2016 has been the most successful year in the studio so far, so I wanted to take a look back at some of the awesome people that I got to work with and some up the updates that I’ve made to the studio.
Throughout 2016 I got to work on several songs with Coral Bells. According to their Facebook, “Coral Bells is a six-piece folky amalgamation of Southern California wine drinking beach dwellers,” which is a pretty great and accurate description. We recorded our first song together at the end of last year and have been working on the rest of their EP one song at a time since. We recently finished tracking the last song for this release which should be completed in early January and the EP is expected to be released shortly afterwards. They bring a ton of passion to their unique sound, so every time they come into the studio I know we’re going to come up with something great. Another thing I love about this group is the opportunity to record a wide variety of less-common acoustic instruments which is great since, whenever possible, I love to record something real rather than using virtual instruments. In addition to guitars and bass they bring in ukulele, mandolin, glockenspiel, a frog, and my personal favorite, a harmonium (which was awesome.) One of their songs also provided the opportunity to dust off my old trombone, saxophone, and vintage Hammond chord organ. Their Christmas song “Krampus” (released Dec 14) was probably one of the most fun and unique songs I’ve have the chance to work on!
One of my first projects of 2016 was working on Garrett Stollar’s debut EP. Garrett is a relatively new artist to San Diego, he moved down here recently from Oregon to attend USD. While playing some shows there he met Eliza Rose Vera who pointed him in the direction of The Grey Brick. I’m so glad she did because his songwriting and awesome blend of singer-songwriter and pop sounds was really fun to be a part of. The backbone of the EP is his acoustic guitar and vocals, but each song provided a new opportunity to add different elements, including synthetic drums, live snare drums played with brushes, electric guitars, spacey pad effects and more. For one song I was even able to create the main percussion sounds for the drum beat by sampling a piece of plywood! The variety of songs and instrumentation allowed lots of room for creativity and made this project a ton of fun to work on from the first preproduction session through final mixing and mastering. After finishing the album Garrett went out of the country for a while, so the release is actually still in the works, but it should be available early 2017.
From Chaos and Heaven
Another one of my favorite artists to work with of 2016 was the band From Chaos and Heaven. From Chaos and Heaven is a pop-rock band with emo and pop-punk influences. I love the energy they bring out in their songs, big vocals, big guitars, big drums, just the way I like it. Their style is pretty similar to some of the bands I’ve played in and tried to start, so it’s really fun to work on. In addition, these guys are some of the nicest people I’ve had in the studio so I always look forward to our sessions. (And they also regularly bring donuts, huge plus.) One thing about them that really impressed me was after the first song we did together their drummer left and I was afraid that would hold them back, but without skipping a beat their lead singer Alex got behind the kit for the second two songs and did a really amazing job. Those first three songs should be released soon as an EP, and then we’re expecting to start on some more songs in 2017!
Another highlight of my year was working with Noah Rickertsen. Noah is a singer-songwriter with a pop/country flair. He is a graduate of Berklee College of Music and recently won 2nd place at the San Diego County Fair singer-songwriter competition. He just has a really, really good voice. I find his voice both familiar and unique and the same time. That, along with his great melodies and lyrics, makes his songs very engaging. One of the fun things about working with Noah in the studio is there is normally lots of room for experimentation. He normally has an idea of where he wants the song to go, but other than the main guitar and vocals a lot of the arrangements are written in the studio which is always an exciting process since you don’t know where the song will take you. Whenever he comes into the studio I know I have to be ready for anything he might throw at me which keeps me on my toes and makes the sessions exciting.
There’s far too many other projects to list in detail, but a few more favorites would include:
Mandala: These guys are a metalcore band who I mixed a few songs for. Their music is great and their attitudes are even better. They have a really huge sound which is super fun to mix. In 2017 I’m looking forward to doing some songs together start to finish.
NEIN: Power pop from the 1980s reunited 30 years later. This trio gets a huge energetic sound from few members. Their sound reminds me of bands like The Who which is awesome! We did an eight song album together and it was a ton of fun to have these guys in the studio.
Brendan Clemente: Brendan is a singer-songwriter with a love for reggae music. We did a single together back in the spring and it was awesome to help him build out the production around his vocals and guitar. He also had a friend add some horns and keys which really gave the song a cool flair!
The Hand of Gavrilo: This band is awesome. They’re a three piece rock band that’s loud, dirty, and unique sounding. They make great use of ambient/spacey effects, bass distortion, and interesting time signatures and grooves. I’ve had the opportunity to mix four songs for them over the last couple years and they just recently came in and tracked and mixed a new three song EP. Keep an eye out for that soon in the new year.
Tony Silipigno: Tony has a really cool, unique sound and he has written some of the most fun songs I’ve had the pleasure of recording. His style could be described as punk rock songwriting over almost ragtime-esq piano, which sounds like a strange combination, but it works perfectly and his lyrics are delightfully honest and fun. His five song piano and vocal EP was recently completed and should be out soon.
One of the biggest additions to the studio this year was a new guitar head. I wanted to add something to my collection that was reliable and able to do a wide range of tones very well. After lots of shopping around I landed on the Mesa 5:25 Express Plus. This amp is awesome because it has four different voicings that can provide a wide variety of tones from a couple clean flavors and light drives all the way up through chunky and heavy distortions. It also includes three different types of EQs and switchable wattages (which make the amp class A, class A push-pull, or class A/B) to really make it a swiss army knife amp! It’s also a nice contrast to my Fender Twin since the Mesa uses EL84 tubes and the Fender uses 6L6 tubes.
Another big change I made this year was to my monitoring. A couple years ago I upgraded to Adam AX7 monitors (which I love,) but towards the beginning of this year I realized that they weren’t telling me enough about the sub bass frequencies as my old monitors were since the Adams have 7” speakers and my old monitors had 8” speakers. So I purchased a monitor controller (a PreSonus Monitor Station 2) and now I have both pairs of speakers set up all the time and can easily switch between the two. The Adams are still the overall favorite for sure and I spend most of my time mixing on those speakers, but being able to switch back to my older Mackies helps me hear other frequencies and get a better sense of the big picture. The monitor controller also makes it easier to switch to my Avantone mixcube. As a result, while I’m mixing or mastering, I’m spending more time making sure things sound good on different speakers which I feel improves the overall mix and it’s ability to translate to other systems.
This summer I finally had some time to devote to improving the look of the studio. The entire time I’ve been working here in San Diego I’ve wanted to improve the look and feel of the control room. The way the room was always seemed a little cluttered to me and like it was lacking a little “vibe.” So I installed a big curtain to cover some of the less-than-pretty parts of the room and I changed the lighting to cool vintage style “Edison bulbs” which I really enjoy. Now I feel like the studio looks more exciting and feels more like a creative and fun space which just makes it nicer to work in every day.
The final additions to the studio for 2016 were a couple new keyboards. Over the last year I’ve gotten way more interested in vintage electric piano sounds and vintage organ sounds. I find they work really nicely to fill out all sorts of productions (and I also started messing with them more for fun,) but unfortunately I didn’t have that many sounds for electric keyboards or organs in my digital piano as I would like, and I also wasn’t really satisfied with the virtual instruments I have. So I was super excited when I learned about the Yamaha Reface Series and last week I finally got both the Yamaha Reface CP electric piano and the Yamaha Reface YC organ. Both these keyboards sound amazing, have a wide variety of sounds available, and are super easy and fun to use. I can’t wait to use them on some new songs.
Looking forward to all the new music we'll make in 2017!