One of my most vivid early memories at SXSW, was in 1999 at the IHOP on the corner of 1st Street and I-35. Before there was a rampant “after-hours” party scene at SXSW, you had very few options after 2 a.m. Understandably, one of the biggest hangouts was the IHOP, open 24 hours a day. One night after seeing the Old 97s and Built to Spill at La Zona Rosa, I headed to the IHOP because this is where the Old 97s were having a party in the wee hours of the morning. That’s right, not the Presidential Suite of the Omni, but an IHOP. I was standing in line for some breakfast food, behind three hipster-industry types. Only a few years into my time at SXSW, I could already identify them as “music industry” rather than “performing artist.”
They were laughing and chatting, probably working off a buzz from one too many Shiner Bocks and Miller Lites. As you do in these environments, I glanced at their SXSW badges and my jaw dropped. The three men were Tom Rothrock, Rob Schnapf, and Jerry Finn. Now, those names don’t mean much to most people, but if you’re a music geek and especially a 20-year old music geek in 1999, those names mean a ton. Rothrock and Schnapf were producing partners at the time, having manned the boards on Beck’s Mellow Gold, Elliott Smith’s Either/Or and XO, The Toadies’ Rubberneck, and the Foo Fighters’ self-titled debut. Jerry Finn, on the other hand, practically reinvented pop/punk/emocore in the 1990s, by producing or mixing albums for Green Day, Blink-182, Rancid, Smoking Popes, Superdrag, and Pennywise. Later, he would add albums by Morrissey, Sum 41, and Sparta to his list of credits.
If this sounds like an obituary, it kind of is. Billboard reports that Jerry Finn, 38, has been taken off life support. He suffered a brain hemorrhage last month and his family made this recent decision over the weekend. I never saw Jerry Finn ever again, but what I remember most about that night was when I stopped the three guys and said, “I’m a huge fan of what you guys do for bands.” Granted, they were likely drunk, but they seemed genuinely warm and grateful. Finn even took time to tell me about his new set of Moog keyboards and how he was really excited about a new Blink-182 album that would be released that summer (it would turn out to be the band’s breakthrough commercial hit, Enema of the State).
His biggest talent as a producer was getting relatively childish and immature bands to grow the hell up. He was able to take albums called Dookie or Take Off Your Pants and Jacket, and help turn them into successful rock recordings. There’s always debate over how much a record producer really contributes to the process, but I think it’s safe to say that Jerry Finn will always be known as someone who helped playful musicians play better.