Noah Goldstein is one of the most talented people you’ve never heard of, but that’s okay. Slipping into the shadows often comes with the territory of being a recording engineer and mixer. Think the background singer documentary 20 Feet From Stardom, but rather than belting out supporting vocals, Goldstein has made his career behind a thick layer of glass as he’s toiled over sound mixers.
It’s here, 20 feet from stars, that he’s helped craft some of the most iconic albums of the last decade, beginning in 2010 with Arcade Fire’s GRAMMY-winning album The Suburbs. In the eight years since that record catapulted him into the higher echelons of music production, Goldstein racked up collabs on award-winning records (everything from Frank Ocean’s Blonde and Endless to Anohni’s Hopelessness) and spent years working as Kanye West’s engineer, producer, mixer and touring audio director at G.O.O.D. Music.
Now, nearly a decade after working behind the scenes, Goldstein has come out from behind the curtain. We caught up with the engineer as he took a break from the studio to get the full rundown of how he went from an Icelandic music internship to the iconic Electric Lady Studios, why he’d leave it all behind to become a chocolatier, and why, at the end of the day, he just wants to work on projects he believes in.
You worked with so many big names during your time at Electric Lady Studios. How’d you end up there?
It’s a slightly long story so I’ll try to give you the abridged version of how I got there. When I was doing my Master’s degree [at Temple University], for whatever reason, I was super into Icelandic music. I was into Björk and Sigur Rós. I’m super into the way their music shared an aesthetic across all of these different groups, even if their music was different. So looked up the credits for all the Björk records and found this guy, Valgeir Sigurðsson. He is her engineer and produced for her. His studio was called Greenhouse, [so] I googled it and emailed him asking him for an internship. I wasn’t going to be finished with my Master’s degree for a year and a half, but he said yes, so I emailed him every two weeks for the next year and a half saying, “Yo, check this out, look at this link, look at his new band I found. What do you think of this?”, stuff like that. Then after I got finished at Temple, I went to Iceland.
I went into this three-month internship. Steph, my girlfriend at the time and now wife, came out there with me. It was amazing. I got to work with CocoRosie, Ben Frost, and a bunch of other people while I was out there. It was great vibes. When I got finished, I moved to New York completely broke. To backtrack slightly, I knew I was going to end up in New York, so I was like, where does Björk work when she’s in New York? She worked at this place called Looking Glass, which was Philip Glass’s studio. I got hooked up with the interview at Looking Glass through [Icelandic producer] Valgeir Sigurðsson. I got a recommendation from him and they told me they could hire me but not for pay. I knew that shit was going to happen.
How did you end up landing at Electric Lady?
I never even looked at Electric Lady as a place to work because I thought it would be staffed for eternity. In the middle of the interview [with Looking Glass] out of desperation, I asked if they know anybody that’s hiring for pay and Lee Foster, who runs Electric Lady, is looking for somebody new.
I hounded Lee for two weeks and then he gave me an interview. I got there and he hires me 48 hours later. The next morning, I got to be on a mix session with Patti Smith; that was my first session. Patti, to me, is the goddess. She’s one of the greatest female artists, period.
How nervous were you?
Oh my God, I was freaking out.
Did you mess anything up?
I’m sure I did. I don’t recall messing anything up, but I’m always making mistakes. I love mistakes.
What’s one of the wildest stories from your time at Electric Lady?
There were times where we were doing all-night sessions and the whole band would be on acid; I had to be the only sober one to make sure everything was running smooth. Even the engineer [and] producers were on acid.
The whole thing was just this wild ride, man. Between being almost broke and working with all of these people; there were times that I slept on the studio floor for a week and my wife would have to drop clothes off for me because I never went home.
It was just constant craziness?
Yeah, completely, but also the best kind of crazy. They were these creative moments that you can’t get back.
Yeah, and it’s also what you love doing.
Yeah. I mean, I probably didn’t love doing all of it, but yes, overall absolutely this is what I love to do.
Then the Grammy-winning Arcade Fire record, The Suburbs, happened and that catapulted you into a different trajectory, right?
Yeah. That was a real pivotal moment for me because my tenure at Electric Lady was coming to a close — I was growing out of it. That’s my home away from home, but it was just time to move on. I said to my wife, “I think I’m going to quit being in the music industry. I think I’m just going to let it go and I’m going to become a chocolatier. That sounds fun. I have a lot of passion for chocolate.”
This was December 1st and I said, “If nothing happens by January 1st, I’m just going to call it.” The week before [January 1st], Marcus called me and asked me to work on The Suburbs. That was a sign because I had respected what Arcade Fire did and do to this day. I spent months in Montréal with them. We were working on the record and I remember calling my mom saying, “I think I’m working on the best album I’ve ever worked on.”
I came back to Electric Lady for a little bit after that and I started working with Kanye. He took me on.
He poached you. Before I get to Kanye, I have to ask about this chocolatier thing. Of all the things you could do, tell me about why you wanted to be a chocolatier.
I don’t know. I just really love chocolate, man. Maybe it’s because… I needed to understand the process to understand why it made me feel so happy when I was around it.
It ties into what you do with music. It’s the behind the scenes thing, but with chocolate instead of music.
Yeah. I think that in general, I’m really passionate about how things come together. [But] sometimes, you may not want to understand the process because to you, it’s magic.
Well now that I’ve got the chocolatier thing cleared up, I can move on to Kanye. What was it like working with him? He’s such a genius behind the scenes with music.
He’s is the G.O.A.T. The experiences I had working with him were completely invaluable. In my professional career, the most formative times of my life were working with him.
You’re working with FKA Twigs and Joey Bada$$ right now. What’s it like working with FKA?
I love working with her. I mean, I’ll just answer that question for every artist that I work with: I love working with them all.
They’re all amazing?
All of the artists that I work with. A passion of mine is to be around artists and help them. As a producer, I love helping people create something that they feel happy about and get exactly what their vision is that they wanted to get across; that’s really important to me. I really care about music a lot and I care about artists a lot. My wife is a fine artist [and] makes sculpture and painting and she mixes media, so having her around has been educational for me both in my personal life but also in my career.
What made you want to become a record producer? Was there any album or artist in particular that made you jump into this?
Yeah, it’s a funny story, but it’s probably happened to a lot of kids. I saw Dr. Dre on TV one day and he was talking to Snoop, but he was behind the glass. He was in front of this big mixing console giving [Snoop] a direction. I was, oh, that’s a thing. That’s a thing that you can do. I had heard that the term producer before, [but] I didn’t understand what it was until I saw Dre on TV.
You’ve worked with such a broad range of people, but is there anyone you’d like to work with in the future?
Honestly, I try not to even think about it. I don’t want to chase anything, I just want to work on things as they come, if that makes sense. I just really want to work on projects that I believe in.
- Photography: Thomas Welch