L.A. GRAPEVINE

Nov 1, 2001 12:00 PM, by Maureen Droney

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The Knack are Kback — with September's release of Normal As the Next Guy and the upcoming Live From the Rock and Roll Funhouse. Doug Fieger, the artistic, opinionated and always-nattily attired frontman/producer of the '80s hipsters responsible for “My Sharona,” has stayed busy the past few years writing and producing for a number of local L.A. bands. Now, hanging tough with his passion for power pop, Fieger and his Knack brethren (guitarist Berton Averre, bassist Prescott Niles and drummers Pat Torpey and David “Homes Jones” Henderson) have launched a new multiple-format foray: the studio CD, a live album and a DVD scheduled for early '02 release. Plans are also in the works to re-release 1999's Zoom with bonus tracks and the new title, ReZoom. “Nobody really heard that record,” comments Fieger ruefully. “Only hard-core fans even knew it came out, and a lot of them had no way to get it since it really wasn't in the stores.”

It was the strength of Zoom, however, that led to The Knack's new deal with Image Entertainment/Smile Records, and to the recording of Normal As the Next Guy. The 12-song Normal was cut half at L.A.'s House of Blues Studios and half at Fieger's home studio, with co-producer Richard Bosworth handling engineering chores.

“Our new manager, Jake Hooker, was out beating the bushes for us, playing people Zoom,” explains Fieger. “We got an offer from Image Entertainment, one of the largest DVD distributors. Image is affiliated with Smile Records, which believes very strongly in power pop.”

Fieger and Bosworth went for a vintage sound spin; all of the songs were recorded on API consoles to Studer analog 24-track. At Fieger's converted living room studio, a Mackie 24•8 was also used to supplement monitoring on the 16-in API desk, with modules rebuilt by vintage console guru Brent Averill and assembled by Ian Gardner of Boutique Audio.

Miking was on the vintage tip as well. “We looked at pictures of recording sessions from the '60s to see how they placed the mics, and we tried to do some of that,” explains Fieger.

“Both Doug and I are big Beatles aficionados,” adds Bosworth. “When Doug built the studio, he wanted to get some things that were used on Beatles records that we don't see here very often. The Abbey Road session book lists mics used on given sessions, and the AKG D-19, which was sort of the SM57 of Europe, was common. You'll see pictures of Hendrix and Cream using them, and they were used on some of John Lennon's vocals. They weren't normally used on drums, but when Geoff Emerick started recording The Beatles, he used them for overheads. In the beginning, they used three: one direct center and two coming from the sides. Doug had gotten three of them, so that's what we did. They sound different than any mic I've heard, with a really classy high end — not like a dynamic at all.”

With the studio album completed and packed to Doug Sax at the Mastering Lab for final tweaking, the band, Bosworth and the Design FX remote truck were off to Long Beach's South Bay Studios to record and film a greatest hits performance. Don't expect your standard concert footage on this DVD; as usual, Fieger and The Knack went for visual impact.

“Live DVDs are becoming a big industry,” notes Fieger. “But it's generally, ‘Three cameras in a club — call it a day.’ Boring! So I came up with the idea of a fake TV show, like Shindig or Hullabaloo. The guys who I hired — and I use that word loosely, because we had no money — were enormously creative. George Good of Goodsets designed and built the sets. James ‘Rico’ LaRocca directed and John Bilecky produced. Really, we made a million-dollar TV show for no money. When I walked in and saw what they'd done, I was flabbergasted.”

Oh yeah, and it sounds good too… “I've always felt that The Knack live was the essence of the band,” says Fieger. “But until we started working with Richard, I never felt we sounded as good on record as we did live. I'm really happy with what we got on both of these projects.”

With these releases and the accompanying live performances, you can expect there'll be some new hard-core Knack fans. “I only do what I believe in musically,” Fieger states. “That's all I've ever done. It's actually funny that The Knack was always accused of being a big marketing ploy — like I was some kind of Svengali with an eye on the marketplace to fill a slot and make a hit. I'm not that bright! The truth is, the market for the kind of music that I like died in 1968, but I just keep making it.”

You've heard composer Christopher L. Stone's music in films, commercials, made-for-TV movies and television series — most notably Walker, Texas Ranger, which he scored for seven years — numerous Disney, A&E and MTV specials, and even at the hit Las Vegas attraction Treasure Island. Many of those scores were composed at his private home studio, an unconventional space designed in collaboration with Rick Ruggieri.

The Emmy and ASCAP award-winning Stone grew up in the movie business — his parents produced and directed for MGM. Trained classically in Europe, he studied in Paris and Vienna before settling back in L.A. He's had four previous home studios; this time around, he was ready for his dream workspace. Built from the ground up on the site of a former garage, his current studio is, as Stone describes it, “part dubbing stage, part English manor house.

“Since I do music for both film and TV,” he comments, “I wanted to ensure that when it went to the film environment of the dubbing stage, it would sound exactly the way I wanted it to. I didn't want producers I work with to have that nervous debate, ‘Well, it sounds great here, but what's it going to sound like in theaters?’”

That goal was realized through the large size of the control room, the use of projection screens instead of computer monitors and, of course, the speaker system. “It's basically a theater system,” says Ruggieri, who was instrumental in the design of the O'Henry Sound Studios complex, and who has built numerous private studios, including ones for composer Denis Hannigan and producer Ed Mitchell. “Instead of working on a TV with small, near-field monitors, there are large screens and big JBLs behind them. It's a crossover between a typical recording studio and a dubbing stage/small theater.”

Comprising JBL 4638s with dual 15-inch woofers, 2352 horns and 2541 drivers, the speaker system also includes two Bag End subwoofers, Bryston amps and custom Mastering Lab electronic crossovers.

The control room features clean lines and a dignified, wood-paneled “boardroom” look, with nary a cable to be seen. “After working for 25 years in home studios, I was sick and tired of seeing wires and computer screens,” Stone explains. “It used to be that gear was important to clients, but now producers couldn't care less. I don't need flashing lights to impress them, and that's eliminated the need for racks. We have no equipment in view, and there are no obstacles to interfere with the sound.”

The custom-built control room furniture was maximized for equipment storage, and was designed in a “pod” with 360° access to the equipment panels. All equipment is hard-wired — no small feat considering there are some 200 feeds from sound modules and outboard equipment running through seven mixing desks: five Behringer Eurodesks and two Mackies — a 1604 and an SR32. Why the modular console setup?

“None of the digital consoles had enough inputs,” says Ruggieri. “And it really didn't make sense to invest in mid technology when we do a lot of our serious mixing in Pro Tools, bypassing the boards entirely. This modular setup was economical, and it had a small footprint.”

Stone works almost completely in Pro Tools, projecting its display, along with other visuals, from three Sanyo 5600 projectors, through a switching matrix, onto an 18-foot custom Stewart screen. The projectors are housed above the pod workstation area in sound-isolated and air-conditioned coves — complete with temperature readout.

“It was odd for me, at first, to see a quarter-note displayed the size of a silver dollar,” says Stone with a laugh. “But I quickly adjusted as I experienced the ease of working with my entire score projected over a 6-foot by 6-foot expanse. There's no way I'll ever go back to conventional monitors.”

Both Stone and Ruggieri have spent a lot of time thinking about the fatigue factor — an important issue when one regularly logs 12-hour workdays. “Eliminating clutter, having even lighting and temperature, and access to natural light, all combine to reduce fatigue,” Stone asserts. “Having the projection screens helps, too, because your eyes are generally focused on one plane. And, with LCD screens, there is none of the flicker that you have on TV monitors.”

From original design work to completion, the studio was two years in the making. Fabric panels in distressed knotty-pine frames produced the desired “library” effect while providing controllable acoustics, and double-paned and angled, control room-style glass outfit the windows to provide sound isolation. The floor, raised 6.5 inches, is filled with sand and the troughs that hide all those cables.

“Raising the floor allows wires to go everywhere in the building,” Ruggieri explains. “It also helps the acoustics a great deal. A lot of times when people convert a house to a studio, it's just sitting on a slab and will never sound right. You can add woofers till the cows come home, but you'll never get the bass right unless you actually treat the floor itself. Also, the floor is not attached to the rest of the house, which helps with the isolation. Construction technique is as critical as acoustics; any slop or looseness in the joints will cause your walls to resonate at unwanted frequencies, and contribute to all kinds of problems.”

A compact but quite live attached recording space is frequently used for strings and horns, and also houses a Drum Workshop rock kit previously owned by Tommy Lee, and a Steinway B piano that once belonged to Johnny Mercer. Stone's large mic collection includes Neumann tubes such as M50s, M49s and KM53, 54 and 56s, as well as a number of ribbon mics.

“Trying to accomplish what Chris wanted was quite a chore,” admits Ruggieri. “There are windows for natural light, lots of wood and a very large space to deal with. It took a lot of planning and time to get it all right.”

“It's true,” concludes Stone, “it was a bit of a labor of love. Some people buy a boat or a Lamborghini. I did this!”


E-mail L.A. news to MsMDK@aol.com, or fax 818/346-3062.






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