Will Sheff’s Fresh Prints: “Silver Gymnasium” Producer John Agnello

September 6, 2013
Agnello & I recreate a photo of George Martin with Dan Peek from America, whose "Sister Golden Hair" was mixed on the same console as "The Silver Gymnasium."
Agnello & I recreate a photo of George Martin with Dan Peek from America, whose “Sister Golden Hair” was mixed on the same console as “The Silver Gymnasium.”


John Agnello and I met for the first time about a year ago, in a bar. We were feeling each other out. He was deciding if he wanted to work with me and I was deciding if he was the right guy do take over production duties for a collection of songs that was becoming really close to my heart. I had loved recent records he’d worked on by Kurt Vile, Sonic Youth, and Dinosaur, Jr. (Agnello’s J. Mascis association goes back decades), but it also appealed to me that he’d been involved with some of the defining records of my pop childhood, singles like The Outfield’s “Your Love” and Scandal’s “The Warrior,” pop milestones like Cyndi Lauper’s incredible She’s So Unusual, and even grunge records I’d enjoyed like Screaming Trees’ Sweet Oblivion.

The meeting went great. John and I talked for hours. He really got where I was coming from with the project. I left the bar feeling very excited. Months later, I’d be down in Austin rehearsing every day with Okkervil River while he’d be sending me arrangement notes by night; we’d go over his notes, I’d demo my version of them, and then in the morning we would start the process again. The Silver Gymnasium sessions were the easiest and fastest record sessions I’d ever been involved with. Everything felt natural and right and intuitive. John was a tireless worker, a perfect cheerleader, and an inspiring partner. We’d work hard all day, go out for some drinks, and then repeat the process the next day. We were done in a month and change.

This podcast leans a little heavy on the “go out for some drinks” part of that equation. John wants to me to make it clear, I think, that he’s not a raging partier and I have to stand behind him on this. The man has a work ethic up there with the best I’ve ever seen. But I’d be lying if I said we hadn’t had some wonderful times, and this podcast should be taken more as a tribute to those times. This is us meeting up in a bar again, about a year out in Brooklyn, with some hidden microphones and some cocktails, me sort of “interviewing” John about his fascinating and long career, the highlights and the lowlights and the behind-the-scene stories, and us talking about the recording sessions and John’s secret to staying young, and a little bit of us patting each other on the back having not seen each other since the record came out, and most of all us cracking some exceedingly stupid jokes.The audio quality is not stellar but the quality of the company is. I hope you like it.


Talking with Scott Coffey about Hollywood acting in the John Hughes years, working with David Lynch, and his upcoming film “Adult World.”

One Response to “Will Sheff’s Fresh Prints: “Silver Gymnasium” Producer John Agnello”

  1. David

    I can’t afford all the components of a Negroni so I’m afraid I drank along with some cheap red wine. Anyway I’ve got to say that John seems like a lovely, unpretentious, fun and interesting guy. It was especially great to hear some tidbits about She’s So Unusual which is one of my very favourite 80’s pop albums.

    Now, I’d like to take this space to say a little about the Album: The Silver Gymnasium already feels particularly important to me. I wasn’t born until 87 so I guess most of my earliest memories are technically 90’s coloured but with that said I always felt very connected to the 80’s as a decade. I think the run down Northern England town I’ve always called home was probably a good few years behind the rest of the world (heck we had a video store that still rented VHS tapes up until it sadly closed its doors earlier this year); as a kid the nooks of my room were theatres of conflict for Thundercats, Transformers and G.I Joes, my favourite films were those great 80’s aimed-at-kids-but-not-in-a-lazy-condescending-way Sci-fi movies like Flight of the Navigator, Explorers and (of particular relevance) The Last Starfighter and the music I heard, sometimes on TV and also on the radio as I lolled in the backseat of my dad’s Skoda, seemed to be nothing but Madonna, Duran Duran, Michael Jackson and Belinda Carlisle. All of these details may seem somewhat extraneous, being that this album will have a great deal of emotional resonance for anyone who’s ever fondly remembered even the worst things about being a kid (irrelevant of their decade of origin), but still they are details that the album somehow conjures when I hear it and trifling as they may seem there is a deeper but kind of indescribable thing that resides behind them. That obscure thing is huge and beautiful and happy/sad. It’s made up, in part, of unreclaimable days and fuzzy, time-bent memories but there’s something else there I just can’t explain but that I feel this record taps into. I don’t know where to go from the here. The wine is being drunk. Many apologies for such a long and self-indulgent comment.

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