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Jeff Zeigler: The Soundman Takes the Spotlight.

April 9, 2015

JeffZeiglerOnline05Text by Chris Brown. Images by Jeff Fusco.

It’s a tired saying but sometimes success really is just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. For producer/multi-instrumentalist Jeff Zeigler, that right place turned out to be here, in Philadelphia.

After finishing school in 2000, Zeigler left Boston with the intention of working in music in some capacity. He had recorded albums for bands in Boston but he says that Philly offered a lower overhead, where you could spend more time focusing on what you really wanted to do, as opposed to just working to survive.

“This city, I’ve found, has – and it still exists – a lot more of a communal music vibe than there was where I’ve been before,” he says while sitting in Uniform Recording, his Eraserhood studio. “In Boston, everyone was more on their own and it was almost competitive. Here, I think people were just excited to have some new blood in the city.”

However, this isn’t to say that any of what would follow is chance or luck.

“It definitely took a while,” he says about getting started in Philly.

Without the outright specific goal of working as a producer in mind, Zeigler ended up forming Relay, a band that later would come to be known as Arc In Round. Not only was this the first project that Zeigler would tackle here in the city, it was also his first ever band.

“I didn’t even really start working on music until college,” he says. “I played guitar when I was younger but never really went anywhere with it.”

While in school, Zeigler took a recording class that afforded him the opportunity to borrow gear, if he needed it. Having picked up the guitar for a second time, he used the opportunity to start writing and recording.

“After awhile,” he says, “I was just like, ‘I should probably start a band, I guess. That seems like a logical move.’”

JeffZeiglerOnline04The idea of logical moves comes up often when talking with Zeigler. It’s a thought process that has roots in nearly everything that he’s touched in the last decade. The first bands that he started working with were friends or their friends.

“It grew at a reasonable, organic pace,” he says. “Being in a band and dealing with other like-minded bands who were all kind of into the same stuff, it just sort of made sense.”

As his recording commitments increased, Zeigler continued to make music with Relay. He also took on tour managing and soundboard duties with bands such as Frightened Rabbit and Twilight Sad. Somewhere in between working on his own music and overseeing tours, Zeigler worked on albums for both The War on Drugs and Kurt Vile.

“I would work on records for half the year and then tour manage and do touring sound the other half,” he says. “So, it was like constantly working on the road and then coming back and having to start recording records right away.”

Eventually, Zeigler decided to take a break from the road.

“It just made sense to me to try and do the studio stuff full-time,” he says.

In the time that has passed, he’s recorded, produced, mixed or engineered a slew of albums by local acts such as Purling Hiss, Lantern, Nothing, Amanda X, Steve Gunn and, of course, The War on Drugs. While that range of artists may seem varied to most sets of ears, in each instance Zeigler always finds a thread. While he describes it as mostly just keeping things “true to what makes sense for a given band,” those who have worked with Zeigler find that there’s more.

“Jeff has great ears and an uncanny ability to utilize and create space in his mixes,” says Christopher Smith, from the record label Paradise of Bachelors, who worked with Zeigler on Steve Gunn‘s 2014 release Way Out Weather. “He gets the material right away and absorbs and processes it as his own art. That care and ability is rare.”

Smith wasn’t the only person who was quick to offer praise.

“What it comes to down is Jeff really knows his shit and he has a great personality,” says Josh Agran of post-punk outfit Cassavetes, whose 2014 record Oh So Long was mixed and recorded by Zeigler. “The whole process ended up feeling like we were just hanging out and making a record.”

These days, Zeigler is back to the juggling act, balancing his time on the road with the time in the studio. In September, he and harpist Mary Lattimore released an album together, Slant of Light, and then headed out on tour in support of the record.

While both have been highly visible members of the city’s scene for years, the pair didn’t really know each other until they both found themselves on the same touring bill. Zeigler was doing sound and tour managing for Kurt Vile and Lattimore was playing in Thurston Moore’s band.

Shortly thereafter, Lattimore came to Uniform Recording to work on her 2012 solo album, The Withdrawing Room.

“She’s pretty open to collaborations and had wanted me to help with processing and tweaking out what she was playing as she was playing,” Zeigler says. “I had stuff set up for that and I also had a synth set up. She asked if I wanted to play on a piece and I was like, ‘Alright. Let’s try it.’ We improvised for a half hour or so.”

That initial exploratory jam would end up becoming the first half of The Withdrawing Room.

“I completely trust Jeff’s musical aesthetic and ears and didn’t want my harp record to be too same-y,” Lattimore says. “I trusted that Jeff would add something interesting texturally to enhance the piece.”

Following those sessions, the duo began playing shows together.

“After the solo record, I wanted to keep playing music with Jeff, so we started playing improvised shows,” Lattimore continues. “It was natural to make a record after that, so we recorded some ideas in early 2014.”

With everything going on – a full recording schedule and a new album out, Zeigler sounds like a guy in need of a vacation. He recently traveled to Amsterdam but that was for a few weeks of recording. He’s now planning a more proper European vacation.

At some point, a solo album will see the light of day, Zeigler says. He describes it as coming from the world of “early New Order” and influenced by Krautrock. The album will include contributions from former Arc in Round bandmates Mikele Edwards and Matt Ricchini, as well as drumming from Chris Ward of Pattern is Movement. Zeigler anticipates having a band together by spring for live shows.

Looking even further down the road, Zeigler also has plans to pursue a hip-hop-based beat project.

“Part of me feels like I’ll just end up doing that for the rest of my life,” he says with a laugh. “It’s so fucking fun.”

For someone, who has spent so many years behind the scenes of much of the city’s most celebrated music, it just might be time for Jeff Zeigler to step out and spend a little time in the spotlight himself.

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