Black Flag, the Minutemen, Minor Threat and the Descendents are just a few of the bands that Glen "Spot" Lockett has recorded as house producer for the legendary punk label SST Records. His tenure at the Southern California indie institution began back in 1979, when the emerging DIY aesthetic meant, as he puts it, "going for the moment and flying by the seat of your pants."
All that would change soon enough. By the time Spot recorded Hüsker Dü's 1985 album, New Day Rising, the band was determined to embark on the increasingly common journey from punk to pop. The disillusioned producer left SST shortly afterward. (Hüsker Dü, meanwhile, signed with Warner Bros. and disbanded two years later.)
"I don't know, man, it just seemed like everybody started listening to R.E.M. and saying, 'Why can't we sound like that?' And I was saying, 'Well, you know something, first of all you don't sound like that.' It was like an overweight teenage girl wondering why she didn't look like Britney Spears."
Which is not to suggest that the producer-turned musician, who relocated to Austin, Texas, in 1986, started out as a wide-eyed idealist.
"I was a future grumpy old man," says Spot with more delight than regret. "Yeah, I played foosball and I was a skater kid, but I was surrounded by other kids who didn't know what the fuck they were doing. Back then, I wanted all those kids to stay the fuck off my lawn already."
A lo-fi producer years before the term was invented, Spot was cranking out punk-rock records back when yacht rock was still dominating the charts. (Ironically, he says that SST actually ended up inheriting Steely Dan's old 24-track console.) Having spent his early years listening to old jazz and rock 'n roll records, he still cites the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's as an example of how much more can be done with less: "To this day, there's probably more good information in those four tracks than a lot of the over-produced things you hear on the radio right now.
"People would ask me what the difference is between 16-track and 24-track. And the answer is: With 24-track, you can make eight more mistakes."
Life after SST
These days, Spot says he doesn't own any recording equipment, but that's not technically true. He makes his own records with a computer, and also has a small mixing board and a few compressors and effects processors. And his music bears almost no resemblance to the sounds that once shook SST's studio walls.
Freed from the constraints of the punk-rock world, the honorary Texan became immersed in, of all things, traditional Irish music, which he'd initially been exposed to through bands like Fairport Convention and Pentangle.
"When I heard Celtic music, there was just something about the tonality of it that I couldn't ignore," says Spot, who's got Irish blood on his father's side but generally describes himself as "a mutt, M-U-T-T, mutt."
And while the Anglo strains still run into his music, he says he's stopped going to weekly jam sessions and touring with his Irish bouzouki: "These days, I generally go out with an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar and a tenor banjo, and I just do what I do. I write songs and I sing them. But I am not a singer-songwriter. If it were up to me, I wouldn't sing at all."
But it's not up to him, not really, so Spot keeps audiences' attention by sprinkling vocal numbers throughout his set. A talented instrumentalist, he also has a knack for writing entertaining, off-kilter lyrics. It's not every singer-songwriter — oh wait, sorry — who can create a couplet like "The Germans had the polka and they also had two wars / And if you count accordions they've had three or four."
Reach for my revolver
As you might have guessed by this point, Spot's songs are not necessarily of the heart-rending confessional variety, but they do have a certain emotional resonance.
"There's got to be some emotion in everything," he says, "even if it's stupid emotion. Because, I mean, in the lives we live, we experience a lot of stupid emotions."
Still, there are limits. Asked if he'll be doing any covers like, for instance, Black Flag's "TV Party," Spot sounds appropriately appalled: "Nothing, no. I mean, I'm not gonna do anything as stupid as that."
So it's probably no surprise that the reformed producer has zero tolerance for the recent spate of punk-rock reunions, some of which have featured actors in place of retired frontmen like Jello Biafra and the late Darby Crash.
"I hear that the Germs are going out on tour — isn't that ridiculous? I mean, what are these people thinking? When I hear about stuff like that, I think, yeah, maybe the NRA's got a good idea."