L.A. GrapevineStarting my second month as Mix's L.A. columnist, I figured it was time to start making the rounds, and despite the current climate, which some in the 6/01/2006 8:00 AM Eastern
Starting my second month as Mix's L.A. columnist, I figured it was time to start making the rounds, and despite the current climate, which some in the business have described as survival-of-the-fittest, I was heartened to find the mood to be upbeat wherever I went.
First, I paid a visit to an old friend — Jeff Greenberg, who has helmed The Village for 11 years, taking the West L.A. landmark from the verge of liquidation to a decade-long period of prosperity that shows no signs of slackening. The studio hosted the Dixie Chicks through much of 2005, from the writing phase onward. “We built a nursery for their babies,” Greenberg says. Other recent clients included Nine Inch Nails, Oasis, the Darkness, Wolfmother, Cassandra Wilson, Dave Sardy (who mixed a Stones single) and Switchfoot with Steve Lillywhite. Among the soundtracks recorded at The Village were the T Bone Burnett-produced smash Walk the Line and the upcoming Omen.
Additionally, the facility has recorded a variety of live shows for KCRW, iTunes and others, with acts including R.E.M., the White Stripes, Yo Yo Ma, the Polyphonic Spree and Ben Harper. The Village now has four studios, three private studios (two of those occupied by producer John Alagia and longtime resident Robbie Robertson) and a top floor containing four more rooms, which were used exclusively by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis for the past three-plus years while they awaited completion of their new Flyte Tyme Productions facility in Santa Monica (see March Mix, Coast to Coast). “It's such a cool combination of artists and residents,” says Greenberg, “and with all this cross-pollination going on, it's becoming kind of a modern-day Brill Building.”
Sound City, where Tom Skeeter has been overseeing things since 1970 (that's gotta be a record for a rock 'n' roll studio), has weathered plenty of music biz ups and downs, and it's still rolling along like a locomotive on the nearby train tracks. According to studio manager Shivaun O'Brien, herself a 15-year Sound City veteran, Ry Cooder has been tracking new material in Studio A, with Don Smith engineering. Greg Fidelman mixed some Johnny Cash tracks for a future release on American/Island Def Jam. Bret Gurewitz was in tracking and mixing Bad Religion bandmate Greg Graffin's solo record for Epitaph, with Pete Martinez engineering. Nick Rasckulincz is producing Casino for Polydor U.K. in Studio B with Paul Figueroa engineering. And Joe Barresi engineered and produced Australia's The Butterfly Effect for Modern Music. What's revealing about this activity is that several of the above-mentioned producers — including Fidelman, Rasckulincz and Barresi — began their careers and learned the ropes as runners at Sound City and still consider it their studio of choice.
Another owner who has continued to prosper in this challenging climate is Ocean Way's Allen Sides, whose facilities in Hollywood and at Sherman Oaks' Record One continue to be booked solid. “The high-end clients are still working,” Sides points out. “In the case of acts like the Stones and Neil Diamond, their core audience guarantees them at least a million in sales; the problem is there are no longer any platforms for artists who are over 40 years of age, and yet they have a vast audience and they're making a fortune touring. But all these guys have to do albums, and budget's not an issue, and the label's not even paying for it — it's them paying for it.” Furthermore, Sides believes the music biz is rebounding. “It's like night and day from where it was two years ago,” he asserts. “I thought the music business as I knew it had ended. It either changes or it goes away, and obviously it is changing.”
In Studio City, Randy Alpert decided to close high-end mix room Scream after more than 18 years — but he isn't leaving the business. Instead, he's shipped all the equipment to a newly built facility on the shore of Merritt Island, Fla. After Alpert shows me some photos, I'm forced to agree that the setting is somewhat more picturesque than the stretch of Ventura Blvd. where the purple-painted building now sits vacant. He explains that A-list mix engineer Mark Endert will use the new room “90 percent of the time,” and he expects fellow radio mix specialist Tom Lord Alge to come up from South Beach to work there as well. “I modeled the room to be exactly like the original Scream,” Alpert says. “I'm also building a place in Hawaii and looking at building another place in Aspen. With things like iChat and ISDN, we can work simultaneously with artists and producers whether they're in a Holiday Inn, on tour in Iowa or on vacation with their families in Madagascar.” Randy will run the show from his home in Calabasas.
Speaking of which, I checked in on activities at Castle Oaks, an architecturally striking three-room facility in the Santa Monica Mountains above Calabasas Village. “We appeal largely to the Calabasas community,” says staff engineer Frankllyn Jones, whose father Frank built Castle Oaks in 1984 and still manages the facility. “There are a lot of local producers and artists who use our place quite a bit. We also do a lot of Foley and post-production — television series for Disney and Comedy Central, and major features as well.” When I spoke to Jones, smooth jazz group Seawind was tracking with engineer Steve Sykes, with the Rippingtons and Russ Freeman due in next. Dave Grusin has also booked some time. “The main room that everyone's tracking in is Studio A, and that's the one that's most consistently booked,” Jones points out. That studio is equipped with a Neve 8038 — “a great old board with really warm, beautiful sound,” according to producer Marshall Altman, who worked at Castle Oaks recently.
On the pro-level residential studio front, it has now been a year and a half since Brad Wood turned the garage of his Valley Village home into a studio and the guest house into his control room. Wood's first project at Seagrass, as he calls it, was Ben Lee's well-received Awake Is the New Sleep for New West, and the latest is with MeWithoutYou, his second project with the buzzing Christian hard-rock quintet. In between, Wood has made constant use of his cozy backyard facility, recording six albums there last year. While all the foot traffic has trampled his lawn, Wood isn't complaining. These projects enabled him to upgrade to a Pro Tools HD 3 Accel system. “I also purchased a really nice Krups coffee maker and electric tea kettle,” Wood points out, “along with new sod for the backyard.”
Jim Scott, one of my go-to guys when I was doing A&R — because he's a skillful, entertaining and confidence-inspiring dude — has opened is own studio in Santa Clarita, equipped with a Neve 8048, two Neve BCM 10s and Pro Tools HD 3, as well as his personal collection of vintage mics, compressors, amps, guitars, drums and keyboards. He's currently mixing and overdubbing there, with plans for a tracking room.
Similarly, while Marshall Altman gets ready to start work on his home studio, he's very pleased with his current situation. “I have a little overdub room at Oasis Mastering, Eddie Schreyer's place on Burbank between Pass and Hollywood Way,” he tells me. “Eddie's busier than ever, I'm doing a ton of work — it's pretty exciting. It's really comfortable and his room sounds amazing. I have a room upstairs with an iso booth and I'm using it just for vocals and guitars.” Altman likes House of Blues and Eldorado for tracking. “Eldorado is a great room in Burbank. Rob Strickland bought it from Gary Gunton. Rob Cavallo's holed up in there right now. Eldo, which is a big gray building smack in the middle of Burbank, is completely the opposite of House of Blues, which is a comfortable, vibey, cool room and away from everything up in the hills of Encino.”
I caught up with my old pal Bruce Duff, who's been bouncing between playing music, producing it and writing about it for longer than he cares to admit — and who for the last several years has been working as the publicist for Hollywood's Knitting Factory. Messiaz, a production team consisting of Duff and Streetwalkin' Cheetah Frank Meyer, is remixing The Old #2, a solo country album from Supersuckers leader Eddie Spaghetti, which he promises will be “beyond hick-hop.” Says Duff: “We work at the illustrious Toneduff Studio, which is in my home. The gear is so modest I hesitate to mention it — a simple Digi 001 Pro Tools system made all the more efficient by a zillion plug-ins and a bunch of old analog effects. The only things we don't record here are the loud rock 'n' roll rhythm sections, which we track at Ton in Redondo Beach. We do everything else right here and it sounds great.”
So, from The Village to Toneduff, people are making music and feeling good about the work they're doing. It would appear that reports of rock 'n' roll's demise have once again been greatly exaggerated.
Send L.A. news to Bud Scoppa: firstname.lastname@example.org.