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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com.
Atlantic Sound Studios
I had every reason to expect a good view when I walked in to Atlantic Sound Studios. It’s in a highrise commercial building at the end of Jay Street in DUMBO, only footsteps away from the water. I had seen pictures of the studio online and gathered that its windows overlooked the river. When I interviewed producer/engineer Damian Taylor about the making of Björk’s Biophilia, he had mentioned that the sights were a major factor in their choosing of the studio.
Still, none of that prepared me for just how much of a spectacle Atlantic’s panorama of the East River would be. The sight stretches from the Manhattan Bridge two blocks to the west, and sweeps up the river into the distance. Straight out from the windows, Manhattan island sits in profile like a private, life-sized diorama.
When I visited, the effect was calming and invigorating at once, even in the grey light of a damp February afternoon. Thanks to a brilliant layout dreamed up by musician/engineer Diko Shoturma and his draftsman father, the angles of the studio allow this sight to permeate the entire studio, through the live room, into the control room, lounge, and even Studio B.
Despite his exotic sounding name, Shoturma strikes you as wholly American, and shows few surface traces of his Ukranian heritage. As a teenager, he was the kind of kid who recorded his high school band on a cassette deck, and today he’s a friendly, handsome 30-something with the professionally unkempt look of a DUMBO creative type.
Shoturma moved into this space ten years ago, building out the studio in a single flurry of construction, and bringing in an original Trident 80 console and a Studer multi-track tape machine. “It was a totally different neighborhood back then,” he told me, “I think there may have been one bar back then, and maybe one restaurant too.”
Since then, the neighborhood has rapidly reinvigorated. Abandoned factories have filled up with trendy eateries, well-appointed boutiques and creative businesses, and Atlantic Sound’s clientele has grown as well, keeping pace with the boom around it. In addition to Björk, the studio has hosted sessions for Sufjan Stevens, St. Vincent, Cat Power, Nada Surf, Jet, and O’Death.
The room’s gear selection is more than ample and reflects a priority for vibe and value over prestige. Corners are filled with odd and amazing vintage microphones – including rare ribbons and vintage Lomo’s – Hagstrom guitars, a suitcase Rhodes and an upright piano. Newer mics from boutique builders Soundelux and Charter Oak fill any holes for outside engineers who are accustomed to more pedigreed vintage breeds.
It’s a comfortable space that has just enough exposed brick to feel casual, and just enough of the right flourishes to appear professional to its core. The room has a Pro Tools HD system to complement its all-analog console and Studer tape deck, and it books at a surprising rate – low enough to accommodate any serious independent project.
Saltlands Recording Studios
10 years ago, as Diko Shoturma was building his studio in a waterfront high-rise at 10 Jay Street, Steve Salett was also getting started a mere block away at 68 Jay. He began by renting out a single rehearsal room deep underground, in the basement of a renovated 19th-century factory building.
“The thing I hated most about being a musician was the rehearsal rooms,” Salett told me when I first visited. He’s still an active musician himself and plays in the band The Poison Tree. “They would all be so loud and uncomfortable, and I’d end up hating everybody who wasn’t sharing a room with me.”
In that vein, Saltlands began as almost a kind of anti-rehearsal-studio rehearsal-studio. Visitors will find no surly metal-heads, guarding awkwardly-carpeted vomitoriums of high-decibel leakage. They won’t find tattooed fashion-plates keying musicians in to pricey mirrored rooms either. Instead, they’re treated to the affable pair of owner Steve Salett and studio manager Jackie Lin Werner. They’ve struck a satisfying balance between the extremes and now oversee more than 12,000 square feet of private underground lairs.
Today, Saltlands is a lot more than a series of conventional, multi-purpose rehearsal spaces. It’s also home to at least four full-fledged production studios. The flagship room, Saltlands Studio A, is a built around a Neotek Elite console and a Neve Sidecar. Its sister-room, Saltlands Studio B, sports a Trident 80C, racks filled with vibey tube gear and an ample live room. There’s even an independently operated API-based studio just down the hall called Between the Trains.
On the other end of the building, house engineer Jim Smith runs an odd and charming C-room known as “Homeward Sound.” It’s a small, console-free tracking space that features an incongruously-placed kitchen table near the center of the live room. The table sits under a chandelier made of recycled rollerskates and a wall full of vintage guitars. It, too, falls under the Saltlands umbrella.
There are times when a tour of the grounds has an unmistakable down-the-rabbit-hole quality. As we made the rounds, one door revealed engineer/musician Rusty Santos tinkering with the open skeleton of an upright piano and a pillow-fort of improvised baffles; another opened up into a comfortable rehearsal room, decorated to the ceiling with playful kitsch ornaments.
As a space, the scale of Saltlands is impressive. Not stupefying like a Kaufman Astoria Studios, but large enough to feel like its own little town. Both Studios A and B are comfortable and incredibly affordable. They’re well-equipped, with some of the most coveted compressors, EQs and preamps around, but neither room feels over-finished or stuffed with gear.
“The gear isn’t what makes us,” Salett says, “Our focus is a community focus. I think that’s what I’d want people to know, really. That we’re a vibrant music community, dedicated to making good music.”
Werner, who manages Saltlands, has worked at several studios, most recently at Williamsburg’s Headgear Recording, agrees. She says it’s the convergence of so many creative people in one place that makes Saltlands Studios distinct from the rest.
“It’s not a tangible thing at first,” she says, “But when you come down you get a sense of it. It really is this community of people – a large group of musicians and engineers who are interacting with each other everyday and helping each other out. You can walk down the hall and borrow something from a friend, or go upstairs and talk to Joel from Ecstatic Electric, but on top of all that, there’s still this level of professionalism and of people collaborating and pitching in.”
As I left Saltlands, Smith and Santos passed each other in the hall: “What are you working on today?” one said to the other. “Oh, you know… Same stuff as yesterday.” They both laughed, a bit more than I, or either of them, seemed to expect. It was just a few words, but apparently they had said a lot.
GREATER NYC AREA: Heading into Summer, the city’s recording studios show no signs of slowing down. The following is but a sampling of recent sessions, and works in progress…a snapshot of what’s going on around town:
Aventura – the Bachata band out of the Bronx – has been at Daddy’s House tracking and mixing a new release with Justin Sampson engineering. Pop artist One Love has also been recording at Daddy’s House – tracking basics and vocals with producer/engineer Jon Thimple for his upcoming full-length album on Intrepid Music.
Meanwhile, Daddy’s House is currently undergoing a complete overhaul of infrastructure, operations, and aesthetics – with extensive work being done to both the SSL G Series and Neve VR consoles. Stay tuned for more on this, as the studio prepares to re-set as a full-blown commercial operation.
Queens born rapper Ja Rule was at Area 51 tracking and mixing for his upcoming LP with producer Seven Aurelius and engineer Darren Moore. Also at Area 51: Jacob Latimore recorded new material with producer “CJ” and engineer Alberto Vaccarino, and David Banner was in to mix his upcoming release with Pat Viala (50 Cent, Mariah Carey).
Downtown, Christina Aguilera was recording vocals at Germano Studios for a duet with Maroon 5 – the song “Moves Like Jagger” – with Manny Marroquin (Kanye West, Alicia Keys) engineering. Aguilera has also been writing and recording with producer/songwriter Sandy Vee at Germano in sessions engineered by Kevin Porter.
Vee – whose songwriting/producing credits include Katy Perry’s “Firework,” Rhianna’s “Only Girl in the World” – was also working at Germano with Disney ingenue Demi Lovato, and with pop artist/singer Dev, writing and recording new material with Porter engineering.
Other Germano sessions include will.i.am, Beyonce, The Kin recording with producer/engineer Thom Panunzio, DJ/producer/remixer Chew Fu, and Tiësto mixing with engineer Ben Chang. And Chris Taylor (Grizzly Bear) brought his new solo project, CANT – featuring George Lewis Jr. of Twin Shadow – to Germano to mix with Jake Aron (Yeasayer, Jamie Lidell). The new album will be released September 13 via Taylor’s own Terrible Records.
Up the block, experimental Toronto punk band Fucked Up mastered their conceptual sophomore LP David Comes To Life (on Matador Records) at The Lodge. An epic 18-song rock opera, David Comes To Life was produced by NYC’s Shane Stoneback (Cults, Sleigh Bells, Vampire Weekend).
Other records mastered at The Lodge and released this month include Hooray For Earth’s True Loves, Ford & Lopatin’s Channel Pressure, and both The Postelles’ and Cults’ debut albums.
Vernon Reid has been through to play guitar on several tracks on the album, and Nuno Bettencourt will be adding guitars on this project as well.
This week, Universal Japan artist Chihiro Yamanaka recorded at EastSide Sound in the Lower East Side. The recording session, engineered by Marc Urselli, featured Yamanaka playing (piano) with legendary drummer Bernard Purdie and upright bass player Larry Grenadier.
Urselli has also been engineering sessions with John Zorn this week – recording soundtrack music for a play featuring Zorn on sax, Bill Laswell on bass and effects, Kevin Norton on vibes and percussion and Rob Burger on piano/organ/Rhodes.
Also at Spin, Andy Wallace mixed Natalie Findlay’s upcoming album for Polydor, guitarist-producer Alex Skolnick (Testament) worked on Adrienne Warren’s upcoming album with engineer Nik Chinboukas, and Jeff Kazee (Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, Bon Jovi) produced Jersey rock-and-rollers Outside the Box for their upcoming release – also with Chinboukas engineering.
And south to Williamsburg, indie rock band Nada Surf recorded basic tracks for their upcoming LP at Headgear Recording with producer/engineer Chris Shaw. Also at Headgear… Virgin Forest tracked and mixed their second full-length album (for Partisan) with Alex Lipsen engineering; Lipsen produced some new music by Sam Marine, which John Agnello mixed; Kelli Scarr did some tracking with Scott F. Norton; and Male Bonding mixed their upcoming SubPop album with Agnello.
Chris Shaw and Nada Surf also recently booked Joe McGinty (Psychedelic Furs, Loser’s Lounge) at Carousel Recording in Greenpoint to play and record keyboard parts on new songs. McGinty added Hammond Organ, RMI Keyboard Computer, Mass-Rowe Vibrachime, ARP Strings, Modular Moog, and Fender Rhodes to their forthcoming record. McGinty also recently recorded Piano, Hammond, Combo Organ, and others for Lianne Smith’s debut record, being produced by Anton Fier.
Back in Manhattan, Carol King has been at KMA Studios mixing her upcoming holiday album with producer Louise Goffin and engineer Nathaniel Kunkel.
Also at KMA recently… Pianist Eric Lewis recorded and mixed an album with Bryan Williams engineering, Mike Posner recorded songs for his upcoming Sony album –producing/engineering the sessions himself – hit songwriters Claude Kelly and Chuck Harmony wrote/recorded for CJ Holland with engineers Ben Chang and Conrad Martin, Corey Gunz cut vocals for his upcoming Cash Money/Universal release with S. Dot engineering, and Yo Gotti recorded vocals for his album on Sony with Leo Goff engineering.
Yo Gotti’s new album – Live From The Kitchen – is scheduled for release on Sept 6th, and is expected to have guest appearances by Lupe Fiasco, Lil Wayne, Nicky Minaj, Ciara, Rick Ross, Waka Flocka and Young Jeezy.
John Lithgow was also at KMA doing voiceovers for a children’s book – Trumpet of The Swan – with Jayson Brown producing and Ian Kagey engineering for PS Classics.
Out on Long Island at PIE Studios in Glen Cove…NYC rock band Lion in the Mane recorded a new EP, taking advantage of Pie’s Neve-equipped, George Augspurger-tuned control room and 35’ x 28’ x 18’ live room. NYC-based producer/engineer William Wittman oversaw the sessions.
Back in big town, Joe Jackson recently recorded his upcoming self-produced release at Avatar Studios with engineer Elliot Scheiner, assisted by Aki Nishimura. Other recent sessions at Avatar include… Esperanza Spalding recording her upcoming release co-produced with Q-Tip in Studio A with engineer Joe Ferla, assisted by Fernando Lodeiro; Honor Society recording on the SSL 9000J in Studio B with producer Adam Blackstone and engineer Jon Smeltz, assisted by Tim Marchiafava; and the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra recording with producer Howard Cass and engineer David Merrill.
Also in Midtown, Foreigner checked in at Threshold Recording Studios NYC to cut acoustic versions of ten of their greatest hits — Mick Jones and Jeff Pilson produced, with Jeremy Sklarsky (Freelance Whales) engineering. And Dave Eggar and Heather Holley produced a track for singer/songwriter Jacob Baine Fields at Threshold recently, also with Sklarsky at the controls.
On the way west side, Santigold was at Stratosphere Sound working with songwriters Amanda Ghost and Ian Dench in Studio A. Ghost, Dave McCracken and Andros Rodriguez also worked with Daniel Merriweather in Studios A & B, and Louis C.K. was in Studio A, overseeing music recording for Season Two of his FX sitcom Louie. Ruddy Cullers engineered.
And staying on the west side, mastering engineer Vlado Meller is up and running in his new studio at Masterdisk.
Here, Meller recently mastered the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ single “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie,” produced by Rick Rubin and engineered by Andrew Schoeps for Warner Bros, and a Harry Connick, Jr. album, The Happy Elf, produced by Tracey Freeman and engineered by Vince Caro for Marsalis Music.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
NORTH BROOKLYN: Our neighborhood studio tour continues with four more decidedly uncommon studios in North Brooklyn. We talked to the owners of Strange Weather, Headgear, Metrosonic, and the Fort about sessions, toys, and building an active niche in this teeming slice of the city.
Those familiar with the SonicScoop blog-roll may recognize the name of Marc Alan Goodman, who’s been recounting the saga of building Strange Weather’s new, full-service tracking studio on the Greenpoint/East Williamsburg border. In the meantime, it’s a small secret that his current location already hosts one of the most impressive collections of hand-picked ear candy in the city.
More than anything, this is a studio for artists and engineers with boutique tastes. No summary can do justice to the extensive selection of gear that includes names like Neve, API, Purple, Gates, Federal, ADL, Neumann, Coles, dbx, RCA, and Bricasti. Strange Weather is also home to a startling collection of guitars, drums, and keyboards at the ready for capturing any sound musicians can imagine.
Most surprising of all, according to Goodman, is the price, and the fact that all his vintage treasures are in prime working condition.
“I wanted to build a studio where people can walk in and use world-class gear at an affordable price in a functioning atmosphere,” Goodman says. “There’s nothing worse than booking a day at a studio where nothing works. I feel like that’s the rule rather than the exception in the commercial studios I’ve worked in.”
In the interest of full disclosure, this reporter has recently been in for some sessions at Strange Weather, and this kind of attention to detail has it fast-becoming one of my favorite places to work. Owning a studio has begun to turn Goodman into a capable tech in his own right: his racks are over-stuffed with impeccably maintained vintage gear, and handmade re-creations of studio classics like the LA2A, LA3A and 1176.
Built around a new 32-channel API 1608 console brimming with the choicest EQs, Strange Weather turns out to be an ideal room for overdubs, mixing, or any sessions that don’t require a cavernous live room.
When asked about his niche in the studio scene Goodman says: “Ideally everyone would complete their records from start to finish in a studio, but today it seems more common for musicians to combine studios with smaller at-home or portable rigs. We’re focused on making that process as seamless as possible; to give musicians and engineers used to working at home a place they can walk in and use great, often rare equipment in a functioning environment.”
Rates: Click for Room + Engineer Rates
Room Rate: $600/day; $550/day for blocks of 3 days or more.
If there’s any truth behind the idea that Williamsburg is a great place to make music, a lot of responsibility for that would have to fall on studios like Headgear Recording. Since opening in 1998, Headgear has been the birthplace of seminal records from TV On The Radio, Massive Attack, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Animal Collective, CocoRosie, Nada Surf, My Morning Jacket, Son Volt, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Moby and Santigold.
Although the “Room For Rent” model of studio has waned as competent owner-operators create their own personal oases of sound in every corner of the city, Headgear remains one of the most accessible and freelance-engineer-friendly studios in New York.
In addition to house engineers Alex Lipsen, Scott Norton, and Dan Long, Headgear has been home to projects from a who’s who of hip and distinctive producers and engineers, including John Agnello, Peter Katis, Dave Sitek, John Hill, Chris Moore Gordon Raphael, TJ Doherty, and Chris Coady.
Headgear is also no stranger to Film and Television Post. Recent clients include “Grey’s Anatomy,” MTV’s “Skins,” “CSI: Miami” and the Columbia Pictures comedy Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.
According to studio manager Jackie Lin Werner, the studio’s appeal is personal as much as it is technical: “ We’re not stiff or pretentious. We’re down to earth and like to be helpful. Beyond the gear and the size of our rooms, I believe people trust Headgear as an established studio with a respectable client list. Headgear probably appeals most to indie bands and major label bands looking for an affordable, high quality studio in a space that has a creative vibe. “
Headgear’s A-room houses an automated Trident 80C console and offers a choice of Pro Tools HD and 24-track 2-inch tape. A well-equipped B room is also available for mixing and overdubs.
Contact for rates.
Neve Console. Pro Tools HD. Ampex 2”. Engineers who know what they’re doing. What more could you need to know?
According to Metrosonic’s Pete Mignola, it’s the people who make a studio: “The people who built it, the people who run it, the people who use it,” he tells us.
“Everyone who comes to Metrosonic talks about the vibe. Of course they like the great gear, the affordable rates, the windows & city views, but they always say that they love the vibe here. There’s human element to this that makes each studio unique and special in its own way.”
Metrosonic has always had a large, comfortable control room. More recently, the studio’s originally modest live room underwent significant renovations in 2008, and now, Pete and the crew are excited to bring a new 850 square-foot live room into the fold.
Rates: $40/hr, including Jim Bentley as Engineer.
Over the past decade, North Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood has filled up with enough small private studios to fill an area twice its size. In that time, Jim Bentley’s studio The Fort has stood as one of the neighborhood’s active mainstays.
Persevering in this competitive new territory since 2003, owner/operator Bentley has hosted noteworthy clients including Brit Daniel of Spoon, Doug Gillard and Kevin March of Guided by Voices, James McNew of Yo La Tengo, Jennifer O’Connor, John Agnello and Jemina Pearl.
This especially affordable studio is equipped for both analog and digital sessions, offering a Neotek Elan console, Tascam 1” 16-track, and a 24-channel MOTU/Apogee system. The studio bills at $30/hr on weekdays from noon to 6pm and at $40/hr 6pm-midnight or weekends, and includes Bentley’s services as engineer.
Bentley is most proud of his live room, a large, vibey space with vaulted, heavy-timber ceilings: “I love to track full bands in the room live for feel and then sauce it up and make it sound supernatural from there,” he says.
Bentley’s down-to-earth approach is made clear in his parting words to us. The Fort, he says, “appeals to the clients who realize making records is more about the man and the performance than the machine or the media buzz behind it.”
Justin Colletti is a Brooklyn-based audio engineer and music producer who’s worked with Hotels, DeLeon, Soundpool, Team Genius and Monocle, as well as clients such as Nintendo, JDub, Blue Note Records, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Visit him at www.justincolletti.com.
LOWER MANHATTAN: While so many Brooklyn bands are trying to figure out new ways to distort, drown and fuzz out their sound in the studio, the Madison Square Gardeners are crafting hi-fi records in the spirit of their favorite 70s rock and roll albums by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, CSNY, David Bowie and T. Rex.
On their latest EP, Teeth of Champions, the Madison Square Gardeners achieve better-than-ever results on this mission. With Tomek Miernowski tracking the band at Grand Street Recording in Williamsburg, and mixing by Mario J. McNulty at his own Incognito Studio in Lower Manhattan, this band of well-oiled rock-n-rollers have made a record that stands up to their live show.
Accomplishing this has been a process, says bandleader and singer/songwriter Aaron Lee Tasjan.
“What we do translates really well in our live gigs but recording has been a bit of an uphill battle for the band,” says Tasjan. “Because there was so much reverence built early on for the live shows – people were comparing it to The Replacements, the kind of music you have to see live because it’s so energetic and engaging. And we’ve struggled trying to capture that on record.”
Considering their instant chemistry on stage – doing classic rock-and-roll covers and eventually playing house band for a few select artists and venues around the city – the Gardeners naturally expected to breeze through their first studio sessions. They figured…pick a good room, a good engineer, and track four or five songs live. Don’t overthink it.
“We made our first EP at Headgear with Scott Norton, who’s a really great engineer that we knew through his work with Son Volt,” says Tasian. “We also really liked some of the records that have been made there – a couple in particular by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Hold Steady. We totally went in with the mindset of tracking live, but it was weird — even though we were all playing in the same room together, somehow it just didn’t have the spark of energy that we so easily have in our live show.”
It took an unusual recording assignment to set the band on the right track. “Engine Room Recordings asked us to do Poison’s ‘Nothin’ But A Good Time’ for their [upcoming] Guilt By Association compilation,” Tasian shares. “We spent the whole day just working on this one tune, and it became obvious to us that we were being too jock about the way we were going about making our own records – trying to go in the studio and track 5 songs all live and make it all about the vibe… We hadn’t been thinking enough about what we were trying to create sonically.
“What world did we want the band to sit in? Did we want to make super hi-fi big radio sounding records? Or did we want to be more ‘indie’ about it and make cool, garage rock sort of records? Each one is an art form. In working on that one song, and really pulling it apart, we realized we hadn’t been carefully considering the way in which we’re making our recordings. Once we got through that and turned it in (and Engine Room really liked it) then it was time to go back and reinvestigate.”
Refining The Process, Quarterly EPs, Big Sounds
That first Madison Square Gardeners EP, recorded at Headgear, came out in March of ’10. At that point they’d already been playing together for a few years, but had only just begun writing original material.
The band had always been a side project for Tasjan, who was lead guitarist in Semi-Precious Weapons, and his band-mates – all active sidemen for artists such as Ben Kweller, Justin Townes Earle, Roseanne Cash and Dar Williams. They all still play in multiple bands, but with no shortage of new material and enthusiasm for the project, they have been working through a series of Gardeners EPs and mini-tours over the last year.
“Instead of doing one record that would cost us a lot of money and time, our plan was to do a bunch of EPs over the course of a year or two,” Tasjan explains. “We figured we could put out another EP every 4 months or so – that way we always have fresh material, and we’ll always be able to tour and get press because we always have something new.”
Their experience producing the Guilt By Association cover led to a new approach on the Gardeners’ second EP, Taste the Thunder (January 2011). “This was our first attempt at working on each song until it was totally done, and I think it was definitely a marked improvement over the first EP,” Tasjan notes.
“And then in producing this new, third EP, we were refining that idea even more – [I think you always have] to make a record that’s even better, and that means across the board: that is, in the songwriting, the performances and sonically. So when we got to the point of mixing this one, I knew I wanted to get someone really serious. Mario had produced one of the Semi-Precious Weapons records, and I just knew he was going to have the right feel for this new record. It was like intuition.”
And, in recording, a process Tasjan refers to as “somewhat mysterious,” where one’s success is not always determined by practical know-how and flawless execution, intuition is often your guide. Especially when the project is not afforded tons of studio time in the great big room of its choice.
“If I could make one record like [Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’] Damn The Torpedoes, I think I wouldn’t care about anything anymore,” he shares, in a half-kidding tone. “In a way, it seems like that should be simple to do, but even when you know what you’re doing, and you’re in Avatar Studio A, the record you start out making is not necessarily the record you end up with.
“Hopefully, if you’re doing it right and open to people who can help you, you’ll end up with a record that’s even cooler than what you set out to make.”
The Gardeners were not going to get weeks in Avatar Studio A, but this did not change their objective just the process by which they would get there.
“We really wanted this record to sound as big and wide as the topics that we’re talking about in the music. Sonically, there’s obviously some 70s influence there…all our favorite records – Bowie and T. Rex, Tom Petty and the Rolling Stones. We really wanted to make songs that you’ll sing along to when you come to the show.
“So in the studio, we were focused on figuring out how to create that mood and that vibe, those big sounds and textures [without being in a huge room],’” Tasjan shares.
“There’s a lot of energy and passion that comes through on this record and part of it is that we really stepped up the material. But a lot of it was also that when we were tracking it, we really considered how we were recording each part. And then the mixing aspect – I knew that was going to be a big part of getting it to sound huge.
For this, McNulty’s part, the mission was clear: “The drums had to be big and powerful and the guitars had to sound thick. The vocal has to be thick and meaty sounding and the band is not the supporting cast – this is a real rock and roll sound, and I approached mixing it with that rock sensibility.”
In the sweet spot at Incognito Studio, where we previewed some final mixes, Teeth of Champions was sounding pretty epic indeed and refreshingly discernible to these ears.
McNulty mixes in Pro Tools on an HD3 rig through a Dangerous 2-Bus — a 16 channel analog summing mixer — with fader control via a Euphonix MC Mix control surface. Looking around his studio, he points out a few other important components: “the Pendulum ES-8 tube compressor is my main bus compressor, and I use a Dangerous Monitor, switching between the Focal‘s, NS-10′s and headphones.”
The care and consideration the band brought to the tracking sessions translated all the way through to the mixes, according to McNulty. “The playing was fantastic and everything was recorded really well by Tomek at Grand Street. He’d sent me some notes on what he did which was really helpful, so once I got started, I was able to approach it really organically. The songs really lend themselves to what they’re going for sonically.”
Check out our favorite track “Miracle Mile” off the new EP for a dose of the Madison Square Gardeners’ sweet Americana folk and rousing arena-sized rock-out jams all in one song!
And given the band’s ambitions, as summarized by Tasjan – “to make great records and go play gigs that people walk away from 100% satisfied” – you really ought to catch them live sometime.