribute. A24 is doing a new iteration of Stop Making Sense, a re-release of the film that the Talking Heads did in the ’80s. David Byrne asked all his favorite artists to reimagine the Talking Heads songs, and he’s putting it out in a sidecar tape to promote the project. Our song covered “Swamp” and made it a crazy departure from the original.
I’ve been doing a lot of stuff with 347aidan. I’m executive producing an upcoming project with AG Club. I’m also still involved with Channel Tres and what he’s building. I’m continuously working with Thundercat on his next waves of things. There’s a song I worked on with him with the group Justice that’s coming out on their album.