(EDITOR’S NOTE — At the door of the old convent on Franklin Street in Allentown, GCR Studio C, we stand outside, chilled by the air and by nerves, excited to gain some divine wisdom from one of Buffalo’s much-lauded musical chieftains: Mr. Jay Zubricky, who’s had a prominent hand in crafting many of the most exciting projects to come out of the city in the past two decades. The producer and engineer is nothing short of a powerhouse of whom all artists in the city know. Jay has been at GCR since January 2009, working at first mostly out of GCR’s main studio, Studio A. Then, after about 6 months, Robby Takac of the Goo Goo Dolls, and owner of GCR, offered Jay a long-term lease on Studio C, and that’s where he’s been since these past 15 years. Jay was generous enough with his time recently to speak with 1120 Press’s Anthony Wachowiak for a wide-ranging interview. We’re thankful for his time. Please read out story below. — Photo provided)
1120 PRESS: Thank you so much for speaking with us. So, just to begin, we’re curious: Can you talk about what brought you to this career?
JAY ZUBRICKY: I mean, it was playing music. I started my first band when I was 12, and we actually played shows and stuff. You know, it was something that felt right. With the way that some people go through their youth playing sports and they get scholarships for colleges and stuff — it felt like that to me, like something I wanted to invest my time in and my energy.
You know, going through high school, playing a lot of shows, and same thing in college, and then I had the (chance) to go through and actually become a fly on the wall in a recording studio and ended up kind of spreading my wings from playing music into helping people with their music. It never felt like it was going to be a career up until probably my mid-20’s. I was doing it for a few years pretty informally… I just felt like my skillset maybe leaned a little bit more in the direction of being on the technical side. In the recording studio, it always felt comfortable to be in this environment. Whether it was at my first level at Timon (-St. Jude High School where there was a recording studio), the next level at Audio Magic, or here at GCR, it just always felt like it was the right place to be.
All the experience I gained by playing in a band and going to a stupid number of shows — like I was at shows all the time — and the people you meet and all that stuff, turned into: OK, I love all this, and here’s this one thing that I felt like I was OK at doing. It’s like: If I can get people to give me a chance, this is the avenue I want to be in — in music, helping people make music.
So yeah, playing and just kind of being involved in the scene was my gateway to being able to do this with other people, and not just myself at home.
1120: What drives your musical production career from that point — in helping people crystallize their ideas, and making them real? What are the things that you’re drawn to? What are your motivating factors?
JZ: Pretty much just to grow in this, to always get better at what I’m doing. The thing that’s great about this is you could get literally better at this every single session you do, and that keeps me really highly interested. Staying really invested at getting better at it is something that, you know, has kept it interesting every day. There’s something you can learn literally every day. Technology is always changing, and even things from the past — you might read a book or watch a documentary, and you learn something from that, what another engineer or producer did who you look up to.
Every day you meet new people, and you’re working with people, who, even if it’s people you know, you’re working on people’s creative journeys, and that’s different from person to person, even within the same band. So, the fact that it’s never just the same thing, that motivates me because I want to experience more. I want to experience more sessions, more people, more records.
I’ve been lucky enough where I’ve been able to do a lot, but it’s like, it hasn’t grown old, you know. It has stayed interesting, and the goal is still the same: to keep getting better, make cool records, meet cool people, and have fun, and not lose the love. That’s the big thing, I think for musicians as well. We all do this because we love it, and if you get to the point that you lose that, or lose some of it, it feels less special. So, you don’t want to let that happen. But yeah for me, the people are a huge part of it. Some of the best friends I have I’ve made through music. … It’s the human element, right?
1120: Absolutely! Anyone can go pump it out through their own computer, or go to some nosebleed-priced place down the street. But going somewhere where you have a quality of product, and work with someone who genuinely cares — that makes all the difference, truly.
JZ: I feel like I hit the jackpot early on. Like, the people I learned from, they’re from the old school, pre-Pro Tools, pre-plug-in bundles, and presets, and things like that. They’re the ones that, not just taught, but they showed me that it is the hospitality industry. And the human element is what makes people’s songs, and the recording of themselves, special.
You can have the same song recorded by three engineers come out three very different ways… So, you know, the human element is such a huge part of it all the way through the entire process… The band I was working with last night, they’ve been in all week: they’re literally the second band I ever recorded in my life, like 20 years ago. So, we have a super long-lasting relationship, and over the years, all the different records we’ve done, and singles, and things like that — same dudes, and still me — but sometimes the goal of the song is different. Maybe it’s a sad song, or a happy song, and as well as we know each other, like the backs of our hands ‘cuz we’ve been friends forever, it’s still interesting every time they’re in because it changes.
So, yeah, that’s what I like about it. I don’t think I would do well in an office job.
1120: What inspirations do you have in terms of production at large, music that you like to listen to — what’s an inspiring field?
JZ: As far as what has inspired me musically over the years, dating back to some of my earliest interest in this, is punk, hardcore, emo. That whole community, not even just the music, but the culture. That’s always been something that inspired me. It’s the people you meet over the years who’ve had successful careers, and you notice there’s this similar thing within people, and it’s this sort of level of self-drive and self-motivation, and there’s a lot of times you talk to these people, and you learn just a little about their past or where they come from. There always seems to be a common theme of — whether they call it punk rock or something else — something that is like: “Oh yeah, I learned that if don’t go make it for yourself, it’s not going to happen.”
1120: You’re kind of like one of the great filters of the scene. You’re one of the men at the top, one of the sought-out people, we would say. So, we feel like you have a unique perspective on what kind of comes and goes. What are some of the stand-outs — perhaps recently, or your whole career? What have been the kind of memory-making, form-setting moments for you?
JZ: You know, there’s a lot of sessions that just because I don’t have like a Facebook post about them doesn’t mean I don’t care about them or anything. But, you know, I’ll answer this in a couple ways:
Number 1, there’s been so many people from right around the same neighborhood, who have become some of my best friends. But we met because they came here, and we spent four-and-a-half hours trying guitar amps to find their guitar tone, and it’s like ‘Holy shit, we like some of the same stuff!’ But then there’s people who maybe don’t get the attention they deserve, and it’s just like, they’re the ones I’m calling on the weekend.
But as far as stand-outs, as far as ones where I’m like ‘holy crap,’ I never thought I’d be able to work with that band: Taking Back Sunday, Menzingers, Michael Angelakos (solo), Dinosaur Jr., Lil Wayne. That stuff’s all cool, but it’s also just as cool to make a record with Super American, like I’ve done friggin’ two or three EPs, a couple albums with them. It’s been amazing to see their trajectory — like, they’re really doing it.
I know you also mentioned Head North, that was a band I felt like they were children coming in here, and earlier this year we just did a new record, it’s going to be coming out in 2024. But it was cool to see them get back together. I know they played that show together with Super American. There’s a lot of stand outs in that way, and like there’s also bands like Spaced. I just did a record with Spaced, and I know all those kids from all their other bands — like they’re in a ton of bands. We ended up finally linking up on a record with Spaced, and now Revelation is putting it out, and they’re doing a buttload of touring, and it’s awesome to see them kind of grow, and blow up.
Same thing with Exhibition. There’s so many bands that stand out, you know, at all different levels local, national, regional.
1120: Do you have any plugs? Any news? Anything you’re super excited about in the present day? Anything you’re working on?
JZ: Yeah, there’s gonna be a lot of music coming out, definitely in the first half of 2024. There’s a new record that I just did with a band called Carpool out of Rochester. SideOneDummy Records is putting it out, so, they have their LP coming out in March, I believe. I mentioned before, Spaced. Their record is coming out also, actually in March, on Revelation. So, those records are coming out.
There’s going to be a Buffalo NY hardcore compilation coming out in 2024. It’s gonna have a number of different hardcore bands. Those are all coming up, then there’s literally just a ton of projects coming out, like Gas Station. We just finished up a record. Pilot Field. Our buddies, We Were Blank, they’re dropping some songs that we did. Yeah, dude, there’s a ton of bands. I hate to use the phrase “too many to list”, but it’s very much in that territory.
So yeah, just really happy that Buffalo’s been very active in a lot of different scenes, and just seeing that people want to go and invest in themselves, and put out music, and I’m just lucky to be part of it to any extent. But, there’s been a lot of them, those are my main plugs.
Like I said, always just pay attention to everyone's social media, even if you don’t get out that much. When you do, take a look around, there’s a lot of good stuff coming out in a bunch of different scenes, and there’s a lot of good shows too. So, get out to shows — and buy something at the merch table.