L.A. Grapevine

b>Things are jumping at Hollywood's Mastersuite. Only officially open a year-and-a-half, the company is celebrating 2004 Grammy nominations for three of its mastering projects:

Things are jumping at Hollywood's Mastersuite. Only officiallyopen a year-and-a-half, the company is celebrating 2004 Grammynominations for three of its mastering projects: Intocable'sNuestro Destino Estaba Escrito(Best Latin Pop); JimBrickman'sPeace(Best Pop Instrumental); and TheYellowjackets'Time Squared(Best ContemporaryJazz).

Mastersuite was founded by engineer Jay Frigoletto, former owner ofGeorgia's Atlanta Digital. It's also become home base for veteranmastering engineer Dave Collins and Collins Audio. Recently, a thirdengineer was added to the staff: up-and-comer Gabriel Wallach. Betweenthe three, business has been pretty much nonstop with projects of allgenres, from the X-Men 2 and Under the Tuscan Sunsoundtracks to Fu Manchu, INXS, Andy Summers, Blondie, the RhinoRecords 2-CD set The Very Best of War, and compilationsfeaturing Dave Matthews, Neil Young, The Who and Kumbia Kings.

It's located in a bustling music business — populated complexjust off the 101 freeway, but once inside, Mastersuite seems worldsaway from its Western Avenue address. The quiet and cozy studio, whichsports a restful, subtly Asian-themed décor, was designed byFrigoletto, a musician and gearhead who obviously has a passion for hiswork.

A graduate of Berklee College of Music, Frigoletto honed his chopsin both mastering and post houses before opening Atlanta Digital, wherehe worked with such artists as India.Arie, Dallas Austin and ArrestedDevelopment. After moving to L.A., he initially worked independentlyout of Sony Studios in Santa Monica. When Sony closed in 2000, hebecame a roving mastering engineer, traveling with clients from studioto studio in between editing and mixing for the television seriesTouched By an Angel. “It was difficult,” he admits.“I kept clients the whole time, but they had to follow me around.I'd work at Capitol, Paramount — wherever I could get aroom!”

Mastering rooms tend to be very personal affairs and Mastersuite isno exception. The carefully chosen equipment encompasses standardmastering tools like Millennia EQ, Manley compression, a TC ElectronicsSystem 6000, some rare items and a main Sonic Solutions-based hub.“The console and rack were built by Dieter Fust of Atlanta at hiscompany, Dieterbilt,” says Frigoletto. “We've got a WeissEQ, which is the best digital equalizer out there. Our Mark 2 versionis especially cool because it has the M/S EQ function. It allows you toEQ the center separately from the stereo information, which givesamazing flexibility with things like vocals and cymbals.”

Other gear includes a custom A&M Mastering EQ (designed byCollins), a Pendulum transformerless variable-MU compressor, a WavesL2, Lavry converters, an Ampex ATR-102, Z-Systems routing and aBenchmark half-rackspace D/A converter, which Frigoletto calls“very cool, with a little sample rate converter chip thatreclocks everything, so it's very jitter-immune. Currently, we're justusing it for a headphone amp, but for its price, it's reallyfabulous.”

Also high on cool factor is the Sintefex FX 2000, designed by MikeKemp, one of the original founders of SADiE. “It samples analogsignal paths,” Frigoletto explains. “Mike calls it adynamic convolution processor. Instead of taking a single snapshot, ittracks how things happen with different frequencies and levels thatcome into it. There are two versions: The 2000 just plays back thesamples, and the 8000 actually takes the samples and analyzes the pieceof gear you're using.”

Monitors are Questeds set up for surround. “There's justsomething about the English speakers that I really like,”comments Frigoletto. “The Questeds are very flat. You get plentyof detail, and top and low extension, but you don't have that hyped,‘smiley face’ sound you get with some other speakers.Because you get it flat and plain, it helps you make properdecisions.”

Mastersuite's collaboration with Collins came about because,Frigoletto says, “We're kind of kindred spirits. Dave has alwaysbeen one of my favorite mastering engineers, and he's also a greatdesigner. I asked him over to listen, and he had me do a couple of editprojects for him to try the studio out. It worked out, and he's beenhere a year.”

Wallach, who previously worked in production engineering and qualitycontrol at Future Disc, came onboard to develop the business' demoside. As an added plus, he's a native Spanish speaker and has becomeactively involved in many of Mastersuite's Latin projects, includingthe Grammy-nominated Intocable.

Frigoletto is particularly proud of Rhino's The Very Best ofWar compilation, remastered from the original tapes, which includessuch classic hits as “Low Rider,” “Spill theWine” and “Why Can't We Be Friends.” Collins had doneearlier work with War. When it came time to do the comprehensive 2-CDset, his presence sealed the gig for Mastersuite.

“Stylistically, we do a lot of different things,”Frigoletto says. “That's how I want it to be. I love all kinds ofcurrent music, and for me, doing the same thing all the time getsboring. If I have to describe what we do, I'd say we take a rationalapproach to audiophile. Actually, I think that's a nutshell descriptionof mastering. There are so many details, so much that you can do, andyou have to be able to balance art, science and — these days,especially — budgets. I think we're filling a niche here in avery creative, proactive way.”

The e-mail posts were flying as New Found Glory fans checked outthe band's 24/7 Webcam setup at Sunset Sound. The most frequentlyasked question: “What's the release date?” Stopping in foran answer, I followed some very cool guitar sounds back to Studio 3.That's where the band and producer/engineer Neal Avron (Everclear,Yellowcard, The Wallflowers) were recording finishing touches on theirupcoming Geffen Records CD.

Purveyors of a uniquely hook-y blend of hardcore, pop and punk, NFGhails from southern Florida but now calls Southern Cali home. A tightfive-piece with a rabid fan-base, they're known for straight-aheadlyrics and high-octane live shows. The quintet hooked up with Avron tworeleases ago and it's been a fortuitous collaboration. The full-lengthCDs, New Found Glory and Sticks and Stones, along with ashow-stealing slot on the 2002 Warped tour, have built buzz to acritical mass. They'll headline on Warped '04 and the newas-yet-untitled album is scheduled for a May debut.

Movies, malls, games and the energetic mix of transplantedNortherners and Latin Americans that defines South Florida allcontributed to NFG's genesis, as did the very different mindsets of itsmembers — singer Jordan Pundik, guitarists Chad Gilbert and SteveKlein, bassist Ian Grushka and drummer Cyrus Bolooki — who each,according to Avron, “contribute an equal percentage.”

Six weeks of pre-production in a (very) small warehouse space kickedoff the sessions. “We work with Hurley, the clothingmanufacturer, and they offered us their warehouse to rehearsein,” says Bolooki with a laugh. “We were expecting a hugespace we could really stretch out in. Instead, it turned out to besmaller than this [Sunset Sound's Studio 3] lounge with a very lowceiling.”

“It ended up great, though,” comments Avron. “Weput everybody in a semicircle and it was, ‘Just do the work anddon't fool around, because you don't want to sit there forever.’We also talked a lot about direction. Some of the details may soundminute — like tuning snare drums lower for a sound that was moredead than on previous records — but we decided to go for theparticular sound that suited each song. In the end, we used acompletely different drum kit on almost every song, from a mono setupwith just four mics to another song where we used a 28-inch marchingdrum, with both heads completely ringing, for the kick. On anothertrack, we recorded the kit in a tiny, completely dead isobooth.”

“The comfort factor was a big thing overall for thisrecord,” observes Bolooki. “I think we were able toexperiment because of the relationship we all have with each other now.Writing and recording, you can get really frustrated. You don't have toworry so much when you've got a good team.”

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The band kept in close touch with fans through the Website (www.newfoundglory.com), with the (soundless)Webcam, studio logs and photo postings. “Our fans are on theInternet all the time,” explains Bolooki. “We added somenew features to make it easy to talk and interact while we were in thestudio, and a month ago, we did a live broadcast where we leaked 30seconds of one of our new songs. We had 80 comments in 90 minutes andthey all loved it. Of course, somebody figured out how to download thestream and it's already up on a bunch of Websites — complete withthe talking on it and the fade.”

Well aware of the double-edged sword the Internet wields, the bandmaintained tight security with their recorded material. “No armedguard,” says Avron, “but the main computer ispassword-protected and I take the hard drives home with me. All theband's rough mix CDs are numbered, and they have to bring the old onesback to get a new one.”

“We're very conscious,” says Pundik, “because onone of our earlier records, songs got out early. We never figured itout. Everybody thinks it was somebody else's friend or family member.These days, nobody gets a copy. That was kind of hard when we went homeover Christmas. I mean, not even my mother gets a CD!”

Got L.A. news? E-mailMaureenDroney@aol.com.