In a given week Larry Crane splits his time between practicing and playing with his band, Elephant Factory; editing an indie-oriented recording magazine, Tape Op; and engineering and managing his own studio, Jackpot! It may seem like a lot of commitments, but for Crane, making, enjoying and sharing music is a way of life. "I wouldn't be playing if I wasn't in a band with really good friends," the Portland, Ore., resident says, "and I probably wouldn't have gotten into recording if I wasn't playing."
Crane, who says he's been messing around with tape decks since age 10, played bass for eight years with Chico, Calif.-based indie faves Vomit Launch. When they would go into the studio, Crane says, "I was the one in the band who was in charge of the sessions; I just understood the recording process well." Chums who knew of Crane's interest chipped in and bought him a cassette 4-track, which he put to use recording demos and friends' projects. When he moved to Portland in '93, he set up a recording studio in his basement and slowly continued to acquire gear. By the fall of '96, he recalls, "I'd gotten so busy that there were always bands coming in and out of the house. My roommates were kind of sick of it! It seemed like the time to get a loan and build a studio, so I did."
With help (and gear) from artist Elliott Smith, Crane found a suitable building in southeast Portland and constructed Jackpot! in one large room. "We just built a wall in it with a double-paned window and a door that leaks tons of sound, and started working," Crane says. "We had it done in a month. Other engineers come in here and wanna kill me, but I can get a really good live sound and good mixes, so it works.
"I do as much live recording as I can," he continues. "I can get all the amps and the drums in the main room and baffle them enough, but if I need more separation, I'll do things like put the bass amp in the office and the guitar amps in the control room. I just did an album last week in two days, but then I also record projects like the new Quasi record, which we spent a month on." Crane does most of the engineering, though freelancer Joanna Bolme often works at the studio, as well. Between them, they've recorded tracks and albums for artists such as Smith, Satan's Pilgrims, Pete Krebs, Pinehurst Kids, Crabs and Cadallaca.
The studio is based around an MCI JH-16 2-inch, 16-track and a 40-input Allen and Heath Saber. Crane has Sytek and Rolls mic pre's and compressors by LA Audio and Manley, as well as three FMR RNC 1773s. "The FMRs are probably the best deal you'll find in a cheap compressor," Crane says. "They're well-designed and have good ICs." Some of his other favorite pieces are a funky dbx Boombox subharmonic synthesizer, as well as standbys such as MIDIverb II and REV7 units. Mics at Jackpot! include a Manley Reference tube and a matched pair of Earthworks 30Ks, as well as models by Langevin, AKG, EV, Shure and Audio-Technica. Crane monitors through Tannoy PBM-8s and Yamaha NS-10s and mixes to a Panasonic SV-3800 DAT.
When he spoke to Mix, Crane was excited about a recent purchase: some generic, 95-cent ball-end mics made for plugging into cheap cassette recorders. "They're pieces of junk that keep crapping out on me, but they make things sound really weird and interesting," he says with a laugh. "I've used them a bunch recently, because things can sound too good-if you're solely into recording, it can be tempting to make things sound very glossy. The benefit of me and Joanna is that we're also record collectors and musicians, and we have really strong opinions. My theory is you go through the process of learning how to record really well, then you just throw that shit out the window and start recording what's going to work!
"I'm not the kind of guy who walks into a studio and knows what every microphone is and exactly what's going to get the best sound," Crane adds. "I'm more, 'Hey, let's just try this and see what happens.' I'm always thinking of it as an art form, not as making a product; I'm concerned with whether it's going to be fun to listen to."