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Recording Reckless Kelly’s Bulletproof

Read about the audio production and studio gear used behind Reckless Kelly's Bulletproof 2008 Record Release

Engineer John Smerek in the Pedernales control room

Photo: David Abeyta

Rocking Americana band Reckless Kelly tracked their latest release, Bulletproof, in Pedernales Studio (Lake Travis, Texas), and they have to be happy about this first project for their new label, Yeproc. Most of the band’s past albums were made in smaller studios, but this time around they were given the opportunity to spread out and self-produce their project in Willie Nelson’s legendary rooms. “We’ve always worked in studios with killer gear and killer people,” says guitarist David Abeyta, “but this was the traditional big-studio layout where we could all have sight lines to everybody, have big rooms for guitars. I really feel like the studio is a big part of the sound of this record. Being able to hone in on some roomier guitar sounds helped the overall sound. I hadn’t worked there before, but when I heard that they had all these rooms that sort of orbit off the main room sounded like something we could really use to our advantage.”

Engineer John Smerek recorded the analog-minded band to a Studer A800 2-inch machine, using Pedernales’ 80 Series Neve console. “That Neve was on the front end of just about everything,” Smerek says. Smerek also appreciated the space at Pedernales: “That big control room is very comfortable for playback — to have everyone come in and give things a listen,” he says. “I also liked the fact that the 2-inch machine has its own little booth with doors. You could close it off and get rid of added noise. And the fact that we were able to stay analog as long as possible was great.”

Abeyta says the band generally plays live in the studio, “with the idea of getting keeper bass and drum tracks, but we also ended up getting a lot of guitar tracks. I even played guitar solos live this time. I usually think about coming back and hitting those again, but everything was working really well. We all liked the fact that we got some of that stuff on the fly.”

Abeyta, who is the band’s self-described “techno-geek,” produces and records other Texas bands in his spare time, and is usually very hands-on throughout Reckless Kelly’s mixing process, but he respected Smerek’s desire to get some mixes built on Pedernales’ SSL G Series before bringing the band in for input. “It worked out great because we did have fresh ears when we came in,” Abeyta says.

Most of the songs were mixed in Texas, but Smerek, who lives in Detroit, drove to Nashville and mixed a few songs at House of David when the project ran out of time at Pedernales. Another couple were mixed by engineer Adam Odor in his personal studio, Stone Cringe. These included vocalist/songwriter Willy Braun’s song about New Orleans “Godforsaken Town,” a beautifully produced track that includes a quiet, mournful trumpet as a dreamy backdrop. Mastering was done by Jim Demain at Yes Master (Nashville).

“I have to say, too, that since I’ve been with this band, which is about eight years, we’ve always been promised we’d get to do a vinyl pressing,” Abeyta points out. “And now that we’re with Yeproc, we finally get to do one. I was telling Willy, because of the timing of when I came up, I’ve never worked on anything before that came out on vinyl.”

Whatever format you enjoy, Bulletproof is a fine album of well-crafted songs, big sounds and inspired playing. Find audio clips and more studio pics at