Bands continue to love the idea of creating a studio where no studio has gone before. Stone Temple Pilots did it for 1996's Tiny Music…Songs From the Vatican Gift Shop. This year, STP again enlisted L.A.'s Advanced Audio Rentals to help provide the kind of sophisticated setup necessary to turn a Malibu mansion into an environment where they could record their latest release, Shangri-La Dee Da.
Secrecy surrounded this high-profile project, the title of which was reportedly inspired by life at the Mediterranean-style villa/recording studio, where the band holed up with their significant others, a raft of technical personnel and several tons of equipment. Bad boy lead singer Scott Weiland did manage to leak an early tease to VH1 Radio, boasting, “We're going to live there, sleep naked there and have massive band orgies there.” Weiland also promised the “best music we have ever written.” Plenty of people are rooting for these guys, who abruptly wrapped-up their previous album, 1999's Platinum No. 4, when Weiland, struggling with drug addiction, relapsed and was sentenced to a year in jail (of which he served five months) for violating probation.
Shangri-La, STP's fifth album, was engineered by Nick DiDia and produced, as all STP albums have been, by Brendan O'Brien. The North Hollywood-based Advanced Audio Rentals, which has worked with O'Brien on previous projects, was brought in at the pre-production stage.
“We outfitted Rage Against the Machine for their recording that was produced by Brendan at Cole Rehearsal Studios a few years ago,” recalls AAR owner Paul Levy. “And for STP's Tiny Music, in '96, we set up in a 20,000-square-foot estate up in Santa Ynez, near Michael Jackson's ranch.”
This time, the demands of creating a studio were bigger than ever. In addition to recording an album, rock photographer Chapman Baehler was also filming a behind-the-scenes documentary of the project, thus adding lighting and video equipment requirements on top of the already hefty P.A. and recording package. On the audio side, gear provided by AAR included everything from microphones, stands and splitters to consoles, Studer 24-track analog, Sony 3348 digital and Neve 1073 modules.
“I don't know if Brendan and Nick yet realize what a hat trick it is to throw in lights, video, a P.A. system with mic splitters and the recording gear, and not have a rats' nest of noise problems,” comments Levy with a rueful laugh. “We supplied them with Equi=Tech ET2R isolation transformers, which take 120 volts, split it into two legs of 60 volts, and throw one side out of phase to eliminate noise and hum. Three of the Equi=Techs ran all of the technical power. Fortunately, the house had enough service to feed everything. Enough, but still borderline — right on the edge of throwing the main breakers most of the time. The Equi=Tech power conditioning really helped.”
AAR began delivering equipment for the project to the multimillion-dollar hilltop residence in January. In February, a full-blown studio took shape, with the mansion's library tapped as the control room and the ocean-view living room serving as the studio.
“The band both rehearses and records with a small P.A. and monitor wedges,” Levy notes. “The living room, which was huge and had an ocean view, was used as the main recording space. They had to hang velour drapes, put down carpet and do all sorts of stuff to control the sound, as there were hardwood floors and large areas of glass windows that needed attention. They used gobos to section off the main living room from the kitchen and the home's main entrance to create isolation in the main room for the drums, which were placed on a wooden platform.”
The library/control room was fitted with an Otari Concept One 72-channel moving fader console that was used, according to Levy, mainly for monitoring purposes. A Neve BCM 10 sidecar, along with two racks of 3-band vintage Neve EQ, fed inputs to a Studer 827 2-inch 24-track and to Pro Tools. Guitar amps were set up in a bathroom, fitted with clay floor tiles, that were adjacent to the library.
“Basically, they used the Neve modules for mic inputs,” explains Levy. “We rented them an 8-channel rack of 1073 modules, and they had another rack. There was something like 24 rented Neve modules. All the snakes fed from the main living room recording area to an adjacent room set up for percussion and keyboards, and all of those snake boxes fed the Neves. The output of the Neve 1073s fed the Studer 24-track, which could either send to their Pro Tools system or a Sony 3348. The 3348 was the archival machine; that's what they built up their tracks to and what they were going to mix from. Final takes were all recorded to the Studer 2-inch and then dumped to Pro Tools, edited and sent to 3348.
“Brendan has his own racks of gear, of course,” continues Levy. “We did kind of a cool thing in that he shipped all his gear here ahead of the start of the recording. Then we prewired his racks in our shop, out to 9-pin Elco connectors. We have these portable TT patchbays that have Elco connectors in the back, so when we delivered his racks, along with the console, the Studer, the 48, the speakers — everything else we were supplying to the villa — we could then set up the remote patchbay right on top of the console to do all of the outboard patching. The Studer and 3348 patch right into the back of the Otari console: We modified the board so all I/Os come out to 9-pin Elco. The Concept One's power supplies are also connectorized to minimize setup hassles.”
Levy says that AAR also provided “a ton of mics,” from Telefunken 251s to Neumann 47 FETs, KM84s and 86s, AKG 451s and “the usual garden variety stuff” (i.e., Shure 57s, 58s and Sennheiser 421s), along with Lynx modules, a Tascam DA-45 HR DAT recorder, AKG and Fostex headphones, and Mytek Private Q headphone mix stations.
“We probably brought in somewhere in the vicinity of 4,000 pounds of stuff,” laughs Levy, “and we were just supplying the recording gear — there were film guys, lighting — really, it was an insane amount of stuff.”
The common thread among all engineer/studio owner/equipment maven Allen Sides' endeavors is that he leads with his ears. His latest projects are no exception: Now open at Ocean Way Recording Hollywood is a mastering suite staffed by Alan Yoshida, and soon to be online is a new mix/overdub room that will feature a Sony Oxford digital console. I stopped in one balmy May day for a visit with both Sides and Yoshida to get the scoop on the latest at what is unquestionably one of the world's most renowned studios.
Yoshida's mastering credits cut across genres, ranging from Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington, to Train, Morbid Angel, Brownstone and Tupac Shakur. The current collaboration came about when Sides heard a Yoshida JVC-XRCD remastering of one of his own recordings — and loved it. He sought out Yoshida, who at the time was a member of the A&M Studios mastering coterie being displaced by corporate merger and acquisition. The two hit it off and created what is now called Ocean Way/JVC Mastering.
“I loved Alan's remastering of a Count Basie recording I'd done,” says Sides. “But I realized he was really onto something when he showed me that he could make a carefully tweaked, compressed CD of the alternative rock tracks I've been doing that was level-competitive with anything out there and still had punch.”
The new mastering suite is housed in what was previously known as “The Blue Room,” actually Sides' first studio in the Sunset Boulevard complex that began life in the '60s as United Western Studios. The Blue Room was known for its acoustics, so it was with trepidation that Sides allowed Yoshida to talk him into the structural changes that resulted in, among other things, a private lounge for the mastering suite.
“The reason I'm here is because of Allen's ears,” comments Yoshida, who started his mastering career at The Mastering Lab before moving on to spend eight years at A&M. “And he's been really supportive. But I think it was a little hard on him when I wanted to make alterations in this room. It was like, ‘You can't change it! Bill Schnee, George Massenburg — everybody — comes in here to listen to stuff when they need to figure something out!’”
Like most A&M alumni, Yoshida retains from that facility's legacy a preference for highly customized gear, and the main components of his new room are all hand-built by Ocean Way's esteemed tech, Bruce Marien. Digital conversion is handled by JVC and dB Technologies. “Everything is as point-to-point as we can get,” Yoshida notes. “Every piece of wire has been listened to. There are no relays; we used only silver switches, everything is dual mono, we even run separate mains for left and right.”
Monitor-wise, the Tannoy 3839 drivers are housed in Euro spec'd cabinets with custom crossovers and mounted in what Yoshida calls “soffit-less soffits.” As a matter of fact, almost nothing in the room is hard-wired.
“My philosophy,” Yoshida explains, “is if you make a mastering room similar to a recording studio, you compromise the signal path and you limit your ability to accept all formats. I think it's important that a mastering room can interface easily with whatever a client wishes. Here, it's easy to bring in any format, from Pro Tools to Fairlight. In this way, we don't impose any creative limitations on our clients.”
Since starting up, projects at Ocean Way/JVC Mastering have included The Chick Corea New Trio, a Tony Bennett and Bill Evans album for XRCD, and a remastering of Henry Mancini's original 3-track soundtracks for Charade and Breakfast at Tiffanys (the latter, of course, including the classic “Moon River”). Current projects include Bob Hurst's Trio and Jason Faulkner's Sony Wonder project, Bedtime With the Beatles.
Meanwhile, down the hall, the Sony Oxford desk has found a temporary home in Studio C, where it has played host to projects for Barbra Streisand and B.B. King, among others, while waiting for the new Studio D to open. Sides, who in recent years has engineered numerous hit records for artists such as Goo Goo Dolls, Alanis Morissette and Green Day (in his “spare” time between running L.A. and Nashville studios, as well as Ocean Way To Go, a company that consults on home studios), has long been a fan of the board. After weathering its R&D trials, he is now seeing it catch on among busy mixing engineers.
“The five different limiters and five different EQs on every channel of the Oxford sound so good that I finally can stay digital all the way, avoiding multiple conversions,” he says about the 120-input Oxford. “The speed at which I can mix and the 100 percent recall in seconds have totally spoiled me. The console is so incredibly easy to operate — and I don't read manuals, ever — that someone who has never even seen the console can sit down and mix in 30 minutes. Virtually all the projects I record are now going directly to Pro Tools, and when I mix on the Oxford, bypassing the 888s, everything immediately sounds twice as good.”
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