Musicians move through life-cycle patterns as other tradesman and professionals do. Talent gravitates to large cities where the artistic output is high, and then moves to quieter surroundings when it's time to marry and raise children. Chuck Loeb and Jeff Pevar grew up in the greater metropolitan area, made their mark as guitarists and writers while living in Manhattan, and are now living close to where they were brought up. Thanks to the project-studio revolution, they are able to write, record and produce much of their work without leaving their homes.
Listen, Loeb's ninth solo album, is currently riding high on the smooth jazz charts. Following on the heels of "High Five," Shanachie Records has just released "Silver Star," a second single from the album. On the day I spoke to Loeb at his home in Irvington, N.Y., he and engineer Phil Magnotti were working on a pair of Pro Tools rigs, mixing one tune from his latest project on one system while the second workstation was being used to edit another.
"Phil is my favorite engineer. He also lives in Westchester," said Loeb, who then laughed and asked Magnotti if he even knew the way into Manhattan.
Loeb also plays in the group Metro with keyboardist Mitchel Forman, bassist Victor Bailey and drummer Wolfgang Haffner. Their third album, the first released by Hip Bop Records, was occupying Loeb and Magnotti when we spoke. So what tasks could he execute in his home studio, and which ones demand a more acoustically perfect environment?
"My rig centers around a Pro Tools MIXplus system and a Yamaha 02R console," Loeb replied. "I can comfortably track all of my guitar parts right here, as well as horns and drums, although we generally track drums at dedicated recording studios."
Many Pro Tools users have switched over to Digidesign's ProControl or the Mackie HUI, and Loeb said he's thought about going that way too but hasn't for several reasons. "For one thing, I do record drums here at times," he explained. "All of the other stuff I track is either mono or stereo, and I use a Tube-Tech MP-1A stereo mic pre for this work. When I record drums, I use the mic pre's on the 02R, which are fine. If I got rid of the board, I'd have to invest in a bunch of mic pre's, and that's an expense I'd rather not make. I'm really happy with the 02R-remember, it also has talkback, and inputs for DATs and CD players. My synths are also normaled to the board."
Loeb met his wife when he was in Spain touring with Stan Getz. "We celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary in May," said Loeb. "Our two kids were an important reason why we moved out of the city. I built my studio in the garage. It's not an acoustically perfect environment, but Phil has learned to deal with the limited bass response, for example, and take that into consideration when he mixes. We make sure to take our mixes into a number of different environments before sending anything out to be mastered."
Event 20-20bas speakers are Loeb's favorite monitors, but he also references mixes through pairs of Yamaha NS-10s and Tannoy 6.5s. Magnotti uses NHT Pros at his home. Add a car stereo system or two, and Loeb is confident that the product he delivers will stand up to sides recorded and mixed exclusively at large studios.
"I've been using a pair of Russian mics lately, the Oktava MC 012s," he said. "They only cost $150, but they sound great, like the Neumann KM84 but with more gain and a beautiful high end. I track classical and steel-string guitars with them, as well as percussion." For vocals and sax, Loeb prefers a Neumann TLM193, a single-position cardioid mic, or his AKG 414. For low-end instruments like the trombone or bass drum, he usually uses an AKG D112. Percussion and drum overheads are often tracked with Shure SM81s.
Although he prefers working in Pro Tools, Loeb also has three ADATs, which he uses to add his guitar work to outside projects recorded to this medium. All three machines, an original black face and an early XT, are 16-bit recorders. "I definitely notice the difference between 16- and 24-bit recording, particularly in the depth of the image. But a lot of the European producers I work with use ADATs, and they seem happy with the product I give them on the 16-bit machines," he said.
While Loeb is busy working on his multiple projects at his home studio, Jeff Pevar has been juggling his own various gigs, on the road and back at the homestead, near Hartford, Conn.
"Can we speak at around noon on Monday?" reads the e-mail from Pevar. "I have to get to Madison Square Garden that night to see Crosby, Stills and Nash." A fan that night, Pevar has filled a distinctly different role in the fabled group, and its variations, at other times. Several years ago, Pevar-who sings, writes and burns on every conceivable guitar-was traveling as part of a duo with Marc Cohn. They found themselves opening for CSN. "From the first gig, David and Graham were in the practice room with us, figuring out harmonies," he said. "They're both big fans of Marc. We immediately hit it off. Those guys are so open and generous."
David Crosby eventually asked Pevar to join him and Nash on some dates. "Singing three-part harmonies with them, what an experience! What better teachers could you have?" he recalled.
Pevar and Crosby, along with James Raymond, are now recording their second album together as the group CPR. James Raymond, who only met Crosby several years ago, is in fact his son. "What a great singer," said Pevar. "David says that James sings the way he wishes he could." Pevar is also touring with Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh.
When he's not on the road, Pevar lives with his wife, singer/songwriter Dana Pomfert, near Hartford, the area where the guitarist was born. In order to stay close to home and continue to interface with the outside musical world, Pevar joined the home-studio revolution six years ago, when he purchased an Allen & Heath GS3V console. "I'm not a tech head," he said, "but I liked the board's EQ a lot. It has an internal computer for VCA and mute automation, via MIDI or a sequencer, and that was important for me as well."
Pevar uses his home studio to track, but rarely mixes there. "I prefer to do what I do well and then go to a larger room to work with people who've spent as many years perfecting their craft as I have on mine," he said.
Tracking is done to both ADAT and DA-88s, he added. "I started out with a single black-face ADAT and bought the others over time, so I've now also got a 16-bit XT and a 20-bit XT. I bought the DA-88s because of the things I'd heard about the tape transport issue. Now I've got 24 tracks of both formats. My comparison? I think they're both great to work in. As far as the 16-bit issue goes, some of my favorite records were made on inferior technology. My whole interest is in capturing the spontaneous moment. That having been said, of course, I want the best sound I can deliver."
Of late, a Roland VS880 hard disk recorder has been a valuable road companion. "I use it to write on the road," said Pevar. "I took it over to David Crosby's house one time and had him sing a vocal line into it. Later, I moved that line all over the place as I worked on the song. The editing capabilities of the box are phenomenal. That reminds of an interesting way I used the VS880 on the Phil Lesh tour. The Grateful Dead song 'Unbroken Chain' has a solo section that's in 11/8. I blew the song into the VS880 and copied that section over about 50 times. Fortunately, Jerry Garcia's solo was recorded to one side, and so I was able to pan him in and out of the mix. That helped me learn his ideas and then get some of my own."
Pomfert is signed to the Paris division of Warner Bros., which has released several of her CDs, and she has also worked in the home studio, where Pevar tracks her vocals. "I use a number of different mics to track Dana's vocals," he said. "I think the Audio-Technica AT4033 sounds great. The Audix CX111 is a large-diaphragm mic like the A-T, and it sounds a little rounder to me, while the A-T boosts the midrange a bit. I also like to track vocals with an AKG C-414."
Pevar has been using a small pair of Tannoy PBM-6.5 monitors for years, which, he said, "have a nice, small and natural sound in comparison to the NS-10s."
Finding different combinations of colors for his guitar tracking is critical. "I like to experiment with a variety of direct and miked sounds," explained Pevar. "Blending in different ways gives you colors to choose from. I might, for example, take a skanky, crunchy guitar sound recorded direct and layer it with a beautifully miked amplifier sound.
"I will tell you this-I've been waiting for the Pod my whole life. It's the ultimate guitar direct box, really amazing. There are numerous amp modelings in the Pod, from a small Tweed Fender to a huge Marshall, and the player has control over gain, EQ, reverb and effects. Don't get me wrong-I'm a big believer in putting a mic in front of an amp and moving air. That having been said, the fact that you can dial up an amazing sound immediately, while the moment is fresh, is fantastic."
Does he miss living in Manhattan? "You know, I toured with Ray Charles for three years," Pevar said. "When I left that band I based in New York for a while. I started out crashing on a friend's couch in the Bowery. But I also kept a rental apartment in Hartford: It's my home. I'm close enough to the city that I can shoot in whenever it's necessary or desirable to do so-like tonight, for instance. I don't know if they'll call me onstage to play or not, whatever. But I like coming back home to Connecticut."