Injuries sustained by veterans can often be invisible. US Retired Navy Petty Officer Eric Lewis was looking for a way to support fellow combat veterans suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injuries and other disabilities, when in 2016, driving from his home in Galt, Calif., to the Winter NAMM show, thought: What if he could build a place where vets could express emotion and alleviate stress by recording music?
Lewis, a drummer in the band Terra Ferno, went from booth to booth at the show pitching his vision. The response was overwhelming: Companies, including D’Addario, Sabian, Avid, Focusrite, CAD Audio, On-Stage, SKB Cases and Roland agreed to donate gear. And Auralex offered to design and supply an acoustic treatment package.
As his garage filled with gear, Lewis began building on his property. Friends and family pitched in, and construction companies donated materials. “The next thing you know, we had a 14×16-foot structure built,” Lewis says. He then contacted veteran-owned Soundproof Cow, which provided Quiet Batt soundproofing insulation. The room was purpose built, designed by Lewis and Ward Engineering, with soundproofing input from Lewis’ friend Mikal Cox of the bands Coal Chamber and We Are The Riot.
Lewis sent Auralex his design plot, and to control problem frequencies and reflections, the company created a custom system including Studiofoam Pro, Studiofoam Wedgies, ProPanels and HoverMats, and worked with Lewis to fine-tune placement. “We were able to reduce leakage about 85 percent, so now we can record at 2 a.m.,” says Lewis.
Vet Traxx Project officially began operating in January 2017. Its free services for veterans range from recording to full-service mixing, mastering, duplication and distribution.
The organization is a 501(C)(3) non-profit; Lewis, who funds much of the operation, relies on big-hearted engineers, musicians and songwriters for support. “It’s a big band of brotherhood and sisterhood,” says Lewis, who also works a day job with the Veterans Administration. And he isn’t done: “We were sitting around recording, having a beer, and I said, ‘It would be awesome to have a festival to celebrate our accomplishments, like a Woodstock for veterans—Vetstock!” Just like that, the Norcal Vetstock Festival was born, and this month, Lewis is producing a concert featuring more than 20 bands on two stages.
Lewis is also ramping up remote cloud sessions, with help from Avid; vets need only reach out, tell their story, and send music; “I’ll get it mixed mastered and sent back to them,” he says.
As a PTSD sufferer himself, Lewis finds immense gratification in helping other vets in his situation. “These guys and girls have a story of their own, and basically have no other means of talking about it,” he says. “I have it, too, where I don’t like talking about how I feel, but get me behind a drum kit, and you can see how I feel.
“It doesn’t matter if they are great musicians, experienced or not. What they’re putting out is beautiful in itself. All it takes from them is to have a story.”