When I was setting up our interview with musician/producer David J, he asked if I had any interest in speaking with Tony Green, the engineer/recordist for his last few albums. I was going to be in the Los Angeles area soon, so I agreed to drop by Tony's modest, yet awesome, home studio, Ear Gallery Music Studio. Set next to his home, and perched on the edge of a ravine, the location is a peaceful change from the hectic pace of L.A.
How did you and David J meet?
It was really funny. We were doing this kind of "underground club" over in Glendale. A friend of ours had started this invite-only event in his loft. We'd have tons of singer/songwriters come in, and we were the house band. My wife, Susan Costantini, played piano and I was playing bass. We'd have people coming in, "Oh, play this song. It's in G." It was challenging. This guy shows up, and he looks familiar, but I don't really know who he is. He's got an English accent, and he asked if we could play [Love And Rockets'] "No New Tale to Tell." I said, "Yeah, I know that song." A lot of people come up and ask to play covers. He showed me how it goes on guitar. We played it and had fun. After we were done, I said, "You sound just like that guy." He said, "Cheers mate, I am that guy!"
That's too funny.
He actually ended up moving into the loft and living there for a while, but now he's down in the San Diego area. We recorded his last two albums [Not Long For This World, An Eclipse of Ships] here.
That came about just from meeting him there?
Yeah. We played together with him live after we met. The cabaret stuff he does is really cool. It's acoustic piano, and upright bass. It's very theatrical. He said he wanted to record it, so he came over and recorded the first one. He loves the environment here, being able to go out back and chill out. I considered it an honor because he knows so many peoples' studios, and this is just my little project studio. David's really great to work with because he's very spontaneous. I come from a jazz background, and I like how he has the whole thing in his head. He tells you what to do, and then he knows when it happens. It might not necessarily be the perfect take, but he knows when it's got that vibe. He'll say, "That's it! We've got it!" When you listen back to it, he's right.
He has good instincts.
I bet it comes from all of his years of doing that. He doesn't like click tracks. I'll ask if he wants click and he doesn't want it.
How did you approach the sessions? Were you tracking multiple instruments at the same time?
Yeah. I think he liked to do most things all at once. At one point we put drums in the iso booth; I played bass in the control room, my wife would be on piano in the house, and we'd put David in the house. I've got tie lines going into our home. We've got a room off the deck that he would track his vocals in. He'd set up candles, create a vibe, and then we'd just track it.
You could run the computer in the control room and play bass?
Yeah. I'm just hitting record, and then we could hear each other because of all the mics.
Could you see each other at all?
No. That was kind of cool. It really forces the musicians to listen to each other. The mic that I used on David's voice, for the most part, was the Telefunken AK-47. I really like how that worked on his voice. It gave an edge to it and really put him out front.
Did you do a lot of overdubs on those records?
On the vocals, some of the live ones we kept and others we re-did. Then we'd bring in different instruments. Sometimes he'd say, "You know what? We need mandolin on this." He'd find some mandolin player and bring him in. Sometimes we'd do pedal steel. On this last one [An Eclipse of Ships], he really went for an Americana vibe.
What led you to having a recording space here?
I've done a few film soundtracks, and I really like composing. I've always been into recording, ever since I had an old TEAC 4-track. A friend of mine, Bill Burgess, and I went to school together, and we used to create these crazy tapes. Now we're working on a new project called Space Dozer. He lives down in Austin, Texas; talk about not being able to see each other! We're sending stuff back and forth. He comes up every once in a while. It's been a two-year project getting that going, just because of the distance.
But yeah, I've always been interested in composing. It's great to have these tools. It's really been a renaissance for a lot of people to be able to get an idea, record it, and put it down. That's where I really like having my own workspace, as well as being able to create without the idea that it's gotta be sellable. I can just create! I can do whatever amuses me.
Did you have other studios in other homes before this?
Never my own. I usually shared with Bill Burgess; he and I would combine our gear. But this one was finally my own space.
This space was a garage before?
Yeah, I just built it out.
That's pretty ingenious to run the tie lines into the home, especially for the grand piano.
Yeah. I just did an album [Endlings] with a band called The Well Pennies. It's an indie/folk/pop sound. They're really great. We did all the strings in there with the hardwood floors and the bright ceilings. It sounds great. We even tried drums in the kitchen. We had to unplug the refrigerator so that it didn't come on in the middle of a take. The tile floor had a nice presence to it.
How many tie lines did you run into your home?
These are disconnected buildings. I've only got six in there, along with my headphone send. I usually don't need more than that.
Does it ever get very loud outside?
No. At one point while we were doing strings there were yard guys next door with the weed whackers, so we had to stop and wait until they finished. Every once in a while we'd get a helicopter. This is L.A. I was talking to one of my neighbors, and he's like, "Are you guys going to be loud?" I was thinking, "No, I'm concerned that you're going to be loud!" I'm more concerned about noise coming in than sound going out.
Like when recording acoustic bass.
Yeah. That's why I like the isolation booth. I also use it for the louder stuff.
You've got the Apogee Symphony. That's a wonderful interface.
I just got that to do the Well Pennies project. That was part of the deal. They basically paid for it in exchange for some time. I really needed to upgrade. I was using an [Apogee] Ensemble, and it only had eight channels. It just wasn't enough.
What other things have happened in this space?
I just did a project with sax player Vinny Golia in here. That is a jazz thing we are calling "9 one 9."
Are you playing on that one?
Yeah, and Susan was playing piano and Breeze Smith on drums.
You and Susan must have met through music.
Yeah, we did. I was actually living in Boston at the time, and she was living out here. A friend of mine said, "You've gotta meet this girl! She's just like you." I thought, "Oh man, just what I need. A girl all the way on the other side of the country." I came out here to help some friends move, and we met. I thought, "Oh, she's great. I like her. Now what?" That's how I ended up out here. When I moved out here, Susan was touring with Kevin Prosch. He was doing an a singer/songwriter/gospel-y thing. He asked me if I wanted to play bass. We started touring and did that for five or six years. That was really fun. We went all over the place. I was glad I moved out here. I ended up marrying "the girl," and now I've got my own studio... it's been good!