I've been all over the world, searching out unique recording spaces. However, none have been in as rural a location than the building in the woods where Nino Moschella recorded his fantastic neo-funk/soul record, The Fix (on Ubiquity Records). Located in the California foothills, about an hour north of Fresno, I found myself traversing some ill- maintained roads that eventually lead to a dirt path, which continued down a steep hill. I had to slow down as cattle wandered in the roadway, and when leaving I was pointed to an "easier" path that had me driving my already battered car across a small creek bed, which, according to signs, would be impassable later this winter. But the journey was worth it.
Nino M was born out here in 1976, in the house that is next to what has become his personal studio. His father built the second structure to have a place to play music, and his son quickly gravitated to messing with the instruments, first as a drummer and then conquering bass, guitar, keyboards and singing. Despite the rural setting of his upbringing and recording, the path he's followed has led him to creating grooving funk/soul/pop gems that recall Sly and The Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, Funkadelic, Shuggie Otis — even a lo-fi Prince. And why was I out here? To find out how and why one of the grooviest records of recent times could have been recorded out in the woods in rural California.
What is this building we're in?
My parents built their house and finished it in '76 — the year I was born. I was actually born in the house. My pop is a musician so he had bands. After the house was done, he started building this [the second structure] with the idea that it would be a place to hang out and play music.
Did your dad teach you music when you were young?
Yeah, my dad sparked that first interest. For some reason, I gravitated to drums. Their drummer didn't show up for rehearsal one time so Pop was like, "Just get over there and play some drums."
You picked up other instruments along the way — bass, guitar and keyboards?
Yeah. I was definitely fortunate to have access to everything.
Did he have anything to record with when you were young?
I think he had a reel-to-reel at one point, but I never used it. In high school, the 4-track that I first started experimenting with was his. I think it was a [Tascam] 424.
So you ended up moving back here a few years ago?
Yeah, it's been almost four years. My wife and I moved out here to have our first child. We were living in the [San Francisco] Bay Area and it's expensive there, so we thought we'd get a couple of years where we didn't have to work that much and could be with our daughter. Before we moved, I recorded a 4-track demo called The Bedroom Recordings just to get songs done. That's what Ubiquity [Records] picked up on. Some of the songs I recorded at that point in time are actually on The Fix in a different form. Later we decided to move back up to the Bay Area because of school options for our daughter Stella and to get more of a community vibe. It had been pretty isolated. Ubiquity put out an EP [The Real Better Believe] that had a few of those earlier songs — mostly 4-track stuff.
Were they meant to be demos?
I was recording to get stuff out of my mind and onto something — it wasn't really to demo them out to do them later. When the album started to come to fruition, I wanted some of those songs to be represented. However, it made sense to re-record a couple of them in order to fit sonically on the album.
What did you record The Fix on?
One song is on a 4-track from that time period, some of it is Pro Tools and some of it is an 8-track 1" machine — just between those three things. It's pretty back and forth. Some of the drums are recorded on the 8-track 1" and a lot of the embellishments — top end stuff — are done in Pro Tools because it's easier to set up.
Did you track drums on the 1" and put it into Pro Tools?
Yeah. For half the songs on the album the drums were done on tape (and some of the bass) but the rest was done on Pro Tools. I love working in Pro Tools and I love the sound of tape too, so I try to use both of them. Sometimes it's just easier to use Pro Tools, especially because there's rarely anyone out here with me. Running back and forth trying to get levels — it's a lot easier with Pro Tools.
Some of the drums on The Fix have a crazy quality — kind of roomy but a little overdriven and sort of crunchy, mid-fidelity. What is causing that?
I like to mess around with overdriving preamps. However, it's more or less about trying to figure out what I want to hear versus trying to make it a certain way. When it sounds right, it's right. I'm not that technical in terms of recording. I put up a couple of mics and move shit around until it sounds good. Sometimes it sounds cool to turn the preamps up — maybe that's what you're referring to.
A preamp would also bring up the room tone when you distort it — I was hearing that — but...
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