Producer profile: New Tectonics

A&E chats with local musician Neil Zumwalde, the brains behind New Tectonics music production

While First Ave. is a good place to start describing music in Minneapolis, the real up-and-comers are mostly 20-something party kids who work day jobs and spend their nights and weekends networking at shows and recording in their own basements. Full of samplers bought on eBay and cast-off costumes from old gigs, the basement itself is almost archetypal as a place where music is most sincerely made. Neil Zumwalde, engineer, producer and âÄúhead wizardâÄù of New Tectonics music production (and lead singer of local band ZibraZibra ) is the owner of a particularly promising basement. Decorated with blue string lights, a neon flamingo and a portrait of Jesus, the space houses his production studio, which helps him earn roughly half of his livelihood, while he makes the rest working at Pazzobello Flowers. Zumwalde first got into electronics when he was a pubescent kid on a farm, throwing VCRs out of windows for fun. He liked what happened, he explained, when they exploded. ZumwaldeâÄôs love of electronics would finally meet his choir and theater-aided music talent once he graduated Perpich Center for Arts Education a nd entered McNally Smith College of Music, where he earned a two-year degree in music production. And at just 21, heâÄôs come far. The list of bands on his production resume reads like a summer music festival for a miraculous, non-existent local show, including names like Black Blondie, Tentacle Boy, Mouthful of Bees, Maria Isa and MondOmega. While that list sounds all over the board, Zumwalde insists that New Tectonics is a production studio with its own distinct style. âÄúThere are two schools of thought in music production,âÄù he explained. The first is what he calls a âÄúblank slateâÄù ideal, wherein the producer has no preconceived aesthetic planned but instead forms a style suitable to the band being produced. The second type is what Zumwalde claims that New Tectonics represents, the kind of production that has a âÄúcolorful contextâÄù of its own that it brings to all of the artists it works with. He gives David Fridmann from the Flaming Lips (who brought space-age texture to works by MGMT and Black Moth Super Rainbow, to name a couple) as an example. And Zumwalde has a lot to say about his own production style, which remains firmly rooted in the âÄúbells and whistlesâÄù of electronic music. To Zumwalde, electronic music is a âÄúlittle bit spiritual.âÄù âÄúElectricity makes sense,âÄù he explained, âÄúItâÄôs the most and least sophisticated of all types of music âĦ itâÄôs alien. It makes people want to dance, and wanting to dance is primal.âÄù The type of music New Tectonics doesnâÄôt represent is the kind that wants to preserve the live sound of a band, or the exact dynamics of the room the music was played in. Low-fi purists and jazz musicians, for example, are less likely to end up in that basement than bands with a fascination for MIDIs and avant-garde sounds that come with circuit-bending. Like most people who spend their childhood destroying electronics, Zumwalde himself also enjoys the deconstruction and combinatorial play of circuit-bending. After talking with A&E, he planned to have a recording session with members of his current band, whose name is still being determined, although at the moment they like the name âÄúFacetimeâÄù (As in the term pop psychologists choose to describe what Facebook-chatting teenagers are missing in their overweight, anti-social lives.) Zumwalde got his start by networking with his own band, and soon found plenty of big names sending recordings his way so that he could add his trademark mastering style to their releases. For now, Zumwalde remains immersed in it all, drinking Coronas in his basement, tearing up Casio keyboards and making the music that dominates the local scene.