Mr. Trent Bell is the proprietor of Bell Labs, a fine recording establishment in Norman, Oklahoma, a member of the preeminent pop combo known as the Chainsaw Kittens and the soundman for the Flaming Lips. We caught Mr. Bell as he was on a short tour with the Kittens supporting their self titled CD. Not coincidentally, the said recording had been created, written and recorded at Bell Labs in a wonderful, low-pressure environment and it shows. Yes, the record is a treat to listen to. Well, anyway, we whisked Mr. Bell off to the colorful Jackpot! Recording Studios for a quick tour of the facilities and an informative little chat.
So have you been in the Chainsaw Kittens all along?
I played guitar on the very first record, but I wasn't actually in the band. After it was done they were like, "Hey, you want to be in the band?" So I did. It's been a while now. I'm only 26 years old, but it seems like we've been around forever. The Chainsaw Kittens formed when I was a senior in High School and they had another guitar player at the time. They had just signed to Mammoth and at that point, bands like us weren't really getting signed.
Wasn't that in the late '80s?
This was around '89-'90. That was before Nirvana. I think we got $3000 to record the first record and we were like, "Oh my god! We're in the big time now." Have you ever heard of that country band that has sold 3 million records called the Tractors?
The singer, before he was in the Tractors, recorded our first record and he hated it.
He just thought we were so weird. A couple of years ago we saw a Tractors video and we were like, "Oh my god that's him!" We thought it'd be really funny to re-release that record. It's a really weird record as far as lyrical content and stuff. Re-release it and put real big, "PRODUCED BY STEVE RIPLEY OF THE TRACTORS!" Just ruin his life.
Where was that done?
In Tulsa, at Leon Russell's old studio. A big church.
Did it have good acoustics?
Yeah it did, but the album doesn't really sound that great 'cause he didn't really do that great of a job on it. He had a Neve board and all these Neumann microphones, but thinking back, he didn't use any of the Neumann mics. He used all 57s and stuff. I think he really didn't like us.
Ouch. Do you ever think about that kind of experience when you're working with someone?
Oh yeah, totally. We did a record with Butch Vig and he's such a good guy. He practically did our record for free. We worked with a guy named John Agnello, who I learned a lot from. Working with a lot of these people, I'd just sit back and watch what they were doing. Whenever we had some time off I was like, "I'm gonna put a studio together." When we got signed to Scratchie, the first thing we said to them was we're not gonna do demos for our record and we're gonna record it ourselves. They were like, "Cool."
It's nice to know a label will allow that. So that was about two years ago that you got the studio going?
And that all started 'cause of the Scratchie deal?
We had some time off and this guy in Norman was selling his 16-track and an AudioArts board together. I had saved up some money so I thought I might as well get it. I bought it and I had it in my house for a while, I eventually got mics and outboard gear, two DAT machines and stuff like that and moved it out into a barn. Over the two years we've gotten new stuff. The new board I got I just love, the Neotek.
How many channels?
28 by 28.
28 assignable busses for each one?
Each channel has 28 little buttons. Very flexible. It's huge. It's 7 feet long, 3 feet deep. It has a hundred something point patch bay.
Can you pull out individual channel strips?
Yeah, but all the mic connectors and stuff you have to solder. It's a pain, but it's a good board.
What did you do with the old board?
I still have it. I think what I'd like to do is if I could get a 24-track 2" I could have a studio A and B. But in Norman, there's not a hell of a demand for that!
So this is all set up in a barn on your friend's property.
It's a big, metal, prefab building. What we did is we went in and built a building inside that building. We built it so it's kind of a...