Recording

L.A. Grapevine

What was formerly The Lighthouse in the Valley Village section of North Hollywood has reopened as BAY 7. On a recent visit, I found engineer/producer 1/01/1999 7:00 AM Eastern

What was formerly The Lighthouse in the Valley Village section ofNorth Hollywood has reopened as BAY 7. On a recent visit, I foundengineer/producer Joe Barresi ensconced in Studio A overdubbing on theNeve 8058 console with Hollywood Records rockers Loudmouth. Studio Ahas been enlarged-the back wall was moved back a few feet by BAY 7owners Dave Rouze and Jeff Sheehan, leaving plenty of room forBarresi's "overdub package" of equipment, along with his largecollection of Spice Girls (!?) memorabilia.

Barresi, a guitar player whose engineering credits include L7, TheMelvins, Jesus Lizard, Hole and Weezer, admits to having that highlycontagious audio disease whose main symptoms include an insatiabledesire to accumulate amplifiers, stomp box-es and esoteric outboard."It helps to have my stuff here," he says. "In this case, the bandbrought their main equipment with them, but having my gear availablesaves on rentals and also helps me get sounds I like; instead of usinga cabinet that's been on the road for two years, we have one that'sjust been reconed."

Barresi has been co-producing with Loudmouth drummer John Sullivanand describes the band as "kind of like Deep Purple, Zeppelin, Guns N'Roses and Black Sabbath all rolled into one." Basic tracks for therecord were cut at Ocean Way's Studio One with Allen Sides engineering,then the project settled into BAY 7, where Barresi, a Sound Cityalumnus and a definite vintage Neve aficionado, seems quite content."This room used to be kind of claustrophobic, but widening the controlroom made a big difference," he comments. "The band digs it here-wehave our own separate area, and they like the vibe. Also, the staff isexcellent: They're always around when you need them-if you want coffee,that refill is right in your hand."

A quick view of Barresi's outboard stack shows an internationaltheme: a Sontec EQ ("on the stereo bus") and a Russian-made Sovtekhead-"a good-sounding bass amp," he says. "Often I'll take the bass offtape and re-amp it through the Sovtek. At first people thought I wascrazy, but this thing runs 12 hours a day for weeks at a time and itstill sounds great." Down the line is a German-made Palmer speakersimulator with controls for deep, flat, bright, normal and mellow ("itgives a good combination of cabinets and sounds really natural"), anEdison stereo imager and a rack of British-made Helios modules. "That'swhat's left of my circa-1968 Helios console," Barresi laughs, "the kindof board early Stones and Zeppelin records were cut on. It cost a lotto refurbish, but the preamps are great." Nearing the end of the row ofboxes we find Geoffrey Daking preamp/EQs ("beautiful, with amazing topend, kind of a Trident A-Range equivalent-he also makes compressorsthat I'd like to pick up"), a Mutator, an RCA BA6A enhanced with SpiceGirls stickers and some Valley People Dynamites.

"We've actually stripped it down quite a bit," Barresi says of theguitars on the Loudmouth project. "Normally I'd use multiple amps andcabinets, but we're going for more of a '70s old-school guitar soundwith a sameness in tone throughout the record. It's pretty much justguitar straight into a head, one cabinet, done. On a lot of trackswe're using an amp that's been out for about two years called aNaylor-it's handmade in Detroit, and it's pretty spectacular. Betweenthat and the 50-watt Marshall, we're just about covered."

The band and Barresi keep their options open nevertheless-out in thestudio plenty of stacks are at-the-ready, from an Acoustic 360 bass rigfor that "John Paul Jones" sound and guitar equipment including a1968-69 100-watt PlexiLaney to heads from Sound City, Selmer, Soldanoand a real beauty, a classic, turquoise, 1950s Class A WatkinsDominator.

Barresi also keeps handy a trunk that holds his collection ofapproximately 150 guitar pedals, with his newest acquisition being thetiny Woolly Mammoth built by Z-vex. "Z-vex boxes are all handmade,hand-painted and signed," Barresi explains. "You call up and order whatyou want, and in a couple of weeks it appears in your mailbox." TheWoolly Mammoth controls consist of pinch, roll, EQ and output-otherZ-vex items include the Fuzz Factory and, Barresi's favorite, theSeekwah, a psychedelic little gem that filters and arpeggiates, sort oflike a tremolo-enhanced wah-wah pedal.

In that trunk you'll also find Lovetones' boxes with names likeDoppelganger, Big Cheese and Meatball. "I use pedals for mixing aswell," continues Barresi. "My friend Jonathan Little, who works forConway, built something called the PCP (Professional to Cheesy Pedal)interface that I use all the time. It's a three-way re-amp box withlevel control, phase switches and a combiner, so you can take anythingoff tape, combine it and change levels. It also has a built-in DI, andit's purple with green lights-it looks very cool."

We could have gone on delving into that roadcase of esoterictreasures, but Barresi had to get back to work-I did catch a glimpse ofa couple of "salt shaker" microphones that he swears are from the U.N.and sound great on bass drums...

On the way out I stopped for a chat in Studio B with BAY 7 co-ownerJeff Sheehan, an engineer whose credits include Counting Crows,Nirvana, L7 and the Texas Tornadoes. It turns out BAY 7 came about whenSheehan and Rolling Stones tech Dave Rouze hooked up and discovered acommon interest in recording and equipment.

"Dave had a studio at his house that I started working in andeventually ended up running for him while he was on the road," Sheehansays. "We'd both been accumulating gear and keeping a lot of it instorage, and somehow it became a logical extension that we would open astudio. We started looking around, and this place had a greatlocation-it's right off both the Hollywood and the 101 freeways andless than half a mile from Ventura Boulevard, with plenty of parkingand lots of restaurants nearby that deliver. For many people, it's veryconvenient."

The two-room facility is now equipped with vintage Neves in bothrooms. Studio A's desk features a Class A 8058 28x16x28 that has 52-inmonitoring capability and tape machines that include a Studer A800MkIII, an MCI JH-16/24 and an Ampex ATR 102 half-inch deck. Themonitors remain as they were at Lighthouse-a George Augspurgerthree-way system with JBL components-and there's plenty of outboard,from a Fairchild 670 to dbx 165 and 160xs to LA-2s and LA-2As, Langsand Pultecs. There's also a 9-foot concert grand piano.

The spacious control room of Studio B houses a custom combinationNeve 8038 with Flying Faders that is owned by producer and BAY 7 friendDon Was, who previously had it in an, obviously, large room in hishouse. Made up of two consoles combined by Neve guru Pat Schneider andequipped with 48 custom blackface Flying Faders, the board boasts 80inputs. Although there is a 9x9-foot recording booth, Studio B is setup for mixing, with two Studer A800 MkIIIs, an Ampex ATR 104 and customtwo-way main monitors with TAD components. Outboard includes dbx,Fairchild, Alan Smart, SSL, Trident, Focusrite, GML and lots more.

Although open for only three months on the day I visited, BAY 7 hadalready been host to mixes for PolyGram artist DJ Hive, RCA/KneelingElephant's Fly, and the Tom Werman-produced rockers Supersuckers."Everybody who's been in so far is a friend, or a friend of a friend,"Sheehan says. "We've been lucky, and we've had great word of mouth.I've worked in a lot of studios, and we're putting that experience towork here in trying to create a comfortable environment with greatequipment. We're really eager to please, and I think that comes acrossto our clients."

Over at A&M Studios, engineer Marc DeSisto was just finishing upsome mixing for Melissa Etheridge's upcoming release. The album(recorded at both A&M and Sunset Sound, with the bulk of the mixingdone in A&M's SSL E Series-equipped Mix Room) was produced byEtheridge with guitarist/songwriter John Shanks, and was DeSisto'sfirst project with the husky-voiced singer.

A Boston native, DeSisto is an all-around audio type who doesremotes and live sound as well as studio recording. He has worked withDon Henley, Mark Knopfler, Joe Cocker, John Mellencamp, The Samples andMelanie Doane, and he was brought onto the Etheridge project byco-producer Shanks.

"John, who is Melissa's longtime guitarist, and I had workedtogether previously on a few records," explains DeSisto. "When hestarted co-producing with Melissa at A&M, they were working inStudio B, which I know like the back of my hand, so they called me into help out. The studio was totally jammed with equipment, withsomething like 60 guitars and hardly an inch of space to walk betweenthem! We had Kenny Aronoff on drums, who has also played with Melissafor a long time, Pino Paladino on bass, and John and Melissa on guitar.I brought in my M149 to try on Melissa's vocal, and she liked the soundof it a lot. Then we got rolling and things went pretty fast; we cutbasics for 12 songs in a week, with Melissa singing and playing guitar.It was great-Melissa's live performances, both singing and playing,were truly amazing."

The show moved on to Sunset Sound for overdubs, including keyboardswith Patrick Warren on Chamberlin and The Wallflowers' Rami Jaffee onB3 and other assorted keys. More basics were also cut at Sunset withSteve Ferone on drums.

"We did things differently for different songs, with quite a bit ofexperimentation," continues DeSisto. "Some of the tracks, instead ofbeing cut with the whole band, started with a loop, acoustic guitar andvocal, and were built up from that. Another fun thing we did foreffects was to record a few things with the performers actually playingin the live chamber at Sunset Sound."

The Etheridge album was recorded to analog tape, using BASF 900 atplus 5. "I've become a big BASF fan," DeSisto says. "It was actually atip from Joe Chiccarelli and some of my other friends to try it. I'vefound it to be exceptionally quiet, with a wonderful range from bottomto top. It's got a nice warmth to it, but it doesn't alter the sound,and it was great for this record, where a lot of our tones came fromvintage guitars and amps. We used very little EQ on our guitars,relying instead on different combinations of pickups, guitars, amps-itreally seems that when you're not using much EQ, sounds find theirplace in the track more easily. Both John and Melissa are bigcollectors of amps and guitars and are fanatics about pedals, so we hada lot to choose from. We used a Fender Bassman, Fender Deluxes, aTremolux and also a new amp we had a lot of luck with called TopHat-theTopHat really screams.

"A real convenience in working with all those amps was that we had aguitar amp switcher that [guitar tech] Brett Allen brought in," DeSistoadds. "We could switch between six amps and have various combinationson at the same time; so, instead of having to go out into the studio tochange things, we could leave everything set up. That made things cometogether pretty quick. Having Brett there to look after guitars was awonderful thing in general-it makes such a difference in things likesustain when the guitars are intonated properly."

The basic guitar setups included SM57 microphones, Pultec EQs andeither a Fairchild, 1176 or Universal Audio compressor. "The UniversalAudio has a very unique tone," DeSisto says. "Just don't look at themeter while you're using it!"

DeSisto, who has been an independent for nine years, cut hisengineering teeth at A&M, both as an assistant and as a firstengineer, and he credits that training for a lot of his work habitsthese days. "I was really fortunate to get to work on so many reallygreat records there," he says, "like Pink Floyd's Momentary Lapse ofReason, and with Robbie Robertson, Tom Petty, Pat Benatar...people whowere into doing it until it was right. I spent a lot of time with bothShelly Yakus and with Jimmy Iovine, who paid me the great compliment ofhaving me do some engineering on U2's Rattle and Hum.

"Part of my A&M training that has really paid off is the habitof taking lots of notes-I'm kind of a fanatic about that. At A&M,when Jimmy Iovine wanted Bono's SM58 I knew which one it was, and onthis project we also did that a lot. We kept notations on mics, serialnumbers on amps, preamp combinations, fader positions-everything-so wecould get back to a sound we liked if we needed to. We recorded a lotof songs, and it's really quite a record. Working with Melissa and suchincredible musicians was an outstanding experience. Although there willbe several mixers on the final record, I feel very fortunate that I'llget to be one of them."