A home studio can be a blessing and a curse for a workaholic. Guitarvirtuoso Johnny A.’s newish project room allows him to write and recordon his own schedule, which typically begins at the crack of dawn andcontinues on and off into the night. “Every recording situationhas its pros and cons,” Johnny A. says. “The pros aboutdoing recordings at home are that you can catch magic moments becauseyou’re in a totally relaxed state. The cons are that you have thisstuff at your disposal all the time and you can get into a routinewhere you feel you’re never finished.”
However, Johnny A. doesn’t seem to suffer from thatendlessly-getting-sounds disease. He is as disciplined as he istalented, and has just released his second instrumental album, GetInside, on Steve Vai’s Favored Nations Entertainment label. Vaidiscovered Johnny A. when his previous album, Sometime TuesdayMorning, which Johnny A. self-released, became a surprise successin the Northeast. “The first album was conceived in a relaxedatmosphere, in that I did not have a record deal at the time,” heexplains. “I never thought I would get a record deal with what Iwas doing, and it was more like I had the opportunity to record and Iwanted to celebrate my influences and not make any musical or audiocompromises.
“One thing led to another, and it became this regional thingthat was very successful and very grass roots, selling close to 9,000or 10,000 copies,” he continues. “And then it got picked upby Steve Vai and went international. In the back of your mind, you hopeto be successful at anything you do, but I had no delusions of grandeurthinking that I would put this out and it would be the nextClassical Gas, Mason Williams’ million-selling instrumentalrecord.” In fact, the album and Johnny A.’s playing have been sowidely admired that Gibson released a Johnny A. signature guitar, whichreceived drooling raves in the December 2003 issue of GuitarPlayer magazine.
The success of Sometime Tuesday Morning allowed Johnny A. toacoustically improve his recording room, which is in the10×15-foot attic space of the two-flat building that he owns. Thestudio began as a writing room, outfitted with a Roland VS-2480workstation and KRK V8 monitors, but when he wanted to take the room tothe next level, he contacted Auralex Acoustics for materials and designadvice.
“I called them and they ended up being fans,” Johnny A.recalls. “I guess the radio station where they are [WTTS inIndianapolis] played my music a lot, and we struck up a greatfriendship and they offered to design the room. They flew RustySulzmann out here, and they did the whole studio — the basstraps, the DST panels, the wedges, sunburst columns — and it justsounds great. They also did a great job with all the mitered cuts thatgo into the dormered ceiling line and slanted wall line. The room isbeautiful and comfortable.”
Johnny A. recorded demos of all the new songs at home and then wentto Boston Skyline studio to self-produce the drums, bass and guitarrecordings, which were engineered by Dave Lefkowitz. Johnny A. recordeddirect from his amplifier (a Marshall 6100 head) through a vintage Neve1058 mic pre — which he scored from his old friend Fletcher ofMercenary Audio — and then straight into the back of the StuderA827 2-inch machine in the studio’s “A” room. Then, all ofthe tracks were transferred to a Pro Tools|HD system; horns and Hammondorgan parts were recorded directly to Pro Tools. He brought anidentical Pro Tools system home, where he and engineer Bob Catalanoedited and created premixes of the basic tracks and then recorded somepercussion overdubs. Phil Greene and Johnny A. did the final mix in ProTools, making use of the SSL 4000E (with G computer) to a Studer A80 RCat Unique Recording in New York City. Johnny A. was also on hand forthe final mastering by Scott Hull at Hit Factory Mastering.
Promotional touring has just begun for Get Inside, but JohnnyA. is already excited about a third album. “What I probably willdecide to do is go into a really great studio and record the drums andimmediately transfer them to whatever the digital greatness of the dayis — lease or buy one of those rigs — and then do myguitars and everything else at home.
“As far as audio goes,” he continues, “I’m aself-taught mixer and producer. I’m not a technician; it’s all feel. Ihave a high expectation of things I like to listen to, and I put thatsame critical thinking into my own music.”
For more on Johnny A., visit www.johnnya.com.
Barbara Schultz is aMixcontributingeditor.