Recording

Gregory Town Sound | Mix March 2010 Cover

ANALOG HEAVEN ON THE BEACH 3/01/2010 7:00 AM Eastern

Lenny Kravitz's personal studio is built 100 feet from the beach on Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas, a 110-mile-long sliver of land 50 miles east of Nassau. “I've always loved my roots,” says Kravitz. “My grandfather was born on an island called Ingua, the most southern Bahamian island closest to Cuba. My parents used to send me down here for summers; we'd come here for Christmas and holidays.”

Lenny Kravitz seated in the Helios room with the REDD 37 at top-left.




























As if locating the studio in a Caribbean paradise wasn't enough, Kravitz stocked it with a dream collection of gear collected throughout his career. From the start, Kravitz always knew the sound he was going for, which started his analog love affair. “I started recording at [Henry Hirsch's] Waterfront in 1985 or '86, and I knew I wanted to make a certain kind of record,” Kravitz remembers. “I saw the way technology was going in the late '80s. Records were sounding very processed — it was all about those big gated drums and everything sounding unnatural; in some cases, it was cool for different artists, but it didn't work for me. I knew I wanted an intimate-sounding album.” Through his association with Hirsch over a number of albums, Kravitz would be introduced to and then buy the gear that created his desired sounds.

Gregory Town Sound started as a garage built by Kravitz to protect some of his belongings during hurricane season. It is a ranch-style concrete structure poured in place with a cantilevered roof. “It's the most amazing studio that I've worked in, and it has the gear I've been collecting for 20 years,” says Kravitz. “It's an incredible place to be creative.” Also being an interior and furniture designer, Kravitz started with an aesthetic in mind and then brought in Miami-based acoustician and designer Ross Alexander, who has been doing studio integration and design since 1981. “What I do is put on paper what I want: Wood here, cork there, do this and that,” says Kravitz. “Then Ross does his mathematical measurements and tells me what I can and cannot do. From there, I can go forward with that design or change out a specific material so I'll get the sound I want.”

The building is 1,800 square feet with a 400-square-foot control room and 600-square-foot studio, in addition to a bathroom, lobby, machine room and an air-conditioning closet. “The concrete deck was almost 12 feet and we had beams below, so we were able to get the ceiling heights we wanted,” says Alexander, whose design philosophy is to start optimizing the room dimensions within the restrictions of the space offered. He uses a computer program to look at the normal modes and finds certain ratios that will work. “To me dimensions are very important,” Alexander explains. “If you have a poorly dimensioned room, you'll be fighting trying to fix it all the way down the line.” Alexander then employed Miami's Acoustical Components, which custom-built all the treatments to his specs. The control room and studio were built with Kravitz's style of recording in mind. “He can actually set up two drum kits out there so he can switch back and forth,” says Alexander about the studio that has a large window facing the water and houses a baby grand piano, a number of guitar amps and other instruments.

Alexander realized that power would be a major consideration. “We needed an extensive power system because the Bahamas' electric is not terribly reliable,” he says. “Power is 120/60 nominally, but for tech power we're using a Tripp Lite online UPS system that generates the electricity. We just use the incoming electricity to charge a battery.” All power goes through an Equitek balanced power system and there is an automatic transfer switch so if anything gets out too high or low, the studio still has lights and A/C.

Two packed racks sit at the back of the main room.

Two packed racks sit at the back of the main room.

Apart from its idyllic location and optimal design, it's the gear that shines at Gregory Town Sound, where vintage signal flow is king. It starts with an all-star array of mics from Schoeps, Neumann, Coles, AEA, Sennheiser, Telefunken, Shure, AKG and more. All can be recorded through the studio's wrap-around Helios console or an EMI-designed REDD 37 once owned by Abbey Road and used in Studio 1. “The Helios was Henry's choice,” says studio manager, gear and guitar tech Alex Alvarez about Hirsch's positive influence in Kravitz's gear-buying decisions.

“[Kravitz] purchased a Helios and was trying to go after more of a Stones and Zeppelin sound. That started off around the Circus album when we went that route.” After the Circus album, Kravitz sold the console and bought a strawberry-red Helios from 10cc, which had some key components missing and ended up being racked for optimal use. Kravitz bought the current Helios at Gregory Town Sound from Leon Russell about seven years ago. It sat for two years in a locker and then was refitted by tech Dave Amels before it came to the Bahamas. The REDD 37 was purchased 18 years ago by Kravitz, who was urged to make the leap by Hirsch. “Lenny had to take every dime he just made,” says Alvarez. “He hadn't sold a million albums yet and he took a chance at it.”

Other vintage gear is housed in the racks and includes EQ and dynamics processors from API, Fairchild, EMI, RCA, Universal Audio and Retro. (For a complete list of Lenny's gear, visit mixonline.com.) Speakers are ATC SCM200 ASL and B&W Nautilus 805 monitors, among others. The studio also has a collection of analog multitrack machines including a Studer C37 2-track, a J37 4-track once owned by Abbey Road, an 827A 24-track and an A-80 2-track, as well as a 3M M79 with 16-track headstack. There is also a Pro Tools system with Apogee converters clocked by Antelope Audio.

The newest piece of gear is Endless Analog's Closed Loop Analog Processor (CLASP), which ties the analog recorders and Pro Tools together. “We have five machines now in the studio,” notes Alvarez. “Three machines are dedicated to CLASP, the other two are for delay effects.” Kravitz likes CLASP because he can use his tape machines as he would an effect, jumping between tape speeds and machines. “I can say I'm going to record the drums through the 3M, or take my vocal and go through the Studer or the EMI. I get to pick and choose track by track, and then I'm in Pro Tools through my converters. I've finally got the best of both worlds.” CLASP stores setups for three machines, and CLASP creator Chris Estes is custom-designing an accessory for Kravitz that relay switches between his three machines with the click of the mouse.

Apart from Alvarez (who wears many hats at the studio and on the road), the rest of the team at the studio includes engineer T-Bone Edmonds and guitarist and Pro Tools operator Craig Ross. When asked about workflow, Edmonds says, “We mix as we go. As it comes in, Lenny will say I love that or this needs a little bit more top or bottom. Once it's gone through CLASP through whichever tape machine we use and into Pro Tools, Craig does whatever editing and manipulation has to happen. We'll add a plug-in here or a plug-in there, but normally if we want to change something, we'll take it back out of Pro Tools and run it through what I call the ‘Juke Box,’ which is my playback system in the Helios. I'll EQ it, maybe run it through a Fairchild depending on what it is I'm trying to do and then send it back to Pro Tools. It's really a team effort between, Craig, Alex, myself and Lenny.”

As for what's ahead, Kravitz spoke about going to the Oscars and upcoming projects, including a world tour to support his current album in progress, Negrophilia. “I did this movie called Precious, I'm doing another film this spring with Lee Daniels and I'm doing a photography show in Europe this year.” For now, Kravitz couldn't be more at home in the Bahamas. “I'm finding that I'm able to get all the sounds I'm looking for. I owe that to Ross Alexander who did an amazing job on the room. The flow of the writing is going well out here: Being in the middle of nowhere, living a simple life is conducive to writing.”

Kevin Becka is Mix's technical editor.


Consoles

Custom Helios Console (Previously Owned By Leon Russell)
EMI Redd37 Console (Previously Owned By Abbey Road Studios)

Monitors

Altec 604E Duplex Monitor
ATC SCM200 ASL Monitors
B&W Nautilus 805 Monitors
Realistic 40-1079 Monitors
Yamaha NS-10M Monitors

Recording System

Antelope 10M Rubidium Word Clock
Antelope Trinity Word Clock
Apogee AD16X Converters (2)
Apogee DA16X Converters (2)
Endless Analog CLASP Analog Tape Interface
Macintosh Pro 2.26 GHz Quad Core Intel Xenon Computer
Pro Tools HD3 System

Tape Machines

Studer C37 (1/4-inch 2-Track)
Studer J37 (1-inch 4-Track) (Previously Owned By Abbey Roads Studios)
Studer A-80 (1/2-inch 2-Track)
Studer 827A (2-inch 24-Track)
3M M79 (2-inch 24 Track With 16-Track Headstack)

Micrphone Preamplifiers

Amels Audio Custom Mic Pre's (2)
API 205L Mic Pre's (4)
API 512B Mic Pre's (2)
Helios Olympic Studios Mic Pre's (8)
Pultec Mavec Mic Pre
Redd 47 Mic Pre's (6)
Relios A9031 Pre's (2)
Relios A9033 Pre's (2)

Equalizers

API 550B EQ (2)
EMI TG12412 EQ (2)
GML Model 8200 Parametric EQ
Millennia NSEQ-2 (4)
Pultec EQP-1A (2)
Pultec EQH-2
RCA Mastering EQ
Sontec MEP 250EX Parametric EQ
Sphere EQ (2)
WSW EQ (6)

Dynamic Processors

Altec/EMI Type RS124 Compressor (2)
API 525 Compressor/Limiter (2)
API 225L Gate/Limiter (8)
Chandler TG 12413 Zener Limiter
DBX 160 Compressor/Limiter (2)
EMI TG12413 Limiter (2)
EMI TG12414 Filter (2)
Faichild Model 660 Compressor (2)
Focusrite Blue 230 Limiter
NTP 179-120 Limiter (8)
RCA BA-6A Leveling Amplifier
Retro Sta-Level Limiting Amplifier
Teletronix LA2 Leveling Amplifier (2)
Teletronix LA2A Leveling Amplifier (2)
Universal Audio LA-3A Leveling Amplifier (2)
Universal Audio 175-B Limiting Amplifier
Urie 1176LN Peak Limiter
Waves L2 Master Limiter

Effects

Binson Echorec 2
EMT 140 Reverb Plate
Eventide DSO 4000 Ultra Harmonizer
Fulltone Tube Tape Echo
Lexicon 960L Digital Effects System
Little Labs IPB Phase Alignment Tool (4)
RCL Electronics CV 571 Spring Reverb
Roland SDD-320 Dimension D

Microphones

AEA R44 Ribbon Microphone
AKG C12 Condenser Microphones (2)
AKG C12A Condenser Microphone
AKG 28 Small Condenser Microphones (2)
AKG C61 Small Condenser Microphones (2)
AKG D19 Dynamic Microphones (4)
AKG D20 Dynamic Microphone
AKG D25 Dynamic Microphone
AKG D112 Dynamic Microphones (2)
Beyer Dynamic M201NC Dynamic Microphones (2)
Brauner VM1 Klaus Heyne Edition Condenser Microphone
Coles 4038 Ribbon Microphones (4)
Elam M251 Condenser Microphone
Electro Voice RE20 Dynamic Microphones (3)
Electro Voice 664 Dynamic Microphones (2)
Korby Audio Condenser Microphone
Neumann U47 Condenser Microphones (2)
Neumann U67 Condenser Microphone
Neumann U87 Condenser Microphones (2)
Neumann M269 Condenser Microphone
Neumann KM254C Small Condenser Microphones (2)
Neumann KM56 Small Condenser Microphones (2)
Neumann KM84 Small Condenser Microphones (2)
Neumann KM184 Small Condenser Microphones (2)
Neumann TLM103 Condenser Microphone
Neumann TLM170R Condenser Microphone
Sennheiser K6C Shotgun Microphone
Sennheiser 421 Dynamic Microphones (6)
Sennheiser 441 Dynamic Microphone
Shure SM57 Dynamic Microphones (8)
Shure SM87 Condenser Microphone
Schoeps M222 Small Condenser Microphones (2)
Sony C38B Condenser Microphones (2)
Sony C107 Condenser Microphones (2)
Sony C800G Condenser Microphones (2)
Telefunken U47 Condenser Microphone
RCA 77 Ribbon Microphone
RCA KU3A Ribbon Microphone

Other Equipment

ATC P4 Power Amplifiers (2)
BSS FDS 334T Loudspeaker Management System
Bryston BP6 Preamplifier
Bryston 3B SST 2 Pro Power Amplifiers (2)
DK Audio MSD 200 Stereo Meter
Equi=Tech 5WQ Balance Power Wall System
Macintosh MC2300 Power Amplifier
Tascam CD-01U Pro CD Player
Trip-Lite Smart Online UPS
Quantegy GP9 Grand Master 1/4-inch, 1/2-inch, 1-inch and 2-inch Tape Stock