By David Perry
Joel Plante was born in 1975, the same year Pink Floyd released its ninth album, “Wish You Were Here.”
An older brother introduced him to Pink Floyd and at age 10 he became an avid fan. He played saxophone, then guitar, with the high school jazz band. He joined a rock band.
Pink Floyd was always in his mind. He wished he was there. And now, he is.
On Feb. 15 in Los Angeles, Plante found himself clutching a Grammy Award for Best Surround Sound Album for his work on the 5.1 Surround Sound mix of Floyd front man Roger Waters’ 1992 album, “Amused to Death.”
“It’s kind of insane,” said Plante with a chuckle. The 1997 graduate of the university’s Sound Recording Technology program spoke by phone from das boot recording, the Lake Tahoe, Calif., recording studio owned by Plante’s boss, James Guthrie. Plante shares the Grammy with English transplant Guthrie, often known as the man with the last word on the sonics of everything Pink Floyd.
The Bellingham native almost didn’t attend UMass Lowell, but persistence prevailed.
“At some point, I realized, maybe I’m not that good at playing,” says Plante. “I’d watch other players and think, they’re really good. I’m not. But I was always a Pink Floyd fan growing up."
When his band made rudimentary recordings of themselves, “I really got into it. It all seemed really cool to me.”
When it was time to apply for college, he sought a sound recording program.
“Berklee was stupid money,” he says. “And I saw – wow! – Lowell had this incredible program. I checked it out and it was perfect. I had to go.”
His SAT scores were “not great” but he was encouraged to apply during a campus visit.
A letter reached him. Denied.
“I called the administrative offices and said ‘My grades aren’t great, but this is the only place I applied.’ It was perfect. I had to go.”
He arranged a summer tryout of sorts, faring well enough in English and music classes to enter the SRT program. Then, Plante made the Dean’s List three out of four years.
“It was such a difficult program but I loved it.”
He landed an internship at Conway Recording Studios in Los Angeles and they liked him enough to offer him a job.
“Conway was a great place. I remember the first day I walked in. Green Day was in the lounge, Seal was in one studio and Fleetwood Mac was in another studio, doing 'The Dance.' ”
“You start from the bottom. You’re a runner, you clean floors. And then you’re third assistant and work your way up again.”
Hard Work Pays Off
He didn’t stay down for long. An assistant for Guthrie was there, and saw Plante spend sleepless days and nights constructing a room for recording. Plante was driven. Meticulous.
“It was insane but I kept with it and loved it. I knew what I was doing, and it was obvious, I guess. He said to me, listen, James Guthrie has a studio in Lake Tahoe. You’re the most anal person I’ve ever met, besides James. He’s looking for someone like you to work with him.”
“I moved to Tahoe in November of 1998,” he says. He lives there still with his wife, Alicia.
All told, the surround sound mix took Guthrie and Plante “a year or so,” says Plante.
“It was a big task, and Roger is very hands-on. We would send him notes and then we would rework the recording.”
Plante has traveled with Waters on tour, and in the studio.
“He’s a very nice guy, very smart about a lot of things,” says Plante, who is helping build a studio in a home Waters is building. “Wickedly sarcastic, too.”
Living his dream of working for Pink Floyd has meant “a lot of work. Hard work that is highly technical.
“But it’s also pretty damn amazing.”