Hundreds of hardcore, punk and metal bands have fueled Big Blue Meenie Recording Studios since its inception a decade ago in the basement of co-owner Tim Gilles' Hackensack, N.J., house. Who knew that the product of all that blood, sweat and beer would move into the former Quantum Studios in Jersey City, a studio built on, as Gilles puts it, "Madonna money"?
Gilles and his partners-his wife, Julie, Tom Aldi and Joe Mahoney-simply knew a good deal when they saw it last year. "[Jazz guitarist, songwriter and early Madonna producer] Reggie Lucas, the guy who built it, made it a labor of love," Gilles says. "He spent a lot of time and energy putting it together. It had great iso control rooms, great spaces. It was in a state of extreme dilapidation when we got here-[Lucas] quit in the middle of '94. But the place has a huge history."
Housed in an old chandelier factory next to Washington Park, the 9,000-square-foot studio has been a part of the half-Little Italy, half-Little Latin America neighborhood (about 14 blocks from both the Lincoln and Holland tunnels) since the mid-'80s. Some of the R&B, rap and dance Gold and Platinum records recorded at the space are still in Julie Gilles' office. Those include discs by INXS, Pet Shop Boys, Jodeci, Guy and Queen Latifah, as well as a slew by groups such as Helmet and Rage Against the Machine, which were mixed there by Andy Wallace.
But since Blue Meenie consolidated its three facilities and officially opened at the new locale in July with the installation of its biggest desk, an Amek 9098i, quite a different sound has been emanating from studio's three control rooms. Agnostic Front recently put the finishing touches on their new Epitaph release, Riot, Riot Upstart, with Rancid guitarist Lars Frederiksen producing and Gilles engineering. S.O.D. (Stormtroopers of Death) recorded two new songs for the upcoming re-release of its Platinum record, Speak English or Die, with house engineer Dan Iannazzelli and mixer Vincent Wojno. And Anthrax worked with Iannazzelli on a cover of The Temptations' "Ball of Confusion" for a compilation.
"Reggie ran a sound hotel, a studio for hire," says Gilles. "Now we do the majority of work, myself and the staff [which includes engineers Iannazzelli, Jason Kanter and Mike Ward and producers Sal Villanueva, Billy Milano (of S.O.D.) and Roger Miret (of Agnostic Front)]. The vast majority is for good-sized indie labels like Epitaph, Century Media and Roadrunner. The whole concept is that we'd be able to provide the same quality and services of a much, much bigger, expensive Manhattan studio for folks that are making mid-sized-budget records."
Gilles started the business with about $2,000 worth of gear, as a 4-track project studio for his rock 'n' roll band. "We always say this is the world's biggest project studio. This is a project studio run amok," he says with a laugh. "I've been able to build the business up by doing an enormous volume of records for small record labels."
Now the studio is worth about $2 million, Gilles says, and includes his own mastering outfit, Surgical Sound, on the building's second floor. Big Blue Meenie's recorders include two Sony/MCI JH-24H 24-tracks, an AS Zeta III with remote, a Fostex RD-8, Ampex ATR-102 2-track and 350 tube 2-track, and Panasonic SV-3800 DATs. UREI 813, Genelec 1031A and Yamaha NS-10 monitors can be found in Studio A. The Pro Tools 4.0 system is loaded with plug-ins.
An extensive selection of outboard gear includes Amek/Neve 9098 CLs; UREI 1176LN peak limiters, LA-2As, LA-3As and 175B; Distressor EL8s; a JOEMEEK compressor; Pultec's EQP-1A and EQH-2 EQs; and API 312 mic pre's. The studio's mic locker includes vintage AKGs, Beyers, Neumanns, Sennheisers and Shures. The studios house an Amek/Neve Mozart RN and an Amek/Langley Big, and a new room will feature an Amek/Langley Hendrix.
"I started thinking about what it was I did and how I did things, that we've always been left of center," Gilles says. "We try to start the trend, not follow the trend, and we're a niche-market studio so I have the luxury of working on technology that I want. I started to investigate the 9098i, and I thought it was superior in terms of the way it was laid out and the amount of automation and the way it had many more moving faders. Once I had a chance to hear it and work on the desk, it was all over except the shouting.
"None of my clients give a damn about 96/24-bit. They don't care about AES buzz words. They care about one thing: They want the record to just sound right. We don't even mention the 'd' word around here," says Gilles, laughing. "I have digital gear around here, but everything gets done on analog and 2-inch. We're old-school analog guys. And a huge amount of staying in the business is keeping the studio operational, and we suffer zero downtime."