Coming up for air.
Spent a great evening over Texas ribs (and a string of awesome bluegrass bands) with Stuart Sullivan, owner of Wire Studios, and a veteran recording engineer. Grew up in rural Indiana, eventually gravitating to the music mecca of Austin, via Bloomington and a degree in audio recording at IU. It was a period of revolution in recording – multi-tracking arrived which completely transformed the art of making records, and suddenly elevated the role of the producer and audio engineer who’s talents could now be harnessed – instead of just placing mics for a one-take live recording. Lots of experimentation (often aided by assorted substances) as artists pushed the new medium. John Lennon sang hanging upside down from a rope, spinning around to emulate the sound of a rotating leslie amp… crazy and great.
Wire Studio is clearly rooted in the analog sound – a truly a vintage studio. API mixing board, 2″ tape, a cupboard full of old ribbon mics… In a world of proTools and sequencing, Stuart really committed to the traditional recording style. He has engineered in some of the world’s most famous studios, including Air and The Manor in England (and speaks with a childlike giddiness about his latest mic purchases – which I enjoyed vicariously), and has ‘seen some &#*$’ as they say. He and his longtime business partner, Paul Leary, founding guitarist of the Butthole Surfers have quite a track record. Including the Reverend Horton Heat, the MeatPuppets and Sublime’s eponymous platinum album – a session where Stuart witnessed the lead singer Bradley Nowell’s self-destruction on valium and heroin. Josh overdosed shortly after the record’s release. Engineers have a bird’s eye view into the lives of successful musicians – and it’s often not a pretty picture.
A new father of twins, Stuart is very philosophical about the music industry. Fame and fortune are often fleeting – interesting for him in a town that attracts so many aspiring artists, looking for that elusive record deal. He’s seen bands come and go, and is becoming more and more intrigued by the organic grassroots approach that bands and labels are starting to take. Grow slow, control your future, don’t overspend. He regaled me with the stories from back in the day – big advances and big excess.