Droppin’ Knowledge: Behind The Boards With Willie Green

Paul “Willie Green” Womack is a producer, musician and sound engineer who has worked with a wide variety of artists, including Wiz Khalifa, The Roots, Open Mike Eagle, billy woods, Murs and Milo. He has also worked with a disparate group of artists outside of hip hop, such as Donnie McClurkin, Corina Corina and Barrie McLain.

Hip hop fans may be most familiar with Green’s work as all around sound artist, producer, engineer and studio whiz with Backwoodz Studioz, the record label founded by Brooklyn-based hip hop artist billy woods. There, he has worked on albums with woods, ELUCID, Armand Hammer, ShrapKnel, Curly Castro, PremRock and FIELDED, among others.

Green got his start in the music industry as a teenage drummer in his uncle’s cover band, which played R & B, reggae and top 40 hits requested by audience members. Green attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston and was active in the Boston music scene before relocating to Brooklyn. Green has his own studio there, The GreenHouse.

Green is a musicians’ musician, a bold letter name to music fans and artists who pay attention to cutting edge sounds, within the hip hop community, and in other genres of music as well. In 2016, he released the album Doc Savage, an innovative collection of hip hop music that features imaginative, unique sounds and guests artists from across the musical spectrum.

Willie Green joins this week’s episode of Behind The Boards.

This interview has been lightly edited for publication. Photo of Paul “Willie Green” Womack is courtesy of Paul “Willie Green” Womack.

Backseat Mafia: What inspired you to create music? What inspires you every day?

Willie Green: I just love to create and specifically love to make things sound good. Great sounds are a big part of classic songs and I want to make things that stand the test of time.

BSM: If someone asked you to describe the “Willie Green Sound” in one sentence, what would you say?

WG: I don’t know if I can say one thing, because I’m always trying to evolve and change directions. If I had to pin down one thing it would be the drums, I love my drums loud and upfront. But I’ve been experimenting with some different drum textures lately, trying to find a new thing for me that isn’t the same thing as everybody else. Something like the drums on “Furies” by billy woods and Moor Mother. But now I’ve done that, so I want to do something else.

BSM: How did you get your artist name?

WG: I got it from the movie Dolemite. When I was in college I had a bunch of different names, but luckily this is the one that stuck.

BSM:  Many musicians are self-taught. You went to a renowned music school, Berklee College of Music, in Boston. Did that experience give you insight into the creative process that you might not otherwise have had?

WG: Going to Berklee definitely gave me a lot of tools that I use often, arranging and compositional skills, a network of friends and colleagues across the industry. Music school isn’t the only way to do it, and plenty of what I’ve learned didn’t come from the classroom, but more knowledge is never worse, ya know? I can choose whether or not to apply any of the tools I have depending on the situation, but the more tools I have the more prepared I am and more gigs I can take. I know how to record a string section, or classical piano and that keeps the phone ringing.

BSM: Where is your favorite place to create?

WG: My favorite place is definitely in my studio, The GreenHouse Recording Co., although because of the pandemic I’ve put together a pretty comfy home rig as well. But I built the studio by hand – designed and built the booth, wired everything with cables I made myself. It’s all designed around how I want to work, so it’s really comfortable for me.

BSM: What is the one non-musical item that you must have with you when you are working/creating?

WG: Nothing really, what I really need is peace and quiet to be able to create. I don’t like to be interrupted if I’m in a zone, if I have to start thinking about a bunch of other stuff it’s hard to get back.

BSM: Are you a crate digger? If you are, do you have a favorite place to dig? A shout-out to a favorite record store? What was your greatest or most special find?

WG: I’m not a crate digger any more, I used to be but the sampling thing can be kind of a nightmare now. I actually just let go of my vinyl collection, passed it on to my assistant. I’ve bought records all over the world, like weird flute records in Vienna, and I love the rush of finding something dope that no one else has flipped yet. But I’m also doing a lot of experimenting with sound design type production and alternative sample sources. I did an album/art installation in 2019 called “Press Play” where I sampled paintings. I have software to convert the images to sounds, and I composed an album made of only sounds from the corresponding paintings and showed it in a gallery in Manhattan. I’ll still pull out some vinyl occasionally, but I’m trying to find new sounds too.

BSM: What is your preferred music production software? Do you use live instrumentation? What instruments do you play/use?

WG: I do everything in [Steinberg] Cubase, that’s the center of my studio and production setup. I do all my production, recording, editing and mixing in it. I use a good amount of live instruments, I’ll play live drums occasionally, or maybe a little bass. But I’ve got a nice crew of session musicians I call when I need someone to really lace something. 

BSM: What is your favorite instrument or piece of audio gear, and why?

WG: My favorite instrument is drums for sure, although I don’t get much time to play anymore. If I don’t have any bookings scheduled I might set the kit up in the booth and play, but unfortunately/fortunately the studio stays very busy so there’s isn’t much time for that. I wouldn’t say I have a favorite piece of studio gear, I’ve got a lot of stuff that I love, but it’s all just a certain tool for a certain task.

BSM:  What album or individual track are you most proud of, or is most significant to you? Why?

WG: I’ve a lot that I’m proud of, because I don’t like to put out anything I can’t stand by. I’ve very proud of billy woods’ catalogue, he’s been on a hell of a run for nearly a decade now. Also the ShrapKnel album that came out early 2020. PremRock and Curly Castro are two of my favorite emcees and the pairing with ELUCID on production was great. I feel like I really blacked out on those mixes. But I think my big achievement is probably my Doc Savage album. It was a huge undertaking that took five years to make, super in-depth production, a huge guest list. A lot went into that album, but it opened a lot of doors for me and it’s work I still feel great about today.

BSM: Favorite artist, or artist you admire, in any medium, and why?

WG: I don’t know if I have a particular favorite, I’m a big Anderson.Paak fan, I like what Griselda is doing, Alchemist has been on a great run with his stuff. I’ve also been in a big Smokey Robinson mood lately, as famous as he is he’s still underrated as one of the 20th centuries best songwriters.

BSM: Favorite artist or genre for listening to on the New York City subway? Why?

WG: When I’m moving around the city, I’m usually listening to podcasts honestly, especially during NBA season. If I’m working 10 hours at the studio on music, when I leave I need to hear something else.

BSM:  Favorite artist from Brooklyn, or an artist from Brooklyn you think is under appreciated, or deserves more attention?

WG: I love what FIELDED has been doing lately, I’ve worked on a couple projects with her including her full-length that just came out on Backwoodz Studioz. [Editor’s note: Demisexual Lovelace.] She’s a really wonderful artist with an amazing voice, people need to buy all her albums.

BSM:  You famously started your career as a teenage drummer in your uncle’s R & B/reggae band. Was there a song in the band’s repertoire that you hated to play? Did that gig give you insight into the music business that you carry with you today?

WG: It was a cover band and people would have a lot of requests, for Top 40 type stuff, too. I really dislike Jimmy Buffet, so anytime someone would recommend that stuff it was always the worst, haha. But I learned a ton about being a working musician in that band. I played with them for ten years from starting when I was a kid, and at some points that was my full time job. The biggest thing I learned was how to keep the party going and feed off the audience. We were a dance band, so for four hours straight it was my job as the drummer to keep everyone dancing. I had to pay attention to tempos, and understand what made people want to dance and a lot of that translates into my record making today.

BSM:  Can you take one track from your career and walk us through the process of creating the song? 

WG: For “The Feathered Octopus,” off of Doc Savage, I started making that beat on tour in 2011. I was in Europe with PremRock and we had a couple down days in a little town in the Czech Republic. We were posted up with Czech producer Talpas and we just sat around and made beats and wrote rhymes all day. Someone had given me a CD with that sample on it so I chopped it up and then sat on the beat for a long time until I knew the right spot for it. I couldn’t just give that to anyone. I had the chopped sample and some programmed drums on it, but then when I knew it was for Doc Savage I went and recorded live drums on it as well. I recorded ELUCID at my place for it and Open Mike Eagle sent in his vocals. Then, at the last minute right before mixing, Barrie Lobo McLain was in working on another project and heard it and we added her additional vocals on the spot.

BSM: Shout-outs? Upcoming projects? Collabos? A tip for surviving 2020? 

WG: I can’t talk much about upcoming stuff at the moment because most of it hasn’t been announced yet. But I did recently mix and master an album for ELUCID and producer The Lasso who have a group called Small Bills. Their full length is coming out on Mello Music at the end of October and it’s really great. As far as shoutouts I’ll give a shoutout to my newborn son Clyde who will be here by the time this interview comes out. This is his first shoutout, that’s dope!

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