Chris Owens has spent the last 15 years in and around Louisville, Kentucky's punk/ hardcore scene. At his wonderfully-named studio, Headbanging Kill Your Mama Music, he's made great records with some of Louisville's finest, as well as plenty of out-of- towners: Coliseum, Breather Resist, Akimbo, Engineer, Young Widows, Cloak/Dagger, Ed Gein... the list goes on. Chris also plays guitar and sings in Lords, and their latest record is called Fuck All Y'All Motherfuckers, which pretty much says it all.
When did you decide, "Okay, I'm serious about recording?"
I dropped out of my second semester of college [in 1997] to be a rock and roller. I started my first for- real studio in a commercial sense in 2001. I had this warehouse loft space that was pretty fuckin' nightmarish. It was 7-foot ceilings, no heat or air and there were no glass in the windows when I got it. But I paid forty bucks a month for it.
It wasn't worth $41. That's where the first Lords full- length, Swords, was recorded. Eventually I moved into a slightly better space. A friend of mine [Kent Obryan] got a degree in engineering, and his mom helped him buy a building. He had a nice spot, but he didn't have much in the way of equipment. I had started to accumulate some fairly nice equipment.
The first Lords EP, The House That Lords Built, was recorded on ADATs and a Peavey Mark IV '70s console. I took all that stuff over to Kent's space to do the drums. His room has 12-foot ceilings, hardwood floors — a huge difference. It's good enough to get some really cool drums. We did the drums there, and from that point he was always like, "You should move in here and we'll team up." I was reluctant to do that for a long time — if I don't have to work with somebody else or in that kind of situation I'd rather not. But eventually I ended up moving in, and it's been working out pretty well. I don't pay rent — I pay a percentage of what I charge, which is convenient for times like this when I'm on tour for a month. Then I don't have to pay anything and Kent can use my stuff for free while I'm gone.
Is that where you do most of your work?
Yeah. Actually I've never recorded anything outside of my own studio. I'd like to. I've talked to a couple of bands about going different places, but it never ends up panning out.
Your rates seem really low. Maybe that's my San Francisco perspective.
It's definitely a geographic thing. You were talking about paying $750 a month [in San Francisco] for a rehearsal space... you could own a house [in Louisville] for less than that. I've been looking into buying a building. There are places I've been looking at that are 5000-square-foot commercial buildings in industrial areas, which are selling for $80,000 or $100,000. A mortgage on that is about $680 [per month]. Staying in Louisville is the one advantage. There's not as many bands as say, in San Francisco, but I'm a day's drive from anywhere on the East Coast. Probably more than half of the business I do is bands that travel to Louisville. It's oftentimes cheaper for them to do that than it is to record somewhere in their own town.
Most of your records have a similar sonic footprint — they're dark, they're un- hyped, they sound great loud. The drums are very present, but the cymbals aren't all shitty and bright. The kick drums sound like the opposite of most kick drums that you hear in heavy music these days.
Drums are one of the things that I enjoy and have the most ideas about. They can make or break a record. To me, that's the thing that makes an album heavy the most. When I listen to a lot of modern metal recordings, sometimes it sounds cool, but I'm just like, "That's not what drums sound like." I've never heard a kick drum, when I was in a room with it, that sounded like a finger snap with sub bass. I guess I just have a different vision of when I hear a band. I think I hear a certain way. When I do a recording, I'm trying to translate that. I guess most of the bands that I do — I don't do a lot of advertising or anything — if they find me, it's because they know what they're getting into, and that's what they want.
I think if most people tried to describe your...
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