21 November 2005

history, part one

my first exposure to the recording environment came when i was only 13 or 14 years old...there was a bunch of guys in my hometown who had a band, and had built a studio in a small house just a hundred yards or so from the river. i had heard about it on the radio, because the radio station in town was playing a record they'd made there. they had a phone number, so i called them and asked if i could audition to be a studio musician. pretty ballsy for a teenage redneck.

i think they were just humoring me, but they let me come down and play for them. i got a ride into town from my aunt betty and went in, insanely nervous, to do my thing.

i had never seen anything like this place. even to this day, there's a certain smell that i'll encounter every now and then that reminds me of that house, that room, that place...the door opened into the control room, where they'd wired in a teac a-3340 4 track recorded and one of the old model 2 mixers. there were a few outboard things, but i can't remember what they were. likely just some reverb of some sort, maybe compression - i'm guessing based on my memory of what the recordings sounded like.

there was a door on the other side of that room that emptied into a little lobby area with a fridge in it, and a bathroom on the other side of a door that opened out into the studio. there was a largeish room with two booths off of it, and it was all covered in this blue carpeting from floor to ceiling. they had threaded sockets mounted on the ceiling to hold microphone boom arms that had cables hard wired through and back to the patch bay in the control room. they had the same thing in the drum iso booth, where they had a kit already mic'ed up.

i can't really describe what it felt like to sit down there and strap in - put the headphones on and acclimate myself to my surroundings. i didn't even own a proper drum kit at the time, and it felt completely foreign. but the other folks in the house band came in, one by one, and we played through a pair of their original songs after getting levels in the phones and getting everyone mixed in. they flew by....felt like the two shortest songs ever written.

when we'd finished, they were all very nice to me - not the least bit condescending or impatient, and they took my information and told me that if they needed me, they'd call me.

and in fact, they did call me - but not until three years later, when they were looking for a drummer for their band. as it had turned out, the studio was never really a money-making proposition - and maybe was never intended to be. they'd used it mostly for themselves and a band here and there that they were friends with, but that was about it. besides, it's not as though there was a huge clientele of bands or singers in my hometown to cater to. i ended up playing drums with them for almost two years, and we used the studio as a rehearsal space, and actually recorded a demo there - but not much else. our keyboard player, reggie, was the first person to hip me to how to dampen a snare drum to lose the overtones during the recording process. and while playing with them was essentially a live experience, it was still one of the greatest experiences of my youth...i LOVED playing in that band.


fast forward a couple of decades, a portastudio or two, and a short career as a singer-songwriter with an album in the can for a small label to show for it, and i found myself helping my friend blake allen with what was to be his first solo record. after some discussion, blake decided to loan me one of his ADAT recorders - and that i'd work on my parts at home. well, of course, this meant that i needed a mixer - so i jumped on eBay and grabbed one (one that required a drive to long island, but the price was right). i had some other equipment lying around - after all, i'd been recording at home almost perpetually since i'd bought a portastudio while i was in the navy to record my songs with. i'd accumulated a thing or two in the time since those days, but certainly nothing that impressive. at any rate, i was still excited at the prospect of not only helping with blakes' record, but the thought of doing it at home...

i was no stranger to ADATs - my album our mutual angels was cut to the old 16 bit ADAT's in its entirety, and i knew them well enough to be comfortable using them. but, as is typical of us gear addicts, i eventually wanted my own, so i bought one. then, since blake now had two, i had to get another one so that i could record to a slave off a specific master if i chose to. then it was more mics...then outboard gear...then a console. then there were purchases like the one i made as AMES distribution center was going under, when i got all the racks in my studio for roughly $30.00. either way, as blakes' record grew, so did my studio.

the odd thing about this is that i had pretty much sworn off any thought of doing this by this point in my life...my record, our mutual angels, was made in a "proper" studio, with great mics and kickass outboard gear and - well, vibe. i know a lot of guys hate that word by now, but the studio i did my record in had it...in spades. it was a comfortable place to work, with a great engineer and producer who understood my work.

let's face it...i was spoiled.

but by this point in time, even the very gear that my album was made on had come down in price to a point where i could afford it - so all i was really missing was the necessary know-how. and for me, that's never been a prohibitive thing. daunting, maybe, but not prohibitive.

so, here i am, on the third floor of my house in west reading, with an ADAT, a couple of mics, an old RAMSA console, and a few ideas...and oddly enough, i found myself having fun....

so, eventually, i bought my own ADAT and returned blakes' to him...but then he had two, so in order to work on the actual mixes and not comp tapes, i bought another. and after buying another, i needed a console with more inputs - so i found a sound and lighting company in upstate new york that had the twenty channel version of the RAMSA console that i was already comfortable with, and i managed to get it for $300.00. and of course, by now the outboard gear had started to roll in.

the thing that i had that's still my favorite piece of outboard gear is an orban spring reverb - it's the absolute best sounding vocal reverb i've ever used. i love it. i have others - a korg and an art digital among them - but the orban gets the most use in my studio. so i had that...i had a few other rack mount units that i'd collected over time, including my lap steel secret weapon - an intersound IVP preamp. it makes just about any guitar you plug into it sound like God and you never want to use anything else. i have two of them, one in my studio rack and one in my live rack...and i'm always looking for others. the other thing that i'd picked up that i loved enough to have one in each rack was the old ibanez MSP1000 unit - it has a compressor, a graphic eq, and a notch filter in it, each selectable for individual use or patchable, if need be.

when work on the blake record reached full steam, it became obvious that i wasn't going to be able to record guitar at my house the way i really wanted to record guitar at my house...we overcame that obstacle a couple of times by taking road trips to other locations where turning things up wasn't an issue, but i still needed to be able to work at home.

so i took the amp modelling leap.

i bought the line 6 guitar port, and the behringer V-amp. to offset what i predicted would be a somewhat sterile result, i also bought a behringer tube parametric EQ to use as well. the lap steel solo at the end of "into night" on blakes' record is the V-amp into the tube EQ, sans IVP. suffice to say, i think it turned out pretty well.


last spring, when my friend justin decided to move to seattle, he had mentioned to me that he was looking for someone to rent his house...i knew justin as a friend and a fellow musician, and i further knew that justin had a full basement that doubled as a studio, so i dropped by to check the place out. as it turned out, the house was perfect - the basement was, in practice, four rooms...the laundry room in back, the "oil tank room" in front, and two nice-sized rooms in the middle to use for recording.

now, if i said that the option of building the studio was the sole determining factor, i'd be stretching the truth a bit. the fact was, we were completely out of room in the house in west reading. there was no real storage other than the basement, and getting from the steps back to the washer and dryer was already a dangerous proposition. there was no attic, no outside storage, and we were essentially buried in our own shit. i know that retrospect has a tendency to take the edge off things, and we all look back perhaps more fondly than we looked around at a given time, but we had maximized our ability to exist within those walls as much as we were going to, and it was time to move on. i don't think it was a hugely popular decision at the time with the kids, but they didn't offer up enough of a fight over the issue to give me any reason to think that they were adamant about staying in west reading...so we packed and moved.

this was the most difficult move i've ever been through. it took a fullsize cube van and three men two saturdays to do it...and even then, there was stuff left in the house that was trucked over a load at a time over the course of the overlapping month in leases before the old house was empty. it was unreal - i can't overemphasize the sheer quantity of crap that my wife and i owned, between the two of us.

but - we were in. let the settling in begin.


one of the first conversations i had with ina, our next door neighbor, had to do with water and flooding and whether or not she'd ever had any problems with water coming into the basement. i was concerned, for what are probably obvious reasons, about whether or not i'd need to think about this or not, and she assured me that in the years she'd been there, that there'd only been one instance where anyone on the street had any problems like those, and they were due to a clogged storm drain. so i'd had developed a sense of security already, and i hadn't been there quite a month yet.

not a good idea.


i was at work probably not more than a few hours when wendy called to tell me that she'd gone downstairs, just out of curiosity, to see if everything was holding up ok during a particularly heavy rainstorm...and she'd found, much to our mutual dismay, that there was water deep enough in the back room to have completely soaked through the carpet in there, and had started into the front room as well.

needless to say, it was all a huge mess - wendy had to carry as much stuff out of the affected area as she could until i got there, and the carpet took days to dry and longer to clean. readers of the official site blog will recall that this reoccured just a short time ago...but the major difference between the recent occurence and the first one is that i was a lot more prepared for it the second time...the first time i had the Titanic Mentality going on...i thought i was impervious to even the thought of water coming in.

at the point that i found out how wrong i was, i took a number of precautions to make sure that only a total catastrophe would cause any actual loss on my part in the basement...i built a platform shelf to store my albums up off the floor, and double as a guitar shelf. i put thick slabs of wood on the floors in the closets where other guitars were stored as well...in the event that any of this ever happened again. so when the next occurence came about, i was both prepared and expectant - and i was able to minimize the effects (save for what's become known as "the scrotum stain" - a brown, ballsack-shaped pattern left on the carpet by the small puddle of water that did make it out into the room)

i think the first flood really affected my motivation to follow through with the plan of building the studio - i was hot on the heels of doing the lions' share of the work on the blake allen record, and i was eager to start working on other stuff. somehow, though, i let the possibility that something like that could happen again take a lot of the wind out of my sails for a long time.



thankfully, this wouldn't be the case for long.


(coming in part II: remotivation, reconstruction, and seeking a sense of satisfaction...)


12 Comments:

At 11/26/2005 7:59 AM, Anonymous mitch said...

..bouncing back and forth between history, part one & the tv screen...MSNBC recaps of the Kennedys, Camelot and the grim reality that everyone isn't on the same page versus images of a home grown recording studio down Tennessee way...having just read a report in one of the Philly papers, someone swearing JFK's assasination was the product of in-fighting within our government, thinking back to how my mom and dad (he was in the F.B.I. during the Eisenhower years) both shared that belief, that JFK was targeted by intra-government forces.

with the other eye I'm trying to envision the artist's dream of creating, assembling the pieces in pursuit of the higher goals of our species..

add to all that the seemingly dozens of times in the past week that they've aired "Titanic" on various channels...someone always seems to be taking on water...some have too much, while so many others are dying of thirst even as Designer Water is making a big splash in the supermarkets..

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the lucky ones are those who are having fun creating music!

 
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