DUMBO: The studio known as ishlab in DUMBO has become an epicenter for a new wave of indie hip-hop coming up out of NYC – from alt-rappers like Weekend Money, Hoodie Allen and Das Racist to breakout MC A$AP Rocky. Holding it down behind the controls of a newly installed Neve 55 console are a pair of young engineers: Daniel Lynas and Frans Mernick.
The NYC-born/bred engineers are both alums of the CCNY Sonic Arts Center; Lynas was profiled here with his Wonderful Studios last year. They moved operations into ishlab over a year ago, and have recently refurbished, rewired and re-equipped the room.
Teaming up at ishlab, they’ve effectively filled a gap for their clients.
“There are a lot of independent artists who are really serious about their music, but don’t have the money to go to a big facility and hire a producer,” says Lynas. “We’ve been a stepping stone in between the bedroom studio and the bigger studios.”
Plenty of studios can make this claim. But most will not prove to be such a springboard, so immediately. ishlab hosted Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky through the making of his mixtape, Live, Love, A$AP – which Lynas recorded and mixed (w/ Mernick assisting on some sessions) – as well as Hoodie Allen’s All American – which Mernick largely recorded and mixed. Both releases went onto smash success: Sony signed Rocky to release Live, Love, A$AP, which blew him up, and with All American, Allen went from relative obscurity to #1 on the USA iTunes chart and #10 on the Billboard 200.
And with that, ishlab too has become something of a hotspot. Some of this success can be traced back to the first Das Racist mixtapes, which Lynas engineered out of Wonderful – he and Hima Suri of Das Racist have been friends since Stuyvesant High School.
“Now, Hima works with all kinds of people, but he keeps coming back here,” says Lynas. “He’s happy with the quality of the recording and the vibe.”
Lynas proved himself early with Rocky too. “The Rocky session came to me offering half of my normal rate,” Lynas recalls, “But I decided to go with it because I was really into it…and because Rocky was gracious and humble, and a genuinely nice person. I guess he’d had some not-great studio experiences before because one of the first times we worked together, he said ‘you get me, you know what I want – I only want to work with you.’”
In a hip-hop session, an engineer with like-minded production sense can really empower the artist.
“Rocky has a very clear idea of what he wants and doesn’t want,” says Lynas. “He also has a really great ear for beats, and surrounds himself with great producers like Clams Casino and Ty Beats.
“We’re producers and musicians ourselves,” continues Lynas, “So when you come here you’re getting the benefit not just of an engineer who knows how to use the equipment in the studio, but also someone who has a musical mind… I will humbly suggest that the sonics and production played a large part in allowing the mixtape to really shine.”
Now, Rocky’s working with producers like Swizz Beatz, and collaborating with artists like Lana Del Ray, Usher and Theophilus London, but he’s still coming to ishlab to work. In the last month, in fact, Rocky was at ishlab working on a track with Skrillex – and he continues to record material there for his debut full-length, LongLiveA$AP, due out this September.
Retooling For Best of Both Worlds
While some artists won’t feel inclined to use ishlab’s new Neve console, Lynas and Mernick see it as not only a “great addition to the toolbox” but also as a calling card for clients who will appreciate it – indie rock bands, and artists with an interest in analog sounds and workflow.
“One of the big reasons we got this console is to have that attractive centerpiece for people who want to record bands,” says Mernick.
“I recently produced a song for the Australian rock band, Cassette Kids, with another engineer named Tim Saroce. The live room is pretty dead, which makes it easy to get tight drum/guitar tones that cut right through the mix. Also, Lynas recently worked with the artist Glasser – tracked vocals with her for another artist’s project. The studio is a great environment to record indie-rock music in.”
“I’d had experience working on this console at Flux Studios,” Mernick adds. “It’s very clean; obviously it’s not as colorful as a Neve from the 70s, but I like how transparent it is. Sometimes you don’t want 12 1073s – that can be a little too much if you’re not going for a particularly retro sound.”
To accommodate all, they’ve set the room up to be a best-of-both-worlds modern hybrid – Lynas prefers to work in Logic, but the room is also equipped with Pro Tools HD; you can track through the board, or hit a variety of boutique mic pres (Telefunken V72s, Avalon 737sp, Vintech 473, Chandler TG2/Germanium, and API), and you can mix in the analog or digital domain.
“It’s about the flexibility, and being able to choose the workflow that’s right for the situation,” says Lynas. “We wanted to have an intimate facility that is comfortable and has a certain vibe, but also has top of the line equipment, versatility, good mic cabinet, and a good preamp selection – so clients don’t have to go to one of the bigger studios to be able to get that type of sound.”
As for the clients, so far it’s been a mixed bag – which is a good thing.