Interview with Cesar Mejia (Audio Engineer & Producer)

On Episode 34 of The Normandie Records Podcast we interviewed Audio Engineer/Producer Cesar “Ceez” Mejia. Cesar has worked with Grammy Award winning artists such as Herbie Hancock, Los Lobos, Brian Eno, Will.I.Am of the Black Eyed Peas, and Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine to name a few. He is also co-owner of “The Shelter Studios” in Boyle Heights. On Episode 34 of The Normandie Records Podcast we take a deep dive into his upbringing in Boyle Heights, how he got into audio and what it’s like working with music giants like Herbie Hancock. Here’s a brief preview of the conversation.

NRP: When I think about the story of professionals, I think about their upbringing. You grew up in Boyle Heights when it wasn’t the Boyle Heights we know today. What was that experience like and how did music play a role as you were living through these experiences?

Cesar: You’re right. Boyle Heights is becoming a cool thing almost like saying you live in Echo Park. When I was growing up, it was home. It’s still home. My studio is in Boyle Heights. But when I was growing up here it was just home. It was normal but there was music all around. I’d walk with my mom to the market and you could hear the houses playing their music. A lot of it was music in Spanish. I grew up with music in Spanish. My mom was from Michoacan which is closer to Southern Mexico. We heard a lot of Rancheras, Mariachis, Cumbia and all this stuff going on, but my uncles… My studio is in the old property where I grew up. Right outside there’s a patio with a stairway that leads you into the house. That stairway… my earliest memory of music is my uncles sitting there singing rancheras. When I heard it I was just fascinated with music, and I think it was because it was music. It had nothing to do with the type of music it was. So I grew up kind of around that. Growing up in Boyle Heights my parents wanted to put positive things around us. So to my mom playing music or playing sports was a lot better than hanging out on the streets.

NRP: As a producer or engineer, how important is it to appreciate or listen to all genres of music?

Cesar: It’s extremely important. Everybody hears music differently. It’s kind of like colors. We interpret them differently. We react to them differently. I’m just lucky that I’ve been able to be around all that stuff. Coming from the perspective of merely an engineer, I don’t know if this is a practice modern engineers do or not but I’m never afraid to ask. I remember the first time I recorded a guitarron, and I had to ask the players, “Hey dude, have you recorded this before? Where’s the best place to place the mic?” I go mainly from memory. Like, I think to myself, when i’m listening to Chente and he’s cranking these songs out. How does a guitarron sound in my head? That’s kind of what I go for. I guess because I have the experience of listening to that music before. I think it would be harder if you didn’t have those experiences.

Is it more important for an audio engineer to have a diverse clientele or to focus on one genre and be a specialist?

Cesar: I think that’s all an individual thing. Some people that’s all they like to work on. I know guys that back in the 90s and the early 2000s, all they did was metal records, but now they’re hardly getting any work. Maybe it could’ve been that maybe that’s what happened to their career. I don’t know but the reality for me is I like working on records that go from one to the other. When we first did that first Tropa Magica record it was a month of hitting it. Their music is always so exciting. Even the slow ones are exciting, you know? We were finished with that record. We were done mixing, and the next day we had a session with a Folk group, and it felt soo slow. But it was cool! It felt like we were on a totally different kind of trip, you know? It was awesome. It was fucking great. I like doing that cause i’ll get bored if I do the same thing. As much of a Metal head that I am, I would hate to do Metal records all day long. To me that would be boring.

To hear the full conversation with Cesar, stream Episode #34 of The Normandie Records Podcast wherever you listen to Podcasts.