When I first walked into Barefoot Studios, a shark and a beautiful mutt greeted me. Elsie, at times affectionately called "the Pooper", runs off to announce my arrival. Welcome to the world of Eric Valentine. Any misconceptions of a flashy Hollywood producer's private studio are dashed as you realize shoes are discouraged and musical adventure is the sole purpose of this clubhouse. Eric has earned his place as a first call producer by developing unique methods, an endless supply of talent, his tireless, almost obsessive work ethic and a few lucky breaks. His breakout successes with Smashmouth and Third Eye Blind in 1997 came after years of 4-track recordings and office space studios. His presence at the top of the charts continues today with bands like Queens of the Stone Age, Good Charlotte and, recently, Lostprophets. Though he relishes the challenge of pleasing band, label, and his own musical sensibilities in today's very single-minded world of major label releases, he spends as much time on no-budget local bands from around the Bay Area. I met with him just before Christmas at his studio in Hollywood.
So let's talk a little history. How did you get here? You've now built two major recording studios for yourself to work in. The first was up in the Bay Area. That one came out of your first band's record deal, called T-Ride?
[laughter] Yes. Yes, it was.
That was in the early nineties.
Yes, I think that album came out in '91. The whole history is that I started out as a drummer. I started off playing very young and there were not many folks to play with. I wanted to play songs. Solo drums are not very fun. So, I started to learn other instruments. I learned guitar and a little bass, started to figure out how to record stuff so I could actually play songs. I started off with just two home cassette decks and a little mixer I bought at Radio Shack. I would record music on one cassette deck, plug it into my mixer, plug an instrument in, blend them together and record it to the other cassette deck. Just go back and forth until you had all the parts and could not hear the first thing you recorded anymore. I then made the giant leap to a Tascam 244 PortaStudio and used that for a long time. Recorded demos for bands at school and recorded my own music and spent a couple years working on that. I never really did the thing of interning at another studio. I briefly did that for a while but just wasn't interested. I really wanted to learn to do things my own way and getting people coffee and doughnuts was not helping me, so I just bypassed that whole thing. I just put the hours in myself making a lot of really bad recordings for a long time and just experimenting to come up with methods and an approach that worked for me and made sense.
It is a logical leap that you would want to work in a room that you built, unlike some producers that can just jump around.
I don't know how they do it. I can't bounce around studios. I have a complete loss of perspective and it can make things very difficult. I have done it at times as long as I can finish it at my own place and mix in a familiar environment then I'll survive. So there has been a long progression of studios. The first one was in a friend's parent's garage and then after that it was in a small little office space and then to another office space. After that was when the band actually got a record deal. The early studios were built to do demos for ourselves and we would record other stuff to pay the bills. We signed with a record company that agreed to give us the budget and improve the equipment in our studio so we could record it ourselves. I bought a vintage 8038 Neve console that had 32 1081s. I was 19 years old at the time. People said that Neves were great so I bought one — never used one before. Probably the smartest purchase I have ever made in my life without knowing it. I bought an Ampex MM1200 and a Studer 800 MKIII. The two machines that I still use today. Bought a U47 tube mic... just a handful of high-end stuff.
Those are some good decisions. You still use all the same stuff today save for the Neve console.
I still have and use all those pieces. With the exception of the tape machines, everything has gone up in value.
Absolutely. So that was in Mountain View?
When we got the record deal we moved out of the office space and into our own space. We actually built a place from scratch, invested some real money in making a nice studio. That was in East Palo Alto. We finished off the album there and had that place for a couple years. The band then had to go on tour. The studio didn't function well without me there to run it so we ended up closing the studio and putting all the gear in storage for about...