While discovering new music is a wonderful thing when running a music website, meeting and engaging with new people is equally exciting.
Over the past couple of years, Stephen Kerrison has been involved in many of the releases which fill the column inches throughout these pages.
The founder of Liverpool’s Tall Trees Audio Mastering, Kerrison and I often communicated over social media when a review would drop. Just general music chatter, but it was evident that Kerrison (like us) is a slave to the sound.
Prior to being a mastering engineer, Kerrison has featured prominently across the U.K. underground landscape, formerly of Bronnt Industries Kapital – the experimental collective that was like a wicked fever dream of an Einstürzende Neubauten / Bohren and der Club of Gore collaboration – and math rock agitators, Iron Crease. As well also being a part of Zun Zun Egui, Safetyword and ANTA, Kerrison has also released a series of solo works – the latest being the brilliant 2018 LP, Mater.
Due to the obvious events over the past three years, it wasn’t until September when we both crossed paths during an Enablers’ show at the Kazimier Stockroom. Still, many of the people whom we communicate with haven’t been met in person, and just thinking about it, Stephen was probably the first. From there, as strange as it sounds, it felt like Sun 13 was actually humanised.
Back in November, we asked the musician-cum-mastering engineer to take us through his 2022, where he answered a series of our questions along with providing his favourite records of the year.
Sun 13: Firstly, can you tell us about Tall Trees Audio Mastering and how it all started?
Stephen Kerrison: “TTAM started shortly after I moved to Liverpool from Bristol back in 2016. I’d been an active musician for the previous 15 years or so, and still kind of was, but leaving the house to live in a van for weeks at a time just to try and make some money had started to lose it’s appeal somewhat.
“After a mild panic, a wise friend suggested to me that I might make a good mastering engineer, which is something I’d never thought about before in my life but sounded cool because you got to sit down. So I took all of the music knowledge I’d absorbed since I left school to work at HMV, all of the time I’d spent in studios making records myself and all of the time I’d spent around some really incredible musicians and channelled it into learning how to get really good at mastering records, and importantly, how to do it properly and professionally.
“During the pandemic I quit any other part-time jobs I was working and just concentrated on getting the studio established and that’s where I am now, the studio is doing great but of course I’m still learning and trying to get better with every record.”
S13: In the world of mastering and production, who would you consider to be your influences?
SK: “In mastering, Katie Tavini. The way she goes about things just instantly stood out to me when I first came across her, and I’m lucky enough to now work closely with her as part of the Weird Jungle mastering collective which she launched earlier this year (www.weirdjungle.com). She’s an amazing mastering engineer (I reference her masters regularly), but she sits so comfortably outside the ‘audio industry’, which is something I didn’t even really know was possible to do and still be able to work professionally, the whole studio system just seemed like such a closed shop, so seeing her prove that that isn’t the only way was, and continues to be, hugely inspiring to me.”
S13: You’ve been working on loads of stuff, too. I get the impression that you’d rather work with artists you like as opposed to working on any release. Would that be accurate?
SK: “That is true, but honestly it’s much, much more important to me to be working with people I actually like, rather than just music that I’d choose to listen to anyway. I’m really lucky in that those two things seem to regularly cross over and I work with awesome people on their awesome music. I genuinely believe that you get back what you put out, and I guess because I like talking about stuff I like and don’t have to worry too much about putting people off in the way that maybe a more commercial studio might, on the most part I just seem to attract really cool people. Genre is way less important to me than attitude.”
S13: Amongst all the releases you’ve worked with this year, I’d say the Olanza record is the one that jumped out at me the most. How did that collaboration come about?
SK: “That record was such a lovely group effort! So, I’ve known Aron Ward for absolutely years, we’ve done a ton of musical stuff together in the past and I was already a fan of Olanza having seen them play many times in their various incarnations over the years. I actually think Shaun Sepr is the only original member, believe it or not. Annie Gardiner then joined on bass (and has since left again!), and I’d worked with Annie before on mastering her absolutely stunning solo album Bloodletting (which, if you haven’t heard it, I implore you seek out – it’s a proper masterpiece). They recorded the album with Wayne Adams (Bear Bites Horse) who I’ve worked with a few times (most recently on the monolithic new PETBRICK album), and then the icing on the cake was that Owen [Gildersleeve] from the totally great Human Worth records decided to release it, so it was a proper meeting of loads of lovely people to make that album, and what a fantastic album it is too.”
S13: I’m presuming you’ve got plenty in the pipeline for 2023, too?
SK: “I can confirm there are some absolutely stunning albums I’ve mastered that have been finished and are at the manufacturing stage right now that I reckon will be right up Sun 13’s street! It’s not my place to announce them of course, but yeah, some belters coming up in the first part of 2023.
“One that has been announced that I can mention is the new album from Lichen Slow, which is a new project from Malcolm Middleton (Arab Strap) and Joel Harries (from, among other things, 72% – another of the Human Worth roster), which is out in March on Rock Action records. Such a beautiful album, and beautiful people to work with too. Also, my wife Sorrell made the brilliant video for the first single Hobbies too, which is totally awesome.”
S13: Finally, the all important question. What are your favourite albums of 2022?
SK: “Okay, well I have to put a quick disclaimer first – I’ve decided to not include any records that I’ve worked on as I feel the bias would just be too influential. If I had, albums from Charles Watson, Puzzle, The Last Vinci, Yama Warashi, The Grand Piano, Olanza, Dwhyte Olivers, Dune Boy and PETBRICK would all be jostling for a spot, but my favourite albums I’ve loved this year that I had no involvement in at all are (in no particular order):
Enablers: Some Gift
Wrong Speed Records
Converge/Chelsea Wolfe: Bloodmoon I
DITZ: The Great Regression
Horse Lords: Comradely Objects
San Lorenz: A Death At Sea
Nuthin Gud Records
Chat Pile: God’s Country
Kali Malone: Living Torch
The Smile: A Light for Attracting Attention
Anna Von Hausswolff: Live at Montreux
Southern Lord Recordings
For more information, visit the Tall Trees Audio Mastering website.