Kyle Pulley has worked on albums both in the band and behind the board, but the July release of Adult Mom’s Driver, which Pulley produced, engineered, and contributed bass to, felt like a landmark for him. That record fulfilled a dream of adding his name to a release by Epitaph Records, one of his favorite labels through his youth.
To be sure, Pulley’s work has seen his name appear on plenty of other releases. His studio credits include Hop Along, Shamir, Diet Cig, and Kississippi. He plays bass for Thin Lips, and he co-founded Philadelphia’s Headroom Studios with Joe Reinhart (Hop Along, Joyce Manor, Modern Baseball).
Reinhart, a classmate of Pulley’s at Drexel University, was part of the inspiration for Pulley to commit to studio work as his main focus. Seeing Reinhart pursue a career as a producer helped to convince Pulley it was a realistic pathway.
“I knew that being a producer was a thing that somebody could do, and it always sounded like that was cool, but it just sounded like this far off, lofty, theoretical thing,” he says. “[Later,] I realized I was sort of just skipping out on other stuff I was doing and always ending up in the studio to work on my crappy bands.”
Pulley cut his teeth, like many others, recording in basements, bedrooms, schools, and rehearsal spaces around Philadelphia. It wasn’t until 2008 that he and Reinhart started Headroom out of a warehouse space, which relocated to a larger space in 2014. That may have helped to link him to the DIY and punk ethos of many of the artists he’s worked with, but it’s also influenced his approach to producing.
“I feel like I’m a little less pretentious about what works,” he says. “If someone’s like, ‘I made this thing but I made it in GarageBand, so I guess we’ll have to redo it,’ there’s been tons of times where I’m like, ‘I don’t know, sounds pretty cool to me, who cares? Let’s use it.’ If it works, it works. I have no problem integrating people’s workflow at home into the studio.”
Working with Adult Mom’s Stevie Knipe, Pulley realized they had a thoroughly-developed and concrete vision of the vocal delivery they wanted for their songs. He encouraged Knipe to edit their own vocals to better capture their intended expression.
“They just put a lot of thought into the emotion that they’re putting into each line,” he says. “If you have an idea, why make me the conduit if you can just do it?”
In other instances, Pulley might take more creative freedom if that fits the artist’s goals. Shamir, an artist who he says has an impressively broad but precise range of references, described an imagined drum sound and let Pulley figure out how to achieve it. Pulley conjured up a loop from old samples he’d made and then enlisted a studio assistant to mimic the beat on a real drum kit. The drum sound on Shamir’s “On My Own,” from their self-titled 2020 album, comes from the blend of those two sources.
That process of creative development often brings Pulley the most joy in the studio. He calls demoing his favorite part of recording as he prefers to get involved with the songs early on, while the possibilities still feel limitless. During those beginning steps, he and the artist can experiment with shifting tempos, changing keys, and rearranging sections.
“I love making the record, but being able to be involved in the creative process of just shaping a song is my favorite part,” Pulley says. “Getting to have a vision and then helping a band realize that vision is maybe my second favorite part.”
Get a taste of Pulley’s production with Adult Mom’s “Sober” here:
For more from Kyle Pulley, find him on Instagram.
Photo courtesy of Kyle Pulley and Christopher Sikich