“Rock Facilitator” Spring 2014 Announced – April 5-6 at Excello Recording, Brooklyn

March 20, 2014 by  

Hugh Pool is about to connect you to the ROCK.

The Excello live room: Picture yourself here -- LEARNING STUFF!

The Excello live room: Picture yourself here — LEARNING STUFF!

Yes, one of Brooklyn’s foremost recordists has announced the Spring 2014 “Rock Facilitator” for April 5-6. Held at the always inspirational Excello Recording in Williamsburg, Pool flies his informational weekends under the banner “Technical Know-How • Studio Production • Applied Imagination”.

Even more funner, there will be an Excello Garage Sale at 1 PM, where all are invited to nab gear on the outs with Hugh and his team – some of which might be quite tasty indeed.

Don’t miss this chance to learn from a passionate guitarist and audio engineer, in one of Brooklyn’s most distinctive studios. But hurry if you’re interested! Classes are limited to 7 students. Each course is $100 — to attend both, the cost is $175. Visit here for more information and to registerHere’s how the weekend breaks down:

April 5th, 2pm – 5pm: “Bottleneck Classic” Slide Guitar Workshop

April 6th, 11am – 2pm: “Gettin’ Yer Act Together on the Guitar (even if you only have 15 minutes every other day)” Guitar Workshop 

April 6th, 1pm: Excello Garage Sale featuring studio cast-off gear, sonic crayons, and you just never know.

The agenda

The agenda


Session Buzz: Who’s Recording In & Around NYC — A Monthly Report

March 7, 2012 by  

GREATER NYC AREA: This month in NYC recording found Skrillex producing Wale, Nicki Minaj working with Big Sean, The Kin recording with The Rondo Brothers, and a ton of bands recording in Brooklyn. There’s no way to report on everything, but here we run down some of the highlights from February to now…

Starting in Brooklyn This Time!

At Headgear Recording, Jersey rock band The Everymen mixed their upcoming album with producer/engineer John Agnello. And NYC-based Japanese rock band The Ricecookers tracked and mixed two EPs with engineer Ted Young.

Vacation Island’s newly appointed “Dead Room” with views into larger tracking room.

Brooklyn bliss-pop band Cave Days has been recording a new LP at The Fort Brooklyn. James “General Crapshoot” Bentley is recording, mixing and producing with the band. In other news, The Fort has just re-capped the master section of their Neotek Elan console and – according to Bentley – “it sounds unreal!”

At Vacation Island Recording in Williamsburg, producer/engineer Matt Boynton recently finished mixing the new Suckers album, Candy Salad for Frenchkiss Records. Boynton also mixed more songs from Free Blood and finished Zachary Cale‘s new “Hangman Letters” EP. Brooklyn rock band Linfinity, Manican Party and El Dorado all recently mixed records with Boynton. And (pictured) Vacation Island’s tracking room (the “dead” room) got a facelift!

Meanwhile, heavy psych-rock trio NAAM were recording and mixing their new “Ballad of the Starchild” EP with producer/guitarist Jeff Berner at Galuminum Foil in Williamsburg.

Berner also recently recorded, mixed, and played guitar on Psychic TV‘s limited vinyl-only 12″s – “Thank You Pts 1& 2″ and “Mother Sky/Alien Sky” (for Vanity Case Records) with additional engineering from Chris Cubeta – produced/engineered/played on Tatiana Kochkareva‘s “Infinity”, recorded and mixed Dead Stars‘ “I Get By” EP, and The Courtesy Tier‘s “Holy Hot Fire.” Also out of Galuminum Foil, Berner is currently recording and mixing records for Monuments, Man The Change, Jumpers, The Glorious Veins and Chris Abad.

Nearby at Excello Recording in Williamsburg, Grammy-winning Irish folksinger Susan McKeown tracked acoustic music for an upcoming release with engineer Hugh Pool. And Brooklyn-based rock band Alberta Cross tracked new material at Excello with producer/engineer Claudius Mittendorfer (Interpol, Muse), and assistant Oliver Palomares.

Trombonist/guitarist/composer Curtis Hasselbring brought in a large acoustic tracking session to Excello – which Pool also engineered. And The Veda Rays tracked drums for their upcoming release with producer Jason Marcucci, and Pool engineering, assisted by Charles Dechants. Tokyo/Brooklyn rock duo Ken South Rock also recorded for their upcoming release at Excello with Pool, and Charlie Gramidia producing.

Z. Cole Smith’s DIVE is making a record with Daniel Schlett

DIVE, a new four-piece led by Beach Fossils’ Z. Cole Smith and recently signed to Captured Tracks, have been recording and mixing a 7” single and full-length LP at Strange Weather Brooklyn with engineer/producer Daniel Schlett.

Also out of Strange Weather, Schlett has recorded and mixed Royal Baths’ new LP for Kanine Records, recorded and mixed for Zulus’ new release with producer Ben Greenberg, and recorded and mixed tracks for Woodsman’s full-length, due out on Mexican Summer later this year.

Katherine Whalen and Her Fascinators (Squirrel Nut Zippers) were up from North Carolina to track a few songs with producer/engineer Colby Devereux at his studio Copperfish Sound in Brooklyn. Devereux also recently tracked a few songs with The Library is on Fire. Check out these and other recording sessions at “Live from Copperfish Sound” on Vimeo.

We also dropped by Mason Jar Music out in Borough Park this week, where Afro-Beat ensemble EMEFE was recording a new album with Mason Jar founders Dan Knobler and Jon Seale. Both producer/engineer/musicians, Knobler and Seale also just finished mixing a new album by indie-folk band Town Hall. Look out for our upcoming feature on this exciting collective of musicians, producers and filmmakers…

Meanwhile in Manhattan…

Pat Metheny took over Avatar Studio A for four days of tracking with his full “Orchestrion“.  The session was produced by Methany and Steve Rodby, with James Farber engineering, assisted by Bob Mallory. Lyle Lovett tracked in Studio C with his band while in town with producer/engineer Nathaniel Kunkel assisted by Tim Marchiafava. And Lenny Kravitz recorded in Studio B with engineer Tom “T-Bone” Edmunds assisted by Charlie Kramsky.

Chris Lord-Alge mixing in Studio G while a class of NYU students listens in the live room.

Australia four-piece band The Rubens recorded with producer David Kahne, and engineer Roy Hendrickson. And the film score to Yaron Zilberman’s A Late Quartet (Catherine Keener, Philip Seymour Hoffman) – composed by Brooklyn native Angelo Badalamenti – was recorded in Studio A, produced by Badalamenti and Jim Bruening and engineered by Todd Whitelock.  And Chris Lord-Alge held a mixing event for the students of NYU Steinhardt School sponsored by SSL. Chris demonstrated his mixing techniques in Studio G on the same console he mixes on at his Mix LA Studio, the SSL 4000 G series.

Downtown at Germano Studios, Chris Shaw has been mixing a Paul Simon Graceland live concert from San Sebastian, Spain with producer Steve Berkowitz, The Kin recorded basic tracks with The Rondo Brothers (Foster the People) producing and engineering, John Legend recorded with Dave Tozer producing and Jason Agel engineering, and Chris Rene (X-Factor) was in for mixing sessions with Claude Kelly producing and Ben Chang engineering.

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts continued recording in Germano Studio 1 with Thom Panunzio engineering and Kenny Laguna producing, Brazilian singer Michel Teló worked on a new release with Kenta Yonesaka engineering and John Doelp (A&R at Sony/Columbia Records) producing, hit songwriter Sandy Vee was in recording with Butch Walker and Dreamlab, and “The Last Unicorn” recorded with DJ/producer Alexander Dexter-Jones and Sean Parker producing, and Kenta Yonesaka engineering.

At Premier Studios in Times Square, Nicki Minaj and Big Sean were working on a project together, with engineer Chad Jolley, assisted by Kevin Geigel; Young Jeezy came in to work with artist/producer Ryan Leslie on a new track in sessions engineered by Stickabus; Rapper Wale worked in Studio F with Grammy-winning artist/producer Skrillex, and engineer Derek Pacuk, assisted by Kelby Craig; and Yo Gotti recorded some new original material for his upcoming album, with engineer Angelo Payne and assistant Colin Rivers.

Wale worked on a track in Premier Studio F with Grammy-winning electronic artist/DJ/producer Skillrex

Also at Premier, the casts of Broadway’s Anything Goes and Mamma Mia! recorded respective projects in Studio A with Matt Polk producing, and Kevin Geigel (Anything Goes) and Sam Giannelli (Mamma Mia!) engineering.

Right in the same building at Quad Studios, indie-to-Epic pop band Oh Land worked on music for a new album with Brandon Boyd and Andros Rodriguez, MBK artist Gabi Wilson worked on songs for a new project, Interscope artist J. Randall tracked songs for a debut album, and Remo the Hitmaker was camped out in Studio Q1 producing and writing with various artists.

And we know there’s so much more going on out there! If you’d like to be featured in “Session Buzz,” please submit your studio news to submissions@sonicscoop.com.

Session Buzz: Who’s Recording In & Around NYC — A Monthly Report

November 16, 2011 by  

GREATER NYC AREA: Tons of sessions happening around the city this Fall. Among the many, we find Black Star back at it out in Greenpoint, Department of Eagles recording in Astoria, Jukebox The Ghost in Park Slope, Oberhofer and Steve Lillywhite in Williamsburg, Spacehog in Gowanus, and OneRepublic making a new record in Manhattan. Read on and get up with what’s happening in studios all around town.

Starting smack in the middle of Times Square, producer Salaam Remi has been working with Jennifer Hudson on music for a new commercial out of Quad Studios. Meanwhile, Sean Paul has been working on new songs at Quad for an upcoming album, as has Atlanta MC Future, who recently signed with Epic Records. Producer Rico Beats has been working out of Quad as well, with various writers. Quad’s Q1 and the Q Lounge has been a listening session hotspot, hosting recent events for Young Jeezy and Mac Miller, and serving as the location for MTV’s Sucker Free Countdown with DJ Envy.

Trevor Gale, drummer/SESAC VP, and Steve Addabbo at Shelter Island Sound

In Chelsea, BMI and composer Rick Baitz held a string arranging workshop with the string quartet Ethel and several string arrangers at Shelter Island SoundNona Hendryx and band were tracking at Shelter Island, with Richard Barone producing for a new album for Tracy Stark – featuring drummer Trevor Gale and guitarist Ronnie Drayton. Steve Addabbo tracked and mixed. James Farber mixed jazz singer Alma Micic’s new album, and Ian McDonald of King Crimson fame was in tracking with Steve Holley on drums.

Addabbo also recently finished a 5.1 mix for the Robby Romero long-form music video “Who’s Gonna Save You” (a song co-written by Addabbo), which premiered at the American Indian Film Festival.  The film will be featured and officially released November 28 at The UNEP Conference in Durban, South Africa.

Downtown, OneRepublic has been recording their new album in Germano Studios, with singer/songwriter Ryan Tedder producing and Kevin Porter engineering. In other recent sessions at Germano: Fabian Marasciullo has been mixing T-Pain‘s new album; Isabella Summers aka Isa Machine (from Florence & the Machine) has been producing NYC-based artist/songwriter L.P., and working on her own solo project, with Kenta Yonesaka engineering; Asher Roth recorded vocals, with Oren Yoel producing, and Porter engineering; CJ Holland has been writing/recording with Swizz Beatz, and Kenny Lloyd engineering; Alicia Keys has been recording with Ann Mincieli engineering; and Sandy Vee returned for more writing sessions, and recording and mixing sessions with Jesse McCartney.

Just up the block, The Lodge’s Emily Lazar, Joe LaPorta, Sarah Register and Heba Kadry have been super busy this last month, mastering Garbage’s cover of U2′s “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” for Q Magazine’s AHK-toong BAY-bi Covered, the new Shiny Toy Guns album mixed by Tony Maserati, Arcade Fire’s “Sprawl II” Remix by Damian Taylor, Delta Spirit’s new album produced by Chris Coady and mixed by Tchad Blake, Daniel Bedingfield’s latest, Maya Postepski’s (of Austra) side project TRST – mixed by Damian Taylor – and an album by Tender Mercies, a 20-year-project by David Bryson and Dan Vickery of The Counting Crows.

The Lodge has also mastered recent releases by Brand New (Your Favorite Weapon reissue), Dion DiMucci, Harts, Future Islands, Frankie Rose and Porcelain Raft.

Soulja Boy and Waka Flocka in Engine Room Studio A.

Further downtown, at Engine Room Audio in the Financial District, Soulja Boy and Waka Flocka recorded in the Penthouse Studio (equipped with an SSL 4064G+) with Ben Lindell engineering, and Chris Albers assisting.

And Mark Christensen mastered two new mixtapes for Trey Songz (Atlantic Records) – LemmeHoldDatBeat 2 and Anticipation 2 – and his Inevitable EP – as well as albums for Brooklyn band The Color Bars and UK indie rockers Tiger Shadow, Lloyd BanksCold Corner – also mixed by Albers at Engine Room – and War Music by Dr. Dre protégé Slim The Mobster.

Over in Queens, Department of Eagles’ Fred Nicolaus and Christopher Bear (Grizzly Bear) recently recorded drums and piano for an upcoming release with Kieran Kelly at The Buddy Project. Pianos for singer/songwriter Kyle Patrick’s new EP were also recently recorded at The Buddy Project, with producers Ben Romans and Jarrad Scharff, and Kelly engineering.

And in Gowanus, Brooklyn – Lady Lamb the Beekeeper has been recording at Let Em In Music with Nadim Issa. Aly Paltro aka Lady Lamb recorded this cover of Bob Dylan’s “All I Really Want to Do” for Brooklyn Based. According to Issa, Paltro liked Cher’s cover of the song, recorded in the 60s with Sonny Bono producing and “as such, we went for a really roomy sound with the whole band playing live in a room. A huge part of the mix is actually my two room mics, which were set up in MS.” Next up, Issa will work on the Lady Lamb full-length.

Nearby at Bryce Goggins’ Trout Recording, sessions for the new Martha Wainright were underway. Goggin, assisted by Adam Sachs, recorded drums for three songs as well as some vocals and electric guitar, with Wainwright, Yuka Honda and drummer Yuko Akari. Goggin also recently mixed a song for Marco Benevento. And Adam Sachs recently engineered a recording session with Space Hog at Trout. The band recorded three basic tracks live while being filmed for an upcoming video release. There were no overdubs, and Sachs also mixed one of the songs in the following week.

Out in Park Slope, Dan Romer has been recording, producing and mixing Jukebox The Ghost’s next record at his studios. And fellow-Rocket Music producer Mark Saunders has been writing/producing and mixing Amalie Bruuns’ next EP at BEAT360 Studios in Manhattan.

Little Silver at Fluxivity

In Williamsburg, Brooklyn-based duo Little Silver recently tracked songs for a new EP at Fluxivity Recording, using the studio’s Neumann tube mics (U67, U47, M49) in the recording sessions, engineered by Gary Maurer. Also at Fluxivity, composer Gordon Minette and engineer Matt Shane mixed an album of Christmas songs – Under The Holiday Star – for Stella Artois via Human Worldwide. And music educator, songwriter and professional bassist Mariana Iranzi visited New York from Boston to record a 12-song children’s record, Hola Hello. A four-piece band recorded the songs live at Fluxivity, with producer Billy Herron and engineer Jeremy Loucas, assisted by Ed Mcentee.

Meanwhile, Brooklyn band Oberhofer has been recording their new full-length album for Glassnote out of Mission Sound in Williamsburg, with Steve Lillywhite producing. Also at Mission, NYC-based blues guitarist Dave Fields is in with producer David Z cutting tracks for his upcoming release, and the Cassette Kids are back to cut tracks with engineer Oliver Straus.

Nearby at 3 Egg Studios in Williamsburg, engineer Brian Penny has been working with I’ve started working with drummer Charlie Zeleny on some upcoming projects. To kick things, Penny reports, Zeleny decided “to play a drum solo in one take up all 6 stories of the 3 Egg building, involving more then 80 drums, 100 cymbals, 90 microphones, and four Pro Tools rigs. Video to come!

Meanwhile, Suckers have been recording their latest album at Vacation Island in Williamsburg, with Matt Boynton producing. And going back over the past month or so, Vacation Island has been destination to a number of cool sessions, including Marnie Stern and Justin Pizzoferrato tracking some new music,  Christina Files mixing Talk Normal, Free Blood finishing up tracking and beginning to mix their upcoming release with Boynton, as well as mixing sessions with Lucy Michelle.

Also out of Brooklyn, Joe Lambert Mastering in DUMBO has been the final location of production on a couple anticipated new records. First, Lambert recently mastered Sharon Van Etten‘s new album – for CD and vinyl – produced by Aaron Dessner of The National for Jagjaguwar Records. According to Pitchfork, the album was recorded in Dessner’s own studio and features performances by Beirut’s Zach Condon, Julianna Barwick, Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner, the Walkmen’s Matt Barrick, and Thomas Bartlett of Doveman.

And Lambert has also mastered the new School of Seven Bells full-length, Ghostory, produced by Ben Curtis for Vagrant Records. Other albums mastered out of JLM include Peter Salett‘s new EP and the Don Byron New Gospel Quintet‘s Love, Peace, and Soul, produced by Hanz Wendl for Nottuskegeelike Music

And recently out of Rough Magic Studios in Greenpoint…Blacksmith artist Idle Warship (Talib Kweli and Res) released Habits of the Heart – largely recorded by Rough Magic chief engineer Alby Cohen. Kweli came back to Rough Magic recently to record two new tracks with Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), for their Black Star project. The first new, Madlib-produced single “Look Sharp” debuted on The Colbert Report. Cohen engineered those sessions, assisted by Chris Pummill and Aaron Mason.

Also at Rough Magic, drummer Sim Cain (Rollins Band/J. Giles Band) and keyboardist Bernie Worrell (Parliament/Funkadelic) came through to record on Myself’s latest Punk Floyd project.

“Punk Floyd” sessions at Rough Magic, featuring Sim Cain and Bernie Worrell

Bernie Worrell’s Clavinet D6

Up in Yonkers…at Oktaven Audio, engineer Ryan Streber has been recording, editing and mixing new works by flutist Claire Chase, and composer Reiko Fueting – both for New Focus Recordings – the debut album by new music ensemble, counter)induction, for New Dynamic Records, and pianist Max Barros‘ recording of the complete piano music of composer M.Camargo Guarnieri for Concert Artists Guild.

Oktaven and Streber also hosted recording sessions for new works by composers Vivian Fung, Ryan Francis, and Jakub Ciupinski, pianist/composer Michael Brown, and a film score by composer Gil Talmi and Konsonant Music for a documentary feature. Streber also engineered tracking sessions on location at the Academy of Arts and Letters on 155th Street, with the Talea Ensemble for an upcoming CD of music by composer Anthony Cheung.

Down from there to Avatar Studios…the legendary Studio A has been hosting some big sessions, including the cast album for Follies – featuring the largest orchestra on Broadway with Bernadette Peters and Elaine Page – recorded with producer Tommy Krasker, and engineer Bart Migal assisted by Bob Mallory and Tim Marchiafava. The Morehouse College Glee Club was also recorded in Studio A – for Spike Lee’s upcoming film Red Hook Summer – by Jonathan Duckett, assisted by Charlie Kramsky. And America’s Got Talent star Jackie Evancho recorded with an orchestra for her holiday release Heavenly Christmas, with producer Rob Mounsey and engineer Lawrence Manchester.

The orchestral film score for So Undercover was also tracked in Studio A with composer / producer Stephen Trask and engineer Greg Hayes. Additional recordings were done in Studio B and the 5.1 mix was done in Studio G with engineer Tim O’Hare.

Nile Rogers and Adam Lambert at Avatar Studios.

And on the album recording front, Ingrid Michaelson recorded in Studio A with producer David Kahne and engineer Robert Smith; Billy Ocean recorded with producer Barry Eastmond and engineer Anthony Ruotolo; Joe Jackson mixed an upcoming release with engineer Elliot Scheiner, assisted by Aki Nishimura; and Adam Lambert recorded with producer Nile Rodgers, and engineer Rich Hilton.

Also in Midtown, Area 51 NYC Studios has been abuzz of late, with Talib Kweli also logging time on numerous projects, with engineer Michelle Figueroa and John Lurie. Jive/RCA artist Jacob Latimore has been tracking at Area 51 with producer Chris Jackson and engineer Alberto Vaccarino. And R&B artist Deborah Cox was also recently in to work with producer Devo Springfield, and Figeuroa engineering. Interscope artists Far East Movement were also in working with engineer Jay Stevenson.

In the Brill Building at KMA Music, EMI writer/producers Twice as Nice have been holed up in sessions with Pete Wentz and Bebe Rexha of Black Cards, August Rigo, Neon Hitch, Andrea Martin, Elle King and James Bourne in Studio B, with Serge Nudel engineering. KMA also hosted CNN interviews with both Peter Gabriel, and R.E.M.

In other KMA sessions…Neyo recorded vocals for the upcoming T-Pain album, with Ben Chang engineering, Unique has been recording and mixing his new album, with production by Chuck Harmony and Claude Kelly, and Chang engineering. That same team — Chuck, Claude and Ben — also worked with Jade Alston on an upcoming release, and with Sony artist, Karmen, and Universal artist, CJ Holland. A$AP Rocky finished up his album at KMA, with Pat Viala, and Roc Nation’s J. Cole recorded and mixed his most recent album at KMA, with Juro “Mez” Davis engineering.

Across the Hudson in Hoboken, Caligula – a hard rock band featuring Erik Paparozzi of Cat Power and Bambi Kino – have been working on a record out of Nuthouse Recording, with Tom Beaujour mixing. Beaujour has also been finishing up a new track with Doug Gillard of Guided by Voices.

And new to “Session Buzz” is a private facility we recently came across called Newkirk Studios – home base to producer/engineer Ben Rice, in one of those awesome landmark houses in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn. There, Rice has recently held sessions with the band Blackbells, who tracked and mixed a song for Surfrider, and The Wicked Tomorrow whose EP Rice is mixing. He also tracked and mixed a full-length “pop rock” album for Nocera (“Summertime, Summertime”) out of Newkirk, with bassist/producer Antar Goodwin, Reni Lane and Gian Stone.

Finally, and as previously reported…the members of Vampire Weekend were at Excello Recording in Williamsburg writing and recording material for their next release, tracking to tape with Ethan Donaldson and Nathan Rosborough. Engineer/producer Chris Shaw was also Excello working with the group Nick Casey – which is Nicholas Webber and Casey Spindler with the rhythm section of Dan Rieser and Tim Luntzel. This crew tracked between 20-30 songs over just two days. Also at Excello, engineer/producer Scott Solter recorded cellist Erik Friedlander‘s latest solo project, and mixer/engineer Hector Castillo recorded with singer Sophie Auster and singer/songwriter Clarence Bucaro, and recorded the soundtrack for the film, La Camioneta, with composer Todd Griffin.

And we know there’s so much more going on out there! If you’d like to be featured in “Session Buzz,” please submit your studio news to submissions@sonicscoop.com.

Vampire Weekend, John Popper, Erik Friedlander Recording at Excello

November 11, 2011 by  

Excello Recording, one of Brooklyn’s most unique recording facilities, has been hosting a wide variety of sessions of late.

Vampire Weekend. Photo by Søren Solkær Starbird.

Vampire Weekend, John Popper and Jamie McClean, and Erik Friedlander were all through (separately, of course) to record in Excello’s large tracking room (1,000-sq.ft. w/ 17′ ceilings).

The members of Vampire Weekend were at Excello writing and recording material for their next release, tracking to tape with Ethan Donaldson and Nathan Rosborough.

John Popper was in recording with guitarist Jamie McClean (Dirty Dozen Brass Band) for his band’s latest album, Sunday Morning.

Engineer/producer Chris Shaw was at Excello working with the group Nick Casey – which is Nicholas Webber and Casey Spindler with the rhythm section of Dan Rieser and Tim Luntzel. This crew tracked between 20-30 songs over just two days at Excello.

Engineer/producer Scott Solter spent some time at the studio recording cellist Erik Friedlander latest solo project.

And mixer/engineer Hector Castillo has brought various projects to Excello, working on albums with singer Sophie Auster and singer/songwriter Clarence Bucaro, and recording the soundtrack for the film, La Camioneta, with composer Todd Griffin.

Meanwhile, Excello owner Hugh Pool has mixed records with Lase Salgado, The Compulsions, and his own band, Mulebone.

Additionally, Excello does analog-to-digital transfers for clients – recently handling projects by Richard Dev Green and the band Dead Leaf Echo – and audio restoration – through which they recently consulted on a Supreme Court criminal case.

Check ‘em out at www.excellorecording.com.

Mixing in the Face of Danger: The Veda Rays Release “Gamma Rays Galaxy Rays Veda Rays”

September 25, 2011 by  

WILLIAMSBURG, BROOKLYN: You don’t have to know all the heartache that went into the making of the album Gamma Rays Galaxy Rays Veda Rays to appreciate it. But there’s something about understanding the bitter joy that pulses through one of 2011’s most intoxicating rock albums that makes it all the sweeter.

"Gamma Rays Galaxy Rays Veda Rays" is available throughout the digital universe.

The debut full-length from Brooklyn four-piece The Veda Rays, Gamma Rays is the artful application of music as a saving source. For the band — guitarist/vocalist/keys James Stark; bassist Tyson Reed Frawley; guitar/keys/vox Jimmy Jenkins; and drummer Jason Gates (aka Jason Marcucci) – the intense production events of the album were just one more reflection of the urgent songs that it comprises.

You can hear it in the frantic guitars and time-shifting howl of “Our Ford”, the delicious tension and release of “Long May She Roll”, and the haunting psychedelia of “This Time Tomorrow”. Sweeping six strings, emotional vocals, and driving drums are everywhere, courtesy of a band determined to deliver on the promise of its dense melodies.

With everything from immediate family suicide and South Florida black magick practitioners fueling their dark sides, The Veda Rays went to equally painful lengths to complete Gamma Rays. With a highly accomplished producer/mixer in residence via drummer Gates/Marcucci (White Stripes, Dean & Britta), the band raced to complete guerilla tracking and mixing sessions, frantically completed as Marcucci’s studio moved amidst the massive blizzards of late winter, 2010.

Released last week, Gamma Rays Galaxy Rays Veda Rays is arresting from the first millimoment. Here, Stark and Gates went deep – truly deep – in their recounting of the record that brought them all back from the brink.

Q: Your bio says: “The Veda Rays began in late 2008 when Stark and Gates, who had been hatching plans, playing gigs and making 4-track recordings since grade school, resumed their collaboration via long-distance after a several year span of inactivity.” What was the creative spark and mutual inspiration that was rediscovered when you guys got back together?
James: It was not really so much rediscovered as it was re-enlivened — from a cryogenically frozen dormancy. But with us I think it has always been something very natural and complementary, this most likely being the case due to us having grown up playing together, making 4-track demos and collaborating on this whole vision for so long and through such formative phases.

The period of inactivity was simply due to a case of “life happening”, as they say. And the way we came back ‘round to working together was largely due to the same. There is a lot of back-story here… Suffice to say, the gist of it involved heavy drug use, obsession, suicide, accidental death and the westernmost point of the Bermuda Triangle. Seriously.

For me, I feel like I had finally whittled out an authentic voice. My own particular brand of “distilled spirits”. What I mean to say is that the “me” in my personal hodge podge of influences finally asserted itself and I started recognizing something that went beyond mere pastiche.

I guess some people are gifted — or maybe seriously deluded — but for me it took a long time to feel like what I was doing was legitimate. So, just recognizing and being comfortable with a bona fide identity was a great boon. That is the plainest way I can explain how I feel I had evolved as an artist/singer/songwriter during our hiatus.

Jason: I’m not sure either of us were ever inactive. I’m a real busy body, crazy energy kind of person when it comes to working on music — we both are really. We were just separate for a bit, after playing pretty much daily, growing up and into musicians together.  When we were unable to work together, we both kept going. I know Jim was working his craft as a songwriter and he put together some great bands. I kept busy playing and wound up doing a great deal of engineering and mixing here in NYC.

In 2009 there was a period that I was very busy. I had just finished mixing a few tracks for Dean & Britta, which would later appear on their Warhol record. I was also producing two records at the same time, both completely opposite ends of the spectrum in every musical and vibe type sense. One was Bloody Panda’s Summon and the other Scott Hardkiss’s Technicolor Dreamer.  At that time it hit me, “Fuck, I really need to start doing my own thing!”

I reached out to Jim. It didn’t take long for us to discuss how we could work on a project together. That was probably the first seed of The Veda Rays.

Hear the single “Our Ford” from Gamma Rays Galaxy Rays Veda Rays right here:

“Our Ford” by The Veda Rays

Q: Jason, what got you into production and the NYC studio scene?”
We had been living down in South Florida working on music, we had our own little 4-track studio and we were constantly recording. Jim had some troubles and all hell really started breaking loose down there.

I took off to NYC to have a little break. That was supposed to be a three-day trip, but a cousin of mine convinced me to stay a few extra days and see some family. I spent most of my time bumming around the village, and after a week I met up with Judah Bauer (Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Cat Power). We became friendly, started jamming together, and  I wound up making a record with him in his apartment which was absolutely crammed with gear. At first he had an Otari MX 5050, moved on to a Tascam 1” 16-track, and eventually we had a Studer A80 16-track 2-inch, all in this tiny studio apartment.

I played drums on a few tracks and did most of the engineering. He had a bunch of people coming through to play on tracks — the late Robert Quine (legendary guitarist of Richard Hell & The Voidoids), Matt Verta-Ray, and many others.

From there I worked at a bunch of studios working my way up the ranks. I got to briefly work at and witness Greene Street just before they shut down. I worked at Excello in Williamsburg for years, and really made a home at Dubway. I started doing live sound a bit around the city and got very into remote recording. I think I’ve recorded/mixed over 300 bands for MTV and all the while working on sessions in the studio. Anyway I think I just really got lucky and fell into it. I also just went nuts, I mean, there were a few years straight that I was in a control room probably 350-360 days a year!

Q: Are the Veda Rays part of something new, something old, or something in between? Where does the music of this band sit in the time continuum?
James: Something in between would probably be most accurate. We are endeavoring to help evolve a particular current, and to do this well I believe it must be done in an attitude of reasonable reverence for and acknowledgement of what has come before. I would most optimistically state that we, in fact, aspire toward sitting at the “zero point” of the space-time continuum!

In plainer language, we are first and foremost about the songs. And the songs are set in the context of modern rock and roll music which is strongly informed by post-punk, shoegaze, dark psych, electro and many other micro-genres past and present. We try to have it never be boring, trite, redundant or otherwise sucky in any way. We want to be one of the ones trying to push the collective envelope. As in, how experimental can a pop song be and how “pop” can modern experimental rock get? And note: when I say “pop” I most definitely, in no uncertain terms, do NOT mean anything resembling modern mainstream drivel!

Jason:The music is rather cinematic. I would feel good if this was perceived as being here and now, traveling future-forward with some connections to the past.

Sheild thine eyes! But open thine ears. The Veda Rays.

Q: The new album is a real journey. To you, what is the sound and feeling of this trip?
James: For me, the intention of this record was to sort of provide a context and framework for future output. I feel like it is an attempt to claim certain lands, cultivating the fields for what will grow, showing some of the soil, the roots and seeds.

What I mean more specifically is that it unabashedly references many influences, in its own way, sitting them as the bricks that make up the road upon which the rest of the journey will take place. It starts off pretty densely layered but progressively strips things back eventually arriving at the last track which is an acoustic version of the opener.

I’d say lyrically and emotionally it is a bit of a roller coaster ride, in that a lot of it accurately reflects the personal circumstances from which it was borne out of. One of my best friends — and bass player — died of an accidental overdose, another was forced out of the band by his family and sent half-way across the country to a rehab — I am talking about Slo Club, the band I began in South Florida in 2007. Jason’s (Gates) sister committed suicide after many years of battling psychological problems and substance abuse, a five year relationship I had been in fell apart in the worst and most dramatic sort of ways, I had legal issues…things seemed really fucking grim, to say the very least. I literally lost everything during that time. Slo Club House, my former band’s HQ was over after my mate Jason Vargo passed.

Next I shared a place in Palm Beach with a Guyanese pothead who suffered from PTSD and a former skinhead whom I met through my loose association with an errant quasi-masonic black magick sect.  I believe the place was under the influence of a malevolent entity. Lucky for me the bottom fell out when it did.

My long-time friend Matthew Ian ( brother of famed hip hop producer Scott Storch) took me in and I stayed with him in Bal Harbor (Miami Beach) for awhile. We were both slumming as he was basically waiting to be evicted. His world was going south at that time, as well. Those were troubled times.

I started writing a lot of what ended up on this album there. We were contemplating the end of the decade, the ends of a lot of people we knew, the ends of many naive and misguided ideas we had about things having grown up in the insulated, drug-drenched suburbs of South Florida, the ends of a many great and varied things…

These songs really came out of a weird sort of twilight world of so many things ending and dying, and such uncertainty as to what the inevitable “new beginnings” would actually turn out to be.  In the end The Veda Rays still turn it into a party though, for sure.

Q: Amazing, but true. What’s unique about the way these songs were recorded?
James: Damn, some of the bits on a few of these tracks started off as entirely different pieces, some from years ago. There’d be musical bits that Jason remembered and wanted to bring out, but I’d say, “No way, that song was shite!” but then I’d think, “Well, actually the guitar figure or drumbeat or whatever is quite good, it just needs to live in a new song…”

Jason: The technical stuff will bore most people, but for the folks that like that kind of thing, lets just say we weren’t afraid to run a signal through any piece of gear we could get our hands on and there was a fair deal of experimenting.

One thing I can say that might be unique, though the bulk of it will have to do with our next release(s), is that as we were mixing, the studio where I worked was moving. It is a huge ordeal to move a four-room recording studio. It’s terrifying really.

Anyway, everyone who works there was getting fried and it was holiday season so people were taking a break. We spent a few days during Thanksgiving, and then again during Christmas when no one was around, basically living in the studio. Occasionally trekking back and forth through the crazy snow storms and blizzards. We tracked drums to something like an additional 23 songs. We even had Julee Cruise stop by and sing on one! I guess that’s all talk for the future, but it comes to mind because during this same time we were finishing mixes on Gamma Rays.

See the video for The Veda Rays’ “All Your Pretty Fates”.


Q: If you slogged through that December 26th blizzard, that was true dedication! Jason, what was your philosophy/approach for mixing this record?”
Jason: The only philosophy for me would be to try to make a great-sounding record. Try to keep it in check and have it sound unique. The approach was to do it in a way that we could recall quickly and easily: We had to be ready in case we got kicked out of the studio and had to return later. We would print back any analog effects and we summed with a Dangerous 2-Bus rather than use a big console.

Q: How would you say all your mix experience informed your work on Gamma Rays Galaxy Rays Veda Rays? What are some good habits you picked up, and conversely what are some of the ‘rules’ you decided to ignore when mixing this album?
Jason: Well I’ve made enough mistakes that I don’t want to repeat so experience probably helped us avoid a few pitfalls.

A lot of the projects I’m on, I have to finish within a certain budget and deadline. I am often kinda keeping everybody feeling good about things and I’m ready to solve problems. There was some of that for sure, but it is hard to do that when it’s your band.

Q: Understandable. In the tracking and mixing, what are a couple of examples of creative engineering that you did?
James: I’ll chime in here being that I did a lot of processing on the fly, which I printed during tracking at mine and Tyson’s home studio in Atlanta. We were using a Digi 003 with a Black Lion Sparrow ADC as a front end.

On the song “Just Dust” I had two vocal passes for the lead verses which were both good takes. I piped one out to my ‘71 Fender Deluxe and re-amped it with a little of the amp’s spring reverb, as well as a bit of nice tube amp scuz for good measure. I used the other, un-re-amped take as the main vocal for the lead verses but took the re-amped track and nudged it slightly behind which created a really nice, resonant, almost tape-like doubler effect but cooler, since the “double” or echo is actually derived from a different take. I think I nudged it to the relative milliseconds of a dotted 64th note value. That is the vocal effect that is heard on the verses of that track.

I did a lot of experimenting throughout the whole tracking process…before, during and after. We tried it: whether it was trying multiple stereo mic configurations to achieve the perfect dimension for that ultimate atmospheric guitar tone, or using MIDI thru to write MIDI on a track, trigger patches from synth modules like a Roland JV-1080 or Novation A-Station AND trigger soft synths like Reaktor or Arturia Moog in order to create the ultimate, layered sounds I was after.

Another part of my treatment process for electro elements included sending stuff through stuff like the Lexicon LXP-15 for a certain ethereal, “cascading octaves” delay effect I’m fond of, or through my old PC rig where I have a few secret weapons like Kantos and tons of other older, now obscure VST effects that I don’t have in Pro Tools.

BTW, the huge, wall of sound guitar tones heard on the second half of the track “Deleted” were played by guest Juan Montoya (formerly of Floor and TORCHE, now of Monstro). We came out of his pedalboard stereo into two old tube amps, ‘71 Deluxe and ‘50-something Gibson Explorer. I mic’d both cabs close to cones but slightly off-axis (with a Shure SM57 and a Sennheiser 421), I set up a pair of Rode NT1-A’s in an ORTF configuration, and I used two other room mics: an AKG 414about six feet back from the amps and another about 12 feet back, both set to omni-directional.

The subtle magic of the Roland Dimension D was in play for "Gamma Rays".

Jason: We also did some nice things running effects returns into effects returns into other effects returns. We have a Roland Dimension D and sending the plate and a couple delays back into that really made things start swaying.

As for tracking, there’s a track named “Ellipsis” that I really love what we got with drums. I have some old cassette decks that have lo-fi omni mics and insane compressors built in them. We had them setup out on the floor in front of the kit — thanks to Michael Judeh from Dubway who helped me record a lot of the drum tracks. The tempo of that track really locked in perfectly with the release time, and the attack clamps down like an alligator! At the mix I panned them opposite to the rest of the kit and rooms, and it has this effect of subtly moving side to side throughout.

Q: That is a PLETHORA of recording and mixing tips – were you listening boys and girls? You seem like thoughtful guys, so switching gears from the technical to the philosophical…Why is music important?
James: For me, it is important because it has the capacity to convey otherwise indefinable subtleties…to affix moments in time…nuances of impression.  It provides a means to render something tangible from ones’ own unique experience, in a way that others can interact with and proliferate creatively…a way for these vagaries to take on a lives of their own.

Q: Heavy! And why is it important to you to be the ones making the music?
James: My life just doesn’t work at all without it. I tried to stop for a while…thought maybe I’d just write. I walked around in a daze for a few years with a leather-bound journal and a pen…thought I was Rimbaud. Ended up insane and thoroughly depressed. For me, there is only the hoosegow, the madhouse or death…unless I am walking this road.

Jason: Not to sound silly, because I’ve heard others say this and I’ve kinda rolled my eyes, but honestly I have to fucking do this. I’ve been obsessed with music-making and production my whole life. It’s probably just completely selfish and a bit of a safety mechanism, because if I’m not working on music, I start to go crazy. I know what kind of trouble I’m capable of getting into and this keeps me preoccupied. I have a very addictive personality and I’m very hyper. Literally I bounce around like a top, so this is good for me: Our hellbent path.

– David Weiss

Gamma Rays Galaxy Rays Veda Rays is available now on iTunes and all digital outlets, or at www.thevedarays.com.

Event Alert: CD Release Party For Hugh Pool’s Mulebone, Tonight 7/10

July 10, 2011 by  

The new CD, Bluesville Sessions, from Mulebone will be the guest of honor tonight, Sunday, July 10, 8:00 PM, at George Keeley’s Pub on the UWS (485 Amsterdam Avenue, betw. 83rd and 84th Streets).

Celebrate the release of Mulebone's "Bluesville Sessions" at a free show tonight.

The free, two-set show and party will be hosted by Hugh Pool, one-half of Mulebone and the man behind Williamsburg’s beloved studio Excello Recording. Pool and Mulebone co-founder John Ragusa’s love of roots music is translated into a traditional Blues foundation in the band. Mulebone is acoustic music that immerses you immediately – this is the perfect complement to a hot July night.

To make things fit even better, the show is brought to the world in association with two top American-brewed beers: Bear Republic’s Racer 5, and Victory Brewing Company’s Golden Monkey beers.

NYC Studio Tour: North Brooklyn, Part 3

June 9, 2011 by  

NORTH BROOKLYN: Brooklyn correspondent Justin Colletti continues to visit a wide array Brooklyn recording studios. This installment features one of North Brooklyn’s most impressive new build-outs, as well as a studio that may be among the area’s oldest, and rootsiest.

East Williamsburg

Contact for Rates

Studio owner Hugh Pool is a man who began his career busking in New York City’s subways, and ended up as the unlikely owner of one of Williamsburg’s longest-standing studios.

Assistant/Engineer Nathan Rosborough with Excello’s wall of amplifiers

In a neighborhood now known for indie rock, contemporary art, and trend-jumping youth culture, this Dobro-slinger still has his heart deep in the gritty, visceral blues he grew up on.

As a guitarist, Pool has shared the stage with Patti Smith, Johnny Winter, Gov’t Mule and John Mayall, his tastes tending toward the rough and determined sound of early blues pioneers likes of Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, and Blind Lemon Jefferson.

“You listen to some of those old records and sometimes you don’t even hear chord changes,” he says, “Just these slightly dissonant guitar lines beating against each other. At times it doesn’t even sound like a band – more like one giant machine.”

Although he describes blues-based rock-and-roll as “what comes most effortlessly” to him, Pool’s interests and expertise don’t end there. Since opening its doors in 1992, his studio, Excello, has played host to projects from Richard Hell, Steve Albini, They Might Be Giants, Deborah Harry, Ellis Ashbrook, and Rufus Wainwright.

Bands looking to record live will appreciate Excello’s surprisingly ample recording space — a wide, open 40 x 25 tracking room with 17-ft ceilings.

“If I was looking for a studio, I’d track here,” says Pool, who’s accumulated a motherload of 35 amplifiers, to complement his six tape machines, Pro Tools HD rig and vintage Calrec console. Maintaining all this gear, Pool says, has helped keep in-house tech John Charette busy for years.

Continuously operating in one location for nearly two decades has also meant that Pool has seen plenty of new studios lay roots nearby as this neighborhood continues to gentrify and evolve. Eventually, this would even include a new room popping up right across the street. Almost 10 years ago, Oliver Straus opened the doors at Mission Sound (profiled in December 2010) a literal stone’s throw away.

“I remember when he moved in,” says Pool. “We didn’t know each other at first, but completely independently of us, our wives started becoming friends because we both had kids the same age who were starting to play together on the block.”

Excello’s control room, featuring the 58-input Calrec Series B OB console, 2-channel Neve 1063 sidecar and 10-channel rack of API 312s

As a pleasant surprise, the two grew to feel more camaraderie than competition.
“His room is great for what he does,” Pool continues. “Sure, there’s some overlap, but our interests and our rooms are completely different.”

“Given that everyone’s functioning on a competent level, it just comes down to where the best fit is.  It’s important that the band goes for the right vibe, and once that trust is established, then you get going. In the 10 years we’ve been across the street from each other I don’t think we’ve ever had to slug it out over a client,” he laughs.

“The only time we’ve even had a conversation [about booking] is when someone who’s real wacky – clearly out to lunch – takes a look at both of our places. Then we might call each other up just to dish about it a little.”

According to Pool, clients end up seeking him out for his guitar prowess as much as his engineering chops. When he does find himself booked on double-duty, he regularly hands over the Calrec’s reigns to staff engineer Nathan Rosborough, a budding and capable recordist in his own right.


Contact for Rates

Brian Penny, house engineer at Williamsburg’s newly-built 3 Egg Studios, tells us that he and his partners have “the flattest mix room in New York” and that they have the measurements to prove it.

3 Egg’s Studio A houses a Neve 5316 console

If looks say anything, this studio’s startlingly pristine control room gives the impression of having been painstakingly carved from a single block of wood.

The studio’s suite of floated live rooms are just as striking as the control room, and reminiscent of some of the most coveted tracking spaces that lie across the East River.

Penny calls 3 Egg’s live rooms “supremely isolated,” and says their easy sight-lines make them perfect for musicians interested in “live-off-the-floor tracking with discrete, accurate sounds.”

For those with more organic tastes, a system of soundproofed sliding glass doors can be opened to dial-in bleed to taste, giving the sense of an even larger room.

Though rates are not published on the web, our conversations with the studio staff assured us that this impressive space is also priced affordably for indie artists who are serious about their sounds. Penny also calls 3 Egg “super-freelancer friendly” – the studio comes equipped with multiple DAWs, including Samplitude, Ableton, Cubase, Logic, and Pro Tools HD.

3 Egg’s main live tracking space includes two large iso booths

South Williamsburg

Contact for Rates

Eric “Roscoe” Ambel has been remarkably active in the music industry his entire adult life.

Follow his 30-year career down the road of straight-ahead rock n’ roll and you’ll find him playing guitar for Joan Jett, The Del Lords, Steve Earle and Run DMC, writing and performing his own songs, producing critically-acclaimed albums in the roots-rock tradition, and running both an LES music venue called Lakeside Lounge, and in 1999, opening a Williamsburg recording studio known as Cowboy Technical Services.

In what appears to be becoming a growing trend in the neighborhood, Ambel, along with partner Tim Hatfield (Keith Richards, Death Cab For Cutie) and engineer Greg Duffin (Regina Spektor, Wilco) have recently upgraded their studio by moving to a newer, better, space several blocks away from their original location.

In 2009, they re-opened shop with Brad Albetta (Teddy Thompson, Martha Wainwright) to unveil the new Cowboy Technical.

CTS’ open plan in action

One thing that’s stayed the same in the move is the team’s overall design philosophy: The new studio is built in a style Ambel calls “One Room Plus,” essentially an open-plan, console based (BBC Calrec), analog/digital studio with two additional isolation rooms.

Ambel feels this setup allows for a “unique workshop-style environment” that’s been ideal for musicians who are eager to dive deep into the studio’s collection of vintage instruments while working out arrangements and perfecting performances with producers and engineers who’ve lived and breathed music for their whole lives.

View from the console

East Williamsburg / Bushwick

Contact for Rates

Although they built the Kennel’s fully isolated live rooms “as an homage to the great old studios,” Jim Santo and his partners took great care to be sure they would avoid creating an “engineer-centric” studio that might feel like a “hermetic cage.”

The Kennel’s living room-style Control Room

This taste shows throughout The Kennel, which includes an overhead skylight and large outdoor windows that allow plenty of natural light into the studio.

“Our goal is to be as invisible as possible,” says Santo. “We encourage the artist to be as comfortable in the studio as they are in their own home.”

Ultimately, he considers their space “an artist-focused” studio:  “When you come here, there’s no need to spend four hours getting a kick drum sound. We’re here to capture the energy and keep it coming.”

Santo says the owners and engineers at the Kennel don’t feel competition with neighboring studios, instead tailoring their space to reel back in some of the musicians who have rejected conventional studios for a variety of reasons:

The Kennel’s Live Room

“Today, what we’re really competing against is recording at home. Here, you have that same level of comfort, but you also have the controlled environment, top-notch equipment, and people who are experienced and care about what’s going on in the room.”

The Kennel is equipped with an AMR 2400 console, 24-track tape machines from Otari and Tascam, and a 32 I/O Pro Tools HD system.

Through its monthly “Rabid In The Kennel” Internet radio show, The Kennel has played host to the likes of Lou Barlow, The Posies, Mitch Easter, and Sloan. In addition to Santo and co-owner James Pertusi, producer/engineers Wharton Tiers (Sonic Youth, Helmet) and Billy “Prince Polo” Szeflinski (Yeti Beats, VP Records) also call this studio home.

Justin Colletti is a Brooklyn-based producer/engineer who works with uncommon artists, and a journalist who writes about music and how we make it. Visit him at www.justincolletti.com.

Excello Recording Hosts Rock Facilitator Workshop on Feb. 12/13: Slide Guitar Taught by Hugh Pool

February 2, 2011 by  

At Williamsburg’s expansive Excello Recording, Hugh Pool will lead the latest Rock Facilitator event, a three hour Slide Guitar Workshop on February 12th and 13th.

Rock your slide guitar with The Facilitator!

Class size is limited to six students on each day, with instruction geared towards the intermediate guitarist. However, anyone interested in slide guitar will benefit.

Topics covered include:
-Learn tunings for the classic Delta and Chicago blues repertoire
-Learn techniques to become a more expressive guitarist
-Engage in continuous Q and A with a 25yr veteran

Full Coordinates:
Location: Excello Recording, Williamsburg
Time: 10am to 1pm on February 12 and/or 13
Cost: $100 for 3hrs

Get a taste right here:

Pagoda, Sophie Auster, The Cuts & More Recording at Excello in Williamsburg

January 14, 2011 by  

The musician and gear-head’s playground that is Excello Recording in Williamsburg has been a musical home for several album projects in recent months, including records with Pagoda (led by actor/musician Michael Pitt), another actor/musician, Sophie Auster — who’s working on a record with songwriter and producer Barry Reynolds — rock bands Ellis Ashbrook and Low Water, and more.

Owner and musician/producer Hugh Pool has also been involved in a couple documentary projects being produced by Standing 8 Films, including creating original music for the film, The Jonestown Defense, and a documentary about rock band, The Cuts, shot (at least in part) inside Excello, with Pool producing.

Pool and the Excello team, including engineer Nathan Rosborough, have been working on the Pagoda project on-and-off over the past year, recording the band live in the studio, sessions captured in a 5-camera shoot for DVD, and then mixing and remixing the band’s music. Since then, they’ve been contributing original incidental music, recording dialog, scoring all the transitions to picture and mixing it all.

Rosborough is currently in the studio mixing Brazilian artist Dani Turcheto. In addition to working on Jonestown music, Pool is currently juggling a couple album projects for his band, Mulebone, and a new group called Pigmilk.

Adding to the studio’s palette, Pool notes: “We also recently purchased a Hammond CV organ, which sounds rippin’ through our Leslie 122.”

Engineers Vaughan Merrick, Hector Castillo, Scott Solter, Jim Caruana and Joe Blaney have all worked out of Excello in recent months. And artists including Chris Bergson, Randy Stern, The Cuts, Bel Air and The Harlem Blues Orchestra have also been in the studio recording and/or mixing.

For more on Excello Recording, including full equipment lists, visit www.excellorecording.com.

On The Record: Franz Nicolay & Jim Keller On “Luck & Courage”

July 20, 2010 by  

DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN: At 5AM, multi-instrumentalist Franz Nicolay woke up from a dream with a full song and lyrics, newly formed, in his head. He grabbed his laptop, wrote it all out, and went back to sleep.

“Usually when you wake up later on and look at what you’ve scribbled down in the middle of the night, it reads like some kind of stoned epiphany: ‘Blue is blue,’ or something,” Nicolay relays. But not this time…

Banjo-accordion-keysman, Franz Nicolay

The keyboard/accordion/banjo, etc.-playing former keysman for The Hold Steady woke up to more than a song. What he had was the ill-fated love story of two characters named Felix and Adelita. “I don’t know anyone by those names, so I Googled them and it turns out that in Latin and Spanish the names mean Luck & Courage,” Nicolay explains. “And that’s the name of the [new] record.”

Nicolay is quick to point out that Luck & Courage is not a concept record, however. “I wrote a couple songs about these characters which are then mapped loosely against these other songs which are about a plague,” he describes. “So it’s the story of the troubled relationship of Felix and Adelita writ large on this story of a country that’s ravaged by plague.”

Now, we’re sitting in producer/engineer Jim Keller’s Brooklyn studio, sun streaming in through big windows over the mixing desk, as Keller cues up the album-opening track, “Felix and Adelita.” Freshly mixed just the day before, it’s Nicolay’s musical reverie come to life, and the church organ, banjo, slide guitar and brushed drumming set a sentimental, if not dark, tone.

“I wanted it to be a dark country record,” Nicolay describes. “One of the records I was thinking of when I was conceptualizing how I wanted this to sound is Lyle Lovett’s I Love Everybody.

“That record uses a simple drum kit with brushes, bass and Lovett playing guitar and singing. So there’s that sort of classic country rhythm section. And then a string quartet that’s playing the kind of arrangements you’d have on a big, lush 70s Nashville record, but compacted because they didn’t do it with a 50-piece orchestra they did it with 4 string players. I thought that was a really neat way of reinterpreting that sort of lushness, while retaining this really stringent, humble arrangement of the record.”

As Nicolay headed into the studio to record Luck & Courage other references he had in mind were American Music Club’s Mercury and 16 Horsepower’s Low Estate. “The banjo and accordion from 16 Horsepower, the pedal steel stuff from American Music Club and the string stuff for the Lyle Lovett record are like the three touch-points for this record,” he depicts.


Nicolay wrote the songs for Luck & Courage on piano and guitar, as well as banjo, which he’s taken up since his debut solo record, Major General, released in January of ‘09. “On one of the Hold Steady tours, I demo’d a half-dozen of my songs in a motel room in Boulder with the guitar tech who had Pro Tools on his laptop,” Nicolay shares. “I pitched them to The Hold Steady, but then ultimately left the band, so I took them with me.

Nicolay wrote much of “Luck & Courage” while touring his first solo record, ’09′s “Major General.”

“Then in the fall of last year, I was on a solo tour supporting Mark Eitzel of American Music Club and we were in Manchester, staying at this house that’s sort of a legendary rock crash pad that has a piano and a bunch of rooms for the bands that come through. I had a day off and the place all to myself; I spread out and had my headphones on and guitar out, and all in one day, all these lyrics came together to this collection of songs I’d been working on. That was the first day I thought ‘wow, this is what my record’s going to sound like.’ It was a really cool feeling.”

In the meantime, Nicolay had met Keller during the making of his friends’ record, the NYC rock band Demander’s album, Future Brite. “I was just blown away by how good that record sounded, and I knew I wanted to try to do something with Jim,” he notes. “So I came in here and we demo’d the vocals on those existing songs and banged out a couple more that I’d written in the meantime and lived with those for awhile before we officially started the record.”

Keller, meanwhile, set out to find the right studio in which to record Nicolay and band as a group and to capture the desired sound. They ended up at Excello Recording in Williamsburg to track basics. “It’s a great, huge live room with two or three huge windows,” says Keller of Excello. “And we came away with really good sounds. We tracked 11 songs in two days. Everyone was very well rehearsed and getting good sounds in that room was easy. The assistant, Nathan Rosborough, was also really great.”

Tracking Luck & Courage, Nicolay’s band included Brian Viglione (The Dresden Dolls) on drums, Yula Be’eri (World/Inferno Friendship Society) on bass and Maria Sonevytsky (The Debutante Hour) on piano. Other players on the record include Ben Holmes, Jared Scott (Demander), Mark Spencer (Sun Volt), Ken Thomson (Gutbucket), Emily Hope Price and Jeremy Styles (Pearl and the Beard), and Susan Hwang among others.

Keller captured a lot of “room” in the basic tracking sessions. “I put up a lot of different room mics, which is something I usually do when tracking a band,” he explains. “You get all the close mics and the main mics on the drums sounding good, and then you add the fun mics. You never know what you’ll get — especially in a room you haven’t worked in before — so I’ll put mics up in a couple random spots.

“This time, I took Excello’s old RCA 77, ran it through their Altec tube amp and just smashed it. Sometimes you’ll get something that could be just perfect to be featured in one section of the song.”

Keller made an exciting technical discovery at Excello one night after everyone had left. “Excello has this old Calrec board from the BBC, and we didn’t use the pre’s in the board (I used their Neve sidecar and the API pre’s), but at the end of the day, when I was printing roughs of the monitor mixes, I patched a couple of the board compressors in. These Calrec DL 1656 compressors that I’d never used before are awesome. Now I’m totally on a search to find a pair that I can rack up!”

Nicolay and Jim Keller listening back to “Luck & Courage” mixes at Keller’s studio in Brooklyn.

After capturing the band sound at Excello, including drums, bar room-sounding upright piano, banjo, bass and guitar, Keller and Nicolay booked a couple days at Water Music in Hoboken to record strings, Hammond A100 organ, group vocals and grand piano. “We took the doors off of the piano booth there and put some room mics out in that big live room,” Nicolay points out.

Keller reflects on his spacious production approach: “The way sound behaves in a room is what makes a record exciting, which is what I hear when I listen to old records that I like. Spot- and close-miking things is great, but you don’t give the sound a chance to work around the room and build up its energy. When you put up a lot of mics in different places and you keep the pre’s pretty wide open, you bring those up in a mix and it’s like all of a sudden adding this energy to the track.”

“For the control and the dynamic element of the piano and drums, everything gets a spot mic, but the room mics are in almost all the way too,” he notes. “So you get the dynamic sense from the close mics and the sense of space and energy from the room mic.”


Nicolay’s commanding lead vocals were tracked at Keller’s studio back in Bed-Stuy. “We cut all the vocals, acoustic guitar, banjo, horns, cello and percussion here,” Keller explains, pointing back from the control room area to a small, glass-doored room he uses for overdubs.

On the day of our visit, Keller was mixing with hopes to finish before Nicolay left on tour with Against Me! He’d be out with the band all summer. “I’ve been a fan and friend of Against Me! for years so I’m excited to go on tour with them,” says Nicolay, who’s also been a member of the Brooklyn-based cabaret-punk collective, World/Inferno Friendship Society. “Plus, it’s coming at the right time — basically, the Against Me tour is paying for this record! (laughs)”

Keller in the zone.

Prior to mixing, Keller had been having technical problems with the automation on his Amek Big 44 console and, ultimately, decided to mix the record in Logic.

“I’d been thinking about what would be the most efficient way to mix this record,” explains Keller. “I like faders, but the last two records I’ve done, I’ve mixed in Logic to surprising (for me) results! To the point where I’m second-guessing my setup here — do I even need this console and all this stuff?”

He continues: “For me, it’s all about the workflow. And I’ve gotten this thing down to where mixing in Logic is really fast.”

As for the sonic processing palette inside Logic, Nicolay offers, “I’ve always been super impressed by the plug-ins that are bundled with Logic.” To that, Keller adds, “Yeah, and I’m using all stock plug-ins. The only thing I’m running out for is to go through my SSL clone compressor, a couple of dbx 160x’s and a 1/4″ tape machine for tape delay, but, for example, the Logic Silver compressor is great. It’s all really useable stuff, right there. I don’t need to buy thousands of dollars of plug-ins — it’s just not necessary for me.”

We’ll have to sweat out the rest of the summer before hearing anymore of Luck & Courage — Nicolay expects the record will come out sometime this Fall. After a spin of another album track, the horn-heralded lament, “My Criminal Uncle,” it seems Felix and Adelita’s star-crossed fate is sealed, and we are left captivated, wanting more.

Catch Nicolay on tour with Against Me! at a venue near you and visit him online at www.franznicolay.com. For more on Jim Keller and to get in touch, visit www.jim-keller.com.

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