PART 5: BUILDING IT
So now comes the coolest and the hardest part, build the fucking thing.
Building was something I grew up with. One grandfather was an architect, the other a farmer, butcher, tailor, Navy Sailor, and rootbeersman. My Dad and his two brothers owned a lumber company and my Dad could build just about anything, not the least of which included the house I grew up in. He had a full-on machine shop in the garage (land is cheap in Indiana). As a kid, I cut a chess set on a metal lathe, ripped frets off pawn shop basses to try to cop Jaco’s sound, and made countless messes besides under his watchful gaze.
Meanwhile, Mom co-owned a home furnishings store in a very hip little corner of our tiny downtown, curating a beautiful selection of finds, repurposed vintage items, and tasteful modern. In her spare time, she bought, restored, and resold houses. It was never about flipping, however, more an organic re-imagining of the canvas until she’d finished and felt it was time to move on. The last house she built was assembled from lumber salvaged out of two barns and was a crazy exposed-beam barn loft with 35-foot ceilings. It was the best kind of nuts.
This little heart-warming digression is strictly motivated by how important it is to understand how much of a badass Francois Chambard is at this point in the tale.
Even with all this history, I would have absolutely no concept of how to approach building something like this console. The scale, the weight, ergonomics, resonance. No way. Frankly, the only reason I can even comment on my own ignorance with any clarity is because Francois has already built it.
Francois is one of the warmest and most unassuming people I’ve ever had the pleasure of collaborating with. When we were introduced, he had already built UM Project, and had been working away for several years to build an impressive body of work. Francois is never one to brag so I just took it as the obvious truth that he had been educated in design, interned, workshopped, and just generally hustled his ass off in the interest of this enterprise for the entirety of his adult life.
During our meetings and friendly chats over coffee and tea the little details began to come out and, over the course of the months and years that followed, I started to get a picture of what an interesting and strange path had taken him to this point in his life.
Francois’ first project on a very large scale was Elias Arts’ beautiful THX-certified mixing room, complete with an insane wrap-around fiberglass desk with a small, wheeled, satellite portion that houses the display monitors such that the mixing engineer can ideally situate in the 5.1 sweet spot. As it turned out, Francois had actually been working for Elias as a branding and design consultant when they began the renovation, and told Scott Elias that he wanted to build the new studio. Naturally, he absolutely killed it and that cemented the possibility of a full-time transition to tangible making.
That’s only the tip of the iceberg of the strange and interesting things that he’s done, however. He jocularly alluded to a brief life as a NY bike messenger when he first moved to the city. Allen [Farmelo] and he gently circumlocuted his time as a French soldier, stationed in a ski patrol in the Alps. When I finally asked him point blank how he got his start as a builder, he proudly described his tenure with Hank Gilpin, one of America’s top furniture makers. From the stories, it sounded like Hank is equal parts Mr. Miyagi and Yoda. Francois described only using hand tools for the first year of his apprenticeship, patiently hand planning, sanding, and sawing, favoring accuracy and love for the materials over speed.
From the Elias project, he met Emily Lazar at The Lodge and built an incredible set of furniture for the reception area, including chairs that have iPod docks built right in so The Lodge clients could comfortably reference Masters in a comfortable and beautiful environment. They loved his work so much that they turned to him when they expanded their facilities to include the impressive audio post house, The Station. For this project, Francois designed, built, and installed the entire space, from soup to nuts.
Through his work at The Lodge Music & The Station, he met Andy Hong from Tape Op, which gave way to meeting Allen Farmelo and thus, giving rise to his first custom console amazingness. This path is the type of fascinating and natural succession that is the only way to get into this particular niche, I think.
Given that he already had so much experience with studio design and practical experience in building desks with Farmelo’s API being such a triumph, he hopped right in on my console, completely unperturbed.
In order to offer optimal rigidity and lower the weight, he opted to make the main frame out of a combination of heavy birch ply (several parts in custom width laminates up to 15 or more ply’s) and steel fins.
The main body of the frame is a torsion box with several hand-routed holes in order to lower the weight significantly. This box bolts to a pair of heavy duty ends, which then serve to offer connection points for both the Ash finish panels as well as the series of highly customized blocks that bolt in between the steel fins, running front to back. These steel pieces offer connections for the WSW frames as well as the rack rails on the other side of the console.
The entire console kind of bolts together in two large pieces, built from several constituent parts: The torsion box, legs and block ends comprise the base, the blocks for the armrest and meter bridge and all the fins make up the top. We assembled the two halves separately, set the box on the legs on the ground and then CAREFULLY hossed the extremely heavy top into place.
After these two pieces were mated, the finish parts, the ceramic steel rest and bridge, Ash panels, and brass appointments were carefully attached and we had the frame!
Over the course of a very long day in Francois’ beautiful Greenpoint shop, we got to take part in the physical realization of this dream. I really can’t begin to describe the emotional response that Francois, Jon, Taft (our newest staff member!), and I had as the line drawing gave way to a tangible, tactile, piece of art that was now to become the center of my professional life.
NO GUTS NO GLORY
Meanwhile, back down at the studio in Sunset Park, Jon, Taft, and I had been seriously busting ass on a renovation of the control room in order to prep for the arrival of this beast.
The floors here were utterly beat and needed replacement badly. The unfortunate truth is that they were also poorly designed and so our only real recourse was to start over from the slab. The original design didn’t include provisions for accessible cable troughs and so I had no choice in the upgrade process other than to leave the significant amount of extra wiring I had brought in tucked “neatly” behind racks on the floor. It looked like shit. Also, there had been some water damage, so a fair amount of the fabric on the ceiling and walls had been badly stained and would need replacement.
The entirety of the space in which I work was actually a handyman special, I think, and so had a series of aesthetic choices that were kind of quirky. (Read: also shitty.) Talmbout hand painted puff paint spheres looking into infinity through a dark wood on the acoustic panels in the control room. The walls and ceiling were upholstered in literally the ugliest blue color that Guilford offers. Ha.
There was no way we were going to suffer that environment for this freaking sculpture that MOMA would love to have on display.
So, we gutted it.
I took two pry bars and ripped the floors down all the way to slab. The sandwich was veneer, ½” ply, ½’ sheetrock and ¾” ply, and then that all rested on rubber pucks which was all affixed to the slab via powder actuated fasteners. Over the course of a very demanding and very stress relieving week, all that stuff came up and we started over from zero.
One unfortunate flaw we found at that point was that the original builder hadn’t put down any sort of vapor barrier between the concrete and the flooring and so mold had begun to creep up through all the layers of the floor. It was deeply gross and also pretty scary, considering the amount of time we all put down in that room in any given day.
A friend back in my hometown of Bloomington, Indiana owns a really rad architectural salvage company and happened to have some incredible reclaimed heart pine for sale. This lumber was absolutely gorgeous and cheaper than the cheap, off-the-shelf stuff I had been looking at locally. It just so happened that I was in Bloomington to see the family and move some long left behind heirlooms and so my better half and I already had plans on driving back out in a van.
We loaded up the flooring on a sweaty, horrible Indiana summer day and bounced our way across the country in a U-Haul.
I’ll spare you’re the gory details, but suffice it to say; getting that floor to fit was a serious endeavor. We had to plane both faces, sand tongues, and take a router to the grooves. LOTS of work. The end result, however, is well worth all the effort.
Looking back through all the texts that Francois and I were shooting back and forth during this time period is seriously awesome. So many pictures of us racing each other to finish in the window we’d set out. I was literally booking moving vans to get the parts down to the studio in between applying the final coats of Tung oil to the floor. Exciting, exhausting, and inspiring.
All the images from this particular entry are compiled exclusively from the texts we were sending back and forth during this period.
Next up! Dr. Faust makes a deal with Rupert Neve…
Brian Bender has enjoyed the pleasure of running sessions at Looking Glass, The Hit Factory, Electric Lady and many more beautiful rooms in New York and beyond. His co-conspirators include names as diverse as Philip Glass, The Counting Crows, Al Green, Borusan Philarmonie and Craig Street. Recent clients include Krystle Warren and the Faculty, Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds, Jose James and Langhorne Slim.
GREATER NYC AREA: New works by David Bowie, Vampire Weekend, She & Him, Azealia Banks, John Scofield, Common and more have been in production all over the city – in the studios highlighted below. Where’s everyone recording? And who’s working with who? Here is our neighborhood-by-neighborhood guide to recent NYC studio sessions…
Mixed by Brooklyn-based engineer James Brown, the album was recorded on the legendary Sound City Neve 8028 at Grohl’s studio and features the various performances captured for the film, including Stevie Nicks, Trent Reznor, Josh Homme and Paul McCartney. The album comes out on Roswell Records on March 12 – pre-order it on iTunes and download the first single, “Cut Me Some Slack” (featuring McCartney).
Also at The Lodge, Vampire Weekend mastered their anticipated new album Modern Vampires of the City – produced by Rostam Batmanglij and Ariel Rechtshaid – with Lazar and LaPorta. The record is due out May 7 on XL Recordings. Superstar DJ Armin van Buuren returned to The Lodge to master his new album for Armada Records. The album was produced by Armin van Buuren and Benno de Goeij and mastered by Lazar and LaPorta. And finally, LaPorta recently mastered the new Cold War Kids album, Dear Miss Lonelyhearts – produced by Lars Stalfors and Dann Galluci and due out April 2 on Downtown Records.
Nearby at SweetSounds, indie folk ensemble Miko and the Musket tracked a new EP in the Crosby Room – Brad Fisher produced and engineered, assisted by Josh Giunta and James Gill. The band tracked through the Neve 5088 console over a five-day session that SweetSounds owner Dinesh Boaz calls “epic and awesome.”
“To create a very big sounding record, six different room mics were employed at different times as well as an SPL Transient Designer to customize the sense of space on the drums,” says Boaz. “Acoustic, electric guitars, bass, and vocals on six songs were also recorded, comped, and prepared for mix. The last day ran for 16 hours straight, where vocals, guitar, re-amps, and bass were recorded for 3 of the songs without break.”
Another epic session wrapped recently at The Magic Shop (as we previously reported) – David Bowie’s new album, The Next Day, had been in production there for two years, with Tony Visconti producing, Mario McNulty engineering and Brian Thorne assisting. The album, Bowie’s first in a decade, comes out in March.
In other Magic Shop sessions… She & Him tracked and mixed their new album, Vol. 3, with producer/engineer Tom Shick, assisted by Kabir Hermon…studio owner Steve Rosenthal and staff engineer Ted Young worked with Sony Legacy’s Rob Santos on the upcoming Elvis record Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite: Legacy Edition, mixing the dress rehearsal from the original multitrack tapes… Kurt Vile‘s upcoming release Wakin On Pretty Daze was produced and mixed by John Agnello with Ted Young… Engineer/producer Alex Newport tracked Grandfather‘s upcoming release In Human Form… Lloyd Cole recorded for his new album with engineer Geoff Sanoff… and Lily and the Parlour Tricks recorded for an upcoming EP with producer Wilson Brown, and Young engineering.
With the departure of mastering engineer Warren Russell-Smith for Los Angeles, mastering engineer Jessica Thompson is now working out of the Blue Room while Sean Gavigan, Doug Bleek and Matt Zedolik continue restoration work out of the Red Room. Thompson recently mastered Balkan Arts Series - a collection of 1960-1970s field recordings of traditional folk dances, restored from vinyl - The Lake Reflections, an album of genre-defying piano improvisations by Boyd Lee Dunlop, produced/engineered by Allen Farmelo; and a new record of Irish tunes for Chris Byrne‘s (Black 47) new band The Lost Tribe of Donegal.
Next, up to Avatar Studios, where singer/songwriter Jonatha Brooke has been recording an upcoming project in multiple rooms with co-producer Patrick Rains and Roy Hendrickson engineering, and where Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite have been recording new material with producer Dave Einstein, and engineer Anthony Ruotolo.
Also at Avatar… Cirque du Soleil mixed their Zarkana cast album in Studio A with producer Nick Littlemore, and engineer Roy Hendrickson assisted by Mike Bauer…MTV shot live performances for their Artists to Watch series with Gold Fields and Hunter Hayes – produced by Dan Weissman and Allyssa Agro with engineer Ryan Jones assisted by Bob Mallory…the Wayne Shorter Quartet and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra recorded together in Studio A with producer Rob Griffin and engineer Todd Whitelock… up-and-coming band Basic Vacation recorded with producer David Kahne, and Hendrickson at the controls…And fresh off his performance at the Grammy Awards, Kenny Garrett recorded with co-producer Al Pryor and engineer Joe Ferla.
Also worth noting, 10 Grammy Award winning records (and 21 nominees) were recorded at Avatar (Paul McCartney, Anita Baker, Chick Corea, etc.). Check out the full list here.
A few blocks away at Sear Sound…Phil Ramone produced tracks for a new Broadway Show, I Will, I Can – based on Sammy Davis, Jr.’s autobiography – with Frank Filipetti engineering on the Avalon/Sear custom board; and actor and singer/songwriter Jesse Lenat recorded new material with engineer Chris Allen and producer Loren Toolajian for Sandblast Productions.
As usual, Sear hosted a number of jazz sessions, including pianist Gerald Clayton tracking a new album on the Neve 8038 with Ted Tuthill engineering and Ben Wendel producing… Sophie Millman recording with producer Matt Pierson and engineer Chris Allen…John Scofield recording his latest with engineer James Farber…and Kris Bowers tracking a new album with producer Chris Dunn and Allen engineering. Finally, Ten Dragon Films was at Sear tracking a score for their documentary, In The Magic of the Green Mountains – Allen engineered with Micah Burgess producing – and the “Flamenco Queen”, Buika, returned to Sear to mix her new album with Tuthill engineering and Eli Wolf producing for Warner Bros. Spain.
Back downtown at Germano Studios, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts were back to record more material for an upcoming album with Kenny Laguna and Jett producing, and Thom Panunzio and Kenta Yonesaka engineering.
And in other recent sessions at Germano…Harlem-bred rap ingénue Azealia Banks recorded vocals for a new record with Ric McRae producing and engineering…John Legend recorded and mixed for his upcoming record with Dave Tozer producing and Jason Agel engineering…French hip-hop band IAM recorded and mixed their new album with Prince Charles Alexander mixing (and Dave Rowland recording)… Passion Pit recorded and shot video with Dillon Francis producing…Isa “Machine” Summers recorded piano for the artist LP with Yonesaka engineering …and Japanese artist AK recorded and mixed with Yonesaka again at the controls.
Meanwhile, Roc Nation artist/producer J. Cole has been working out of Premier Studio B, with Mez on the controls; G-Unit rapper Kidd Kidd was in tracking with Premier engineer Kevin Geigel; the whole Pro Era crew (Joey Bada$$, etc.) has been locked into Studio F working on upcoming albums and mixtapes with Big K.R.I.T., Smoke DZA, A$AP Rocky, Sha Money XL and many more; Shontelle was in Studio E working on new material with songwriter Corey “Chorus” Gibson, producer Reo and Angelo Payne engineering; and Trey Songz was back in the studio working on new material with Premier engineer Anthony Daniel.
Masterdisk finished some pretty major albums of late, including the 2-disc vinyl set of the aforementioned Bowie album, The Next Day, for Columbia Records. Alex DeTurk was the cutting engineer. CoCoRosie brought their new Valgeir Sigurðsson-produced album, Tales of the Grass Widow to be mastered by Scott Hull for City Slang Records. French Montana’s new single, “Freaks” (feat. Nicki Minaj) was mastered by Tony Dawsey, and assisted by Tim Boyce. The track was produced by Rico Love.
Vlado Meller mastered Harry Connick, Jr.’s new album Smokey Mary, produced/mixed by Tracey Freeman for Columbia Records. Meller was assisted by Mark Santangelo. And Randy Merrill mastered the new Jangeun “JB” Bae record, mixed by Aaron Nevezie at The Bunker in Brooklyn for Inner Circle Music / Gimbab Records.
Some heavy hip-hop production sessions have gone down at The Brewery in Williamsburg recently: For one, producer Dot Da Genius linked up with the producer 88 Keys and Common to work on new material. Dot has also been in the studio working with Def Jam artist Logic.
Meanwhile, Dot’s partner in The Brewery, engineer/mixer Andrew Krivonos has been working with Las Vegas-based hip-hop artist Sean Rose – splitting time between Brooklyn and L.A. and “rocking the Brewery’s completely upgraded Pro Tools rig.”
Krivonos has also been engineering sessions at The Brewery with Universal’s recent hip-hop signing, Mr. MFN eXquire, with Bryan Lampe mixing; and has been tracking drums/bass/guitar and vocals for the hip-hop band Downbeat Keys’ upcoming EP, Memory Chrome – taking advantage of the re-worked acoustics in The Brewery’s new live room. And songwriter Corey Chorus and the Philly Phatboi’s were at the Brewery working with Krivonos on some records for the Columbia artist, RaVaughn.
Mastering engineer Drew Lavyne, who blogged about the loss of his Breezy Point studio in Hurricane Sandy, has been cranking on projects out of his new studio in Bay Ridge. The first two albums he mastered, in fact, were back-to-back #1 records: Kim Walker-Smith‘s album Still Believe made #1 on the iTunes Christian and Gospel Chart (and hit #4 on the iTunes Top Albums) and Jesus Culture’s album Live From New York with Martin Smith hit #1 on the iTunes Christian and Gospel Chart.
Other recent projects since Lavyne re-located his A.L.L. Digital include mastering for Exile Parade, Cari Fletcher, Arianna feat. Pitbull, Walk The Moon, Two Door Cinema Club, and Antigone Rising.
Over at GalumniumFoil in Williamsburg, producer/engineer and guitarist Jeff Berner was working on a bunch of records, including producing/engineering Naam’s second full-length LP for TeePee Records; engineering and playing on Psychic TV‘s new limited edition vinyl-only release, Silver Sundown Machine/Alien Lightning Meat Machine for Vanity Case Records; producing/mixing and playing on Heliotropes‘ debut full-length for Manimal Vinyl/Frenchkiss Records, due out in the spring; tracking basics for Dead Stars‘ new EP, live to tape; and engineering and mixing The Glorious Veins‘ new LP, Savage Beat.
All records were tracked to GaluminumFoil’s 32-channel Neotek Elan console, using their Sony/MCI JH-24 2″ tape machine – with a good majority of them mastered by Alex DeTurk at Masterdisk. (Why?, says Berner, because he’s awesome.)
Nearby at The Fort in Bushwick, producer/engineer James Bentley has been working on a few albums – most recently he’s been tracking and mixed an LP for surf-punk band, Trash Tide; wrappingup overdubs/mixing on an EP he’s producing for local “sci-fi rock band” Lord Classic, finishing mixes on an LP for pop/rock band Aquadora, and filming a session for a new video series called “Behind the Glass“.
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.
GREATER NYC AREA: For recording studios, this past summer had its typical ups and downs. But heading into Fall, bands like The Killers, The Vaccines and OneRepublic as well as artists like Tony Bennett, Kurt Vile, Sean Lennon, Rufus Wainright and more had been in NYC-area studios cranking on new and upcoming releases.
Starting in Murray Hill, Electracraft Music Works @ The Fireplace Penthouse hosted sessions with Mark Foster, of Foster The People, recording vocals for “Polartropic” – a soundtrack song for Tim Burton’s new film, Frankenweenie. Warren Babson engineered the session.
Also at Electracraft…Jack Antonoff and Andrew Dost of the band FUN were in to work on some new material, with Matt Morales engineering…Melanie Fiona came through to record some live acoustic tracks for Cricket Mobile, with Sam Katz engineering…hip-hop artist Outasight recorded with producers The Elev3n and Morales engineering, and Liz Gillies (of Nickelodeon’s Victorious) recorded some new music with Babson engineering.
Downtown, The Killers recorded and mixed their new album Battle Born over the summer at Germano Studios – with Alan Moulder mixing (various producers). OneRepublic has also been recording their latest at Germano – tracking guitars, keyboards and mandolin with singer/producer Ryan Tedder producing and engineering
And in other Germano sessions… The Goo Goo Dolls were in writing and recording new materials with John Shanks producing and Dan Chase engineering… Chris Shaw mixed an Ozzy Osbourne live DVD release, with Bruce Dickinson producing…Robin Thicke recorded vocals with Paul Falcone engineering, as did Mary J. Blige (also with Falcone)… Singer Jessica Sanchez (American Idol) recorded vocals and programming with Harvey Mason, Jr. producing and Andrew Hey engineering…and tracking sessions for a new John Legend album (recording guitars, vocals, piano, harp, keyboards in Studio 1 & Studio 2) with Dave Tozer producing and Jason Agel engineering.
The Killers went from recording and mixing at Germano, to The Lodge Mastering where Emily Lazar and Joe LaPorta mastered Battle Born. The Lodge’s mastering engineers Lazar, LaPorta and mastering engineer Heba Kadry have also recently mastered records by Dum Dum Girls, Imagine Dragons, Negramaro, Jeff Wayne’s The War Of The Worlds, James Iha, The Sea and Cake, …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead and Sarah Blasko.
Also at MSR…Jazz artist/bassist Christian McBride has been mixing two upcoming albums – with Joe Ferla on the Euphonix System 5 in MSR’s Studio B, assisted by Brett Mayer…the cast album for Broadway’s Bring It On was tracked in Studio A by engineer Derik Lee and composer Alex Lacamoire for Sh-K-Boom! Records, and then mixed by engineer Tim Latham…and Derik Lee also recorded some cues for the film Greetings from Tim Buckley.
Sean Lennon brought his Ghost of the Sabre Tooth Tiger project to Sear Sound last month. Tom Schick mixed the album – for Lennon’s label, Chimera Records – on Sear’s Neve 8038 to ½” 2-track on the ATR-102 machine.
Also at Sear Sound…Rufus Wainwright tracked new material on Sear’s Steinway “C” grand piano for Verve Records, with Sear’s Chris Allen engineering…jazz bassist Dave Holland and his ensemble tracked a new album with James Farber engineering…Ron Saint Germain produced and engineered a new recording by classical pianist Tania Stavreva on the Steinway “D” concert grand…and vocalist Keiko Lee tracked via the custom Avalon/Sear console in Studio C with Jay Newland engineering and producing for Sony/Japan.
Tony Bennett was back at Avatar Studios – this time to work on his Latin duets project, in Studio A. Bennett recorded vocals with Juan Luis Guerra, Romeo Santos and Ana Carolina. His son Dae Bennett engineered and produced the sessions, assisted by Aki Nishimura and Charlie Kramsky.
In other recent Avatar sessions…The Young Presidents tracked with producer /engineer Rob Fraboni, assisted by Bob Mallory and Tyler Hartman…Jennifer Hudson recorded for NBC’s Smash with producers Marc Shaiman and Harvey Mason, Jr., and engineer Andrew Hey…Bobby McFerrin recorded with producers Linda and Gil Goldstein assisted by Charlie Kramsky…and Esperanza Spalding was videotaped for ASPiRE TV with producer Nicole Bentley assisted by Aki Nishimura.
And all the way downtown at Engine Room Audio, 50 Cent was in the studio working with mastering engineer Mark B. Christensen to master his latest single, “New Day.” The track – released on iTunes on July 31 – features Dr. Dre and Alicia Keys, and was mixed by Eminem.
Christensen also recently mastered NYC alt-rock band Weep‘s new album, Alate, and the new Trey Songz album, Chapter V, which came out in August and hit #1 on the Billboard 200 chart in its first week.
Meanwhile In Brooklyn…
Yuka Honda (Cibo Matto, Yoko Ono) booked time at Joe McGinty’s Greenpoint synth studio, Carousel Recording, to record keyboard overdubs for Martha Wainwright’s new album, Come Home To Mama, which she is producing. Keyboardist Jared Samuel recorded on Carousel’s Moog Modular, Rhodes, Yamaha Organ and Hammond during these sessions.
DJ/producer Kid Koala collaborated with composer/producer/engineer Joel Hamburger on music for a new animated series and puppet show – both developed by Jhonen Vasquez – at Hamburger’s Park Slope studio, GödelString. For the animated series, Kid Koala (aka Eric San) and Hamburger worked off of a theme composed by Vasquez, and for the puppet show score, improvised recording sessions with James McNew and Amy Posner of Dump on guitar and keyboard.
“For me, the thrill was in working as fast as possible to set up and capture the moment and then being able to enjoy the magic of having these sketches being transformed into fairly complete pieces and soundscapes,” said Hamburger. “I also got to break out some of the great vintage keyboards we have at the studio.”
At the new Degraw Studios in Gowanus, rock band The Skins recorded and mixed an upcoming release with producer/engineer Ben Rice. Rice also mixed a new EP for Elliot & The Ghost – produced by Jared Dodd, and recorded/mixed new material for indie-rock band Chainwave.
Out of his Glassfactory studio in DUMBO, mixer/engineer Alex Aldi co-produced and mixed a Passion Pit song for the upcoming Twilight movie, Breaking Dawn – Part 2. Aldi also worked on the radio mix of The Hundred In The Hands’ “Come With Me” off their new album on Warp Records.
And back in Williamsburg, hip-hop artist K.Flay spent two weeks at The Bunker, writing and recording tracks for her upcoming RCA record – with Justyn Pilbrow producing, and Chris Mullings engineering. Singer/songwriter and pianist Johanna Cranitch also brought her band project Johanna and the Dusty Floor to The Bunker to track and mix a full-length album – with Chris Berry on drums, Rob Gentry and synths/programming, and Aaron Nevezie producing and engineering.
And in other Bunker sessions… Nevezie engineered a “monster tracking session” for a 30-minute piece called “Drummer’s Corpse”, led by drummer/bandleader Mike Pride and featuring seven drummers and multiple other musicians and vocalists…and 11-piece Afro-beat band Zongo Junction tracked their new full-length album live to the Bunker’s 24-track Studer machine over two days with Nevezie engineering.
Meanwhile, engineer/producer Matt Boynton has been busy at his Williamsburg studio, Vacation Island. Over the summer, Boynton mixed a track for Rainbow Arabia, a project that continues there this month, and finished the new Vietnam‘ record – coming out early next year on Mexican Summer. Free Blood and Wild Yaks also mixed their latest with Boynton. Fred Nicolaus of Department of Eagles mixed his solo release with Boynton as well.
On the recording front, Boynton recently tracked and mixed two new songs for Hospitality and recorded (with Rob Laasko) a new song for Kurt Vile. Most recently, Boynton tracked a new song for UK artist Amy Studt, and The Vaccines came through while in Williamsburg between shows to track and mix a new song.
Also in Williamsburg, Grand Street Recording (<– new website) recently hosted the 8-piece indie-pop band, Sky Pony – led by Kyle Jarrow – to record and mix their new EP with engineer/producer Ken Rich.
Also at Grand Street, acoustic punk band The Narrowbacks recorded a full-length record with Tomek Miernowski…Noe Venable has been constructing an acoustic album “filled with unexpected sounds and compelling arrangements” – recorded by Ken Rich, and featuring Mathias Kunzli and Todd Sickafoose…
I’m In You finished mixing and mastering their third full-length release with Rich…and TV On The Radio‘s Kyp Malone stopped by to record vocals with Emily Long & Velta on their latest record, with Miernowski engineering and mixing.
Grand Street also recently added a pair of Mohog MoFET76 limiting amplifiers and an AKG D30 to its ever-growing collection of vintage microphones. In drum-land, the studio added a 1959 Ludwig WFL Badge 6 ½” x 14″ Snare that still has the original Ludwig calf-skin resonant head – serviced by John Fell over at Main Drag 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 email@example.com.
On the heels of a Grammy nomination for Foo Fighters Wasting Light, The Lodge‘s mastering engineer Joe LaPorta has been working on some big and buzz-worthy upcoming records – several of which were produced in part in NYC.
First up, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally of Beach House (Sub Pop) were at The Lodge mastering their new album, Bloom, with LaPorta earlier this year. Bloom was produced and engineered by Chris Coady – recorded at Sonic Ranch Studios in Tornillo, TX and mixed at Electric Lady here in NYC. Check out the (majestic) advance track, “Myth”, below…
James Iha mastered his first solo album in 14 years – Look to The Sky (Sony Japan) – with LaPorta as well. Look To The Sky was co-produced by Iha and Nathan Larson and features guest performances by Karen O, Nick Zinner, Tom Verlaine, Sara Quin and Nina Persson, and horns by Kelly Pratt and Jon Natchez. The album was engineered By Arjun Agerwala, Geoff Sanoff, Rudyard Lee Cullers, Michael Nesci, Adam Tilzer out of Iha’s Stratosphere Sound in Chelsea, and mixed by Sanoff, John Holbrook and Agerwala.
LaPorta also mastered the new album by Las Vegas alt-rock band Imagine Dragons (Interscope), Continued Silence, which was produced by Alex da Kid and mixed by Manny Marroquin and Rich Costey in Los Angeles; the debut album by Malaysian artist Yuna (FADER), which was produced by Pharrell Williams, Andre Harris and Chris Braide, and also mixed by Marroquin; and NYC-based Roc Marciano’s new album Marcberg: Reloaded, produced by Q-Tip, The Alchemist and Marciano, and mixed by Q Tip.
Other notable records LaPorta’s mastered this year include: Neon Trees Picture Show (Mercury Records), produced by Justin Meldal Johnson and mixed by Billy Bush; Bear in Heaven‘s I Love You, It’s Cool (Dead Oceans/Home Tapes); Brooklyn-based electronic artist St Lucia‘s debut EP (Neon Gold/Columbia), Debo Band (Sub Pop), Porcelain Raft (Secretly Canadian), and California rockers Delta Spirit‘s upcoming self titled album, produced by Chris Coady and mixed by Tchad Blake (via Rounder Records); as well as singles from pop singer Colbie Caillat, Australian singer/songwriter Delta Goodrem and Harlem MC Azealia Banks (Universal).
NOHO, MANHATTAN: It’s been a dreams-do-come-true kind of year for fans of Jeff Mangum and Neutral Milk Hotel. After an extended hiatus following the release and tour of his 1998 masterpiece In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, Mangum emerged a few months ago to announced a new Neutral Milk Hotel website, full schedule of performances, and news of the first release in over a decade – a complete box-set of the band’s recordings on vinyl.
In Mangum’s absence, his music has gained legions of new fans over the years, transfixing listeners and leaving everyone wanting more. The new box set features the full-length albums on vinyl, as well as some lost recordings and alternate takes of classic tunes – it’s a collector’s item to be sure, but it’s also the “more” that all Neutral Milk Hotel fans have been waiting for.
To assemble this latest release – compiling recordings of varying quality from various sources – Mangum needed a mastering guru and facility accustomed to a wide variety of indie sounds and sources. His colleague/coordinator Ben Goldberg, of Ba Da Bing Records & Management, called Joe LaPorta at The Lodge Mastering – having mastered Tuneyards’ whokill with him earlier this year. But it was Mangum himself who worked through the material with LaPorta in extensive mastering sessions at The Lodge.
“He had a really clear vision of what he wanted, with regard to sonics – EQ and compression – down to how he specifically wanted to sequence and space the tracks”, says LaPorta. “If one song was a little sibilant, we’d work through it together. He was very methodical so his attendance was key.
“If he had any doubts, he would immediately let me know and I would try to give him an unbiased opinion.”
The classic Neutral Milk Hotel albums, On Avery Island and In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, are decidedly lo-fi, recorded on 4 and 8-track machines back in the mid-90s, and beloved for their imperfections, their fuzz, and their blistering, in-your-face vocals and drum sounds. While these records are part of the vinyl box set, they were not re-mastered for this latest release.
Instead, LaPorta focused on all the previously unreleased material, including the tracks making up the two 10” EPs – Everything Is, which features alternate versions of the songs from the band’s original debut EP plus bonus tracks, and Ferris Wheel on Fire, featuring eight previously unreleased acoustic recordings. He also mastered/re-mastered the music for two 7″ records (Little Birds and You’ve Passed/Where You’ll Find Me Now), and a 7″ picture disc with fold-out poster (Holland 1945/Engine).
The unreleased material came into The Lodge on a variety of formats – digitized 4-tracks, cassettes, vinyl, even home video. LaPorta took it track-by-track, enhancing the quality and – moreover – the sonic experience of the material, considering that Neutral Milk Hotel sound.
“This was a really interesting process as far as the engineering challenges were concerned,” says LaPorta. “The key in creating a final product that was cohesive and natural was making the most out of the incredibly varied source material, while still making each track sit well next to the other.
“For example, some of Jeff’s acoustic material was tracked extremely hot on his 4-track, so with all that gain and distortion, the track yielded a compressed lo-fi quality that he wanted to preserve. My inclination was to make the listener feel like they were right there with Jeff while he was recording the demo and just subtly EQ’ing it to bring out the presence and liveliness of the room and his vocals. So I kept a very light hand on compression.”
Other tracks, however, needed a complete facelift. “On some of the demos and live recordings, there was quite a bit of hiss and noise warranting some restoration work right off the bat,” says LaPorta.
“Every track posed a different challenge so it was great to have a few options to audition how well the plug-ins responded to the material in question and see which would treat it the best. Jeff had a lot of input as far as how much ‘cleaning’ up he wanted me to do. Things sometimes can get lost in that process – like the charm and the realness of the recording. Ultimately, the restoration work had to be subtle enough not to distract the listener from the actual music.”
From there, LaPorta would process the audio through an analog chain that he modified for almost every track. “Before I would start working on any song, Jeff and I would just spend some time listening to it and figuring out what was necessary. I ran some of the tracks through The Lodge’s vintage Pultec EQP 1A’s which add a lot of tonality and greater depth,” he notes.
“The Pultecs are positively superior for midrange control and perhaps the most musical EQ because of their unique shelving circuitry. Other items in the arsenal included the Avalon 2077 and the TubeTech SMC 2B multi-band compressor that was sometimes patched in at the end of the chain to ‘seal the deal.’ But it’s never one set formula.”
There were a few even more extreme cases of track revival during these sessions as well. “On some of these songs I really had to pull out all the tricks,” he says. “I had to do some of the most drastic enhancements I’ve ever done.”
For example…LaPorta salvaged a song/performance Mangum had brought in on video. “Jeff played an intimate show in what looks like someone’s apartment and he wanted to include that particular performance on the album – but it hadn’t been properly recorded,” LaPorta describes.
“It was extremely thin: the recording was basically whatever was fed into the camcorder’s tiny little mic. Here, I really had to dig in and try to bring some life and warmth while working around the limitations of the recording. I was really happy with the end result on that – it’s the B-side of Little Bird.
“Another track was pulled from a limited 7” release that only existed on vinyl”, LaPorta explains. “We used this great VPI turntable and Dynavector cartridge and mastered directly into the analog chain.”
Speaking to LaPorta about mastering Neutral Milk Hotel, we expected the unreleased full band tracks would be way raucous and loud, as on Aeroplane, and that this would be the unique challenge in mastering all this material.
“Well, the band tracks on Everything Is are a bit tamer compared with Aeroplane,” LaPorta notes to our inquiry.
“I did master one song off of the Aeroplane album, “Holland 1945”, which is included on side A of Holland Picture Disc. But yeah – the Aeroplane album is pretty loud! (laughs) I was surprised at how loud it is, compared to today’s releases. Jeff told me how they used some heavy normalization in the mastering process at the time. Personally, I think it sounds great – it’s raw and aggressively in your face! A daring aesthetic that was not very popular with indie music bands at that time.”
Only a mastering engineer who can appreciate this bursting-at-the-seams sound could do justice to the work. Having mastered records for sonic renegades like Sleigh Bells and Matt & Kim, along with plenty of bands influenced by Neutral Milk Hotel’s brand of fuzz-pop, LaPorta was the right choice.
Check out the Neutral Milk Hotel website, and hear some choice cuts as MP3s and buy the box set!And get in touch with Joe LaPorta via www.thelodge.com/mastering.