Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Jason LaFarge

VP: When did you first get into recording and what was your first set up? Did you start lo-fi with the old cassette decks or was it better gear?

JLF: Well, my fascination for recording definitely came from my dad, who always had the best home audio gear. And as he would upgrade his stereo components, he would hand the old ones down to me. We're talking old McIntosh tube amps and his old Tandberg and Teac reel to reels (which I still have).

He mostly used it to record broadcasts off of FM radio, or to make backups of rare recordings on LP (always classical or jazz). He was never much into live recording, but his love of fine audio gear definitely had an effect on me. I remember trying to get more punch out of LP recordings I had by running them kind of hot to a high-bias cassette with Dolby on and then playing them back with it off.

Later, when I was in high school and started playing in rock bands (mid-'80s), dad bought me a Tascam Porta05 for Christmas. A somewhat shitty 4-track cassette recorder, but it put me in the frame of mind for multi-track recording. I used that recorder for years, off and on until I "upgraded" to a black-faced ADAT and then a 20-bit ADAT set up. Although I’d worked with 2" tape and DAW systems at other studio set-ups, I didn't upgrade to my Otari MTR-90 and ProTools rig until I relocated Seizures Palace to Brooklyn.

VP: So recording was a passion for you young. What prompted you to open your own studio?

JLF: Seizures Palace had existed as the project studio for Pineal Ventana (in a rehearsal space at Black Box and then later in the basement of Danette and Mitch's house in East Atlanta). We had recorded 2 records with Martin Bisi in the late '90s and I became friends with him during that stretch. After Pineal Ventana's demise (in 2001), Victory Girls was formed and Seizures Palace continued in Danette's basement.

Just prior to a planned vacation in NYC, I got an e-mail from Bisi stating that he never got a copy of the last PV album we had recorded with him. So during our vacation, we came out to visit Martin and gave him a copy of Axes to Ice.

It was then that he brought up the idea of another studio moving in to the space to keep overhead costs down (there had been several live-in tenants in the non-studio parts of the space for years, but NYC was cracking down on people living in industrial-zoned areas, so Bisi was looking for a business to move in). I didn't give much thought to it at the time, but when I got back to Atlanta, I went back to my retail job at Tower Records (at the beginning of the holiday season) and realized I hated it (as I had been there for 10 years -far too long).

Then, Victory Girls had a show at the Earl and just prior to going on; I found out that Danette was pregnant. Immediately I knew there was no way I could keep a studio running in the basement with a baby upstairs. During the entire show, I was consumed with thoughts of relocating to Brooklyn and running a full-time professional studio. I e-mailed Martin that night for details. That was the end of November 2001. We moved to Brooklyn on March 1st, 2002.

VP: Now you’re situated in one of the underground's most historic recording studios. Can you give a brief history of the studio prior to your arrival?

JLF: The studio is located in an old Civil War-era munitions warehouse (later a tin can factory) on the Gowanus Canal. In 1979 a very young Martin Bisi and some cohorts from high school (Fred Maher, Nicky Skopelitis) took over the space as a living space/rehearsal space. Maher and Skopelitis had an older friend who played bass (Bill Laswell) and he soon moved in. This was the beginning of Material. As I understand it, Martin was their road manager/sound guy in those days. At some point early on, Martin inherited some money and purchased the board still used at BC Studio - an old MCI board from Sigma Sound in Philadelphia (used on the old Philly Sound stuff like O'Jays, Spinners and Stylistics, as well as Bowie's Young Americans). He had spent all of his inheritance on this board and a 1-inch 16-track machine and had no money left over for cabling/mics/outboard gear, and caught all kinds of shit from the Material guys for not spending his money more wisely. Luckily, Brian Eno had heard Material and decided he wanted to work with them.

He came out and saw the space and what he had to work with, and realized that despite the nice gear, it was an incomplete studio. He ended up giving Martin a large sum of money to finish the studio and the first time Bisi ever hit record on a tape machine, it was for Eno's On Land record. He was 19.

So, in the early years of the studio, it was called OAO Studio and was a collaborative studio between Laswell and Bisi. During this period, they were involved in recording some of the early New York hip-hop albums and part of the seminal Future Shock by Herbie Hancock (including the famous scratching on Rockit). At some point there was a falling out between the two, and Laswell moved out, starting his own studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Martin renamed the studio BC Studio and ended up recording countless classic records there (Sonic Youth, Swans, Naked City, Cop Shoot Cop, Boredoms, Alice Donut, the list goes on and on and on...).

Despite their earlier falling out, Bisi and Laswell continued to occasionally collaborate there on studio projects including records by Iggy Pop, The Ramones and White Zombie. They no longer work togetherin the studio, but last year they did a show with John Zorn. Martin is now in semi-retirement, mostly working on his own musical output.

Check out www.martinbisi.com for details of what he is up to...

VP: Your building quite a reputation yourself, working with Michael Gira's Angels of Light, Khanate,

and Akron/Family. Who else have you been working with recently and how have these experiences shaped your vision of sound to recorded medium?

JLF: In the last couple of years I've had some very diverse music come through the doors. Some of my favorites have been Chicha Libre, Bad Girlfriend, and OvO . As far as shaping my vision of sound to recorded medium, I'm not sure exactly what you mean. I guess something like Chicha Libre presents a challenge for me in that they use instruments I'm not used to recording.

Getting the best sound out of an acoustic instrument is almost always more difficult thanmicing an amp.

VP: I mean your approach to production and the over all sound of a recording. Production value can "date" a record some what, like the over reverbered sound of the '80's, with no bass frequency at all. Some engineers like Steve Albini have a sound you can hear if you know his work. Do you have a particular approach recording or is it just the room sound that makes it distinct?

JLF: In general, my philosophy is to capture the sound of the artist. I'm not trying to put my "Signature sound" all over the recording. For example, the room certainly has a distinct sound for drums, but not all bands require a big drum sound with lots of ambient room mics mixed in. Some bands require a nice tight drum sound. You can pull that off in that room because the room sound doesn't get in the close mics. Sometimes bands need that "dated" sound. There have been more than a couple of records I've done that were soaked in reverb because that's what the music called for. I'm just trying to dowhat's best for the music.

VP: Besides recording at Seizure's Palace, your working with Andrew Barker in the Doom Band Hallux. What's the philosophy of the project and are you working on an album?

JLF: Well, Andrew first approached me after the Blue Prostitutes show that he curated at Union Pool and asked me if was interested in playing in a drop-C slow metal band. Apparently he has always wanted to play guitar in a metal band (he is mostly known for his jazz drumming). I was intrigued and we got together with another fellow-Atlantan, Hans Chew on drums. It kind of clicked from the get-go. After a couple of rehearsals, we brought in Jake Klotz to do vocals. One of the things I really like about this project is the diverse backgrounds of the musicians in the band. Andrew is a free-jazz drummer, Hans is a great honky tonk piano player (he has a solo record coming out soon - www.hanschew.com), Jake is a guitarist/vocalist in La Lus, and I've played in a few odd bands myself. I think I'm the only one who has played metal in a band before (Deity 5000) but it was nothing like this. I don't know that there is necessarily a philosophy to Hallux other than "low and slow." We have a record almost completed that we are very happy with. We are currently mulling over our options as far as getting it out. We will certainly press it to vinyl. I'm sure we'll be posting a release date in the near future on www.myspace.com/halluxmusic.

VP: Anything else you'd like to ad?

JLF: In this day and age, if you are not making music for yourself (primarily), then you are in it for the wrong reasons. That's it. Enjoy what you do and you will always have a certain level of accomplishment...