Question: How many artists record and mix “professional”-sounding albums at home in rooms so small that the studios can be vacuumed with a Dust-Buster? Answer: Too many to count.
Question: Who among these recording-savvy artists can pull off a home-spun project that features Paul Shaffer, Sebastian Bach, Richie Havens, Ace Frehley and Brian Wilson, among others? Answer: Anton Fig.
Best-known as the house drummer for The Late Show With David Letterman, Fig is also a multifaceted songwriter, producer and engineer who has been chipping away at a solo album in between his TV and session commitments. (He recently played drums on Warren Zevon's Artemis Records release My Ride's Here). Along the way, the well-connected Fig asked some of his most famous friends if they would contribute their talents to his album.
And many did, as evidenced by the 46 headshots in the booklet for Fig's CD, appropriately titled Figments. Given equal billing, the artists are discreetly identified by their first name and last initial: Brian W, Ace F, Richie H, Al K (for Kooper), Richie S (Sambora), Randy B (Brecker). The list goes on.
“I'd say 92 percent of the record was done here at home,” says Fig. Given the small size of his Manhattan apartment and the presence of that urban phenomenon known as “neighbors,” the artist had to go outside to record his drum parts. For those, he chose Avatar's massive Studio A, working with fellow South African engineer Kevin Shirley, who later mixed a couple of the album's tracks at the Hit Factory. Other tracks recorded outside of Fig's studio — which he calls Planula — included Wilson's vocals, which were done in Los Angeles.
Those exceptions notwithstanding, Fig and engineer Weld toiled away at the artist's studio. They worked on a Pro Tools|MIX24 system loaded with plug-ins, ultimately running Version 5.1 after incrementally upgrading from Version 3.0. Save for the occasional rental, only one mic and preamp were used: a Neumann TLM-193 and a Focusrite Voicebox. Signals were routed from two Digi-design 888|24 interfaces to a Yamaha 02R, which was used more as a monitor than as a mixer.
With so many stars parading through his apartment over the past couple of years, I asked Fig if there were any highlights of his overdub sessions. “When Richie Havens rolled in with his guitars and his jewelry, it was quite an event,” recalls Fig, who, while growing up in Cape Town, was greatly influenced by Havens' storied Woodstock performance. “He had an authoritative, commanding vocal presence. My wife had gone out to dinner with some friends and she was telling them, ‘I've got Richie Havens in my bedroom!’ It was one of those ‘pinch me’ moments.”
Now that Figments is done, the artist is co-writing and co-producing a project with singer/songwriter Blondie Chaplin; Fig is also working on projects by guitarist Oz Noy and members of Paul Simon's band. The self-released Figments is available through Fig's Website, www.antonfig.com.
School's in. Schoolhouse Studios harkens back to a time when a group of guys could take a rehearsal room, buy a decent tape deck and console, and turn it into a recording facility. A time when computers weren't part of a studio's equipment mix. A time when rates were dictated by starving artists' budgets, instead of the other way around. A time when the DIY ethic ruled the day. A time when there was such a thing as a mid-sized studio.
Located “somewhere between Hell and Chelsea,” in the words of proprietor Anthony Esposito, Schoolhouse recently celebrated its 10th year as a rehearsal/recording studio catering to punk, hard rock and metal acts such as The Misfits, Joan Jett and D Generation.
The studio just added a 32-input Neve 8048, complementing its Studer 2-inch 24-track, Studer half-inch, and an arsenal of vintage analog gear that includes processors by Tube-Tech, Avalon, Empirical Labs, UREI, Drawmer, Summit and other top names.
Schoolhouse recently hosted The Misfits, whose album was produced by Marky Ramone and Jerry Only and engineered by Tim Hatfield and Esposito; guest musicians included Dez Cadena from Black Flag, Jimmy Destri from Blondie and Ronnie Spector. Also, the British band Antiproduct tracked its upcoming release, Made in the USA, at Schoolhouse prior to embarking on Ozz-fest's European leg. That album was produced by Alex Kane and Esposito and engineered by Esposito and Hatfield.
“We only have a couple of rules,” says Esposito half-jokingly. “We don't do any recordings that don't have guitar on them, and we have to like the clients.”
If Schoolhouse's clientele seems like a big, happy family, it's because Esposito — a musician who used to play bass in Lynch Mob — runs the place more like an artists' hangout than a commercial facility. “I'm probably the worst businessman in the world,” he says. “My first question to clients is, ‘What's your budget?’ I ask them that before I tell them my rate.”
Schoolhouse's “book” rate is a negotiable $50/hour or $500/day. (A lockout is 24 hours, not 10 or 12 hours, as is the norm in many studios.) Not bad for a 32-channel Neve, a healthy assortment of mics, preamps and processors, and a 1,200-square-foot open space that doubles as the control room and tracking room. “We believe all bands deserve a good signal path, so we keep our rates incredibly cheap,” says Esposito.
Has Schoolhouse made the leap to Pro Tools as seemingly every other studio has? Not yet. “We have Pro Tools on request,” says Esposito, “but most of our clients don't want Pro Tools. They want fat analog. And they don't need automation to mix.”
Someday, Schoolhouse may succumb to the same market trends that have forced other studios to go digital or die. For now, though, Esposito revels in the old, funky vibe that he has built, and his clients applaud him for keeping the faith. And, if current trends continue and more bands who embody the stripped-down, late '70s, New York City sound like The Strokes and Interpol keep making waves in the music press, business at Schoolhouse Studio might go from great to booming.
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