In a nifty building just off the boardwalk in Venice, Horn of Zeus Music Production has set up shop. HOZ specializes in producing what they call "modern music" for a wide range of projects: television and film productions, singer/songwriters, bands and advertising agencies. To do that they offer a blend of technical and creative services including sound design, music arranging, recording and mixing, and television and film scoring.
The brain trust at HOZ comprises musician/composer/producer Pete Scaturro, engineer/producer Rob Beaton and assistant engineer Mark Weber, who formed the company in 1998. When I visited, they'd just finished up four tracks with cult guitar hero Buckethead for his upcoming CD, tentatively titled Monsters and Robots and set for release on the Cyber Octave division of Higher Octave Records.
"Higher Octave is traditionally a new age-type label, and I don't think they could fit Buckethead in their roster," laughs Scaturro. "So they had to start a whole new branch for him. A lot of great people worked on the record, like Les Claypool and Brain of Primus, Bootsy Collins and Bill Laswell. We're pretty excited to have some tracks on this record."
Some of the tracks HOZ completed for Monsters and Robots were started almost ten years ago, when Scaturro first met Buckethead. But the music has been in limbo while Buckethead searched for the right label.
Scaturro, a Bay Area transplant, is no stranger to combining the genres. He was keyboardist for the San Francisco band Limbomaniacs and has worked with George Clinton and P-Funk, the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, William Burroughs and Chris Isaak. He has composed a lot for TV-clients have included the program Unsolved Mysteries, the Disney Channel, FX network and David E. Kelley Productions-and created music for numerous commercials, including pieces for excite.com, Sega, Creative Labs and Kraft Foods.
"We have two areas that we're focusing on," Scaturro says. "One is doing album production. So far this year we've worked primarily with new artists, like the Oakland-based band The Chums, who are kind of power pop-rock, and the L.A. duo called Ultrahorse, who are two Mexican-American guys who write in a Brit-pop style that's a pretty interesting clash of cultures."
Beaton also hails from the Bay Area. He paid his dues at Sausalito's Record Plant, where he worked on records with Todd Rundgren, Tony! Toni! Tone!, Thomas Dolby, Santana and Van Morrison. He has produced records for a number of independent record labels, including Road Runner and the rock en espanol-focused Aztlan.
Not surprisingly, the work-in-progress facility that houses Horn of Zeus has a San Francisco SOMA (South of Market Street) industrial vibe to it. Originally a post office, it features high ceilings and skylights with a decor that's a combination of severe and whimsical. Scaturro's main axes are a Synclavier 3200 and Pro Tools|24. Beaton handles mixing chores on a Trident TS24 console with a built-in ADAT rack above the board, and with the addition of some fine outboard including an Avalon 737, a dbx 586 and 566 and Genelec and Tannoy speakers with a Bag End subwoofer system. They also have an Otari MX-80 that they like to run at 15 ips.
"We figured out our three main goals for the year 2000," Scaturro says. "To produce a Top 10 single, to write and produce a national ad campaign and write the theme for a hit television show or movie."
In Burbank I decided to catch up on Mad Dog Studios, where co-owner and producer/engineer Dusty Wakeman gave me a quick tour of the facility's large live recording space. On the day I stopped in, the building, which encompasses 2,400 square feet of the 6,000-square-foot Mad Dog complex, was locked out with producer/engineer Bill Kennedy's tracking date for new Roadrunner artists Downer.
Fitted with a Meyer P.A. and an assortment of large, windowed baffles that have both hard and soft surfaces, the space provides almost unlimited flexibility. It's light and airy with high ceilings, a concrete floor, and wall-and-ceiling treatments that keep the sound from being overly live.
"It's kind of in between a rehearsal room and a more formal recording situation," Wakeman says. "You can configure the room a lot of different ways, depending on whether you want more or less isolation. For example, I just cut a live, big band dance record with 20 musicians where I set the horn players up on two levels of risers, made a vocal booth and then lined up the guitar, bass and B3 against the wall.
"Because of the size of the room, it's amazing how much separation you can get, if that's what you want," he says. "We just did a soul/funk record for singer Rhett Frazier where we baffled things off; when you soloed the overheads you could barely hear the rest of the instruments in them.
"On the other hand, it's a great room if you're going for a more live sound, where a little leakage can be a beautiful thing," Wakeman adds. "I'm a fan of that style of recording-if you've got musicians who can play, I always say leakage is your friend. Like for bass, once the sound goes through the kick drum and the tom mics and that low end gets added, everything just gets huge. That's something you can't duplicate any other way."
The stage's current console is by Malcolm Toft. "It's basically a Trident 80B with upgraded electronics," Wakeman says. "It's got Uptown automation and it sounds good, but we tend to use it just for monitoring because we have a lot of outboard mic pre's."
Those preamps include API, Hardy and Presonus Audio Electronics M80s, which Wakeman finds a good value. "I'm a fan of Hardy M1s," he says, "and these have the same Jensen transformers."
The room comes with two DA-88s or a 2-inch 16-track MCI analog recorder-there's an in-house Pro Tools|24 system available also. Other amenities include a kitchen, a comfy lounge and, of course, parking.