Stuart Sullivan has worked with a diverse list of artists. Sublime, James McMurtry, Tejano greats Little Joe y La Familia, The Meat Puppets, The Dead Milkmen, James Cotton, and Willie Nelson have all tracked with Stuart at the faders. He often teams with producer Paul Leary of the Butthole Surfers (in issue #94 as well) and in 2001 he opened his own studio, Wire Recording, in Austin, Texas. I visited him at Wire to discuss his techniques, experience, and the changing landscape of the recording industry.

<This article has some additional bonus content read it here.>

What first excited you about the studio?

In junior high and high school I was playing in a band and a friend of ours had a little recording setup in his basement. I was the uncomfortable, grumpy guy. I said, "Look, man, we can't wear headphones. I don't even want to see the mics." He was really gracious and, surprisingly, the tracks came out really well. Then I got into Indiana University. I was looking for an alternative to business school. I saw a "Studio Resources and Techniques" class. It said to you had to talk to the professor. I met with the professor and he said, "You realize this is for graduate students in electronic music. You're entering your sophomore year as a business major." But he'd gone to school where I had grown up and he said, "Aw, what the hell. You're in." I believe he realized that in the next year or two the electronic music program was going away; they were going to start an audio program to record their operas, orchestras and recitals. He saw that as an opportunity and thought I might be handy a few years down the road. I was there when they started their audio program and was able to record five operas a year, with four performances of each, for three and a half years.

You did that to tape with stage mics?

We had a [Neumann] SM 69 in the catwalk and dropped it down. For a couple of years, all we could do was play with the angle and width of it, as well as how high or low we could get. Then we got the okay and dropped a few placement mics and a couple of hidden mics for support, if needed. We got a little bit more into that, particularly with the orchestra. The Musical Arts Center at Indiana University was just an incredible hall.

What did you learn back then that you're still using today?

Listen to things acoustically. If it's an amp, you can get it out of a little room and into a bigger one where it doesn't blow your ears out. Sometimes you want to hear the compression in the space. To sense these elements in the room is a great way to understand them, and to know whether you want that or whether you're scared of that. [laughter] There're a gazillion steps - and you can simplify them as much as you want - but if a recording starts off bad, every other step after that is struggling to make it up. I'm not going to say that if it starts bad there's no way anything can get better. That's ridiculous. But with anything you lose at the beginning, you can't get as much back and it gets harder and harder to add to it.

So you put in a lot of critical energy, even before you're mic'ing.

Right. I have many friends who are really talented that say, "Just get it in Pro Tools. Once it's in [the computer] you can deal with whatever you need to do. You can clean it up." I recognize and respect that, but I haven't gone that way yet. I still want to explore all the possibilities of getting real sounds. I'm a traditionalist, only in the sense of hearing and capturing music; not necessarily in how I treat it. Whether it's an ensemble or an individual overdub, performance-based music is one of my favorite things and that's why I maintain a large room. If it's a convincing and transcending performance, those are the things people recognize and feel. Not whether I put up this cool mic and did this and that. Hopefully that makes the recording sound even better and makes it go straight to your heart more. It's a performance you're trying to capture, and the environment you create to capture that performance is crucial.

What were you doing before moving to Austin?

I finished school and received a job offer from Universal Recording in Chicago. By job, I should say, "paid internship." It seemed like a pretty sweet deal, but I had been experiencing this phenomena called "poor and cold" for two solid years. I just couldn't take it.

What happened once you got to Austin in 1983?

I got a job at Texas French Bread [bakery/café] and went around asking all these studios if they needed an intern. Nobody was too interested. [I got into] Lone Star Studios, which is now gone. Willis Alan Ramsey had a record [his self-titled debut] that was popular, and the song "Muskrat Love" was a huge hit for Captain & Tennille ...

 

The rest of this article is only available to our subscribers!

Tape Op is a free magazine devoted exclusively to recording music.

Read It Digital!

Log in or subscribe to purchase download and/or viewing access for this and all our issues.

Buy Tape Op magazine!
 

Current and back issues of Tape Op can be ordered online through our distributor, Hal Leonard.

Buy Tape Op magazine!
 

We've been publishing articles about creative music recording since 1996. Check out all of our issues here.

 
 More Interviews 
John Baccigaluppi · Jan. 15, 2006
As I'm talking with Mike Mogis the afternoon before his sold-out gig with Bright Eyes at UC Davis' Freeborn Hall, it strikes me that, for him, balance means more than moving faders. In the past...
Larry Crane · Sept. 15, 2010
When the chance to interview David Byrne presented itself, the first thought I had was how enjoyable it would be to talk about David's work over the years with Brian Eno. Sure, Eno produced some great...
John Baccigaluppi · Sept. 15, 2011
In doing the design for Brian Eno's interview in Tape Op #85 I had wanted to try and illustration instead of a photo for the piece. There is a Picasso drawing of Igor Stravinsky that I liked and I...
John Dylan Keith · Jan. 2, 2004
I've been listening to Bonny 'Prince' Billy's "Master and Everyone" a little obsessively lately, so it seemed auspicious when the chance to interview him came up.  His avoidance...
· Feb. 24, 2011
THE "DRUG STORE TRUCK-DRIVING MAN" From Tape Op issue #2! Here's a true story from an engineer that was there: On the condition of anonymity, here's what happened, as best as I remember it... keep...
William Bernhard · March 15, 2001
Looking at the resume of Sean Slade and Paul Kolderie is like reading a who's who of '90s rock: Radiohead, Hole, Dinosaur Jr., Uncle Tupelo, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, so on and so forth. I had the...
Steve Krolikowski · Sept. 15, 2010
Ross Robinson has over 20 years of album production experience spanning genres of intense alternative, metal and experimental rock, and is known for his evocative psychological manipulation as well as...
Kevin Robinson · Nov. 15, 2000
Every now and then a record comes out where the production and recording techniques work together with some really unique songwriting to make a masterpiece album. The kind you listen to hundreds of...
Adam Selzer · Oct. 31, 2006
Camper Van Beethoven was one of the first 'indie' bands as we know the term to imply. They were releasing their own records in the mid 1980s, a very unusual thing at the time. The band incorporated...
  • Start A Discussion

Wed, Sep 17, 2014 - 4:33PM
Get a dialogue going below:
:
:
:
:
: