From the first time Will Yip stepped in a recording studio as a drummer at age 12, he immediately became engrossed in the process of creating something in that setting. From that day forward, he always had a dream of working at Studio 4, the legendary Philadelphia space known for the classic albums from the likes of Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, and The Fugees that were put to tape between its walls.
When college finally came around, Yip enrolled at Philadelphia’s Temple University “just so I could take a class with the producer that taught a class here, Phil [Nicolo],” he tells me over the phone. “I interned there and then a year later, I just forced my way in.”
Quite a bit has changed since the day he began interning at Studio 4. In 2013, Yip bought into the studio to continue expanding resume of production and engineering credits, ranging from Ms. Lauryn Hill (with whom Yip spent time on the road as a live drummer and tour manager) to blossoming indie rock darlings Tigers Jaw to hardcore-turned-shoegaze giants Title Fight. Yip’s involvement in Studio 4 opened new windows for under-the-radar punk bands to polish their sound with someone genuinely invested in helping them craft something special.
“This studio wasn’t used to recording punk bands, it was a studio recording Top 40 records. I just fell into the right place at the right time… I just love being involved. I love being in the band. That’s kind of the role I try to take when I make a record. I love being the fifth, sixth member in the band. I like being a part of the big picture.”
When I mention to Yip a Pitchfork article that compared him to legendary producer Steve Albini (most famously the man behind the board of Nirvana’s In Utero), he is quick to refute any similarities. “I’m grateful people put me in the same breath as him, but I just don’t think we’re anything alike in terms of our approach.”
While Albini typically has a more laissez faire approach to recording in an effort to capture a band at their most raw, Yip prefers to work with bands to maximize the breadth of the sound and songwriting. “I’m always attracted to bands who don’t want to make the same record twice,” he states repeatedly. “I have no rules. The only rule is that we just have to be open to things. I just want an honest f**king song, one that represents the band. One of my goals is, you don’t come to me for the Will Yip Studio 4 thing. You come to me and I join your band. You come to me and I become the fifth member of Title Fight. I join what you do and I want to make the best Anthony Green record or the best Citizen record. I’m not here to make a ‘Studio 4 Record.’ I’m here to make the band’s record with them.”
Yip references hip-hop as a main influence in the way that he wants his records to sound, citing Dr. Dre’s The Chronic 2001 as a main influence, alongside Nirvana and the Pixies. “I think my background in hip-hop is why some bands like working with me. I like to produce rock records like I would produce a hip-hop record. Every song should have its own life.”
He also commends records like Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. for its strong instant engagement and tight, impactful mix. “The first few tracks on that record, I was blown away. The drums smacked me in that face,” he remembered. “Honestly, I feel like your modern rock record isn’t doing that! Modern day rappers are the new rock stars. Straight up, modern day hip-hop artists are having that impact. That’s how I want my records to feel. In terms of sonics, I’ve really been paying attention to more so the hip-hop world right now. It’s probably the most impactful mixes.”
Taking this wide range of influences and incorporating it into his work has made Yip one of the most sought-after prodcuer/engineers in modern indie rock and punk. Most recently, he once again joined forces with midwestern emo stalwarts Citizen for their third full-length effort As You Please. It’s an immensely impressive collection of twelve tracks that stretches the band’s punk muscles, while introducing new sounds and recording techniques, resulting in what is without a doubt Citizen’s best record to date.
“Dialogue about the record started long before we entered the studio with Will,” guitarist Nick Hamm explained. “We really made a conscious effort to be more prepared than ever. I think you can hear that in the tracks. Nuance certainly exists but nothing is there by accident. Will really kicked our asses and got our best performances out of us. That’s what he does best.” With a perfect combination of hard-hitting numbers like lead single “Jet” and tracks with piano-driven introductions (a first for Citizen) like “Discrete Routing,” As You Please will certainly help the band break out of the indie rock bubble and into the mainstream conscious.
Yip has been working with Citizen since some of its members were as young as 16, and has been their go-to producer, engineer, and sixth member ever since. From their first meeting, a pair of tracks for a split 7-inch with Run For Cover label mates Turnover, “We just got a long, we hit it off,” he said. “I got to be a member of the process, and we grew together.”
Five years and two Yip-produced full-lengths later, the group reconvened for six weeks of recording for As You Please. “It was a fun record, it was a fun six weeks. I love those guys. They’re down to work. It’s hands down the best Citizen record and I’m so grateful to have been apart of it””
With As You Please slated for an October release date, the future looks bright for Yip and Studio 4. He recently helped launch Black Cement Records, an imprint on Atlantic/Warner Bros that boasts Yip as an artist liaison and A&R executive. The imprint’s first release was from Yip’s longtime friends and collaborators Tigers Jaw in the form of their well-received fifth LP spin., which really set the standard for future Black Cement artists. “Every band that we sign has to be the best f**king band. For a label the size of Warner Bros and Atlantic to sign a band, there’s a lot of risk to that. We want to make sure that every band is the right choice, is the cream of the crop.”
Although the imprint is technically part of a major label, Yip is quick to note its differences in approach to quality over quantity, and the relationship between artist and label. “The most important thing to me is that the bands feel loved. There’s no quota for us, we just want to make sure we’re doing the best. I think Tigers Jaw deserve to be one of the biggest bands on the face of the earth. I feel the same about a few of these other artists that we’re hoping to finish a deal for. I’m not at liberty to say who they are, but a lot of stuff that’s on the horizon.”