The Tone Factory is one of the few commercial recording studios in Las Vegas. Initially started by musician Vinnie Castaldo to serve his own needs, the studio soon became busy with local and national acts dropping through to cut songs and make albums. Vinnie's recorded up and coming local emo bands like Ashbury and Fletch — who are making waves with the kids — but clients like All American Rejects, Aynsley Dunbar, Denny Laine, Enuff Z' Nuff, Escape the Fate, Ivan Neville, Jake E. Lee, Leslie West, Steve Nieve and the Vince Neil Band betray a wide variety of music coming through the doors. Hell, Vinnie even created the music for an acclaimed audio book of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Recent projects have seen Vinnie working with producer Kevin Churko on a Simon Collins album, including a guest drum jam with his pop, Phil Collins! The Tone Factory is one of those comfortable studio spaces, with lots of instruments, excellent recording equipment and enthusiastic and talented people behind it.
Your studio started with your band, Mama Zeus, having a space for private use?
I had been in bands in Vegas since the '80s. Some of the bands I was in, the guys went on to be in Third Eye Blind and Lenny Kravitz, so they were pretty good bands. Being a drummer, I was always joining other people's bands where I was just the drummer. I kind of had my own musical direction that I wanted to go in, so I started Mama Zeus in the early '90s.
Picking all the people you wanted in it?
Yeah, I picked everybody. I wanted to do music that wasn't "current" — to write music that was real to us. I wanted to find people who had that kind of sensibility. We sounded like Zeppelin meets The Black Crowes, but with a girl singer who was very sultry. Her favorite band was the Allman Brothers — you don't meet many girls who are into that! Nicole [Sottile] is an amazing artist and writer. We played around for ten years and did as much as you can in Vegas as a band. People don't really care about original bands in Vegas because there is so much other stuff going on. Now that DJs are rock stars, live music here falls by the wayside, which is kind of a shame. We played in L.A. a bunch. We also used to play in Utah at these really cool, hippie-type bars. We were holding out for a major label deal. We almost got signed by Universal. In 2001 most majors went through a restructuring, some label heads lost their jobs and we were back to square one. We just kind of looked around and said, "We're all in our thirties now. We can't do this anymore." It was costing us money. At the same time I was in The Fab, playing Beatles [covers] in the casinos on the weekend for a living, as well as doing the studio gig. The studio came about when I met engineer Larry Brewer in '99. I met him at a Fab show where he was doing sound. I asked him if he would help us with a record that we were doing in my home studio. It turned out that he wanted work at our rehearsal space, which was an eight hundred square foot open warehouse. I brought all my gear down there, and he bought some gear, and before you know it we had a little pro situation happening. We got through the record and I ended up finishing it myself, because he was too busy working. We hit it off from there. He's done lots of major label records — big high- pressure types — so he showed me things that he learned from great producers over the years as far as mic'ing and stuff. A couple of "secrets" that seem pretty basic now, but they're probably things that you wouldn't learn in school. I've employed some of what he's shown me, but I don't use them all the time. I've come up with my own techniques, and I try different things every time I record.
To see what will work.
I never stick to the same techniques, because I don't want to have the same sound for every record. All the samples that I use on pop stuff and heavy stuff — I made the samples.
Did you build a room in the rehearsal space?
Yeah. At first it was a big, open room and we brought all the gear and stuck it in the corner and then we thought, "Well, let's build two walls and a ceiling and then we'll have a control room." I was getting ready to do that and my friend, Dave Bellanca — a pro-audio dealer and studio designer from Buffalo — said, "Let me design you something." So the rehearsal space turned into this really nice room, then, all my friends wanted me to record them and it kind of mushroomed from there. From early 2000 I've been recording tons of bands in Vegas. I took over this new facility four years ago. It was designed by the same guy. I...