It's not surprising that producer David Darling has the kind of cozy, comfortable project studio where musicians immediately feel at home-after all, he has spent most of his life as a player and singer. His well-organized and neat-as-a-pin control room is chock-full of gear that's a combination of the tried and true (Akai samplers, Alesis ADATs, and API and Manley preamps) and the super cool (Gulbranson pump organ, Korg BX-3, Jaymar toy piano, and "the hippest item in the house," a Gulbranson Selecta-Rythm "cha-cha box."). You can tell right off this is a place to attract the Muse, thanks to Darling's unique brand of humor, the swimming pool, the barbecue and a couple of friendly dogs. There's not an uptight vibe to be found.
The studio, dubbed "The S**thouse," has seen a lot of action lately, with Darling having just completed albums for Meredith Brooks and Americomo/BMG's 1958 featuring Nikki Sixx ("kind of a polarity span, like really hard, industrial Roxy Music"). On the day we stopped in, he was in the middle of several more projects, including new artist Bebe's debut for Interscope and Capitol's singer/ songwriter Paul Trudeau.
Darling started out as a guitar player, then spent much of the '80s as a junior producer at Giorgio Moroder's busy production house, where he learned the ropes from producers such as Richie Zito, Keith Forsey and Harold Faltermeyer. In '92 he started his own band, Boxing Gandhis, for whom he wrote, sang, played guitar...and produced.
Darling's work space-set in a guest house and equipped with kitchen, bathroom and skylight-retains the garage style of his previous studios, with perhaps more concern regarding isolation and soundproofing, especially because he wanted the ability to record both drums and loud guitars. The issues were addressed by raising and floating the control room floor and constructing two iso booths on a separate floating floor.
"The main booth is just big enough," he says. "Guitar amps sound good, and I can cram in guys with small drum kits. I've actually gotten some crunchy hip hop drum tracks in there that I've ended up keeping."
Darling's basic recording setup includes a Mackie 32*8 desk and three ADAT XT 20-bit recorders. The board is for monitoring only; all recording is through a selection of outboard preamps, including API 312s used mostly for guitar and drums, a Manley 50DB that gets heavy use on vocals, and three of Darling's more esoteric favorites: a Bellari, a TLA and a Viking "tape machine" preamp. "The Viking's one of my favorites," he laughs. "It's got a repro card from an old '50s 4-track tape machine put into a mic pre form. But the Bellari [renamed the "Greasebox"] probably gets more use than anything; it's actually in line all the time. It's all-tube, and you can really overdrive it. It might be ill-advised on a vocal because it's super dark and very distorted, but I blow all my samples and most of my synthesizers through it because it really fattens things up."
Compressors include the necessary Distressor ("can't live without two," he says), a Manley ("basically an LA2A, but quiet and not as dark"), and an Aphex 661 Expressor ("horribly underrated").
Besides the vintage keyboards, Darling owns the more modern Nord Lead, a Virus and a Juno 106, a batch of classic guitars and amps, a LinnDrum, an Akai MPC60, S900 and S2000, and the "pretty winning" Roland 303 groovebox. "Like the Gulbranson, it's got character-tons of it," he says. His speakers are Alesis Monitor 1s, though he puts up NS10s for reference. The speaker setup is customized with RSL (Rogers Sound Labs) Max's that have been gutted except for the bass speakers. "They're like my subs, just a couple of 15-inch speakers."
Obviously into character rather than cookie-cutter when it comes to sound, Darling has spent time seeking out unique gear, a fact reflected by his mic collection. "I'm partial to ribbon mics," he explains, "so I've got Coles 4038s that I use for some female vocals. I also have a Shure 333 ribbon I use a lot, and a couple of Reslo ribbon mics. I don't know where the Reslos come from-I bought mine from a friend who found them in the contents of a storage space he'd bought sight-unseen at an auction.
"I've also got a tube 47 that I use a lot on female vocals and an 87 that I use for most of the male vocals. Then there are my all-purpose mics-RODE NT-2s, a knockoff of a U97 that costs about 600 bucks and just smokes a 414. They're particularly bright. You can't use them on females, but for acoustic guitars and male vocals they're just great."
Darling strikes a balance between fun and work that is proving successful. "I take the end product seriously," he states. "But I tend to think making records should be enjoyable. I've been through that 'rip my guts out to make my record' trip. Then the record came out, was a hit for about five minutes, and I realized that I'd spent a whole year of my life on it and should have been enjoying myself. So now that's what I try to do."