Cameron Webb Produces Everyone From Motörhead to 5-Year-Old Kids in His Santa Ana Studio
Twelve years ago, after producing Motörhead's 17th album, Inferno, Cameron Webb thought it was the first and last time he'd ever work with the band—and that Lemmy Kilmister wanted to kill him. The Newport Beach native spent months arguing back and forth with Kilmister, guitarist Phil "Wizzö" Campbell and drummer Mikkey Dee over stale song ideas, pushing them to try new things in the studio. After three decades perpetuating a tried-and-true sound on all of their records, it didn't seem like something the band wanted to hear.
"I thought they hated me," Webb says. He sits back on the couch of his wood-paneled sanctuary in the control room of Maple Sound Studios in Santa Ana. "We used to fight all the time when they'd come in here."
So he was a little nervous when Lemmy called him up after the record was finished and asked him to come over to his house in Los Angeles so he could "give him something." Perhaps a few choice Lemmy-esque insults? A shot of whiskey? An axe to the skull? Turns out, the lord of loudness called Webb over to give him a sword—as a gift, not an execution. "And he presents it to me, and he's like, 'So you ready for the next record?'" Webb says in a polite, gravelly voiced Lemmy impression. "And I was like, 'What are you talking about? I thought we fought the whole time.' And he goes, 'You're the first person who's trusted me in 10 years to let me be myself and to be an artist. You're not telling me what to do; you're listening to me and helping me build this to what it was. You're signed up for the next record already.'"
Six albums later, right up until Lemmy died of terminal cancer on Dec. 28, 2015, Webb was the band's official producer. During our interview, the fortysomething, clean-cut recording whiz with cropped chestnut hair and black-rimmed glasses flips through an old sketchbook that holds some of the front man's crude cartoon doodles and handwritten lyrics. All of it was scribbled during recording sessions on the couch on which Webb sits now. As the pages turn, it's clear that one of rock & roll's most legendary figures felt comfortable making Webb's OC studio his creative home away from home.
As special as the relationship was, bonding with artists is what has made Webb such an in-demand producer. Whether you're a rock star or a band off the street with enough scratch to record a demo, there's a pretty good chance Webb is willing to take the gig—with just one condition: you work as hard as he does.
"You treat me as a member, and I can give you so much more," Webb says. "When these artists come in, I always pride myself on pushing them further than they can push themselves."
Despite coming off as an affable, laid-back surfer, a deeper look into his catalog reveals a tireless workaholic who gets off on making any artist sound like a million bucks. His credits include everyone from hometown heroes The Aquabats, Matt Costa and Mike Ness to pop stars such as Kelly Clarkson. Recently, he was tapped to record the new NOFX record after they spent a few days rehearsing at Webb's studio prior to their headlining set at It's Not Dead Fest. He's also responsible for honing the greatness found on albums from local bands such as Zebrahead, Pennywise and Ignite, bands that bred the SoCal punk he grew up loving.
From the time he attended Newport Harbor High School to when he graduated from Chico State, Webb's life revolved around music. He played bass in a variety of rock and cover bands while going to school for recording, and he eventually landed a gig as a runner for Larrabee mixing studio in Hollywood in 1996. Even as a low man on the totem pole, fetching coffee and emptying trash cans, he'd rub elbows with the megastars.
"It was wild," he remembers. "I was working with Michael Jackson one day, Madonna the next day, and Dr. Dre. . . . These were all top people. The first Incubus record was also being mixed there."
A few years later, he landed a gig as an engineer at NRG Recording Studios at the height of the alt-rock/nü-metal era. The first record he worked on was Lit's A Place In the Sun, followed by Limp Bizkit's Significant Other. Eventually, he tired of LA and decided to move back to OC in 2002 to start what would become Maple Sound Studios. It was a shell of a studio when he moved in, tucked away in a nondescript Santa Ana business park.
Gradually, he fixed it up by hand and imported the stockpile of amazing gear he'd collected over the years. With its high ceilings, deft sound design and well-worn, vintage vibe, Maple Sound Studios has become a place that easily beckons bands away from LA for a few days to record an album that sounds as good as or better than any Hollywood studio. "For me, it's about helping a band become successful over the years, and . . . I want to be a part of that," he says. "I want to be a part of what they're doing and these movements."
Of course, it works out best when those movements happen to include his friends and homegrown projects that force him to push his own talents into new directions. Take his role as the mixing engineer for the hit Nickelodeon show Yo Gabba Gabba, created by his friend and Aquabats front man Christian Jacobs. Since it debuted in 2007, all 66 episodes were mixed at Maple Sound Studios. It's also brought in bands as diverse as Rocket From the Crypt and the Roots, who've come in to record songs for the show.
But Webb has arguably done his best work on the kids' show when he's getting crazy with Jacobs in the studio. They've spent plenty of late nights crafting goofy tracks that wind up on the show between cleverly disguised lessons on counting, friendship and sick dance moves. "A lot of times, we'd do stuff and laugh at it and go, 'Oh, the network's never gonna approve this,'" Webb says. "And sometimes it would slide through, and we'd be like, 'Wow, we just got that on TV? Holy shit, this is fun!'"
That's what it's ultimately about for Webb. Having a ball and doing what he loves are pretty much the chief requirements for projects big and small. All too often, he'll respond to a friend's polite request to record their unknown band with a hearty "Hell, yeah!"
"It's what I do," Webb says. "And people are like, 'Yeah, but you did this and that.' And I'm like, 'Yeah, but I've also recorded 5-year-old kids, 70-year old men.' I've done it all. You don't know what's gonna be the next big thing—to me I always wanna be involved. Just reach out and call me."
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