“In high school, I never sat in the front of the class. At Columbia, I sat by the seat closest to the teacher every time.”
Imagine having to travel from Tennessee to Illinois to Massachusetts to Michigan all in a period of three or four days of frenzied, never-ending work. Sleep is fleeting, and your job consists of using your skill set in immediate, high-stakes situations.
How high are the stakes? For Jeremy Lemos, who studied audio engineering at Columbia, he’ll often mix and engineer sound for a band he’s just met—without the benefit of even a sound check where musical kinks can be worked out—in front of festival crowds of 10,000 people.
Such situations, which Lemos recently encountered while engineering sound for modern folk-rock superstars Iron and Wine at Bonnaroo Festival, may be the height of panic for some. But for Lemos, the chance to travel around the country and the world in order to play, mix, and listen to music is an irresistible opportunity.
“I won’t sleep, but I hate saying the word ‘no,’ and it’s been very difficult for me,” Lemos says. “People are like, ‘You wanna go do this kick-ass show in Cape Cod?’ [and I say] ‘Yes!’ Can I physically do it? Yes. It kills me to say no.”
Originally from suburban Wheaton, Lemos says he spent his teen years driving to Chicago to attend punk shows at the Fireside Bowl and to shop at Reckless Records.
After initially considering a career in radio—he even interned at WXRT at one point—Lemos transferred from Southern Illinois University to Columbia College after taking an audio production class at Columbia on what he says was “a lark.” Since graduating in 1999, Lemos has toured with some of rock’s most acclaimed acts: noise pioneers Sonic Youth, Internet Americana sensations The Head and The Heart, and Oscar winners Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. Lemos also ran his own studio, Semaphore, for 10 years until January 2011, and has worked with producer Jim O’Rourke (Wilco, Beth Orton) as an audio engineer on multiple projects. Lemos will tour the country later this year as sound engineer for both Iron and Wine and Irglova, whose solo album will debut in the fall.
During his spare time, the multi-instrumentalist Lemos twiddles knobs in ambient duo White/Light, and plays in experimental rock quartet The High Confessions alongside Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley and former Ministry member Chris Connelly.
About his time at Columbia, Lemos says he most vividly remembers the ear shredding antics of Professor Malcolm Chisholm, who taught an active listening course. Lemos describes Chisholm, a former Chess Records producer, as a “super foulmouthed, chain-smoking, beret-wearing mad scientist” who would play music so loudly that students came armed with earplugs by the second day. Lemos says that because of instructors like Chisholm, who taught him to expertly hear music, the college gave direction to his young life.
“Columbia represented a direct line between who I was and who I wanted to be,” Lemos says. “In high school, I never sat in the front of the class. At Columbia, I sat by the seat closest to the teacher every time.”
—Jon Graef (MA ’12)