Suzy Shinn had been working with Weezer as an assistant engineer for more than six years, though she never expected to get called into the big chair. However, the L.A.-based producer’s impressive resume had more than prepared her for that undertaking. At 26, the engineer can boast credits from the likes of Fall Out Boy and Katy Perry to Dua Lipa and Panic! at the Disco. But working with Weezer? That was an all-time career high.
“I was so terrified the first day [of working with Weezer],” Shinn recalls over the phone from her home in Los Feliz. “Rivers is a creative and an artist, and it’s hard to be an artist in front of people that you don’t know — and especially vulnerable and intimate when it comes to lyrics and melodies.”
While Weezer had previously opted to work with well-known producers (Jake Sinclair, Dave Sitek) for Van Weezer — their spirited hard rock record — to Shinn’s surprise, they enlisted her. Sure, she began assisting the band in 2015 on The White Album, and continued to do so on Pacific Daydream and The Teal Album. But this was the first time she was spearheading the producing and engineering process for the band.
“When it came time for Van Weezer, [the band was] looking around, and they were like, ‘There were so many famous producers, and that’s who we usually go to, but why don’t we use a person who we’ve been working with for the past six years, who has been been in the studio with us so much over the last few albums?’” she recalls. It was an undertaking she didn’t take lightly.
Growing up in Wichita, Kansas, Shinn began writing songs and playing guitar at an early age. At 12, her mom bought her an iBook to help her in pursuing her craft. Soon, she was recording with Logic recording software and GarageBand. “I didn’t really know that you could do that as a career,” Shinn says of producing. “As a kid, what I was told was you can be a pop star, or you could be a songwriter, but that’s it.” For a time, she studied production and engineering at the esteemed Berklee School of Music in Boston. But after interning in LA at a recording studio one summer, she decided to drop out of college and work. I left all my stuff in Boston, and I fell in love with making music,” she recalls. “I was like, I don’t want to depend on anyone else or have to rely on a producer — I want to be my own.”
Following the release of Van Weezer earlier this month, we spoke with Shinn about working with Rivers Cuomo, how she approached producing Van Weezer and who she dreams of collaborating with in the future.
SPIN: I know you’ve worked with Fall Out Boy and Panic! at the Disco. What has drawn you more to the rock world?
Suzy Shinn: Because I started playing guitar, it’s one thing to play a Britney Spears song on guitar, but it’s another thing where it’s like I can learn all the parts, and for some reason, I just fell in love with songs that have guitar [and] distortion in them that I could sit down and play. Honestly, Warped Tour came to Wichita Kansas in 2003, it’s the only time they ever came, and my parents let me go and I was just like,” Oh this is the coolest.” I think it’s because this is the music that I really loved — music that has guitar, which tends to be more alternative, more rock.
How does someone younger than Pinkerton hook up with Weezer?
I started engineering when Jake Sinclair was working with Weezer and Jake had broken his arm in a motorcycle accident and he couldn’t use the computer at the same time. I just met him, and he was like, “Will you help me? I have these important sessions.” And it was Rivers and him one day, and it started from there. I was assistant engineering or engineering on The White Album and then on Pacific Daydream I helped out, and then The Teal Album. It kind of became this very natural, “Oh I feel really comfortable with you,” and like I think Rivers felt comfortable with me, and it was fun. The performances that were coming out really good, and then the records that we were working on were really good. Then when it came time for Van Weezer, they were looking around and they were like, “There were so many famous producers, and that’s who we usually go to, but why don’t we use a person who we’ve been working with for the past six years, who has been been in the studio with us so much over the last few albums?”
You’ve been working with them for a while, but was there any intimidation factor, or were you totally comfortable?
So, the first day ever, I was in a studio with him six years ago, probably. It was like, “Can you please step out of the room?” Over time like, of course, Weezer is a band that I love so much and that I grew up listening to. And The Blue Album and Pinkerton are huge influences on me. But now it’s super cool. Every member of that band I love so much, and it feels like we’re really good friends.
How did you approach engineering Van Weezer?
I approached it in a way where we would try to take two to three songs at a time and work on them for about a week or two out of the month. So we would go into 4TH Street Studio over in Santa Monica, and demo it out, figure out the arrangement, what the drum pattern should be or what the guitars are going to do. That would just be Rivers and I. Then the band would come in and we would spend two weeks working on those three songs, making those three songs great, and then have two weeks off where I would go edit, work more on it, try different stuff — maybe do some overdubs. Then [we’d] come back in two weeks later and start working on the next two or three songs.
What was the most interesting song for you to engineer on the album?
I want to say it was “Beginning of the End” because it felt like we were trying to tell a story in the song, and it’s like the beginning of the end of the world. And setting it up this apocalyptic [sound]. It gets louder and louder and then boom it switches over into the four-track tape machine I was using — and it’s guitar and vocal. It really took on a life of its own. I love it. It was most interesting to record because of that, but also that song was probably the last song that stood up and started running. It was so hard. I was scared to open it at times, and I was like, “What am I going to do with this song?” Rivers and I were kind of stumped for a minute. Now, it’s one of my favorites on the album.
Was that the most challenging song for you to engineer?
That one [“Beginning of the End”] was really challenging. “Blue Dream” was challenging in its own way. We were supposed to be supposed to interpolate [Ozzy Osbourne’s] “Crazy Train,” and it was trying to find a balance between, how do you take a song we all know and make it into something new? That was a challenge, too. And I think they both came out great.
Now that Van Weezer is wrapped, which artists do you dream of working with now?
I have a vision board. I love The 1975. This will never happen, but Slayer. I don’t think that will happen. Lana Del Rey, I love. With all of those people, they just have insanely good songs.
Did you have any memorable moments that stand out where you bonded with Rivers during the record-making process?
There are so many. There are two with Rivers. There was one where we finished tracking for the day and Rivers was heading out and there’s a little Thai restaurant right next to the studio, and he was like, “Do you want to come eat Thai food with me and my family? And we were the only table inside there, and it was really just a special kind of movie moment, It was like, oh yeah, we’re making this crazy huge guitar album, and then we’re going to go eat dinner and ask how everyone’s day was. That was really cool. And then, before we started diving into the album, Rivers came over to my house. I think that he likes to see: How does this person live? What is their world like, the producer I’m going to work with? I was like making sure everything’s clean, then freaking out, but it just felt cool. I was like, “Oh yeah, this is gonna work. This is cool. This is fun.” I felt hopeful and bright about this relationship. And then he asked me if I wanted to go play golf with him and his friends, and I was so bad at it, but it was so fun. He turned to me at some point and he was like, “I like that you know this is really hard and you’re really bad at it but you haven’t given up. You keep trying.”
What did you learn from the experience of making Van Weezer?
I learned how to be a better producer, person and songwriter, and how to take care of my relationships better. We started the album probably back in late 2018, maybe early 2019, but I feel like I’ve grown a lot since then. It challenged me in so many ways to be better and learn more in every aspect. It makes me terrified but it also makes me so excited, and it makes me want to do another one.