Recording

L.A. Grapevine, February 2009

Read Mix Los Angeles columnist Bud Scoppa interview with recording studio Sanctum L.A. owners Leo Mellace and Steve Catizone 2/01/2009 7:00 AM Eastern

Verdeen White of Earth, Wind & Fire with Sanctum owners Leo Mellace and Steve Catizone

Since 1999, Leo Mellace (pronounced Mell-ACH-eh) and Steve Catizone have been building their rep as a songwriting/production team while also operating Boston's Sanctum Sound. Just over a year ago, the two Boston natives expanded their operation, setting up Sanctum L.A. on the Westside in partnership with Bennett Productions, while retaining the Boston site. The existing space had been designed for voice-overs and post-production, with a tracking room in the center surrounded by three control rooms. The setup turned out to be perfect for Mellace and Catizone, who tend to have a lot going on at any given moment.

On the day I visited, veteran engineer Gary Lux was in Studio C mixing a live show to 5.1 on an ICON D-Control, a Bennett crew was shooting a TV project in B (which boasts a D-Command) and the partners were sequestered in A, working up material for an upcoming solo project from Extreme frontman Gary Cherone, switching off between a C/24 and a PowerMac G5. The A room is intimate and inviting; two of the walls are covered by red-velvet drapes, with fanciful paintings here and there and similarly stylized brush strokes accenting the windows looking into the adjacent tracking room and iso booth.

Once they took the plunge, it didn't take long for Mellace and Catizone to acclimate themselves to the West Coast. “We're living in Westlake Village,” says Catizone, “and we drive to work through a canyon that empties you out at the beach. What's not to like?”

At first, the partners were spending an average of four or five days a month back in Boston, but they plan to cut down on the cross-country travel this year. “The people that crab about the West Coast are either being lied to or it's a conspiracy,” Mellace quips. “The West Coast is where you should live — it's beautiful here. We're so East Coast, but we're tryin' to adopt that L.A. cool.”

Mellace and Catizone don't need to wear Celtics jerseys or Red Sox caps to exude the gritty vitality of their hometown — and that's precisely what makes them such a breath of fresh air in this laid-back environment. These guys are driven and talented.

“We do production and songwriting — that's what drives us,” Mellace says emphatically. “That's why we've been able to have a studio for 10 years. We never wanted to be studio owners; it's just a place where we work.”

Catizone picks up the thought: “We added a couple of pieces here and there, and before we knew it people wanted to come in and work. So we've invested in what we do, as opposed to what some engineer told us we might need.”

Back to Mellace: “What makes us different from most studios is, if you go to a bigger studio, you basically get a beautiful room, all the amenities, nice flavored coffee and an assistant. With us, you get two great sets of ears and some great musicians willing to lend a hand if it's needed on the session. We just want to be a part of making that situation better. Whether we get five grand or 50 grand, we put the same effort in. What we've done is, we've made it affordable for you to get the whole package for the studio expense.”

Their willingness to do whatever it takes to optimize a project has born fruit in a number of instances. In recent months, they've cut albums or tracks with Godsmack frontman Sully Erna, R&B singer JoJo — both signed to Universal Records — and Norwegian artist Siri Stranger, who's signed to Wyclef Jean's label. They made a Christmas album with Earth, Wind & Fire, which was recorded and mixed in two weeks flat, with all three rooms going full-time. They also contributed a couple of tracks to an upcoming solo album from the Pussycat Dolls' Carmit Bachar, and they're producing an intriguing new artist named Ma'ayan Castel, working with A-list engineer Rich Trevali (Robin Thicke, Gwen Stefani), drummer Charles Haynes (Me'shell Ndegéocello, Kanye West) and keyboardist Steve Hunt (Allan Holdsworth, Stanley Clarke).

Depending on the budget, the partners do whatever it takes to get the job done. For example, they tracked Stranger's album at New York's Magic Shop on a vintage Neve, cut the vocals and did the edits at their “spot,” as Mellace refers to it, and mixed at Wyclef Jean's Platinum Sound on an SSL.

“Other budgets wouldn't allow for all that,” says Mellace, “so on those it would be all in the box. We're comfortable in Pro Tools; we cut our teeth on it and we work this format every day.”

Tracks from some of these recordings, as well as a couple of cool demos they co-wrote and worked up with Cherone, are streaming on sanctumsound.com, a well-designed site with tons of info on both of the partners' facilities.

“I'm an old-school guy at heart,” says Mellace. “I love talking to people like Rose Cherney and Jeff Greenberg — their stories and history are incredible, and I have so much respect for them. We'd like to be a part of what they do and bring what we do to enhance what they've created, not take away from it.

“This is a story still in development,” he continues. “We're trying to have a spot where we can do a lot of things for artists. We just need to get the word out.”

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January

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February

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March