“Death By Rock and Roll” album cover. Image courtesy of Fearless Records

I was still picking my jaw up off the floor after hearing that kids from the Maine Academy of Modern Music appear on the forthcoming album by rock band The Pretty Reckless when another big piece of news revealed itself: The entire album was recorded in Windham and produced by Mainer Jonathan Wyman.

The full album, “Death by Rock and Roll,” will be released on Feb. 12, but the single “And So It Went,” featuring the students from MAMM, was released on Jan. 8. That track also features guitarist Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave), and it’s a searing, impassioned tune that includes these lyrics:

“They said the world does not belong to you
You are not the king, I am not the fool
They said the world does not belong to you
It don’t belong to you”

Cover art for “And So It Went” by The Pretty Reckless. Image courtesy of Fearless Records

The song comes out swinging then has a slower part in the middle and a fire-breathing guitar riff from Morello. But the real payoff in the song comes toward the end when the chorus of 29 MAMM singers join in with singer Taylor Momsen.

The Pretty Reckless is a huge band with several No. 1 singles and a massive following. How on earth did this Maine magic happen?

Look no further than Portland-based producer and engineer Jonathan Wyman. He produced the entire “Death By Rock and Roll” album, and when the band said it wanted a chorus for the track “And So It Went,” Wyman knew just what to do: He called his friend, Jeff Shaw, who is executive director and founder of the Maine Academy of Modern Music. Shaw, in turn, sounded the alarm and rounded up nearly 30 students to gather at The Studio in downtown Portland for a three-hour recording session that took place in October 2019.

Jesse Martin performing at Port City Music Hall in 2020. Photo by Francois Gagne

One of those students was Jesse Martin, 18, a senior at Scarborough High School. He was 16 when the session took place and told me that he had heard of The Pretty Reckless and was familiar with a few of their songs.

“I thought they were a good band, and I was really excited to be working with them.” Since the session happened so long ago, Martin said it’s a bit of a blur, but one detail in particular stands out. “I think the most notable part was being in the room and having (Wyman) directing us and telling us what to do, how to make it sound good. He was really hyping us up. It was cool.”

Martin, like the rest of the world, heard the complete song for the first time on Jan. 8 and said he really likes it. Also pleased with how “And So It Went” turned out was lead singer Momsen, who said in an email that the MAMM singers nailed their part, which was better than she could have imagined. “They really helped give the song that needed resolve at the end. They delivered with passion and power and sounded amazing.”

Here’s “And So It Went:”

Now, about the album’s producer. Wyman, a Massachusetts native, graduated from Bates College in the mid-90s with a degree in psychology, a career he never pursued thanks to his involvement in a band at the time. “We made a record and I sort of got bitten by the studio bug,” he said.

Wyman spent a couple of years in New York City but has called Portland home since 2001. His one-man production company is called This Sounds Good, which operates primarily out of The Halo recording studio in Windham. Wyman learned his craft as he went along, and an internship at the former Big Sound studio in Westbrook is where he cut his teeth working with local acts, including Rustic Overtones.

Jonathan Wyman. Photo by Lauryn Hottinger

In the late ’90s, Wyman met Ben Phillips, who has family in Maine and is the guitarist from The Pretty Reckless, and they became friends. They lost touch for a bit in the mid-2000s, but Wyman followed the ascent of Phillip’s band the entire time. The friends reconnected around 2015, when Phillips reached out to Wyman asking him to produce an acoustic version of a song for the album “Going to Hell.” “We did that, and it went really well, and then we did that a couple of more times with a couple of other projects,” explained Wyman.

Up until this point, The Pretty Reckless had worked exclusively with producer Kato Khandwala. Tragically, Khandwala was killed in a motorcycle accident in Los Angeles in 2018. “He was part of the band, and they did everything with him,” said Wyman, adding that at the time of Khandwala’s death, the band was riding a huge wave of success and popularity. A year prior, The Pretty Reckless had been on tour with Soundgarden and, in fact, were the opening act when Soundgarden lead singer Chris Cornell died in May of 2017.

“I think Ben’s line of thinking was ‘the devil you know,'” said Wyman about why he thinks the band hired him for the new album. The band came to Maine in January 2019 and spent a month with Wyman doing pre-production and testing the waters at The Halo. Things clicked, and the band spent much of 2019 living in Maine and working on the album with Wyman in Windham. In other words, the band was hiding in plain sight. “That was part of the point, to keep it on the down-low and maintain anonymity,” said Wyman.

Wyman said that producing “Death By Rock And Roll” is by far the biggest thing he’s ever done. The title track of the album went to No. 1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart in July. Wyman said he’s intrigued to see what happens when the album drops next month. “Everybody is super excited about it. So far we’ve put three songs out into the world and the response to all of them has been incredible.”

Wyman praised the band for its steadfast commitment to the making of the album and its “nothing is done until it’s done right” attitude. “It was definitely like a vetting process for me, and there was a learning process to see how they went about making records. Now I know how to make a record with them, now I get it. I want to do it all again,” said Wyman.

Momsen, in turn, had this to say about working with Wyman: “Jonathan is a dear friend of ours and a secret weapon of production and sound. He’s simply one of the best out there. I think he had the patience to let us be the artist, at the same time taking our sound to the highest quality possible.”

When asked about what it was like spending so much time in Maine during the making of the album, Momsen let a surprise cat out of the bag. “I’ve lived in Maine for almost seven years now, so it was nice to be able to record here and then go home to write. Maine is a great place to be creative; its solitude lets the imagination run wild.”

“Death By Rock And Roll” will be available everywhere on Feb. 12.

Comments are not available on this story.