What do Bob Dylan, Lucinda Williams, LL Cool J, Ozzy Osbourne, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, U2, Mick Jagger, AC/DC, The Damned, The Posies, and Rage Against the Machine all have in common?
They all belong to a long and diverse list of artists that have had David Bianco touch their music. I fondly remember my own daily ritual of going into Toast Recording in San Francisco, in 1997, to work on my band's (Black Lab) debut record for Geffen/DGC. David and I have been friends ever since. I recently caught up with him at his studio, Dave's Room.
Your studio here in North Hollywood used to be Mama Jo's. Can you tell me a little about the place?
It was built in '69 or '70 and was built from the ground up to be a studio by Freddie Piro. He and a couple of techs had a brain trust, and they put it together with the right amount of fabric and wood in the live room, so you get a really good sound everywhere. It's got double thick walls with resilient channel, a serious build-out, and was a studio that was competing with Ocean Way and Sunset Sound and other big studios back in the day.
Who were some of the people that worked here?
Alan Parsons [Tape Op #42] liked it. He did some work with Ambrosia here. George Duke worked here. He actually four-walled the place for months and months at a time. I believe it was one of Neil Giraldo [Pat Benatar's husband and guitarist] favorite places to work. And Rick Rubin did some work here with Jack Joseph Puig.
Tell me about the setup here. There's no console, just a [Digidesign] ProControl, an Audient Sumo summing amp, and loads of nice outboard gear.
You noticed. I went around and around about this, and my wife and I actually had some very heated discussions. I wanted a place that I could multitask in, and have a workflow that could be pretty quick, because I do a lot of mixing in here for people all over the world. People that I don't even meet, but I just send files and emails to. When I started, back in the 70's, we had old API consoles at Record Plant. We used to wake up every morning trying to figure out how to patch around the console. We had [Universal Audio] 1176s — that people worship nowadays — that were just about unworkable. We had to constantly call Universal Audio and say, "These power supplies suck!" It's very interesting how nowadays people worship these vintage things, but they had so many problems. We had to figure out the clearest path to get from point A to point B. From the microphone to the preamp, from the preamp to the tape, and if you had to, an EQ. The [console] bussing's active combining amplifiers were noisy as hell! With this in mind, I thought, "Boy, I really don't want to have to deal with that. I have my vintage gear, I have the lovely preamp that I like, I have my lovely compressor that I like, and I don't want to have any crap in between." The more I thought about it, I realized that, "What do I need a console for?" You need a console for combining things. Back in the day, when we had 24 tracks, we had kick, snare and drums left and right. That was your drum allocation. Those four tracks. So you had to balance your cymbals and your toms on the left and right tracks to be perfectly in phase with your kick and your snare, and it had to be a solid thing, so that when you put your faders at zero you heard every nuance of the drums. It worked. Sometimes you had the luxury of two more tracks and put the toms on a separate track, but that was rare. Sometimes, you might even be able to put room ambience on two separate tracks. But for the most part, you combined everything and it was a nightmare to say the least. Now we have infinite tracks, everything can have its own track, so the whole idea of combining through a console is moot. So what do you need a console for? Headphone mixes? I'm not going to spend $50,000 to 75,000 for a headphone mixer! I send your headphone mixes out of Pro Tools, to the HEAR headphone system, and everyone can mix themselves. When it comes time for mixing I don't have to turn down my outputs or anything to accommodate an old funky Neve or anything like that. I can just go. There are times that I like that coloration, so I have a Neve...