There is something genuinely comforting about walking into Quad Recording Studios after leaving the hustle of 7th Avenue ten floors below. The wood is worn and warm, the rooms are generally spacious by New York standards, and the vibe reflects the sense of creative fun and down-home work ethic of the five-room facility’s owner, Lou Gonzalez.
Make no mistake, Quad is Lou Gonzalez. He will speak freely and humbly of his stellar staff and the talented people he “has the opportunity to work with,” but the comfort level begins at the top. Born in Queens, Gonzalez “ran away” to work on a farm in Maine. He milked cows, baled hay and learned to drive on a Farm-All tractor, pulling a hay wagon. After getting an EE degree at the University of Maine, he returned to New York and engineered for radio. Stints as a staff engineer, Broadway engineer and jack-of-all-trades maintenance tech followed, and 22 years ago he opened Quad as a one-room facility, largely financed by a Sesame Street album.
While Quad has thrived for more than two decades in a tough market, recording and/or mixing such multi-Platinum projects as Madonna’s Erotica, No Doubt’s Don’t Speak and Metallica’s Load, Gonzalez has never abandoned his very personal owner/operator approach. He designed, built and wired all of his studios, and he prides himself on being able to fill in at any job in the facility, from reception to chief engineer.
So three years ago, when he began thinking about purchasing a digital console, Gonzalez led the research team. “What bothered me the most about what was available at the time was the ergonomics,” he says. “Sound was a definite issue, but what struck me was that everything seemed very alien. I know what it feels like to sit in front of a console for hours and hours, and I want to be able to play comfortably in my own rooms.”
Quad already owned two SSL 9000 J Series boards, along with two 4000s and a 6000. After the initial scouting reports, he approached SSL and asked for a digital board. He and some of his engineers visited the factory and provided input, and a year later, Quad purchased the first Axiom-MT in North America. Installation took place late last year.
“When you sit down in front of this machine and start to play with it, and you realize all the new opportunities there are to mess with sounds, it grabs you,” he says. “When it came in, I wanted to make sure that I was up to speed, so I sat there for hours and hours over the holidays when everybody else was trying to take the week off. Now I envy everybody who gets to sit there and do sessions. I sit home biting my nails waiting for them to finish so I can get in and play some more.”
Studio B, which houses the Axiom-MT, has been booked solid since the debut, with sessions ranging from Saturday Night Live tracking to Lauryn Hill to Mariah Carey. Visiting engineers have raved about its familiarity and resemblance to a 9000, not to mention its warm sound. Dana Jon Chappelle, who is mixing Mariah Carey’s next release, called it “warm and smooth. I’m loving the way it sounds. I think our ears like the coloration that analog equipment imparts, and this board seems to mimic that coloration in a very appealing way.”
Gonzalez, meanwhile, was attracted to the fact that the board is shipped 5.1-ready. He also appreciates its automation and reset features. “Every time you do a recall on an analog console, you have to tweak things,” he explains. “Mariah Carey did a bunch of work a week or two ago, and she had to do a recall five days later. We came in, patched up the outboard gear, loaded the mix, pressed Play, compared it to the DAT, and it was dead-on. Didn’t have to touch a knob. So you don’t have to be thinking in terms of mechanical moves, you can be thinking in terms of your ears.”
The tools may change, but the Gonzalez attitude does not. He’s regularly seen in jeans, a bolo tie and a brightly decorated denim jacket; he plays piano and a bit of country fiddle, and he has his sights set on opening a Nashville facility some time in the future. He’s at an age when many of his friends are tired of their jobs and looking forward to retirement, which he has a hard time understanding.
“I get up in the morning and say, ‘Wow!’ I get to go down and hang out with folks I like and sit there and play with equipment,” he says. “I love this. I mean, I just got to work with Peter, Paul & Mary. That made it for me. I grew up with these people. They had to do a new song, and you know what? It was Peter, Paul & Mary. They were here and I was in heaven.”