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Mix Regional: Austin

By Barbara Schultz. King Electric Hosts Refugee Musicians, James McMurtry’s “State of the Union," and a studio report from Austin-area facilities including Arlyn Studios, Altavista Studio, 5th Street Studios and Austin Signal.

King Electric Hosts Refugee Musicians

Justin Douglas searched long and hard for a building to house his new studio, King Electric. “The Austin real estate market might be as bad as Brooklyn,” he says. “Anything that would be remotely suitable has been turned into a brewery—which you can’t really complain about.”

Douglas did find a warehouse space in central Austin that he built out by hand, creating a 1,000-square-foot recording space and a 250-square-foot control room equipped with his 24-channel Neve V51 console, ADAM S3H and Amphion two15s monitors, and a Shadow Hills Oculus controller.

“All the walls [in the live room] are curved wood and they’re offset from each other, so it’s a pretty dramatic little place, and it sounds really good,” Douglas says.

Related: Austin News & Notes, Mix, March 1, 2014

Douglas has stayed busy since he opened the space early last year. “But one of the best experiences in my 18 years of recording was over the last SXSW,” he says. “I contacted a nonprofit called Caritas that resettles refugees in central Texas and offered free recording time to any recently immigrated musicians. I figured it would be a nice way to show folks they’re welcome here, and involve them in the South-by experience.

“We wound up recording a 13-piece Cuban jazz orchestra called Ivan Garcia y Su Son Cubano; a Cuban hip-hop duo; and a traditional Iraqi musician who played violin and oud, named Dr. Basim Lami. The Iraqi gentleman was older, but he had just been in the country for a couple of weeks.”

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On mic choices for the orchestra, Douglas says, “The instruments were so unique and so handmade, we just sat down and listened to them in the room and talked to the musicians about how they wanted to sound.”

Douglas was so enchanted by the microtonal scales that Lami used on violin that he invited the Iraqi musician to appear on the latest release from his own band, Royal Horse.

“Part of the impetus for this was, I’m from Texas but I grew up partly in Jakarta,” Douglas says. “So I know what it’s like to be in a place where you don’t feel welcome or like you don’t belong a lot of the time. Playing music was an outlet for me then, and that’s what I was trying to offer.”

James McMurtry’s “State of the Union”

“My brother’s a fascist,” sings James McMurtry in his new song “State of the Union,” and then the gloves come off… His latest dark and uncompromising, and brilliant, song was tracked live in Chris Fullerton’s El Pres studio. It’s an 18×15-foot backyard room that the owner/operator says is basically a Tough Shed: a prefab building that Fullerton has outfitted with Pro Tools and two Black Lion-modified interfaces and a pair of hand-me-down Mackie MR8s.

“I engineer and mix my own records here,” Fullerton says. “It’s basically the antithesis of a studio. “But people have liked the sonics of my own things, and I started getting jobs to engineer.”

Fullerton rents a lot of the microphones he uses from nearby RocknRoll Rentals. He recorded McMurtry’s deep vocal dry, but to enhance it, he placed a Peluso U47 a few feet away from the artist. Likewise, he put up an AKG Perception 170 room mic about five feet above and behind McMurtry, and another 170 as a close mic on McMurtry’s ’70s-vintage Guild acoustic guitar.

“State of the Union” was mixed by Stuart Sullivan at Wire Recording, one of the facilities within the Mosaic Sound Collective. The main rig that Sullivan uses includes a vintage API 32x12x32 quad console, Pro Tools HDX, Lynx Aurora 32 I/O, and UAD Octo with lots of plug-ins. “The vocal and acoustic guitar were recorded together, and there was a great deal of vocal bleed into the guitar,” Sullivan says. “I used an Eventide time-align plug-in to find the most pleasing phase balance between the voice and guitar tracks.”

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Sullivan also used a hardware 1176 limiter and FabFilter 2 EQ plug-in on McMurtry’s vocal. On guitar, he employed an old Neve 2264 compressor, as well as the FabFilter 2. “Both compressors were used lightly, as anything done to guitar would happen to the vocal also, and vice versa,” Sullivan says. “There was subtle use of UAD Cooper Time Cube, UAD Dimension D, and UAD Oceanway reverb.”

Many more ingredients were added judiciously to this spare but unsparing tune. “My job was to present the song and message as clearly as possible,” Sullivan says.

In the Studio

Arlyn Studios

At the venerable Arlyn Studios, the facility hosted a birthday bash for promoter Louis Messina, where performers included George Strait, Ed Sheeran, Shawn Mendes and more. Recent recording sessions included Gary Clark Jr. with co-producer/engineer Jacob Sciba and engineer Joseph Holguin; as well as an album Mix covered last year, Steve Earle’s So You Wanna Be an Outlaw, produced by Richard Bennett and engineered by Ray Kennedy.

Related: Steve Earle’s So You Wanna Be an Outlaw, by Barbara Schultz, Mix, Aug. 9, 2017

’62 Studios

Engineer Tim Palmer is pictured above at the Recording Academy’s recent Salute to Rupert Neve. Palmer’s recent mixing projects in his ’62 Studios include Tears for Fears’ first new material in 13 years, a Hailey Tuck album that was produced by Larry Klein and engineered by Rod Shearer, and a Blue October track that was produced by Justin Furstenfeld and recorded by Eric Holtz.

Related: HIM: Courting Venus Doom, by Bryan Reesman, Mix, Jan. 1, 2008

Space Rehearsal & Recording Studio

Frequent visitors to the Steve Durr-designed Space Rehearsal & Recording Studio complex include Austin-based artists Charlie Sexton, Jimmy Vaughn and Alejandro Escovedo. Artists Joel Guzman and Sarah Fox were also in, to mix and master their album Christmas Miracles, featuring Delbert McClinton, David Hidalgo and others. House producer Tim Gerron tracked, mixed and mastered Latin Grammy-nominated Brazilian artists The Boogarins’ La Vem a Morte album, as well as punk stalwarts M.O.D.’s latest album Busted, Broke, and American for Megaforce Records.

Eclectica Studios

Engineer (and sometime Mix contributor) Tim Dolbear reports that 2017 was his most successful year since he went into the studio business in ’99. His projects include work with Kpop label 182project and producer Joseph Kim, who flew in artist Kayy from Seoul, South Korea, to track vocals with producer Justine OK. (Kim is on the couch in the photo. OK is sitting at the console with Dolbear, who mixed and mastered the album.) He also mixed and mastered tracks for pianist Myroslav Levytsky, whose album was recorded in his native Ukraine. And Adrian Connor (Hells Belle’s, Adrian and the Sickness) mixed tracks for her upcoming album Spaz Kitty.

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Altavista Studio

Altavista Studio hosted UK artist Roger West cutting tracks with local band Cover Girl (Mandy Rowden, Melanie Zapata, Heather Webb). Sapphire Kleft (pictured with assistant Rebecca Risher) was in as well, working on a CD project with producer Tom Johnson and engineer Josh Allen.

Estuary Recording

Chico Jones of Ohm Recording recently closed down his studio and joined forces with Estuary Recording, allowing Estuary to double its inventory of mics and outboard gear. “It took us roughly a month of moving everything in and rebuilding storage rooms to facilitate all of the new equipment, but it’s been so nice to have this many choices for pre’s, mics and compressors!” says Estuary’s John Michael Landon. Landon recently produced and engineered Lola Tried and Quin Galavis; he also engineered a French film score with Balmorhea. House engineer Evan Kaspar engineered albums for The Crack Pipes and Mark Deutrom, as well as new tracks for Mother Falcon. Pictured are Claire Puckett and Isaac Winburne of Mother Falcon.

5th Street Studios

5th Street Studios manager Nick Joswick let us in on recent upgrades at the facility: The studio acquired some Epiphone and Harmony guitars, vintage Altec 654A and beyerdynamic M69 mics, a Yamaha Electone organ, SSL X Rack with eight dynamic buses, ADAM A77X monitors and more. Sessions include singer/guitarist Kevin McKeown of Black Pistol Fire and Andy Pickett with producer James Petralli of White Denim.

Austin Signal

In addition to plenty of tracking and mixing work, Austin Signal produces short-run vinyl releases. “I have two cutting lathes in the studio, and I cut anywhere from one to 50-ish copies for people all over the world,” says engineer Jon Niess. “I did a short run for Universal Music Group and Shania Twain a few months ago: a beautiful vinyl picture disc, each with a personalized greeting from Shania. The other unique thing we do is single-mic recording: one microphone, and vinyl cutting live.” Pictured is a single-mic direct-to-disc session with Graham Wilkinson.