Re-Starting From Scratch3 DOORS DOWN GUITARIST REBUILDS POST-KATRINA 9/01/2006 8:00 AM Eastern
“Imagine coming home from work to a house that looks like someone stuck it on rinse. All of your furniture's in a big pile; the pictures of your family, your kids, your wedding are all gone. Everything's gone.” That's what 3 Doors Down guitarist Chris Henderson says he came home to after Hurricane Katrina ravaged his rural town of Gautier, Miss. The storm destroyed his home, his recording studio and pretty much everything around him — houses, cars, churches, markets, police stations, entire communities. Henderson lives 22 miles from the Gulf Coast, and one year after the tragedy, the citizens of Gautier continue to pick up the pieces of their lives.
Henderson fared better than many of his neighbors. His family lost nearly all of their possessions, but his wife, four children and two dogs were all unharmed. 3 Doors Down was on tour when the hurricane hit. When Henderson and band (the others hail from nearby Escatawpa) made it back home, he found his house under about five and a half feet of water and his studio eight feet under. He pulled out all of his submerged equipment and let the studio sit for about three months while he tended to the more important task of rebuilding a home for his family.
Because most contractors in the area were booked solid, he undertook the cleanup process and spent at least 12 hours a day for months clearing out debris. Late at night, after everyone else had gone to bed, Henderson trudged out to his studio to dig out mud, power-wash walls and clean it up to a point where the mold wouldn't take over. He opened the doors to let it breathe, and walked away. “It was about a month and a half before I could get back in there and start working on it properly,” he says.
With his home finally in livable condition, Henderson could focus on his home away from home — the project studio he built in 2004, admittedly without much emphasis on the room itself. This time around, he contacted Auralex for help with the acoustics. The company found a way to meet his limited budget (his insurance company didn't cover his studio) and helped him design and build the studio, revising his hand-drawn plans and advising him on construction, room treatments and soundproofing materials.
He used mineral-fiber insulation for soundproofing, Auralex Sheetblok around windows and doors, and room treatment products such as AudioTile, SpaceArray and SpaceCouplers, as well as ProPanel fabric-wrapped acoustical panels and bass traps. He also raised the ceiling in the 24×35-foot main room to 11.5 feet, which helps him get good drum sounds. “It's way more than a project room now. It's an overdub room on steroids,” he says.
The spacious control room centers around Pro Tools HD 3. “I didn't want to sink 50 grand into a console because I was afraid we'd get water again,” says Henderson. For outboard, he acquired Universal Audio 2610 and 8110 mic pre's, two Focusrite ISA 428s and a UA 1176 compressor. He uses a PreSonus M80 for bottom toms and a Central Station for monitoring and talkback.
Equipment manufacturers stepped up to the plate to help Henderson by, at the very least, expediting the shipping process. “I don't know if they felt sorry for me or what, but I really appreciate what they did,” he says. Though he lost most everything, a few microphones survived. “I had a Neumann M147 that survived. It was underwater — salt water — for 18 hours,” says Henderson. “It was wet, but it didn't look damaged, so I put it to the side. I've been singing with it! It's a $3,000 mic; I didn't want to have to buy another one.” He also hung on to a couple of KM184s and a Sennheiser 421. “They didn't look too bad, so I put them in a box and let them sit for about six months,” he says. “I plugged them in, and they worked.”
He also managed to keep 35 of his 37 guitars, with Gibson, Fender and Paul Reed Smith offering free or discounted repair services. “I lost two because we couldn't find them. They sat in the muck for about six months,” Henderson says.
Since completing the studio this past spring, Henderson has produced and recorded hard-rock band Five Bolt Main's Rock Ridge Records debut, followed by Half Down Thomas, a band in development with Rock Ridge. (Henderson's a partner in the label.) He's also recorded tracks for local band Orphan Soul, but he won't charge them a dime. And if other bands from his hometown want to make a record, he won't charge them either right now. “I'm the only studio in my town, so the musicians don't really have a place to get a quality recording without driving to New Orleans or Nashville,” he offers. “I'm doing this gratis because I need to tweak the room and because of all the people who helped me. I'm just doing everything the way that it needs to be done right now.”
Heather Johnson is a Mix contributing editor.