Big New Studios in the Big Easy

After cutting a record at Dockside Studio in Lafayette, La., engineer/producer/musician Matt Grondin—son of Jack Grondin, one of the original drummers for .38 Special—got the idea to build an ana 7/01/2013 5:00 AM Eastern

The Parlor under construction

The Parlor: Sweet Home New Orleans

After cutting a record at Dockside Studio in Lafayette, La., engineer/producer/musician Matt Grondin—son of Jack Grondin, one of the original drummers for .38 Special—got the idea to build an analog, vintage, Neve-based studio closer to home in New Orleans. It didn’t take him long to act; he’s now co-owner of The Parlor in the Irish Channel section of town.

“Dockside has the best vibe and is beautiful and remote, but unfortunately, it’s a three-hour drive from New Orleans,” Grondin says. “It’s one of the few Neve rooms in this area, and I thought, ‘We could do a true large-format Neve room in New Orleans.’ There are none. So I approached my mom about being a partner and co-financier on this project, and after much reluctance and hesitation, she jumped onboard.”

Grondin’s mother, now co-owner and CEO of The Parlor, is no stranger to the music biz; she’s Judy Van Zant, wife of the late Lynyrd Skynyrd legend Ronnie Van Zant. “She’s an entrepreneur in several areas of the music business, from festival promoting to owning a live music venue,” Grondin says. “Royalties from Ronnie’s songs have greatly supported making The Parlor a reality, and in some ways is our continuation of what he started, albeit in some drastically different genres. Between her resources and connections with talent booking, and my gear and affiliations with a large number of bands, the new studio actually seemed like something that could be a success.”

Design is being done by Dave Mattingly, who was the construction foreman for the Blackbird Studios build in Nashville. Local builder David Devillier is the general contractor and has helped steer the ship back on course after a couple of delays.

Grondin and chief engineer Eric Heigle have pressed forward with recording and mixing, setting up a makeshift studio in the completed lounge and offices of The Parlor. “When I moved out of my house, all my gear got put in storage while the studio was under construction,” Grondin says. “We hit a really long lag at one point of six months waiting for the city to issue permits—don’t get me started on that one. One day Ian Neville and I decided to throw together a temporary rig in the office space to do some editing and mixing for the group he plays with, Dumpstaphunk. It actually worked out pretty well in the space, and not too much longer, Eric was bringing bands in there to cut live-band studio albums. Our clients have been willing to accommodate the shortcomings, mostly because playback sounds great, and also we both look at it as building future relationships for the big space once it’s done.”

When finished, The Parlor will be a 3,000-square-foot facility, stocked with a ton of vintage gear. “I love old equipment,” Grondin says. “Our console will be a vintage Neve 8078, fully restored by Vintage King Audio. We are cutting everything through our Studer A800, completely rebuilt by Steve Smith in Nashville, using CLASP to interface with Pro Tools HDX.” Grondin already has plans for expansion. “We definitely plan on expanding into other areas of the warehouse if things go really well,” Grondin says. “I’d love to do a B room with an API console.”

Esplanade studio

Esplanade Studios: Holy Conversion, Batman!

Meanwhile, over in the heart of the historic neighborhood Tremé, Esplanade Studios recently opened its doors as the largest recording studio in Louisiana, with a focus on sound scoring. The 14,000-square-foot structure—formally a 1920s church, in Gothic revival style—has been completely restored and renovated, with high-end recording in mind.

The highlight of the church is its large pipe organ, donated by billionaire philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie as a gesture to the community in support of the arts. According to studio owner and lead engineer Misha Kachkachishvili, plans are under way to restore the organ to full working status through the use of Federal grants in 2014.

“I fell in love with this special building and knew it was where I needed to relocate my studio,” Kachkachishvili says. “The original ‘welcome’ sign that greeted the congregation in the past is lit once again today.”

Esplanade organ

Designed in-house, the building consists of three studios: Studio A has a 3,400-square-foot live room with 30-foot ceilings, able to accommodate up to a 70-piece orchestra; four isolated rooms; and two amp rooms in full view. This space features a Steinway B piano. The control room—once an upstairs choir loft—has been converted into a 1,500-square-foot chamber, featuring a fifth iso room and is home to the 1970s Trident TSM console that once resided in A&M Studios in Los Angeles. The studio also features a large collection of vintage and modern microphones, outboard gear and instruments.

Studio B, to be completed by end of year, is targeted at mixing, mastering and overdubbing, and has an iso booth for voice-overs. Studio C is a private studio for composer Jay Weigel, who is currently working on film scores. There is an additional 3,000-square-foot space downstairs allowing for special recording projects, including live or private concerts, with an anticipated opening date in 2014.

Kachkachishvili sums up the philosophy behind Esplanade Studios: “Our goal is simple,” he says. “To make the best-sounding music possible. We are focused on the success of New Orleans as a major destination for sound scoring for years to come.”

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