L.A. Grapevine

It was an easy run from the Valley through a spring-green Topanga Canyon to 4th Street Recording in Santa Monica, where I found producer/engineer/studio

It was an easy run from the Valley through a spring-greenTopanga Canyon to 4th Street Recording in Santa Monica, where Ifound producer/engineer/studio owner Jim Wirt cranking out overdubswith (Valleyites themselves) Hoobustank for their debut release onIsland/Def Jam.

Although Pro Tools was running in a corner, 4th Street's Studer827 was getting a rapid-fire workout as Wirt kept the sessionjumping, laying down bass and guitars on tracks that had beenrecorded at The Village's Studio A.

Wirt, a bass player in his own right and a definite band maven,purchased 4th Street in 1989. Since then, he's become known for hisproduction and engineering work with Incubus, Sprung Monkey, FionaApple and 24-7 Spyz, among other projects. While he does much ofhis work at the cozy 4th Street, as a producer he tends to tailorstudio choices to fit both the budget and style of his clients.

“Our room here is really good for drums,” hecomments, “but for this project, we wanted more of an ambientsound, so we went to The Village and worked on their old Neve. Wedid four takes of each song, with a little punching, then somecomping in the computer. I think it's really important to have goodsolid takes before you send them over to the computer. In myopinion, the whole mentality of Pro Tools is really lazing up thebusiness. You can't expect the computer to do everything for you.If you do, you end up losing fills, looping the same thing over andover. Eventually, it just sounds like a big drum machine, and thenyou're asking a lot of your guitars to make it work. I think you'vegot to make the music happen first; then that stuff can get it evenbetter.”

The four members of Hoobustank, who cite Faith No More, Mr.Bungle and Fishbone as their influences, have been together for sixyears. They hooked up with Wirt about five years ago. “Theywere friends with Incubus,” recalls Wirt. “And theyused to come and hang out at the studio.”

“We've known Jim so long that when it came time to get aproducer for the album, there was really no contest,” remarksdrummer Hesse. “He helped us learn how to write. We used tocome to him with all sorts of crazy parts, and he helped us figureout how to put them together. And he's always been a lot offun.”

“[Guitarist] Dan [Estrin] and I originally started outabout nine years ago in a Chili Peppers-type band, doing crazyfunk, total silliness,” explains bassist Markku. “And[singer] Doug [Robb] was in another rival band playing bass. We gottogether, then we got Chris from an ad we placed in theRecycler.”

“We went through a lot of changes in the kind of music weplayed,” says Hesse. “Like we used to have saxophonesand kind of a ska direction. We had a lot of industry interest afew years ago before the [PolyGram/Universal] merger. When thathappened, a lot of people were losing their jobs, and it all kindof fell apart. It was a funny time, and we just kind of threw upour hands, got rid of the horns, fired our manager and startedwriting rock songs — heavier stuff like we all like to listento. The first three songs we wrote, we recorded with Jim, and rightaway people got interested. It clicked.

“Paul Pontius from Island/Def Jam, who used to work atImmortal and who signed Korn, made an offer,” he continues.“We liked him a lot. We didn't have a manager at the time,but with the help of our lawyer, Jeffrey Light, we did thedeal.”

Asked to describe the band's music, Wirt says: “Thecombination of melody and heaviness is what makes it unique. Iwouldn't say it's pop, but it's got great melodies and reallystrong choruses.”

As a studio owner, engineer and producer, Wirt often burns thecandle at several ends. In between Hoobustank sessions, he wasshuttling to Larrabee West, where he was mixing Maverick artistsOne Side Zero. The right studio for the right job, even though itmust be difficult to leave 4th Street's idyllicfour-blocks-from-the-beach-best-weather-in-L.A. location.

“I do like the way it sounds here [at 4th Street],”he admits. “It's a good, punchy tracking room and great foroverdubbing guitars. It does look a bit like the Winchester Mansion— very quirky — there are a lot of surfaces, both softand hard, most of them are at different angles. But the guy whobuilt it did a pretty good job. It's extremely solid.”

4th Street's MCI JH-428 console is also a holdover from theprevious owner. “It's the only thing that fits inhere,” laughs Wirt. “It used to belong to the BeachBoys' studio that was over on 5th Street.”

Along with analog tracking, 4th Street also offers a Pro Tools24 system with 888 24 I/O and Audio Logic Platinum software.Monitors include Genelec 1031As, Yamaha NS-10s and T.O.C. mains.Among the outboard selection are Neve 1066, Focusrite andTelefunken V-72 mic pre's, UREI 1176, LA-3A and dbx limiters, andKlark Teknik DN22 and DN360 graphic EQs. The recording spacefeatures a Yamaha C7 grand piano, a Hammond C-3 with Leslie,Fender, Vox, and new and vintage Marshall amplifiers.

In addition to Wirt's projects, 4th Street counts among itsclients No Doubt, George Clinton, Brian Setzer, David Hildalgo,Michel Penn, the Beach Boys and Spinal Tap.

Dropped in at producer/engineer Greg Ladanyi's spiffy homestudio for a listen to singer/songwriter Jo Davidson's upcomingrelease, Kiss Me There. Co-produced by Davidson andLadanyi, the CD is scheduled for a May release on a joint venturebetween edel America Records and Ladanyi's own Tidal WaveEntertainment Group Inc., with the single of the same name alreadycreating a buzz on radio.

Ladanyi, of course, is well-known for his production andengineering for artists such as Jackson Browne, Don Henley, DavidLindley, Jaguares, Fleetwood Mac and Toto. (He won a Grammy forBest Engineered Album for Toto IV.) Although he's spentmuch of his career in high-end studios working on top-of-the-linetechnical setups, these days, he's found that the digital homestudio is a pretty good place to be making records.

“It was an experiment; I was just kind of messingaround,” he explains. “I moved in, and because of allthe digital equipment I was using, I had the idea to put a studiohere. I love the analog world, but unfortunately it's become muchmore expensive to record that way. A setup of this kind allows youto work with an artist in a way where you have more time to becreative and flexible and maintain the sonic quality.”

Although just a vocal and mixing space, the studio has expandedto fill two rooms.

“It just grew,” he muses. “First, it was forvocals and some rough mixing. Then, on one project I did a mix hereand also on an SSL 9000. The mix from here felt better. I imaginemost of that had to do with the fact that I could leave it up fortwo or three days and work on it when I wanted to, whether it wassix in the morning or 11 at night. When we A/B'd the mixes, therewasn't a decisive sonic difference. That was aneye-opener.”

The nuclei of Tidal Wave's setup is a pair of 32-channelPanasonic Digital DA-7 consoles. Ladanyi is a recent convert toSteinberg's Nuendo recording software, but for Davidson's album, herecorded onto Alesis M20 ADATs and mixed to an Alesis MasterLink9600, using almost exclusively TC Electronic signal processing.Monitoring is on both Westlake Audio BBSM-4 and -5 speakers andYamaha NS-10s.

The Ladanyi/Davidson collaboration seeds were planted whenLadanyi first heard Davidson's music some six years ago. The twokept in touch, and when she began working on songs for what becameKiss Me There, he offered to help out. “I'd alwaysrelated to Jo's music,” he says. “She's veryindependent and very focused, with a lot of great songs and ideas.But she didn't have a deal at the time and no real money to paypeople. So it became a labor of love.”

The project started on 16-bit ADAT at a Sherman Oaks guest housewhere Davidson's piano was set up. When Ladanyi came onboard, heenlisted the help of friends to enlarge upon the equipment optionswith Panasonic consoles, ADATs and TC Electronic outboard.

“Jo had started recording a lot of the songs herself; Icame in and helped her organize and clean it up,” heexplains. “I brought over the Panasonic boards, which I thinksound really great, and the tracks ended up on ADAT M20s as weprogressed and transferred stuff around. We got a lot of help froma lot of people like Ed Simeone at TC Electronic, Peter Chaikin atAlesis and Fred Jones at Panasonic, who were really supportive ofthe project. Doing a project like this reminds you that people docare — a lot of people were touched by Jo's music and wantedto help out.”

Although some cuts used as many as 54 tracks, the bulk were48-track with the ADAT tracks being mixed from a chain that ranthrough the Panasonics, a TC Electronic Finalizer and intoMasterLink.

“We used the Finalizer for overall compression,”Ladanyi comments. “It's also got some really good presets init for stereo enhancing and for dance mixing.

“Actually, I think we used everything that TCmakes,” he continues with a laugh. “We have theFireWorx for special effects; we used that a lot on Jo's piano andvocals. We have two 3000s, one for long reverb and one for shortchorus reverb. The 2000 we use either for chorus or flanging, orspecific lead vocal delay and reverbs. The M-1, which is a morehard-sounding reverb, I use specifically on drums. The D-2 is areally cool delay box where you can do different kinds of delays,ping-pong or tap in your own delays to make it follow a certainrhythm. It's also got reverse chorus, flangers and all kinds ofgreatness.

“The Helicon, the vocal effects box, is fantastic, greatfor doubling lead vocals. It also creates harmonies. In a mix, it'sa good tool; they're not real vocals, but they cover the notes andthey sound really cool.”

The studio does have a couple of boxes that aren't TC — aTube-Tech MEC LA, which was used on Davidson's vocals, electricguitar and bass, along with another favorite Ladanyi weapon: GT'sVipre tube mic preamp. “It's got five tubes in there, and youcan control the impedance,” he enthuses. “You can raisethe highs and bring the mic closer to you, or smooth it out andmake it rounder. There's a rise time control that will push the micaway or bring it closer. If somebody has hard ‘esses,’you can slow it down, and they become softer without having to gointo using a de-esser. It's a classic.”

Additional “secret weapons” at Tidal Wave include apair of Mastering Lab mic pre's and the Panasonic 8-channel A/Dconverter mic pre.

Microphones include a Soundelux U95S and an Audio-Technica AT40,both of which were used for Davidson's vocals. An AT404 was usedfor pianos. Groove Tubes, both FET and tube, were also put to useon piano, guitars and drums.

“When I did Jackson Browne's Running on Empty ata very young age, it broke a lot of rules,” Ladanyi notes.“You recorded anywhere, and you did whatever you had to do toget the music on tape. I learned that there is no one right way todo everything.

“I love tracking and going to the big studio — it'sa lot of fun. But when you get into overdubs, vocals and mixing— all the things that paint the picture — it takestime, and it's nice not to have financial pressure overit.”

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