L.A. Grapevine

Jan 1, 1999 12:00 PM, Maureen Droney

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What was formerly The Lighthouse in the Valley Village section of North Hollywood has reopened as BAY 7. On a recent visit, I found engineer/producer Joe Barresi ensconced in Studio A overdubbing on the Neve 8058 console with Hollywood Records rockers Loudmouth. Studio A has been enlarged-the back wall was moved back a few feet by BAY 7 owners Dave Rouze and Jeff Sheehan, leaving plenty of room for Barresi's "overdub package" of equipment, along with his large collection of Spice Girls (!?) memorabilia.

Barresi, a guitar player whose engineering credits include L7, The Melvins, Jesus Lizard, Hole and Weezer, admits to having that highly contagious audio disease whose main symptoms include an insatiable desire to accumulate amplifiers, stomp box-es and esoteric outboard. "It helps to have my stuff here," he says. "In this case, the band brought their main equipment with them, but having my gear available saves on rentals and also helps me get sounds I like; instead of using a cabinet that's been on the road for two years, we have one that's just been reconed."

Barresi has been co-producing with Loudmouth drummer John Sullivan and describes the band as "kind of like Deep Purple, Zeppelin, Guns N' Roses and Black Sabbath all rolled into one." Basic tracks for the record were cut at Ocean Way's Studio One with Allen Sides engineering, then the project settled into BAY 7, where Barresi, a Sound City alumnus and a definite vintage Neve aficionado, seems quite content. "This room used to be kind of claustrophobic, but widening the control room made a big difference," he comments. "The band digs it here-we have our own separate area, and they like the vibe. Also, the staff is excellent: They're always around when you need them-if you want coffee, that refill is right in your hand."

A quick view of Barresi's outboard stack shows an international theme: a Sontec EQ ("on the stereo bus") and a Russian-made Sovtek head-"a good-sounding bass amp," he says. "Often I'll take the bass off tape and re-amp it through the Sovtek. At first people thought I was crazy, but this thing runs 12 hours a day for weeks at a time and it still sounds great." Down the line is a German-made Palmer speaker simulator with controls for deep, flat, bright, normal and mellow ("it gives a good combination of cabinets and sounds really natural"), an Edison stereo imager and a rack of British-made Helios modules. "That's what's left of my circa-1968 Helios console," Barresi laughs, "the kind of board early Stones and Zeppelin records were cut on. It cost a lot to refurbish, but the preamps are great." Nearing the end of the row of boxes we find Geoffrey Daking preamp/EQs ("beautiful, with amazing top end, kind of a Trident A-Range equivalent-he also makes compressors that I'd like to pick up"), a Mutator, an RCA BA6A enhanced with Spice Girls stickers and some Valley People Dynamites.

"We've actually stripped it down quite a bit," Barresi says of the guitars on the Loudmouth project. "Normally I'd use multiple amps and cabinets, but we're going for more of a '70s old-school guitar sound with a sameness in tone throughout the record. It's pretty much just guitar straight into a head, one cabinet, done. On a lot of tracks we're using an amp that's been out for about two years called a Naylor-it's handmade in Detroit, and it's pretty spectacular. Between that and the 50-watt Marshall, we're just about covered."

The band and Barresi keep their options open nevertheless-out in the studio plenty of stacks are at-the-ready, from an Acoustic 360 bass rig for that "John Paul Jones" sound and guitar equipment including a 1968-69 100-watt PlexiLaney to heads from Sound City, Selmer, Soldano and a real beauty, a classic, turquoise, 1950s Class A Watkins Dominator.

Barresi also keeps handy a trunk that holds his collection of approximately 150 guitar pedals, with his newest acquisition being the tiny Woolly Mammoth built by Z-vex. "Z-vex boxes are all handmade, hand-painted and signed," Barresi explains. "You call up and order what you want, and in a couple of weeks it appears in your mailbox." The Woolly Mammoth controls consist of pinch, roll, EQ and output-other Z-vex items include the Fuzz Factory and, Barresi's favorite, the Seekwah, a psychedelic little gem that filters and arpeggiates, sort of like a tremolo-enhanced wah-wah pedal.

In that trunk you'll also find Lovetones' boxes with names like Doppelganger, Big Cheese and Meatball. "I use pedals for mixing as well," continues Barresi. "My friend Jonathan Little, who works for Conway, built something called the PCP (Professional to Cheesy Pedal) interface that I use all the time. It's a three-way re-amp box with level control, phase switches and a combiner, so you can take anything off tape, combine it and change levels. It also has a built-in DI, and it's purple with green lights-it looks very cool."

We could have gone on delving into that roadcase of esoteric treasures, but Barresi had to get back to work-I did catch a glimpse of a couple of "salt shaker" microphones that he swears are from the U.N. and sound great on bass drums...

On the way out I stopped for a chat in Studio B with BAY 7 co-owner Jeff Sheehan, an engineer whose credits include Counting Crows, Nirvana, L7 and the Texas Tornadoes. It turns out BAY 7 came about when Sheehan and Rolling Stones tech Dave Rouze hooked up and discovered a common interest in recording and equipment.

"Dave had a studio at his house that I started working in and eventually ended up running for him while he was on the road," Sheehan says. "We'd both been accumulating gear and keeping a lot of it in storage, and somehow it became a logical extension that we would open a studio. We started looking around, and this place had a great location-it's right off both the Hollywood and the 101 freeways and less than half a mile from Ventura Boulevard, with plenty of parking and lots of restaurants nearby that deliver. For many people, it's very convenient."

The two-room facility is now equipped with vintage Neves in both rooms. Studio A's desk features a Class A 8058 28x16x28 that has 52-in monitoring capability and tape machines that include a Studer A800 MkIII, an MCI JH-16/24 and an Ampex ATR 102 half-inch deck. The monitors remain as they were at Lighthouse-a George Augspurger three-way system with JBL components-and there's plenty of outboard, from a Fairchild 670 to dbx 165 and 160xs to LA-2s and LA-2As, Langs and Pultecs. There's also a 9-foot concert grand piano.

The spacious control room of Studio B houses a custom combination Neve 8038 with Flying Faders that is owned by producer and BAY 7 friend Don Was, who previously had it in an, obviously, large room in his house. Made up of two consoles combined by Neve guru Pat Schneider and equipped with 48 custom blackface Flying Faders, the board boasts 80 inputs. Although there is a 9x9-foot recording booth, Studio B is set up for mixing, with two Studer A800 MkIIIs, an Ampex ATR 104 and custom two-way main monitors with TAD components. Outboard includes dbx, Fairchild, Alan Smart, SSL, Trident, Focusrite, GML and lots more.

Although open for only three months on the day I visited, BAY 7 had already been host to mixes for PolyGram artist DJ Hive, RCA/Kneeling Elephant's Fly, and the Tom Werman-produced rockers Supersuckers. "Everybody who's been in so far is a friend, or a friend of a friend," Sheehan says. "We've been lucky, and we've had great word of mouth. I've worked in a lot of studios, and we're putting that experience to work here in trying to create a comfortable environment with great equipment. We're really eager to please, and I think that comes across to our clients."

Over at A&M Studios, engineer Marc DeSisto was just finishing up some mixing for Melissa Etheridge's upcoming release. The album (recorded at both A&M and Sunset Sound, with the bulk of the mixing done in A&M's SSL E Series-equipped Mix Room) was produced by Etheridge with guitarist/songwriter John Shanks, and was DeSisto's first project with the husky-voiced singer.

A Boston native, DeSisto is an all-around audio type who does remotes and live sound as well as studio recording. He has worked with Don Henley, Mark Knopfler, Joe Cocker, John Mellencamp, The Samples and Melanie Doane, and he was brought onto the Etheridge project by co-producer Shanks.

"John, who is Melissa's longtime guitarist, and I had worked together previously on a few records," explains DeSisto. "When he started co-producing with Melissa at A&M, they were working in Studio B, which I know like the back of my hand, so they called me in to help out. The studio was totally jammed with equipment, with something like 60 guitars and hardly an inch of space to walk between them! We had Kenny Aronoff on drums, who has also played with Melissa for a long time, Pino Paladino on bass, and John and Melissa on guitar. I brought in my M149 to try on Melissa's vocal, and she liked the sound of it a lot. Then we got rolling and things went pretty fast; we cut basics for 12 songs in a week, with Melissa singing and playing guitar. It was great-Melissa's live performances, both singing and playing, were truly amazing."

The show moved on to Sunset Sound for overdubs, including keyboards with Patrick Warren on Chamberlin and The Wallflowers' Rami Jaffee on B3 and other assorted keys. More basics were also cut at Sunset with Steve Ferone on drums.

"We did things differently for different songs, with quite a bit of experimentation," continues DeSisto. "Some of the tracks, instead of being cut with the whole band, started with a loop, acoustic guitar and vocal, and were built up from that. Another fun thing we did for effects was to record a few things with the performers actually playing in the live chamber at Sunset Sound."

The Etheridge album was recorded to analog tape, using BASF 900 at plus 5. "I've become a big BASF fan," DeSisto says. "It was actually a tip from Joe Chiccarelli and some of my other friends to try it. I've found it to be exceptionally quiet, with a wonderful range from bottom to top. It's got a nice warmth to it, but it doesn't alter the sound, and it was great for this record, where a lot of our tones came from vintage guitars and amps. We used very little EQ on our guitars, relying instead on different combinations of pickups, guitars, amps-it really seems that when you're not using much EQ, sounds find their place in the track more easily. Both John and Melissa are big collectors of amps and guitars and are fanatics about pedals, so we had a lot to choose from. We used a Fender Bassman, Fender Deluxes, a Tremolux and also a new amp we had a lot of luck with called TopHat-the TopHat really screams.

"A real convenience in working with all those amps was that we had a guitar amp switcher that [guitar tech] Brett Allen brought in," DeSisto adds. "We could switch between six amps and have various combinations on at the same time; so, instead of having to go out into the studio to change things, we could leave everything set up. That made things come together pretty quick. Having Brett there to look after guitars was a wonderful thing in general-it makes such a difference in things like sustain when the guitars are intonated properly."

The basic guitar setups included SM57 microphones, Pultec EQs and either a Fairchild, 1176 or Universal Audio compressor. "The Universal Audio has a very unique tone," DeSisto says. "Just don't look at the meter while you're using it!"

DeSisto, who has been an independent for nine years, cut his engineering teeth at A&M, both as an assistant and as a first engineer, and he credits that training for a lot of his work habits these days. "I was really fortunate to get to work on so many really great records there," he says, "like Pink Floyd's Momentary Lapse of Reason, and with Robbie Robertson, Tom Petty, Pat Benatar...people who were into doing it until it was right. I spent a lot of time with both Shelly Yakus and with Jimmy Iovine, who paid me the great compliment of having me do some engineering on U2's Rattle and Hum.

"Part of my A&M training that has really paid off is the habit of taking lots of notes-I'm kind of a fanatic about that. At A&M, when Jimmy Iovine wanted Bono's SM58 I knew which one it was, and on this project we also did that a lot. We kept notations on mics, serial numbers on amps, preamp combinations, fader positions-everything-so we could get back to a sound we liked if we needed to. We recorded a lot of songs, and it's really quite a record. Working with Melissa and such incredible musicians was an outstanding experience. Although there will be several mixers on the final record, I feel very fortunate that I'll get to be one of them."

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