Years ago I met Pall and his band Black Heart Procession and ended up recording a few single and compilation tracks for them as they came through Portland on tour. I really enjoyed their music and the flow of creative ideas while recording. Pall has been a member of other noted bands, like Three Mile Pilot, Mr. Tube and the Flying Objects and Ugly Casanova, and when he assembled gear to record BHP's album Amore del Tropico in his home, word soon spread and other artists began seek his recording and production skills. Eventually his recording equipment ended up in a commercial space, and Pall became a full time engineer. I was curious about this transition, so I sought him out while visiting San Diego.
What does S.D.R.L. stand for?
It stands for Stereo Disguise Recording Laboratories. It could also be San Diego Recording Laboratories. I did the studio at my house for a while, and the records I was doing there I just put S.D.R.L. or Stereo Disguise [on the credits]. Eventually I wanted to get out of my house because I couldn't be loud as often as I wanted. Zach Smith [Armistead Burwell Smith IV] from Three Mile Pilot and Pinback is really into recording, too. We're always swapping and sharing gear. He's always helped me, as well as Jason Soares, as far as computer software and things like that. We decided to build a place down at Zach's spot because he had a bigger room. His dad is an architect and owns the buildings. We built a smaller studio in there and it turned out great and it was a really good spot — for one person. We quickly realized that we both couldn't be doing work in there, and Pinback is busy all the time. I'm the one out of all of us that's really into recording other people's bands, obviously besides Rafter [Roberts, Singing Serpent]. I wanted to have a facility to make records for bands as well as my own.
Do you feel like this started as gear for you to use and then evolved into working with other bands?
It started off more for my own stuff — for Black Heart's Amore Del Tropico album. I had always done 4- tracking but I'd never really recorded a band until I got the Studer [A80 MKII]. I had the Studer and I was going to be doing the Black Heart record. I had a band called Teacher's Pet come in to test everything. I was like, "Let me try and record you guys." They came and I did a handful of songs for them. I got into gear. It's like an addiction. Once I had a few positive experiences of recording a band and seeing them happy, I really got into that. But gets really tough to have a business like this. I can't give too good of a deal because we have to pay our rent. Moving into this place, bands walk in and they realize it's a legitimate space. When it's in your house, you can kind of be like, "Oh, I don't have extra rent to cover." Here we have to pay rent every month. We have bills.
There's going to be a certain amount of overhead every month. How did you hook up with your partner Brad [Lee]?
Brad runs a small record label here in town called Loud and Clear Records. It's a very small record label with cool bands. He plays trumpet in this other project I do called Mr. Tube and the Flying Objects and was in a band called Manuok. I told him I was looking for a place and he knew I recorded. He said, "I don't know how to record bands but I really want to get into that. I would love to own a studio and be able to be a part of things and help out." We decided to go into it together. We had both been looking on Craigslist and searching all over around town. I had been looking for a place for four years. Then he came across this place that said "Recording Studio for Lease." I think there had been two previous owners in here before. It's been here for ten or fifteen years.
Had you heard of it at all?
No. I'd never been here. Next door they supply analog tape and they do CD duplication and I'd been over there. In the ad it said, "Check with Advance Recording Supplies." I was like, "I didn't know they had a studio over there." I walk in here and it was kind of dumped out a little. Brad and I came in here and I was like, "This is the place." We had checked out several buildings and had looked at building our own studio. This was already built and ready to go. We put new carpet in and painted the walls black. Everything...