Anne Gauthier is a producer, engineer, and drummer who cut her teeth in the Montreal punk scene, touring with bands like TR/ST and The Frenetics. In 2015 she relocated to Louisville, Kentucky, and recently took over as head engineer for La La Land Studios when its founder, Kevin Ratterman [Tape Op #89] moved to Los Angeles. She's worked with Murder By Death, Bonnie Prince Billy, Rachel Grimes, Ray Lamontagne, Jim James, and more. Gauthier's got talent, vibe, an incredible work ethic, and Glyn Johns [#109] on speed-dial.
So, is it true that a Tape Op article led you to Kentucky?
I was hoping we'd talk about that! I had a loft space back in Montreal that I used to record in and I was wanting to get more into the analog side of things. I found this article about Kevin [Ratterman] and I thought, "This guy seems cool." I listened to his recordings and they sounded amazing. Plus he was a drummer and I'm a drummer. I got in touch with him when I came through town on tour. At some point he reached out and told me, "I need help. It's too much." I said, "I'll do it. I'll come down." So, yeah; a Tape Op article started it all, which I'm very grateful for.
And now you live in Louisville.
So random, yeah. Of all places.
When you moved to Kentucky in 2015, Kevin was still running La La Land and you all were working together, right?
Yeah. At first there was definitely a learning curve for me. I was coming from an all-digital setup in Montreal, where I had been working on my computer and my little board. I had an API 3024 [4 channel preamp] with another 4 or 8 channel preamp that I was connecting together. It was pretty simple, but it was mobile so I could travel to people's spaces. It took me a couple of months to learn the patchbay and gear here, to get the tape machine rolling, and all of that. But I did my first session by myself after three or four months. I worked with Kevin a lot, and then, at some point, he started touring more – that's when I started doing more sessions on my own.
What were you recording in Montreal?
Mostly projects from my musical community. My loft was a giant shared space, but it was all friends so I left my gear there. There's a lot of cool industrial loft spaces in Montreal that are somehow still around, even with gentrification. Our space was split in half: One half was a bunch of artists and the other half was musicians. The room was split in two with a sliding door, so it was almost made for recording.
When did you start playing in bands?
I started playing drums at 15 and joined my first band right away at 16. That's what I mostly did, until my 30s. I think my first tour of Canada was when I was 19, because I couldn't legally get into bars. That was with The Frenetics, my first serious band that made records and toured a bunch.
Were you involved with the recording of The Frenetics albums?
Actually, no. The only recording I was doing when I was younger was on a 4-track cassette that I got when I was 20. I did a lot on that. I always thought those [4-tracks] sounded cool.
Are you doing much tracking to tape at La La Land these days?
I'm doing as much as people let me. Sometimes there's a time constraint. I just got this cool 8-track, 1-inch machine. I've been using it as much as I can, when bands are up for it. I recorded a band a couple months ago and we only had seven mics in the whole session, with two guitars, bass, and three drum mics going through the 1-inch. It was pretty incredible. I thought, "I could not mix this and it already sounds like a record," which was a cool confirmation that it's a great sound.
Wasn't the White Stripes' Elephant recorded on 8-track?
I think so. [Yes, by Liam Watson, Tape Op #88, #15. -LC] And the fact that there's just three drum mics means there's not a lot of phase issues. I mean, there's always gonna be a little bit of phase, here and there, but there's not that much with three mics and it can sound so big.
What's your mic'ing technique with three mics? Are you doing the Glyn Johns triangle thing?
No. It's funny because I got to work with him last year. I was emailing recently and told him, "I did not use your method!" Just a bass drum, snare, and an overhead mic that I would move around, depending on the vibe of the song. It was cool making those decisions. It's fun to commit. With digital, it's so easy not to commit to anything. It's nice creatively, and I think sometimes it yields better results.
So, you email with Glyn Johns?
We worked on a session together last year at the studio.
At La La Land?
Yeah. There's this blues band, Screamin' John & TD Lind, and a few of the guys are from Louisville. Someone's dad was good friends with Glyn, so he came down from England for five days and they made a record.
Were you in the room the whole time?
Yeah, I got an engineering credit somehow. I knew it was gonna be an old school session, so I was trying to be ahead of the curve the whole time, being ready. I think I did pretty well. We got along really well. I'm this punk kid from Montreal and he's this guy from England. He was telling stories and happy to show me his tricks. At some point we were setting up drums, and he said, "So, this is what I do." And I said, "Are you showing me your method?" And he was like, "I guess I am!" It was very inspiring. He was 76 at the time, and still so passionate about the craft of it. It sounded incredible, too. I thought, "Wow. I don't know if I've heard this sound coming out of these speakers."
Was he using all your mics? Did he bring anything in?
They rented two vintage [Neumann] U 67s from Blackbird Studio, and he brought a mic we didn't have that he likes to use for the bass amp. But the rest were ours. It was pretty standard. He's not a big ribbon mic fan. It's not something I ever thought would happen – it was a nice surprise. He was supportive. So we've been emailing once in a while; it's all very cute. I'm very lucky, for sure.
Was that session to tape?
No, we didn't have enough time to do it to tape. We still had the API, so we did it through the API board. He was basically mixing live. I asked him, "What do you do for recalls? What if a band comes back a week later and wants something different?" And he said, "Well, it's their loss. I mix it. We all listen, and if they like it that's it."
That's how people used to make decisions in the studio.
If you listen to some old Nina Simone records, they're not perfect, but that makes it human in a way. Obviously you can't make a hip-hop record like that, but I feel it can work for a lot of rock.
So, what'd you replace the API console with?
A Trident TSM 40. When Kevin moved to L.A. he brought the API with him. We got the Trident from the Record Plant in Sausalito, California; it was in their B room. That was the room where Fleetwood Mac made Rumours, but it was not the same console.
Is La La Land under completely new ownership now?
Yeah. I'm the engineer, and I take care of a bunch of other work. Then there's one main guy who does the accounting, as well as a group of investors. It's a good concept to have people investing in the studio; people who have the money and want to do something cool for the city.
It is such a resource to the Louisville music community. Whose idea was that to put together a group of investors?
When Kevin was thinking about selling it, he got in touch with Gill [Holland] and Gregg Rochman and they were supportive. They said, "Yeah, we wanna do this. We want to keep La La Land in Louisville." I definitely got lucky.
Gill Holland runs the sonaBLAST! record label, and you've worked on a lot of their projects, which are so diverse. You've got R&B artists, and folk singers, and rock Ôn' roll bands.
They're a cool label. We definitely need more of that in Louisville; more people coming together.
How does the Louisville music scene compare to Montreal?
The biggest difference is that Montreal is six times bigger, so there's more of everything. In Montreal, it'd be like, "Now I'm gonna go to the house punk rock show, and then I'll go to the loft where they have all the noise art rock." It felt like everything had a little pocket. In Louisville, it's smaller, so the rock scene is a little more inclusive. There are a lot of positive aspects to that.
Are you playing drums at all these days?
Not really, no. I'll do it if a friend's band asks me to sit in for a couple of shows. That's happened a few times over the last few years. I'd do it because it's not a huge commitment. But it's long days at the studio, so I might not wanna be playing drums after 10 p.m.
Do you get a lot of nationally touring bands coming through, or is it mostly Kentucky-based artists?
I'd say we do a couple of national acts per year. A lot of it is local or regional. We're near a few bigger cities [Cincinnati, Lexington] so we do get some of that.
It looks like you've been doing a lot of mixing lately. What's your mixing setup?
I mix through the board, usually through a couple channels. I'd like to mix through every channel, but with recalls it would be a nightmare. Sometimes I'll do stereo for drums, mono for the bass, and stereo for everything else. I do like to print the mix to tape [1/4-inch, 2-track]. It doesn't always work, but when it does it adds some nice glue to it.
I saw that you've done some work with Girls' Rock Louisville.
I try to help out whenever I can. I've been recording the bands every year; it's a very crazy day, usually. I try to teach some. I'm part of an online camp right now, where they do streaming lessons. I'll be teaching a music production course for them next month.
What advice would you give to budding engineers?
Whenever I hear interns say, "I want to be a recording engineer," I joke, "Don't do it!" But, all jokes aside, I'd say be ready to commit your life to it or at least a couple years to it. I think, to become good at it, and make a name for yourself, you have to do it, and do it, and do it: 60 hours a week. That's how you're going to become good at it; learn tricks, and find your style. For people at home, it's important to be open to fun creative ways of working while making sure your mic's not buzzing and there's not a fan in the background. At home, getting a clean signal is probably the ultimate goal. A lot of the preamps that you can buy for a couple hundred bucks are great. They do what they need to do.
Maybe someday you'll be in your 70s and still recording, like Glyn Johns. Can you imagine that?
Working with him showed me that being passionate keeps you young. I realized, "Oh, I could still be doing this when I'm 75." Which is awesome to think about!