Music: Los Lobos

Aug 17, 2010 5:05 PM, By Blair Jackson



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Los Lobos, from left: Louie Perez, David Hidalgo, Cesar Rosas, Conrad Lozano and Steve Berlin

Los Lobos, from left: Louie Perez, David Hidalgo, Cesar Rosas, Conrad Lozano and Steve Berlin

Even though Los Lobos have been around for more than 35 years and cut more than a dozen albums—each a gem in its own way—every trip to the recording studio is still an adventure for this band. That was certainly the case for their newest disc, Tin Can Trust, the group’s first album of original material in four years, and their first on the Shout! Factory label. The band arrived at Manny’s Estudio—in East L.A., the area that spawned the group—with almost no material written, but armed with the faith that great songs would emerge over the course of the sessions, as they have so many times before. Because they had a deadline from the record company, there was a little more pressure on the group than on some of their previous albums, but at this point the way they work together is so ingrained and instinctual they weren’t at all daunted by the process.

Not only was the band working in an unfamiliar room, they were also breaking in a new engineer (for them): Shane Smith, who had done a little work with the group on their cool 2009 album, Los Lobos Goes Disney, but never a full project with them. Smith, who has engineered for such acts as Amos Lee, Health and Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals (among many others), has used Manny’s Estudio as a base of operations since the room opened in 2008, often working with owner Manny Nieto on p

rojects. “Manny did a build-out a couple of years ago and turned this huge warehouse space into a working studio,” Smith explains. “I first discovered it as a player—I was with a group and we were literally the first band he was recording in his new studio. From the first downbeat I was floored by the sound of the room—it’s an amazing-sounding live room. It’s a combination of drywall and cement and a kind of textured stucco on the walls. The control room is upstairs and looks down on the room, kind of like Studio B at Abbey Road. The vibe is right and the room sounds gorgeous.”

“I really love the drum sound in that room,” comments guitarist/singer/songwriter David Hidalgo, who had never laid eyes on the place until the night before the sessions began. “It’s got a high ceiling—probably about 18 feet—and it’s very live-sounding, but, of course, we could also baffle it off or put rugs down if we wanted a tighter sound.”

There are actually two recording rooms at the studio, and Smith says for this project Los Lobos rented both of them: “One became a sort of rehearsal hangout and then we’d be tracking in the other room.” The control room has a Neotek 3c console, which Smith describes as “the last of the Neoteks before they went to the Elites. It has great EQs, beautiful mic pre’s. It’s a board that not a lot of people are that hip to, but it really does sound good.”

As usual, the songwriting team of Hidalgo and guitarist/lyricist Louie Perez came up with the lion’s share of the material for Tin Can Trust: seven new tunes covering myriad styles to guitarist/singer Cesar Rosas’ three, which, true to form, include two fine Spanish-language numbers, plus a collaboration with former Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. The 11th song is a cover of the Dead’s snakey “West L.A. Fadeaway,” written by Hunter and Jerry Garcia in the early ’80s and sung here by Hidalgo, who was one of Garcia’s favorite musicians.

Hidalgo says he did have some rough musical ideas he’d recorded on his home 8-track Tascam Portastudio cassette recorder (!), “and in some cases they had a certain vibe or feel to them,” Hidalgo says, “so we ended up using them, actually adding to them. That’s a thing we’ve learned to do—to make the cassette [music] bigger—mixing new hi-fi tracks with it.”

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