L.A. Grapevine, August 2008
Aug 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Bud Scoppa
In 1998, Larrabee Studios owner Kevin Mills asked mix engineer Dave Way, his friend and colleague, to check out Andora Studios in the Cahuenga Pass, which was up for sale. The facility — originally built in the '70s for singer Tom Jones, who'd christened it Britannia — had everything you could ask for in a rock studio, and Way gave it top marks. Based on that recommendation and without setting foot in the studio himself, Mills bought Andora, renaming it Larrabee East.
At the time, Way had no idea that he'd become a co-owner of the facility in 2005, buying the building, doing the necessary renovations and renaming it The Pass. Before he made the leap of faith, Way's wife, Jamie, who'd been the studio manager at all three Larrabee locations, had run the numbers and encouraged him to jump on it.
“At the time,” Way recalls, “my friends were saying, ‘Why would you buy a studio now when so many people are recording and mixing in their homes?’ I'll admit that I'm guilty of that myself. I'm in a position where I can be with my two kids and set up a mix room to my liking; I'm fortunate that way. But you can't have a tracking room like this one at your house. You can't accommodate 20 string players and the A&R people, and have the services that you have here — with runners available to go get guitar strings and that kind of stuff. Clients are cutting their budgets where they can, but you can't replace all of that with a home studio. I think that as we get past this crunch period, people are gonna realize the value of these studios, especially as some of them fall by the wayside.”
Way and his partners bought the place with all the goodies thrown in, including a pair of Neve 8078s, one in each room. While the board in the mix room came from Smoke Tree, the one in the tracking room was bought new in '76 and stored for 10 years before being installed, so Studio T's control room has been its only home. They also picked up tons of complementary outboard gear: 1176s, LA-3As and LA-2As; Pultecs; Tube-Tech compressors; a Fairchild 670; an Alan Smart compressor; two EMT stereo tube plates; Motown and GML equalizers; a pair of Gates Sta-Levels; two Lang EQs; some Neve 2254s; and API 550As, along with a nice mic collection.
I hadn't been inside the building since 1978, when I dropped by with my songwriter pal Geoffrey Cushing-Murray to visit a session for the Beach Boys' L.A. (Light Album), on which Cushing-Murray had three co-writes. As I recall, the décor was chrome and glass with dark surfaces, so I hardly recognize it as Way shows me around. The big studio is practically iconic in its '70s rock vibe; the second-floor lounge has big windows overlooking the studio, giving it the feel of a VIP balcony, and the new owners have opted for earth tones throughout, giving the facility a laid-back air. There's a gigantic flat-screen TV on the far wall, and cushy couches are arranged to form a seating area. This strikes me as the sort of place you could spend some time in.
The funny thing is, despite all the obvious pluses — not the least of which is its location, a stone's throw from Hollywood and the Valley, right off the Barham Boulevard exit of the 101 — The Pass doesn't yet have the profile of many of L.A.'s high-end studios.
Nonetheless, the studio has quietly attracted its share of A-list clients, including Rick Rubin, who put Andora on his short list in 1994, when he mixed Tom Petty's landmark Wildflowers there with Richard Dodd. He returned to mix a chunk of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Stadium Arcadium with Ryan Hewitt soon after Way took over.
Since then, Rich Costey has mixed the Foo Fighters at The Pass, Bill Bottrell has done projects with Sheryl Crow and Rosanne Cash, the Smashing Pumpkins locked out the tracking room for months to cut an album with Roy Thomas Baker and Terry Date, Dave Sardy was in with Wolfmother and the Rolling Stones, Neal Avron produced last two Fall Out Boy albums, George Drakoulias mixed Liverpool's Zutons and T Bone Burnett did some sessions with Robert Randolph.
The Pass' rock clientele remains its bread and butter, but with fewer major-label rock projects and tighter budgets all around, the need to diversify is a no-brainer. “We also get movie soundtracks and scoring sessions, even things like photo shoots and video shoots,” Way says. “New Kids on the Block were in here recently for that purpose. It seems that some people want to use the place just for the way it looks as opposed to all the great gear and everything. We also have these live in-studio performances that are mainly showcased through the Internet. Bands come in and set up a full-on live performance in the big room, they film it and it goes out on the Web a couple weeks later.
“But we have rock clients in here hunkered down for five or six months at a time, particularly in the tracking room,” Way continues. “There are always gonna be people who want these consoles and tape machines — you don't see those outside of studios like this one anymore.
“The Pass is quietly becoming a favorite room for a lot of top producers and engineers, and that's without any advertising. Now that we've had a few years to gather up some great clients and great records, we'd like to get to those people who haven't been here since it was Andora.”
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