L.A. Grapevine

May 1, 2001 12:00 PM, Maureen Droney

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It was an easy run from the Valley through a spring-green Topanga Canyon to 4th Street Recording in Santa Monica, where I found producer/engineer/studio owner Jim Wirt cranking out overdubs with (Valleyites themselves) Hoobustank for their debut release on Island/Def Jam.

Although Pro Tools was running in a corner, 4th Street's Studer 827 was getting a rapid-fire workout as Wirt kept the session jumping, laying down bass and guitars on tracks that had been recorded at The Village's Studio A.

Wirt, a bass player in his own right and a definite band maven, purchased 4th Street in 1989. Since then, he's become known for his production and engineering work with Incubus, Sprung Monkey, Fiona Apple and 24-7 Spyz, among other projects. While he does much of his work at the cozy 4th Street, as a producer he tends to tailor studio choices to fit both the budget and style of his clients.

“Our room here is really good for drums,” he comments, “but for this project, we wanted more of an ambient sound, so we went to The Village and worked on their old Neve. We did four takes of each song, with a little punching, then some comping in the computer. I think it's really important to have good solid takes before you send them over to the computer. In my opinion, the whole mentality of Pro Tools is really lazing up the business. You can't expect the computer to do everything for you. If you do, you end up losing fills, looping the same thing over and over. Eventually, it just sounds like a big drum machine, and then you're asking a lot of your guitars to make it work. I think you've got to make the music happen first; then that stuff can get it even better.”

The four members of Hoobustank, who cite Faith No More, Mr. Bungle and Fishbone as their influences, have been together for six years. They hooked up with Wirt about five years ago. “They were friends with Incubus,” recalls Wirt. “And they used to come and hang out at the studio.”

“We've known Jim so long that when it came time to get a producer for the album, there was really no contest,” remarks drummer Hesse. “He helped us learn how to write. We used to come to him with all sorts of crazy parts, and he helped us figure out how to put them together. And he's always been a lot of fun.”

“[Guitarist] Dan [Estrin] and I originally started out about nine years ago in a Chili Peppers-type band, doing crazy funk, total silliness,” explains bassist Markku. “And [singer] Doug [Robb] was in another rival band playing bass. We got together, then we got Chris from an ad we placed in the Recycler.”

“We went through a lot of changes in the kind of music we played,” says Hesse. “Like we used to have saxophones and kind of a ska direction. We had a lot of industry interest a few years ago before the [PolyGram/Universal] merger. When that happened, a lot of people were losing their jobs, and it all kind of fell apart. It was a funny time, and we just kind of threw up our hands, got rid of the horns, fired our manager and started writing rock songs — heavier stuff like we all like to listen to. The first three songs we wrote, we recorded with Jim, and right away people got interested. It clicked.

“Paul Pontius from Island/Def Jam, who used to work at Immortal and who signed Korn, made an offer,” he continues. “We liked him a lot. We didn't have a manager at the time, but with the help of our lawyer, Jeffrey Light, we did the deal.”

Asked to describe the band's music, Wirt says: “The combination of melody and heaviness is what makes it unique. I wouldn't say it's pop, but it's got great melodies and really strong choruses.”

As a studio owner, engineer and producer, Wirt often burns the candle at several ends. In between Hoobustank sessions, he was shuttling to Larrabee West, where he was mixing Maverick artists One Side Zero. The right studio for the right job, even though it must be difficult to leave 4th Street's idyllic four-blocks-from-the-beach-best-weather-in-L.A. location.

“I do like the way it sounds here [at 4th Street],” he admits. “It's a good, punchy tracking room and great for overdubbing guitars. It does look a bit like the Winchester Mansion — very quirky — there are a lot of surfaces, both soft and hard, most of them are at different angles. But the guy who built it did a pretty good job. It's extremely solid.”

4th Street's MCI JH-428 console is also a holdover from the previous owner. “It's the only thing that fits in here,” laughs Wirt. “It used to belong to the Beach Boys' studio that was over on 5th Street.”

Along with analog tracking, 4th Street also offers a Pro Tools 24 system with 888 24 I/O and Audio Logic Platinum software. Monitors include Genelec 1031As, Yamaha NS-10s and T.O.C. mains. Among the outboard selection are Neve 1066, Focusrite and Telefunken V-72 mic pre's, UREI 1176, LA-3A and dbx limiters, and Klark Teknik DN22 and DN360 graphic EQs. The recording space features a Yamaha C7 grand piano, a Hammond C-3 with Leslie, Fender, Vox, and new and vintage Marshall amplifiers.

In addition to Wirt's projects, 4th Street counts among its clients No Doubt, George Clinton, Brian Setzer, David Hildalgo, Michel Penn, the Beach Boys and Spinal Tap.

Dropped in at producer/engineer Greg Ladanyi's spiffy home studio for a listen to singer/songwriter Jo Davidson's upcoming release, Kiss Me There. Co-produced by Davidson and Ladanyi, the CD is scheduled for a May release on a joint venture between edel America Records and Ladanyi's own Tidal Wave Entertainment Group Inc., with the single of the same name already creating a buzz on radio.

Ladanyi, of course, is well-known for his production and engineering for artists such as Jackson Browne, Don Henley, David Lindley, Jaguares, Fleetwood Mac and Toto. (He won a Grammy for Best Engineered Album for Toto IV.) Although he's spent much of his career in high-end studios working on top-of-the-line technical setups, these days, he's found that the digital home studio is a pretty good place to be making records.

“It was an experiment; I was just kind of messing around,” he explains. “I moved in, and because of all the digital equipment I was using, I had the idea to put a studio here. I love the analog world, but unfortunately it's become much more expensive to record that way. A setup of this kind allows you to work with an artist in a way where you have more time to be creative and flexible and maintain the sonic quality.”

Although just a vocal and mixing space, the studio has expanded to fill two rooms.

“It just grew,” he muses. “First, it was for vocals and some rough mixing. Then, on one project I did a mix here and also on an SSL 9000. The mix from here felt better. I imagine most of that had to do with the fact that I could leave it up for two or three days and work on it when I wanted to, whether it was six in the morning or 11 at night. When we A/B'd the mixes, there wasn't a decisive sonic difference. That was an eye-opener.”

The nuclei of Tidal Wave's setup is a pair of 32-channel Panasonic Digital DA-7 consoles. Ladanyi is a recent convert to Steinberg's Nuendo recording software, but for Davidson's album, he recorded onto Alesis M20 ADATs and mixed to an Alesis MasterLink 9600, using almost exclusively TC Electronic signal processing. Monitoring is on both Westlake Audio BBSM-4 and -5 speakers and Yamaha NS-10s.

The Ladanyi/Davidson collaboration seeds were planted when Ladanyi first heard Davidson's music some six years ago. The two kept in touch, and when she began working on songs for what became Kiss Me There, he offered to help out. “I'd always related to Jo's music,” he says. “She's very independent and very focused, with a lot of great songs and ideas. But she didn't have a deal at the time and no real money to pay people. So it became a labor of love.”

The project started on 16-bit ADAT at a Sherman Oaks guest house where Davidson's piano was set up. When Ladanyi came onboard, he enlisted the help of friends to enlarge upon the equipment options with Panasonic consoles, ADATs and TC Electronic outboard.

“Jo had started recording a lot of the songs herself; I came in and helped her organize and clean it up,” he explains. “I brought over the Panasonic boards, which I think sound really great, and the tracks ended up on ADAT M20s as we progressed and transferred stuff around. We got a lot of help from a lot of people like Ed Simeone at TC Electronic, Peter Chaikin at Alesis and Fred Jones at Panasonic, who were really supportive of the project. Doing a project like this reminds you that people do care — a lot of people were touched by Jo's music and wanted to help out.”

Although some cuts used as many as 54 tracks, the bulk were 48-track with the ADAT tracks being mixed from a chain that ran through the Panasonics, a TC Electronic Finalizer and into MasterLink.

“We used the Finalizer for overall compression,” Ladanyi comments. “It's also got some really good presets in it for stereo enhancing and for dance mixing.

“Actually, I think we used everything that TC makes,” he continues with a laugh. “We have the FireWorx for special effects; we used that a lot on Jo's piano and vocals. We have two 3000s, one for long reverb and one for short chorus reverb. The 2000 we use either for chorus or flanging, or specific lead vocal delay and reverbs. The M-1, which is a more hard-sounding reverb, I use specifically on drums. The D-2 is a really cool delay box where you can do different kinds of delays, ping-pong or tap in your own delays to make it follow a certain rhythm. It's also got reverse chorus, flangers and all kinds of greatness.

“The Helicon, the vocal effects box, is fantastic, great for doubling lead vocals. It also creates harmonies. In a mix, it's a good tool; they're not real vocals, but they cover the notes and they sound really cool.”

The studio does have a couple of boxes that aren't TC — a Tube-Tech MEC LA, which was used on Davidson's vocals, electric guitar and bass, along with another favorite Ladanyi weapon: GT's Vipre tube mic preamp. “It's got five tubes in there, and you can control the impedance,” he enthuses. “You can raise the highs and bring the mic closer to you, or smooth it out and make it rounder. There's a rise time control that will push the mic away or bring it closer. If somebody has hard ‘esses,’ you can slow it down, and they become softer without having to go into using a de-esser. It's a classic.”

Additional “secret weapons” at Tidal Wave include a pair of Mastering Lab mic pre's and the Panasonic 8-channel A/D converter mic pre.

Microphones include a Soundelux U95S and an Audio-Technica AT40, both of which were used for Davidson's vocals. An AT404 was used for pianos. Groove Tubes, both FET and tube, were also put to use on piano, guitars and drums.

“When I did Jackson Browne's Running on Empty at a very young age, it broke a lot of rules,” Ladanyi notes. “You recorded anywhere, and you did whatever you had to do to get the music on tape. I learned that there is no one right way to do everything.

“I love tracking and going to the big studio — it's a lot of fun. But when you get into overdubs, vocals and mixing — all the things that paint the picture — it takes time, and it's nice not to have financial pressure over it.”

Got L.A. news? E-mail MsMDK@aol.com.






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