L.A. Grapevine

Jun 1, 2007 12:00 PM, By Bud Scoppa

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Since taking over this column 14 months ago, I've been from Tucson to Tucumcari, Tehachapi to Tonopah. Okay, I'm quoting a Lowell George lyric, but I've put a lot of miles on the odometer of the old Explorer, heading as far north as Chatsworth and as far south as Irvine, but for the most part bouncing back and forth between Hollywood and the Valley from my home base in Studio City.

Jeff Greenberg (center) poses with Pumpkins Billy Corgan (left) and Jimmy Chamberlin.

During my travels, one name kept popping up: Studio owners, producers and engineers alike expressed their respect and fondness for Jeff Greenberg, who's now in his 13th year running the Village Recorder, now called The Village, and finding the time to give advice and counsel to novice studio operators while bonding with his fellow veterans. If there is a SoCal studio community — and I've accumulated plenty of evidence that one exists — then Greenberg and the Record Plant's Rose Mann Cherney — who are themselves pals first and competitors second — are its touchstones.

I met Greenberg back in 1975 on the old A&M lot where I worked while he managed the late Felix Pappalardi. He then did stints as an agent at ICM and a concert promoter at Nederlander, restoring much-needed cred to the Greek Theatre when he booked the emerging Talking Heads and Blondie as co-headliners — at my suggestion, he claims. I'll take his word for it because, as the saying goes, if you remember the '70s, you weren't there. Or was that the '60s?

Greenberg is one of the great characters of the L.A. music scene. He moves fast and talks faster — rattling out a torrent of info, free association-style, sprinkled with affectionate hyperbole and punctuated by his trademark self-effacing asides.

Here's a verbatim sample of his freestyle flow: “So listen, we've got a whole bunch of cool stuff happening here. We just finished the Smashing Pumpkins. They started at the Village and then came back and fully mixed with Roy Thomas Baker in A and D. I even have a picture. You don't run photos, though, do you? Oh, you do. I don't photograph very well, and the sad thing about that is it's probably the way I look in real life. We had the Pumpkins in A and D, and then we had the Rolling Stones of Russia, a band called Mumiy Troll in B — I'll have to get the spelling for you. The bottom line is, so we were running six Studers, 800s and 827s, around the clock for close to two months. So that was kinda fun. And Roy Thomas Baker had more shit than I've ever seen in my life in Studio D. We've got Ben Lee, who I love, working with John Alagia. You should come by and meet him. Saturday night, actually, there's a little party, if you wanna come by. Laura, I'm sorry, I dropped these checks here — I don't know where they came from. Brooke, how do you spell ‘Mumiy Troll’?” And so on.

As Greenberg never tires of pointing out, The Village — which was built as a Masonic Temple in 1922 and was the Maharishi's Transcendental Center during the '60s before being converted into a recording studio in 1968 — is a rock Mecca, its walls lined with Gold and Platinum album plaques from the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, the Stones, Frank Zappa, Steely Dan, Bob Dylan, Supertramp and Eric Clapton. When Greenberg took over in 1995, the Village was in disrepair, and he undertook a major renovation, which was supervised by the great engineer Al Schmitt, while he attempted to lure contemporary bands by pitching its glorious past.

“We would call bands, and say, ‘Do you want to come record here?’” Greenberg recalls, “and they would say, ‘No, I don't wanna record where my parents' idols recorded — no way.' People had a lot of bad experiences here, and the building was literally full of trash. So we started cleaning it up, room by room. The first break we got was Billy Corgan from the Smashing Pumpkins requested a picture of the studios, and the inside of the building looked so shitty that I walked outside and took a Polaroid of the exterior and sent it to him. He came here with Flood and recorded Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, which really got us movin', and he's been back for every record since. This new record, Buddy, is one of the most exciting records I've heard in years.”

Thanks to Greenberg's efforts, the Village is once again a hub of rockin' activity, with Neve boards in each of the main rooms — a vintage 8048 in A, a VR-L in B and an 88R in D (which was originally built for Fleetwood Mac's Tusk sessions). “We paid a lot of attention to making each room sound superb and that has really paid off,” says Greenberg.

There are also a number of high-profile producers in residence working out of the three-story, 30,000-square-foot building, including Robbie Robertson (longtime occupant of C), John Mayer (who recorded The Village Sessions EP in his space), Alagia (Mayer's Room for Squares, Dave Matthews, Mandy Moore), Danny Elfman and Andrea Morricone (son of Ennio, the legendary Italian film composer). They'll soon be joined, Greenberg reveals, by producer/mixer Ed Cherney, Rose Mann Cherney's husband, who for the past few years has been working out of his personal studio in Venice, Calif. L.A. is a close-knit musical community.

Greenberg reels off a litany of acts who've been working at the Village since my last visit a year ago: Lucinda Williams with Hal Willner for her critically acclaimed new album West; Kelly Clarkson with David Kahne; Alanis Morissette with Guy Sigsworth; The BoDeans with T Bone Burnett; The Scorpions; Perry Farrell; and Nuno Bettencourt's new Satellite Party project. He's especially proud of the fact that the Dixie Chicks not only recorded much of their runaway Grammy winner Taking the Long Way at the Village with Rick Rubin, but also spent six months writing the material with Dan Wilson, Gary Louris and Keb' Mo' in the game room.

The studio continues to be the site of studio concerts for NPR tastemaker KCRW, hosted by Morning Becomes Eclectic's Nic Harcourt; recent performers have included The Shins, Peter Bjorn & John, Air and Rodrigo y Gabriela, and many others. Apart from rock projects, the Village does quite a bit of movie, TV and spoken-word business. Among those recent projects were the Showtime series The Tudors, and upcoming films Hairspray, The Concert to End Slavery and the Beatles-themed Across the Universe (its soundtrack produced by Burnett).

In a nod to digital technology, Greenberg last year installed a Digidesign ICON controller in Studio F. “Pretty much everything in the building happens in Pro Tools,” he explains, “and I saw this as a need for people doing film work, and also as a way of integrating with the other rooms in the building. So it's a nice addition to all the analog consoles. And, as more and more people are getting used to this surface, they're starting to request it. We're doing film mixes and surround up there, and we're also doing a Donna Summer record there right now.”

When I note that it sounds like Greenberg has all the business he can handle, he responds, “I think we're doing some cool stuff here. But the bottom line, I think, is the magic of the building — maybe the Maharishi left some of his good karma here.”n


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