Starting out as the singer/guitarist of the punk band The Briggs Jason LaRocca became a full-fledged producer and recording engineer. He contributed to the scores of the major motion pictures as “Bad Boys for Life,” “Paddington,” “Aquaman,” TV series like “Once Upon A Time,” “Black Mirror” and many more. Apart from that, he recently worked as a mixing engineer for scores of new-gen video games like “Assassin’s Creed Valhalla,” as well as “Cyberpunk 2077.”
We were happy to find out that he used BX and PA plugins for his work on the latest game scores and decided to catch up with him to talk about his evolution as an engineer, influential scores, and his favorite plugins for mixing film and game scores.
You run a studio and recorded and mixed music for major motion pictures and for the gaming industry; can you tell us what made this field so attractive for you?
Growing up I was really into video games and the music that was in them. I actually used to play the volume up on most of them really loud while I played the game, just for the music experience. Same with movies growing up - like the Charlie Brown holiday specials. I think without the music for those films, I may not have cared much about them. I think music for film and video games are very powerful. I try to channel the profound effect that music has on me and have it reflect in what I produce, mix, and write.
One of your latest projects was mixing the score of 'Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’. Can you tell us how it came about?
Well, it is funny actually because I got two separate calls to work on this project - from both Jesper Kid and Sarah Schachner. They asked me if I could mix the score for the game soundtrack and I was very excited to be a part of it. The fan base for this franchise is incredible and I really wanted to make sure that these mixes were really exciting for everyone to hear and experience. The music they wrote for this game is incredible.
As you were involved in so many big projects in the last years there must have been lots of exciting and memorable experiences. Anything that stands out for you personally?
There have been so many at this point - I had my first opportunity to record at AIR Lyndhurst in London for a film called Paddington a few years ago - that was such a special experience in a lot of ways for me. I am a big fan of that hall and many of my favorite film scores have been recorded there.
So what are your favorite film scores, and did they have an effect on your own work?
I LOOOOVE so many - one of the best for me is the original ‘Blade Runner’ score. Whenever I hear it I get very emotional. That score really hits me deep for some reason. Same with ‘Clockwork Orange’, ‘The Explorers’, ‘Back to the Future’, and even ‘Star Wars’. I remember as a child feeling very aware of the music for these films and feeling deeply impacted by them. I try to keep my mixing an emotional process to some degree - I think it is very important to "feel" it and that once you do, it doesn’t matter what it took to get there or if something was wrong from a technical standpoint in making it as long as it has an impact emotionally. I remember one time when I was doing a session at Capitol recording a live string ensemble and I accidentally muted the microphone returns of the strings but forgot to mute the live reverb chambers that I was feeding from the string mics. So we were left with just the reverb returns of the live chambers and it sounded absolutely incredible! A mistake yes, but a happy one. The composer turned to me and said "WE NEED TO DO THAT IN THE MIX!!! IT SOUNDS AWESOME!" I of course took credit for it and made it seem as if I meant to do it - now it's one of my favorite tricks!
One of your favorite plugin brands from Plugin Alliance is Brainworx. What is it about their plugins and how do you use them?
Well, I love ALL of the Brainworx plugins. One of the things that excite me most about them is the onboard M/S matrix. I like to subtly widen EVERY track in my mix individually, so I find that function really helpful. I use BX Limiters on all of my master busses and full mix - that plugin is very transparent and I have a preset I made for it, which I can't live without. I use the SubSynth a ton on drums and bass to extend the low end as well as make all the low end below 200hz come out mono with the "mono-maker" function.
Are there other plugins from Plugin Alliance that you work with regularly?
I love the SSL 9000J, the NEOLD V76U73, Lindell TE-100, MAAG EQ4, Lindell 80s Series, Black Box HG-2 - these get used all the time on everything I mix, including the ‘Assassin's Creed’ Soundtrack.
Even though you were into film and gaming scores early on this is not how you entered the pro audio world, right? Can you tell us more about your journey starting as a DIY producer to becoming an engineer mixing major motion pictures and games?
When I was 12 my brother and I would record Beatles covers on an old 4 track tape machine. This is where I discovered that when you flip the tape over and record a solo and then flip the tape back again, the solo plays in reverse! A few years later, I saved up my money from working all summer and bought a 24 channel Mackie console and 16 track 1/2" tape machine. My brother and I had adjoining rooms at our parent's house and so we busted a small hole in the wall between our rooms and ran mic and headphone cables through it so that we could use my room as a drum room and my brother's room as the control room. We started making recordings and selling our own CDs at local shows. Once other bands started to find out about our setup, we began to have other local LA bands come to our house and make EPs and things. Eventually, we made what would become our first album for our new band "The Briggs" - which then lead to our signing to Side One Dummy Records (Flogging Molly, MXPX, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, etc). Somewhere at the beginning of this journey (in 1998) I also met a friend who played in another local LA band and was working for a film composer but was leaving his job there to work at another studio. He knew about my DIY skills and my home studio setup and so asked if I wanted to interview for the job and of course, I said yes - not expecting much I went for the interview, and there I met Mark Isham. I landed a gig with him starting out as an intern and eventually worked my way up to being an assistant and programmer to eventually mixing film scores in surround sound. That was where my crossover journey began in the film, TV, and game world. In 2003 I believe, The Briggs got to make our first EP on Side One Dummy - we got to fly to Boston and work with the legendary engineer Paul Q. Kolderie and producer Joe Gittleman (of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones fame) at Camp Street Studios where some of our favorite records were made. The following full-length albums were engineered by myself. Around that time I left the studio job to tour full time. I did that until 2009 at which point I decided to stay in LA and focus back on engineering and producing. It has been a crazy and wild ride - that is where it all began for me.
Finally: Can you tell our users something about current or future projects?
A great thriller called "Run" is out now, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is out now, Cyberpunk 2077 came out a few days ago, and the epic Marvel film "Morbius" comes out in 2021.....there are a few other big projects that I will be able to announce soon....all I can say for now is that they will NOT disappoint.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Jason!
Check out the Assassin's Creed Valhalla score on Spotify: